Judging by Roberts' niceness

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President Bush's nomination of Judge John Roberts for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court has put liberals in a quandary, which is not a good position to be in. It is much like being in a quarry. Either way, you find yourself between a rock and a hard place.

As conservatives leap about in celebration, liberals like me are left to find a reason to oppose this nomination -- and it's not enough to point to the general euphoria on the right. Liberals need to be able to say plausibly: "This nomination raises serious questions," which is our standard objection to Republican nominations.

Usually, questions are raised after a search through the nominee's record. President Bush has been obliging in this regard. Some of his notable nominees have judicial records marked by a telltale trail of knuckle dragging, with one case after another containing touching vignettes featuring widows and orphans being rebuffed and prosperous corporate gentlemen lifting their top hats to salute the bench.

Of course, I exaggerate (a little). But Judge Roberts has left only a small paper trail, some opinion about a toad, I think, and who cares about toads except their mothers?

Those looking to criticize Judge Roberts are reduced to looking at memos he wrote long ago. How much can something written back in the day tell us about a person now?

Another problem in opposing Judge Roberts is that, from all reports, he is a genuinely nice guy, affable, cheerful, sunny and smart.

Did I say he was nice? Whenever he goes for a walk in the park, puppy dogs strain their leashes wanting to rush up and nuzzle him. Of course, he walks in a shaft of sunlight, even on rainy days. Bluebirds seek to land on his head. Why, he's so darn nice that bums in the park stop to give him money, so touched are they by his modesty and cheerful demeanor.

Apparently, he has been a paragon all his life. He was a model student who was always awake in class, was unfailingly conscientious and did his homework without complaint. I don't know about you, but I hated people like that when I was in school. If you ask me, someone should have punched him in the nose for making the rest of the class look bad.

I would humbly submit that we should take a closer look at his preternatural niceness. It seems a little too nice to be nice. His behavior raises serious questions about whether he is a sly conservative.

I say this because I am regularly in touch with true believers on the right. They like to send me e-mails brimming with disgust and bile but delivered with a happy, sanctimonious air. This talent for vileness has led me to form the impression -- perhaps erroneous -- that to be a conservative is to be a bag of resentments held together by a feeble string.

If you look at many prominent right-wingers -- Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh and Pennsylvania's own Sen. Rick Santorum -- you will find folk who have raised snarling to a high art and seem to take pride in resembling the nether quarters of horses.

Yet here we have this happy, nice fellow nominated for the Supreme Court. Go figure!

Another thing that is mysterious is why Judge Roberts doesn't have more of a record. Say what you like about most conservatives, but they never shut up. Yes, I know, he hasn't been on the bench very long, but that doesn't explain it.

Obviously, when he was a boy reading some book of moral instruction (when the rest of us were reading "Superman" comics), he came across the proverb: "Still waters run deep." This ancient wisdom suggests to us the virtue of keeping our big traps shut. If you are a quiet idiot, people will think you are wise. If you are a quiet judge, the president will think you should be on the Supreme Court.

Judge Roberts has kept nice and silent -- and those concerned about the direction of the court should not tolerate behavior that raises such serious questions. If he gets on the court, he may bid all sorts of protections adieu in a very nice and polite way -- not just for toads but for workers and women. As any gal will tell you, it's the nice ones who break your heart.



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