I meant to blog about this when it happened but I got sidetracked. At his press conference after the notorious "Justice Sunday" orchestrated by the Family Research Council and James Dobson's Focus on the Family, Bush was asked about the opposition by Democrats to (a handful of) his judicial nominees as being a prejudice against "people of faith". Bush responded that--
I don’t ascribe a person’s opposing my nominations to an issue of faith.
Many in the press fell over themselves praising the President's response as somehow denoting his fair-mindedness. CNN's Jeff Greenfield highlighted the response in his post-news-conference analysis. Frank Rich gave the President credit for the response in his recent Sunday NYT op-ed. Sean Hannity flagged the President's response and asked his blog readers to comment. The FRC's Tony Perkins (a former Republican operative and U.S. Senate candidate in Louisiana) fudged the President's response and claimed that he and the President really were in agreement.
So, was Bush being high-minded and reasonable in not aping the right's rhetoric on this? Perhaps.
But let's consider the issue and the exchange a bit further before leaping to praise the President.
First, this was a televised news conference, when presumably, the whole nation would be watching. Sounds like a good time to utter words that sound as if they're designed to sound fair minded and counter to some interest groups believed to be in the President's corner. The whole change the tone of Washington thing.
Second, the President nominated these judges. Now, the President won re-election, increased his party's hold on Congress, and perhaps is entitled to feel his nominees, right or wrong, should get a vote, and that he shouldn't have to endure the same minority party blocking rights that other presidents have faced. But he hasn't exactly sought common ground with Democrats and others squeemish about this gang of anti-Enlightenment thinkers either. And as I've suggested previously, it wouldn't seem difficult to find other judges to replace these ones, who were as equally as conservative but not as beset by a paper trails or bad rulings. But the President hasn't done that.
Finally, the President knew about this whole Justice Sunday thing, and the rhetoric that emerged from it was not a surprise. There had been weeks of lead up to it, full of religious misdirection and demagoguery. If the President disagreed with the strategy his backers were taking in this case, if he didn't like their rhetoric, do you think it's possible, if not likely, that he would have had Rove get on the phone to these guys, telling them to knock it off? Technically, of course, these organizations are independent entitities and however well they might regard the President, they may not have been willing to stifle themselves on the matter. Furthermore, the President might have believed any attempts by him to regulate the behavior of these groups would either be beneath the office of the Presidency, or just not politically worth it. Still, this President seems to have a pretty tight control over message and I'm not sure that hold is limited to the official elected institutions of America.
So I wouldn't necessarily buy the President's act here.