The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Friday, November 18, 2005

Beldar Agonistes

[Disclaimer: this post speculates on the thoughts of the quasi-fictitious personage "Beldar", the blogging nom de plume of Houston-based lawyer Bill Dyer. I have chosen to imagine Beldar as a person for the purposes of this post. I have no knowledge of Mr. Dyer other than that which he has chosen to disclose on his blog, and my comments should not be construed to reflect on him. Obviously, my speculations may be inaccurate, and Mr. Dyer is in no way responsible for them.]

Beldar was the most important (with the possible exception of Hugh Hewitt) and certainly the most cogent and diligent of Harriet Miers's supporters on the occasion of her late nomination to the Supreme Court. In particular, without whining [much] about "elitism", he strongly argued that Ms. Miers's record was in fact an indicator of excellence. For example:
Being chosen as a large law firm's managing partner, and being successful in that role once chosen, reflects certain useful management skills, as the title implies. More specifically, running a law firm is a lot like herding cats. And not housecats, but lions — a "pride" of lions, I believe they call it. Hungry, dangerous, big cats with bigger egos and sharp claws and teeth, plus the ability, and the incentive when they perceive themselves slighted, to drag off into another part of the jungle their own recent kills along with their protegés and subordinates. Dealing with partner-level lawyers requires tact, creativity, flexibility, judgment, listening and communication skills, the learned or intuitive ability to broker compromises, and finally (but not least importantly) a backbone of steel and the ability to display and occasionally use one's own teeth and claws.
And again:
When presented with a nominee whose main credentials are (a) a successful career in private practice as a courtroom lawyer, (b) business leadership within her firm, (c) professional leadership within her profession, and (d) competent performance of important but entirely behind-the-scenes work for the Administration, your reaction has been: "But she's not a judge! She's not a professor!" And you're just stuck in that rut. You're so deep into it that you can't even tell it's a rut.
But conservatives, in the media and in the blogosphere, remained unrelentingly hostile to Ms. Miers. The Senate, sensing a lack of support, was more ready to pass judgement against her than they had been with John Roberts. And finally [you can still see the date on Beldar's homepage], the nomination was withdrawn.

What is the effect of this on Beldar -- a self-proclaimed heartland conservative who maintains, not from mere self-interest but from real conviction, that leadership in Houston and at SMU [or, by extension, in other provincial but important cities and schools] is commensurate in importance with that of the Beltway, City and Media elites and the scions of the Big Three?

Five of the nine current justices attended Harvard law school. Does that mean that, at the age of twenty-one, a single institution can successfully identify and recruit more than half of the very best legal minds in the entire country? This is certainly false for Nobel laureates in the sciences, who are roughly the same age on average as new Supreme Court justices. It is far more plausible to perceive, in the existence of such a dominant coterie, a clique which successfully rewards and advances its members -- and which is ipso facto anti-meritocratic.

We seem to be trapped between two unpleasant possibilities. One the one hand, perhaps the Republicans, as much as the Democrats, are in thrall to an illusory elite and have made themselves tools of its propagation, by scorning those without the credentials it grants. The alternative is even worse: perhaps this elite is not illusory, and those capable of true intellectual leadership truly have been identified and cultivated from an early age. How can either of these be reconciled with a belief in real freedom -- a belief which must be tinged with populism, arguing as it does that everyone should be considered best qualified to judge his own needs, and also that everyone should have a meaningful say in the policies of society? This is Beldar's dilemma. Has he served a false god?
(I say "my team," I actually mean "what I thought, apparently wrongly, was a team, and the one I've always thought I was on.")