At today's White House press briefing, a reporter was starting to say something about how these are "obviously difficult days for Republicans" when Scott McClellan jumped in and cut him off. "Not for Judge Roberts," he said.
McClellan had a point, of course, and it's larger than John Roberts. These may be dark days for the long list of Republicans under investigation or indictment, and the GOP may have good reason to worry about elections in 2006 and 2008. But look what's happened as partisans on the left have celebrated the travails of Tom DeLay and Karl Rove and Jack Abramoff and Michael Brown and all the rest. George W. Bush got his energy bill. Bush got his bankruptcy bill. Bush got his class-action reform bill. Bush got not just John Roberts but Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown and William Pryor confirmed to the federal bench.
Yes, Bush seems to have failed in his bid to privatize Social Security. And the repeal of the estate tax and the extension of Bush's tax cuts may be off the legislative agenda, but that's the result of the high cost of Hurricane Katrina more than anything else. For all the talk of tipping points -- and we're as guilty as anyone -- it's hard to come up with a substantive loss Bush has suffered as a result of the problems his party is facing. It's quickly becoming conventional wisdom that Bush is diminished now: A reporter at today's White House press briefing launched into a question with the premise that the president's "political standing has eroded significantly." And? So? As they like to say at the White House, it's better to make history with 40 percent approval ratings than to do nothing with better numbers.
Maybe today's swearing-in ceremony for John Roberts will turn out to have been some kind of high-water mark for the Bush administration. In arguing today that the scandals of the Republican Party don't hurt the president, McClellan suggested that the American people are more concerned about the war on terrorism, the war in Iraq and high energy prices. But those are three problems for which the administration doesn't seem to have much in the way of solutions: Osama bin Laden is still at large; the top U.S. military official in Iraq warned today that conditions in the country could get worse after the elections and that only one Iraqi battalion is ready to work on its own so far; and natural gas prices climbed to a record high today.
But 10 weeks ago, George W. Bush nominated to the Supreme Court a man who has written that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided and should be overturned. That man was confirmed today as the nation's 17th chief justice, and 22 of the 44 Democrats in the Senate voted for him. Is that what happens to a "diminished" president from a party on the ropes? How would the Roberts vote have been any different if Bush were wildly popular right now?
So you can pardon Scott McClellan if he engaged in a little taunt and swagger today when a reporter asked him about Bush's next Supreme Court nominee. "You know," a reporter told McClellan, "the Democrats and Democratic organizations are saying that this nomination is even more important than the chief justice, and if he nominates a conservative, he's in for a fight."
"Well," McClellan said, "they were saying that before and it didn't happen."