Defeat snatched from the jaws of victory
Harriet Miers, the mediocrity candidate, blasts conservative hopes
October 13, 2005
President Bush had a historic opportunity to fill two seats on the Supreme Court and shift the legal philosophy of the court away from liberal activism. The opportunity came after Senate moderates made an agreement making it harder for Democrats to filibuster a nominee. The Republican "nuclear option," which involves proposed changes in Senate rules, also made it harder for Democrats to filibuster. The Republican majority in the Senate was at a high watermark for this decade. At the same time, Republican scandals and declining public support for policies of the administration and the Senate made it likely that the Republican majority in the Senate will shrink — creating a limited window for the president to act. The events leading up to this historic moment might have offered the last opportunity to put real conservative judges on the court.
An unprecedented number of seasoned, conservative judges and legal scholars were available for service on the high court. Men and women of conservative constitutional philosophy and scholarly erudition were needed to write carefully-worded court opinions that could serve as precedents and guides to future generations of judges. Bush was providentially offered this moment of destiny. Inexplicably, he squandered the opportunity, and may never have such a moment again. If ever there has been a Republican betrayal of its conservative ideals, this was it.
Bush nominated John Roberts to replace William Rehnquist as Chief Justice. Although Roberts is a brilliant legal technician and an advocate of judicial restraint, his legal philosophy is eclectic and indefinable. He will probably come down to the left of Rehnquist. Bush nominated Harriet Miers to replace Sandra Day O'Connor, an unpredictable swing vote judge. Miers' sole qualifications for the job are that she is a women, an evangelical, and an old crony of Bush. The brilliance and erudition that Roberts adds to the court will be offset by Miers' mediocrity, ignorance, and inexperience.
Miers is likely to resemble O'Connor, a woman lost at sea with her feelings when abstract, complex, recondite arguments are made in court, leaving her groping for the court's consensus to guide her. Miers' evangelical discomfort with abortion and homosexuality will not help her as much as the president thinks. When the discussion turns to the abstruse, conflicting legal precedents concerning the right to privacy or the history of state marriage law, Miers might not understand what the other judges are talking about. A myopic marksman is of no use even if she aims at the right targets. The net gain for the court is zero, thanks to President Bush's desertion of the cause of constitution integrity, rational law, and judicial excellence. Another win for judicial drift and the culture of mediocrity.
"A moment like this will not come again"
Politics sometimes resembles war in the heavy consequences of a mediocre decision at a key moment of opportunity. Bush's lost opportunity reminds me of a scene from the movie Patton. During August 1944, Patton's Third Army had gained more ground and taken more prisoners in a one month campaign than any other army had done in such a short time in the war. Patton's army was moving in the direction of the Saar (on the Southeast border of Luxembourg) when his tanks ran out of gas. His two problems were that he moved so fast he tended to outrun his supply lines, and that the allied command gave preferential treatment for scarce gasoline supplies to British General Montgomery's army, which had fallen behind. Actor George C. Scott, playing Patton, observed the battle where his tanks ran out of gas, and gave his perspective about the situation at that moment.
Patton: "I had a dream last night. In my dream it came to me that right now the German Reich is mine for the taking. Think, Cod, I was nearly sent home in disgrace. Now, I have precisely the right instrument, at precisely the right moment in history, in exactly the right place."
Codman: "The Saar?"
Patton: This too will change very quickly, like planets spinning off into the universe. A moment like this will not come again for a thousand years. All I need is a few miserable gallons of gasoline. Right now the weakness is here. In ten days we could be in Berlin!"
Codman: "What about the fortifications of Verdun and Metz." (Those strings of fortresses stood between Patton and the Saar.)
Patton: "Fixed fortifications are monuments to the stupidity of man. If mountain ranges and oceans can be overcome, anything made by man can be overcome."
Instead of going to Berlin in ten days, the war in Europe lasted six more bloody months. While Patton's tanks were idle, the German army rushed reinforcements to their weak spot in the Saar district, and moved panzer (tank) divisions to the Ardennes Forest to prepare for the Battle of the Bulge. The brilliantly timed German offensive might have worked if it were not for Patton's swashbuckling relief of Bastogne. Unfortunately, many lives were lost because mediocrities in the allied command did not seize the moment in September 1944 and give gasoline to the rapidly advancing Patton instead of the slow-moving Montgomery.
The Russian army made a textbook case of the blunder of allowing Patton to run out of gas in September. For the next fifty years, they taught their generals to rush supplies and reinforcements to the brigades that have broken through enemy defenses instead of the brigades that have bogged down. Americans continued the mediocre policy of backing the weakest of their advancing columns and leaving the strongest columns to fend for themselves. Patton, the leading American theorist on the offensive use of armor, died before he could rewrite the military textbooks.
There is something in the heart of a mediocrity that panics when victory is at hand, and a bold move can seize the prize. The befuddled mediocrity grabs defeat out of the jaws of victory. In the case of the denial of gasoline to Patton and Bush's Supreme Court choices, cautious stalemate was preferred to victory. Like Patton, Bush had the right instrument, the right moment, and the right place. As Patton said, "All this will change very quickly, like a planet spinning off into the universe. A moment like this will not come again..." for a very long time.
President Bush had a great moment of destiny to make his mark on the judiciary for decades to come, and he threw it away. The challenge of destiny has come and gone, leaving him to regret his blundering moment of mediocrity for the remainder of his life. "The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on: nor all your piety and wit, shall lure it back to cancel half a line." The Rubaiyat of Omar Kayyam
Window dressing multiculturalism
The first and most obvious lesson of the president's blunder is that multiculturalism leads to mediocre thinking. General Eisenhower gave precedence to the international alliance over victory when he gave the gasoline to Montgomery instead of Patton. This is a classical example of how the calculations of multiculturalism can cause one to forget the goal.
President Bush's yearning to appoint a woman and a Hispanic to the high court is a perfect example of window-dressing as political propaganda. (Window dressing is a phrase borrowed from retail business and refers to making a sumptuous display in the front windows of stores.) When a president considers nominating a woman because she is a woman, or an Hispanic because he is an Hispanic, the window-dressing agenda muddies the waters of rational thought and obscures the goal. This agenda opens the door to mediocre thinking and the selection of mediocre candidates. The mediocre Alberto Gonzales was a front runner on Bush's short list of potential Hispanic candidates. Hispanics should be offended that Bush did not insist upon finding an outstanding Hispanic. The unqualified Harriet Miers is his female/evangelical candidate. Women and evangelicals should be offended that Bush did not insist upon a well qualified woman or a well qualified evangelical. Multiculturalism and cronyism crowd out considerations of qualification, merit, and excellence. For this reason, Multiculturalism serves a culture of mediocrity and discourages the pursuit of excellence.
Bush counted himself clever, no doubt, by choosing a nominee who covered two categories of interest groups — women and evangelicals. The low pragmatism of that kind of calculation is unworthy of the selection process for the highest court in the land. Such petty conniving evinces an embarrassing mediocrity of mind. The blatantly political calculations reduce a human being to the status of label bearer for the identity politics menagerie. It is a little surprising that Harriet Miers is not embarrassed by the brazen stunt and her effrontery about claiming a seat at the high court. "Senators, vote for my confirmation because I am a woman. Vote for me because I am evangelical. Vote for me because I am an insider of the Bush team." "See here Miss Miers, what relevant experience do you have? Show me an example of your intellectual brilliance. Demonstrate your critical thinking skills. How about your legal scholarship? Explain how a judge ought to interpret the Constitution."
No discussion about experience, intellectual distinction, critical thinking, legal scholarship, or constitutional law went on between the president and Harriet, of course. What went on in the administration was schmoozing, lobbying, and scheming by political pygmies. "Gee, we will have a loyal judge in our pocket. And if the Democrats balk, we can accuse them of being anti-female and anti-evangelical." This wretched, unprincipled, sophomoric cleverness has a bad smell. How did this gaggle of naughty adolescents wiggle their way into power?
At this point, a passage from Gilbert & Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore comes to mind: "I always voted at my party's call and never thought of thinking for myself at all. I thought so little they rewarded me, by making me the ruler of the Queen's navy." Mindless loyalty is neither a qualification for Lord High Admiral or for Justice of the Supreme Court.
During the Nixon administration, Senator Roman Hruska supported the nomination of the mediocre G. Harold Carswell. Hruska admitted that Carswell was a mediocrity, but argued that mediocre Americans deserve representation on the court. How about retarded Americans or the insane? Should they not also have a seat on the court? Considering how many fools there are running around, how about a fool's seat complete with a harlequin costume?
Window dressing and group-think
Clear thinking, tough-mindedness, and courage are necessary for choosing a candidate based on a high standard of excellence during an age of mediocrity. Window-dressing is the very antithesis of a commitment to excellence and undercuts the willingness to promote based on merit.
Multiculturalists are addicted to window dressing exercises. If a black, a Jew, a Hispanic, or a woman are maneuvered into the line-up for photo opportunities, multiculturalists think they have achieved "diversity." If the correct percentages of these groups are represented in a company's or agency's work force, "diversity" is assumed to exist. However, window-dressing diversity of photo-ops or raw statistics is of no value unless it is accompanied by an authentic diversity of ideas. In academia and the press, where window-dressing diversity is a fetish, a mindless group-think is far more intense than in groups who are less preoccupied with window dressing. Is the inverse relationship between window-dressing diversity and diversity of ideas a predictable or an accidental phenomenon? Does window-dressing foster a climate of mediocrity?
I had the misfortune of working for a window-dressing star. The mediocre management loved that guy and regularly promoted him. His protégés worked very hard on the format of reports and the neat lay-out of supporting work, but the content was thin. When an employee made a spectacular break-through discovery, the boss was annoyed and put a lot of thought into rationalizing why the discovery should not be reported. His unspoken mottos were "Don't make waves," "Do everything in a uniform way," "Don't use up too many budgeted hours," and "Appear at social events of the organization and pretend to be happy." Original thinking, disturbing questions, and nagging about the quality of the work were the unforgivable sins. He hated questions about why we were doing the things we were doing.
Window-dressing is the ruling principle of the mediocre manager. The work is done to support the window-dressing plan. It would be like a store designing their front window first, and then running the store to support the front window. Using that approach, countless stupid decisions would be made in retail management.
After the allied invasion in Normandy, a mediocre window-dressing plan was designed. The Canadian, Polish, and free French divisions were to fill the gap between the British and Americans, and the French division was to liberate Paris. This politically pretty plan was followed by two military disasters.
Disaster #1: A gap formed between Patton's Third Army and the remainder of the allied forces. The gap was a valley between Argentan and Falaise that came to be known as the "Falaise gap." An excellent Polish division showed up in the gap, but the stumbling Canadians were nowhere to be found. The French troops were too busy with their drunken, window dressing liberation of Paris, and posing for pretty pictures for the newspapers, to care about the Falaise gap.
As the trapped German armies raced to escape through the gap, Patton raced to close the gap. Patton was ordered to halt, and turn around because the Canadians had been assigned to fill the gap, according to the window-dressing plan. The German Fifth Panzer Army gave the lonely Polish Division a terrible mauling as they escaped through the gap. An estimated 20,000 to 40,000 German troops escaped. These same troops killed a lot of Americans trying to cross the Seine River and many more Americans at the battle of the Bulge. The moral of the story is that multicultural window dressing trumps common sense and ignores consequences and outcomes.
One bitter postscript to this story. During the first Gulf War, General Colin Powell repeated the blunder of the Falaise gap. After consultation with the elder President Bush, he ordered the American tanks to stop just short of the point of surrounding the Iraqis. Several more hours of advance would have closed the gap resulting in the capture of almost the entire Iraqi army. The elite Republican guard escaped through the gap. Therefore, we had to fight a second Iraqi war. The present casualty reports are tributes to the great opportunity lost from Powell's blunder, which I like to call "Falaise gap II." Patton complained that Washington always stops the military short and "leaves another war to fight."
Disaster #2: The gap between Patton and the remaining Allied Armies persisted after Falaise because Paris, celebrating its liberation with vintage wines, was in between Patton's Third Army and the remaining allied forces. By December, this gap had been filled by a hodge-podge of units, some of them poorly trained recruits, commanded by other American Generals. The Germans recognized these ad-hoc line-fillers as the weak spot in the front, in the sector of the Ardennes Forest. The Germans attacked and utterly crushed the front-line American defenses. The Battle of the Bulge that ensued was such a catastrophe for the allies that, this time, they allowed Patton to intervene, rescue the stranded troops, and plug the gap. The mediocre allied command was able to learn — when it was a matter of life and death.
Shallow people are overly impressed with appearances and are impatient about deeper questions of content and quality. They love to regulate appearance, processes, and uniformity, and do not like critical thinking, original ideas, or bold proposals.
Process-oriented thinking is the natural home of the mediocrity. Once the mediocrity learns the official process, he does not have to think outside the process ever again. A process-oriented person is a natural control freak. If he has authority, the control freak's mission will be to make others as much a creature of the process as he is.
The "Total Quality Management" (TQM) fad boosts productivity in the short run, but it creates stagnation in the long run. TQM gradually turns people into creatures of the process. As time passes, they slowly become process-oriented zombies who can no longer think independently.
I once created a process at work, and my greatest admirer became a zealot for the process. As a perfectionist, she let the process become her god, and she carried it to extremes. I had created a Frankenstein's monster. Management sent me to deprogram the monster. It was much easier to create the monster than to deprogram it. Having fed her latent perfectionism, her inner monster had a life of its own, and was difficult to lure back to the lab for adjustments.
Fortunately, the TQM fad did not last long in America. However, it settled deeply into Japan's business culture and wrung all resilience out of the Japanese system. As a result, the Japanese economy went into stagnation for about fourteen years. TQM turned the wonderfully competent Japanese into process-oriented zombies. The TQM straight jacket is almost as bad as the lead harness of socialism. In contrast, America recovered from its TQM illness, deregulated its industries, and now has the most resilient economy in the world.
Control freak supervision over process-oriented people is remarkably similar to left wing, politically correct commissars riding herd upon a group-think culture. We see these little societies of the living dead in academia, news rooms, the public education establishment, and governmental agencies. Both TQM and politically correct group-think destroy the power of independent thought. Like Japanese businesses who lost their industrial resilience through TQM, the left has lost its intellectual resilience and is reduced to slogans and insults. Are we entering a political dark age when Republican mediocrities will be battling Democratic zombies? Or do we still have the political and intellectual resilience to do something better than to fight the war of the droids?
Multiculturalism and window dressing breeds shallowness. The multicultural fairs in our public schools are a waste of precious time for learning, and teach the students the wrong lessons about culture. A display of each culture is set up, and the students are encouraged to wander freely among the exhibits and follow their fancies. The dithering students absorb only the most superficial impressions of each culture. It is like wandering freely at a smorgasbord and nibbling at one dish or another as strikes one's fancy. One will never become a gourmet in this way. One's palate will be broad but shallow.
Huston Smith, a famous scholar of comparative religions, has traveled around the world and sampled the spirituality of each major religion as part of his research. The experiences of the versatile Smith with different religions are fascinating, but he makes no claims to spiritual depth. A guru in an Indian monastery said to Smith, "What you are doing is not good. Instead of drilling one deep well, you are drilling ten shallow wells. It is the deep wells that reach water." The guru exhorted Smith to return home and concentrate on his own spiritual tradition, which in his case is Methodism. The versatile Smith is a spiritual mediocrity who cuts a poor figure in contrast to the pietists and perfectionists of the early Wesleyan movement.
This principle of spirituality is also true of culture. Dabbling in many cultures does not make one particularly well cultured. The deep waters of culture require years of digging within one's own cultural tradition. The constant multicultural drum beat in the schools teaches the students to dig ten shallow cultural wells instead of one deep one. The kids are trained to be versatile mediocrities, like Huston Smith.
The anti-Western bias of multiculturalism
An anti-Western bias runs deep within the Multicultural movement. Some college professors discourage the reading of "dead white European males." Farewell to Dante, Chaucer, Mallory, Castiglione, Montaigne, Pascal, Spenser, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Milton, Bunyan, Gibbon, Johnson, Tennyson, Dickens, Thackeray, Tolstoy, Proust, and many more. Some of the greatest literature in the history of man is now off limits because we do not want to offend people of other cultures of modest literary achievement. Some professors insist that the feminist poetry of the South Seas Islands is the literary equal of Shakespeare. After all, to think otherwise would be bigotry and insensitivity.
Shakespeare is so great that he has to be debunked. The deconstructionists claim to find a code in Shakespeare of the political oppression of the ruling class. The implication is that all literary works of the Western cultural tradition are politically poisoned. The effect of Multiculturalism is to cut the students off from their cultural and literary heritage. When a man is cut off from his cultural heritage, he becomes a cultural orphan like one born in a state of nature. He falls from mere mediocrity into barbarism. That is why so many students keep their Walkman earphones on every waking hour, so as to keep themselves drenched in the music of barbarism.
Allan Bloom (1930–1998) wrote the powerful book, The Closing of the American Mind (1987), which described the intellectual, aesthetic, and moral wasteland among American college students. He made a devastating critique of the cultural amnesia of the campus. He is especially critical of the trendy idea of intellectual relativism, which holds that every idea is as valid as every other idea. Intellectual relativism is a mental anesthesia that removes the motivation to use the mind vigorously to find the best ideas. Why work hard to figure out if one idea is better than another, if all ideas are equally worthy? Besides, we must not offend anyone by saying they have bad ideas. Better not to think at all, except what thinking is necessary to pass tests.
Intellectual relativism works with a steady diet of rock music to deaden and anesthetize the mind. Bloom claimed that he never had a student who was addicted to rock music whom he was able to interest in philosophy.
Intellectual relativism leads to intellectual laziness and indifference. Moral relativism leads to shallow personal relationships and sexual riot on the campuses. Cultural relativism confuses the students in their concept of what it means to be human. Therefore, they are not so sure that man has an innate nature. The multicultural smorgasbord of academia leads in the end to confusion, and to complacency about that confusion.
A culture of excellence
The twelfth century — the time of castles, cathedrals, and crusades — had a culture of excellence. This energetic and colorful century was in the early phase of what is sometimes called "The High Middle Ages," or the "Medieval Renaissance." In spite of an intense class system, men of humble birth sometimes rose up to be pope, such as Gregory VII. The era had powerful unifying ideals and spiritual aspirations. For this reason, talented people who were effective in advancing those ideals and aspirations often enjoyed rapid advancement. Lowly origins were excused because of a delight in seeing truly gifted men in a position of eminence. Outstanding scholars like Lanfrank, St. Anselm, and John of Salisbury were rewarded with the Bishop's throne. Merit promotions in the twelfth century could be spectacular, like the rapid promotion of Thomas a Becket.
Today, every boss claims that he rewards merit — but promotions purely on the basis of merit alone are rare. Promotions of mediocrities like Sandra Day O'Connor and Harriet Miers are very common. We have neither a culture of excellence nor powerful, unifying ideals as they did in the twelfth century.
A medieval sculptor who made a gargoyle for a cathedral did not cut corners if it was placed where it could not be seen by human eyes. He brought artistic excellence to the uncelebrated task. After all, God can see it, and that is what matters. In the end, one must see intrinsic value in the works themselves, the things that God might notice, in order for excellence to triumph over the centrifugal forces of mediocrity and the entropy of laziness.
Restoring the culture of excellence is a gigantic task and might be the work of several generations. However, if we choose leaders who are determined to promote people of noteworthy excellence to positions of power and influence, it would be a good start. If Christians would bring excellence to their work, just because God is watching, it would bring a badly needed cultural transformation to the churches and to society.
We need to replace a pragmatic culture of "success" with a culture of excellence. Here again, the churches can show the way. Some churches are dumbing down their ministries in order to increase in numbers, and thereby are contributing to the culture of mediocrity. However, as Bill Gothard said, "You are responsible for the depth of your ministry. God is responsible for the breadth of your ministry."
In heaven, rewards are based on quality, not quantity. In I Corinthians 3:12, the works of poor quality are described as wood, hay, and stubble, and the works of high quality are described as gold, silver, and precious stones. Christ shall test each man's work to see what quality it is (vs.13). The wood, hay, and stubble of mediocrity shall be burned in a fire, and rewards shall be given for the gold, silver, and precious gems of excellence. God hates mediocrity, but loves excellence inspired by His wisdom and dedicated to His glory. If one is assigned to "sculpt a gargoyle" for a place hidden from human eyes, let him sculpt it to perfection because God is watching.
RenewAmerica analyst Fred Hutchison also writes a column for RenewAmerica.
© 2005 Fred Hutchison