07/06/2005 01:46 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Gonzales: Why the Enemy of Our Enemy Isn’t Really Our Friend

Hello from Aspen. Last night, I was at the Aspen Institute's Ideas Festival. Chris Matthews was moderating an after-dinner discussion at the "Belly-Up Bar" between Ted Olson and David Boies, who -- in case anyone has forgotten -- are the lawyers who squared off in front of the Supreme Court in Bush v Gore. Suddenly, the power went out, leaving the speakers without microphones and Olson -- he of the stentorian voice -- with the advantage. Again. Olson summed up the president's High Court strategy: nominate someone who will both satisfy the base and get confirmed. And Boies predicted that if Bush nominates Alberto Gonzales, he'd be confirmed.

But a Gonzales nod clearly won’t appease the right wing base, which is pushing the president hard on his choice to replace Justice O’Connor. How hard? Well, the other day, I suddenly found myself, for the briefest of seconds, sympathizing with the guy who gave the legal go-ahead to the torture techniques employed at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

That’s right, Dobson and Bauer and Schlafly and Perkins, and groups like Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, and Concerned Women for America have been so focused on sticking a knife through Gonzales’ Supreme Court chances that hearing their collective pining for “another Scalia or Thomas”, and reading rants like the National Review’s “conservatives would be appalled and demoralized by a Gonzales appointment,” I actually had a brain freeze moment where, I’m ashamed to admit, I thought: Gee, I hope Bush picks the man who thinks the Geneva Conventions are “quaint”. I wonder if that’s what happened to Boies too when he made his prediction, without voicing any concern, that Gonzales would be confirmed.

What a difference a few months and a heaping helping of “the president owes us!” rhetoric from the radical right can make. After all, it was only February when Gonzales was facing confirmation as Attorney General and progressives were trying hard to keep him from the top cop slot. What a horrible message to send to the world, I thought back then, replacing the holy rolling Ashcroft with the guy who helped come up with the Gitmo dodge as a way of sidestepping U.S. courts. And yet there I was the other day, sipping my morning Starbucks and wondering if I could ever make peace with the idea of him getting a lifetime appointment to one of the most powerful positions in our government.

All it took for this momentary sea change was a cold, hard look at the line up of other potential nominees being bandied about by the right. It reads like a black-robed Murderer’s Row -- only with this bunch, it’s the civil liberty gains of the last 70 years that will be snuffed out. Talk about your Hobson’s choice: Torture Guy or one of the Scalia clones (or clonettes) who can’t wait to scale the High Court and roll back Roe v Wade.

Never before has the shopworn dictum “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” seemed more applicable. And, boy, does Bush’s “great friend” have some unhinged enemies. Enemies like Ken Connor, late of the Family Research Council and now chairman of the Center for a Just Society (gotta love those names don’t you?), who compared the upcoming battle over the Supreme Court to the war on terror, and Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family, who said his group opposes Gonzalez because “he is someone who is apparently still developing his philosophy -- and that’s not good enough”. In other words, he hasn’t gone on record as being against Roe v. Wade.

But no matter how knee-jerk appealing that “enemy of my enemy” stuff may be, ultimately there is only one correct response to the talk of a Gonzalez nomination and that is to snap out of the reverie and, for radically different reasons, align oneself with Dobson, Bauer, Schlafly et al and fight like hell to make sure that the Torture Guy never slips on that lifer’s black robe.