There’s been a great deal of talk about how Garland is a “sacrificial lamb,” but I’m just not buying it. I think Obama nominated Garland because he likes the nominee, believes that he is a good man, and believes that he can seat him. Here’s my reasoning.
1.) Obama doesn’t do sacrificial lambs, or throw people under the bus, or have people fall on their swords, or whatever other metaphor people want to use. In his administration, there have been, that I can recall, five high profile exits.
The first was Van Jones, and Obama didn’t sack the guy, he resigned, and he had to. He’d made a string of unforced errors, some of which were pretty stupid, and he was just not a good fit with the no-drama Obama team. Rahm left to become Mayor. Hillary left to get ready to become the nominee this election. That leaves Shirley Sherrod and Chuck Hagel. Hagel left because of disagreements with his boss and a whole lot of other issues in the Pentagon.
That leaves Sherrod, and that truly was a shitshow. Obama himself has said this was a mistake. Maybe I am missing some others, but these are the ones I remember. This is not a record indicative of someone who routinely mistreats or screws over people for political gain or when the going gets tough. The man does not “use” people. It’s not who he is.
It’s actually one of the things I admire most about this administration and the man. I think being a halfway decent President is akin to steering the Titanic while juggling blindfolded, and Obama has managed to do this with grace all while half the nation has been trying to trip him, throwing spitballs at him and screaming racial epithets. We’re never going to see an administration this well run again in our lifetimes, and he did it under fire from all quarters.
2.) Obama has never governed as a screaming liberal, and I don’t see him starting now. For better or for worse, Obama has never governed as a hard left progressive. If historians were honest, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama would be listed as the best moderate Republican Presidents of the last 100 years. Having said that, Obama has achieved a very progressive list of accomplishments. I have long felt that Obama’s personal views are far more progressive than his governance- I don’t think for one minute his positions on gay marriage ever evolved, I think they are the same today as they were years ago. What evolved is the nation full of neanderthals he is forced to govern.
3.) Obama has a sense of “fair play,” even when it isn’t deserved. I think it would have been completely out of character for him to nominate a left wing liberal to replace Scalia even if he could get said liberal seated. I just don’t think he would do it. I believe Obama trusts the kind of slow revolution with irreversible gains to large dramatic revolutions that can lead to just as radical course corrections. He plays the long game, and understands that seating Garland will already make the center of the court the most liberal it has been in years, and understands that barring a disaster for Democrats in the fall, will become even more so in the not so distant future.
4.) Garland is strong on the role of the federal government an agencies. While this can make many progressives mad, it makes pretty solid sense to me, examining Garland’s record, why an African-American President with a keen take on history would nominate someone who shows deference to the federal government and agency decision makers over “state’s rights.” I believe Obama views that Garland would have been on the right side of many recent bad rulings (VRA, affirmative action, etc.)
5.) Obviously, Obama understands that this puts the Republicans in a disastrous hole politically, particularly since they are basically on record saying “If Obama nominated X, we would confirm,” so Obama went out and nominated X and they are left stammering and shifting from foot to foot as dribble like this oozes out their cornfed pieholes:
U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said on Wednesday that President Barack Obama has politicized the Supreme Court nomination process by putting forward veteran appellate court judge Merrick Garland during a presidential election.
“It seems clear that President Obama made this nomination not with the intent of seeing the nominee confirmed, but in order to politicize it for purposes of the election,” McConnell said on the floor of the Senate after Obama, a Democrat, announced his choice at the White House.
“Instead of spending more time debating an issue where we can’t agree, let’s keep working to address the issues where we can,” the senator from Kentucky said.
6.) Obama does not want to leave unfinished business when he leaves office on 20 January 2017. Obama took office with a toxic smorgasbord of disasters both immediate and impending, all because his idiot predecessor couldn’t operate a lawnmower much less a nation. He does not want to do that to Hillary, who he believes will be his successor (and I think he is happy about that). He knows how that screwed up the start of his administration, having to focus on fixing things instead of advancing the ball, and he does not want to do that to someone else.
I think he also believes that this is HIS pick, not just some pick you sock away until the next President, whomever that might be. He’s a Constitutional lawyer, FFS. He actually believes in the process and the Constitution.
So, for all those reasons and probably a few more, I think this is a sincere, serious pick, and not some cynical ploy or sacrificial lamb. I think that not only does Obama think he can get him on the court, he wants him on the court. And I don’t think for one instant he would pull Garland’s nomination should the GOP agree to seat him in the lame duck session.
That’s not the kind of man he is, not the kind of negotiator he is. He sees value in Garland being on the court, and will get him on there, and he would never nominate someone like Garland and then pull the rug out from under him. It’s not in his DNA.
Have at it.
*** Update ***
I’ve added a new post commenting on the “moderate Republicans” line and what I really meant, and this from Aimai in the comments can not be said enough:
I also wanted to add that people seem to have a hard time grasping that Obama’s gestures, choices, policy tactics almost always have more than one side to them. They are usually a plan A and a plan B rolled together. To very young, angry, or stupid political viewers its always a zero sum game in which your first shot is your only shot and you can only get everything or nothing. But Obama’s pick of Garland wins whatever the republicans choose to do. He has asserted his constitutional duty, he has embarrased them publicly, he has split their senatorial caucus, he has given the democrats ammunition in senate races, he has increased the likelihood of right wing primaries, and if they roll over and take garland he gets a pick he is happy with completing three historic appts. Lots of his offers to the republicans have had this aspect. Its why they are afraid to negotiate with him at all.
Personally, I think any analysis of Obama and his administration is silly if it does not keep this extremely telling moment in mind:
“I like to know what I am talking about, Ed.”
The idiom goes that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. Obama has both of his.