George W. Bush is still playing the role of cardiologist.

At his news conference yesterday, he made clear that he's looked into Harriet Miers's heart, liked what he saw, and that others should trust him that she's a woman of character and integrity.

He also said he was intrigued by Democratic suggestions that he pick someone who never served on the bench -- and it certainly doesn't hurt for at least one of the Supremes to have real-life experience.

I can't look into Bush's heart, but I suspect he really believes that because he knows someone well and trusts that person -- Miers did, after all, represent him personally in a dispute over a Texas fish shack -- then, ipso facto, that person is qualified for high office. That is why he could tell the Rose Garden reporters, without a trace of embarrassment, that Harriet Miers was the best possible nominee he could find.

The news analyses, of course, are all about political calculation. Bush didn't want a big fight. He acted out of weakness. The lack of a Miers paper trail would ease her path to confirmation. And all that may be true.

What the pundits largely miss, though, is how deeply comfortable Bush is with members of his inner circle -- think Rove and Allbaugh and Condi and Hughes, or giving Tenet a presidential medal -- and how high a premium he places on loyalty. In that sense, picking John Roberts was an exception. After all, Bush also strongly considered his pal Al G. before going with Harriet. The only way he could have reached deeper into his little club was to nominate Laura for the bench.

What Bush misses is that, after a superlawyer like Roberts, Miers seems to many observers to be too small for such a big job. Even if she's smart and diligent and as conservative as the Republicans want -- forget that little 'ol donation to Al Gore -- she does not seem to possess the stature of a Warren or Rehnquist or the intellectual firepower of a Scalia. One term on the Dallas City Council? Several years as White House staff secretary?

Watching the reaction of conservatives has been utterly fascinating. Some are gamely suggesting we should trust Bush's judgment. (Imagine if Bill Clinton had named his longtime crony Webb Hubbell to the high court -- before, of course, he was found to be a crook.) But others admit their deep disappointment -- in a way that, more than any other issue than perhaps the war, suggests a larger disappointment with the course of the Bush presidency.

Some leads off the press conference:

Los Angeles Times | http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-100405bushside_lat,0,3985368.story?coll=la-home-headlines: "President Bush asserted today that he retained 'plenty' of political capital to push his agenda through Congress, but he also suggested that some priorities, such as overhauling Social Security, may have to be deferred, largely because of the need to help rebuild New Orleans and other hurricane-damaged regions."

New York Times | http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/05/politics/politicsspecial/05nominate.html:

"President Bush on Tuesday defended his latest choice for the Supreme Court, Harriet E. Miers, from complaints on the right that she was not conservative enough and from accusations on the left that she was a White House crony unqualified for the job.

"The president also said he did not recall ever talking to Ms. Miers, whom he has known for more than a decade, about her personal views on abortion, and he reiterated that he was a 'pro-life president' who nonetheless had no litmus test on the issue when selecting judicial candidates."

Boston Globe | http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2005/10/05/president_defends_pick_amid_criticism/: "Declaring that his Supreme Court nominee 'will not legislate from the bench,' President Bush yesterday fended off criticism from conservative allies unhappy with the nomination of his White House counsel, Harriet E. Miers."

Chicago Tribune | http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-0510050188oct05,1,5001159.story?coll=chi-news-hed: "Stepping out from the Oval Office on an overcast morning, President Bush appeared browbeaten. He sounded wistful about his party's political fortunes and even his own. Yet with a subdued tone selected for an audience far beyond the reporters before him, the president issued an intensely personal appeal Tuesday for an understanding of his latest decision stirring controversy: the nomination of a close friend for a seat on the Supreme Court."

Washington Times | http://washingtontimes.com/national/20051005-122403-3489r.htm: "President Bush sought to calm conservatives over his latest Supreme Court pick in a rare Rose Garden press conference yesterday, but some Republicans on Capitol Hill remain unconvinced."

Rich Lowry | http://nationalreview.com/lowry/lowry200510040751.asp can't put a good face on the Miers pick:

"It might turn out that she is an outstanding justice. But there is no way for anyone besides President Bush's immediate circle to know it. Of course, other Supreme Court justices have come without experience on the bench. Chief Justice Earl Warren was governor of California. Harriet Miers was 'an elected member of the Dallas City Council,' as Bush put it in his announcement of her nomination.

"Watching Bush strain to pump up her accomplishments was cringe-making. He said she has tried cases 'before state and federal courts'! She has 'argued appeals that covered a broad range of matters'! She was head of the Texas Lottery Commission and 'insisted on a system that was fair and honest'! She was a leader with Child Care Dallas, Meals on Wheels, and other charitable groups! She has a law degree! From Southern Methodist University!

"Of course, Miers currently has a heavy-hitting job as White House counsel. That is testament to a certain legal acumen, and she has apparently impressed people with whom she has worked closely. But given the significance of a lifetime appointment to the nation's highest Court, this is a rather thin qualification. Indeed, the most important reason Miers was picked is that Bush is comfortable with her."

Fred Barnes | http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/006/167xqcii.asp gives Bush the benefit of the doubt -- for a paragraph, at least:

"If all goes well, Harriet Miers will turn out to be a less impressive version of John Roberts: that is, a judicial conservative, or constitutionalist, who will cause the ideological balance on the Supreme Court to shift to the right. She's not likely to have Roberts's gift for describing and defending a conservative judicial philosophy, dodging questions on current issues, and toying with frustrated Democrats. All she needs to do is come off as a credible mainstream conservative, avoid the questions that Democrats will try to trick her on, and persuade senators she's not merely a Bush crony. That accomplished, she should be confirmed.

"She'd better be able to do this. If she can't -- if she's not really a conservative -- the political effect will be to shatter President Bush's still-strong relationship with his base. The love affair will be over. The president will have dashed the hopes cherished by conservatives for a conservative Supreme Court. And he will be far weaker as a national political leader as a result."

Jonah Goldberg | http://corner.nationalreview.com/05_10_02_corner-archive.asp#078490 challenges his fellow conservatives to face facts:

"I'm know that I'm not the only one getting a lot of grief from some readers about the view around here that Miers is under-qualified for the job. Many of the emails assert that all one needs are strong reading skills, a logical mind and, and . . . well that's about it. This strikes me as an unfortunate line of argument. Again: Miers may turn out to be a great justice. But she's never been a judge, never written seriously on constitutional issues, never been a litigator on such issues etc, etc. But if you want to make the case that none of this matters, that's your prerogative. All I ask is that you honestly address the question of whether you would have the same reaction if Hillary Clinton nominated her longtime personal lawyer under similar circumstances."

John Podhoretz | http://www.nypost.com/postopinion/opedcolumnists/54627.htm is blunt in saying that no other Republican president would have considered Miers: "Without the patronage of George W. Bush, Harriet Miers is nothing more than a fairly obscure lawyer from Texas who served as president of a relatively minor law firm and served in state government on a lottery commission for five years."

Americablog | http://americablog.blogspot.com/2005/10/i-think-conservatives-are-going-to-try.html posts a bummed-out letter from conservative fundraiser Richard Viguerie:

"Congratulations are due to Ralph Neas, Nan Aron, and Chuck Schumer for going toe-to-toe with President Bush and forcing him to blink. Liberals have successfully cowed President Bush by scaring him off from nominating a known conservative, strict constructionist to the Court, leaving conservatives fearful of which direction the Court will go. "President Bush desperately needed to have an ideological fight with the Left to redefine himself and re-energize his political base, which is in shock and dismay over his big government policies."

Kevin Drum | http://www.washingtonmonthly.com has a theory about Bush's shrewdness:

"Everyone seems to agree that Bush didn't want a big ideological fight. Fine. But even if that's the case there are a hundred moderate but highly qualified candidates he could have chosen. So why pick Miers and then be forced to endure relentless mockery for nominating such a lightweight?

"Here's my guess: if he had picked a highly qualified moderate with a long paper trail, it would have been way too obvious that he really was backing down from a fight. Conversely, by nominating Miers, he's got everyone convinced that he's just picking a friend. Sure, the base is temporarily pissed that he's let them down, but before long they'll convince themselves that (a) it's just cronyism and (b) she's probably pretty conservative after all (especially after Dick Cheney has spent enough time peddling her conservative cred to Limbaugh and Hannity).

"If Bush had picked a real judge with a moderate record, his base would have been absolutely sure they were being betrayed. With Miers they're not. She allows him to avoid a fight while suffering only momentary venting from his supporters. From that perspective, it was a smart choice."

In the New Republic, Akiba Covitz | http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=w051003&s=covitz100305 says Miers must avoid the Fortas trap:

"Consider the lesson of Abe Fortas, the last justice to be elevated to the Court after enjoying such a close relationship with a sitting president. Fortas had been Lyndon Johnson's personal lawyer for years prior to Johnson becoming president. In 1948, when Johnson found himself in court over a closely contested Texas Senate race, he turned to Fortas, and Fortas delivered. Seventeen years later, LBJ put Fortas on the Supreme Court.

"The problem was that Fortas could never leave his sense of loyalty to the president behind. On many cases where he had served a role advising Johnson in the matter before the Court, Fortas neglected to recuse himself. Worse than that, he continued to play an advisory role to LBJ even after ascending to the high Court. Johnson's key advisors, including Bill Moyers, Jack Valenti, and Joe Califano, continued to count on Fortas, sending directly to his Supreme Court chambers drafts of legislation and even State of the Union addresses for Fortas to sign off on. All this eventually caught up to Fortas. When LBJ nominated Fortas to be chief justice in 1968, his inappropriately close relationship to the president came under congressional and public scrutiny, and he later resigned in disgrace."

Slate's John Dickerson | http://slate.msn.com/id/2127242/nav/tap2/ says that new Kerry flick is a letdown:

"Titillating possibilities flitted through my head: grainy footage of John Kerry flip-flopping late at night in his hotel room. Strategist Bob Shrum controlling the candidate's every move from behind a glowing orb. Modern campaigns are so freeze-dried and antiseptic that one longs for unscripted moments, even after the fact. Plus, the film arrives as Democrats are still mulling the lessons of their loss. Should leaders of the party be cautious and calibrated to appeal to moderates and independents -- or should they roar and stomp in an attempt to rally the base and captivate voters with authenticity?

"Unfortunately, 'Inside the Bubble,' which premiered at the New York Television Festival Thursday, doesn't do much to answer those questions. The movie overpromises the way sham politicians do. There are some amusing and entertaining moments, but there is little in it to explain why Kerry lost -- no inside scoop from his senior advisers or much insight into the man himself. The strategists who may have botched the effort are either not seen or pass through in a blink. Instead, we spend a lot of time with secondary and tertiary players . . .

"As for the candidate himself, we don't see much of him that we haven't seen already. But there are a few surprises. Kerry the candidate seems tantalizingly less stiff than we remember. As he waits in a locker room for a satellite interview, he pretends to interview himself. It's a goofy, amusing moment. I've watched presidential candidates in this familiar, tense setting and seen them anxious that time's wasting, irritated by a local anchor's gooey snap, bark at their staffs, or even, in one case, bolt from a Marriot ballroom. Off-camera, Kerry is surprisingly at ease. 'I don't know who exercised in this locker room last,' he jokes with his aides, 'but they left a lot of themselves here.' Alas, when the interview starts, he snaps back into that familiar wooden image."

Judith Miller did her first television interview last night, with CNN's Lou Dobbs, who championed her cause and denounced Plamegate prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. "I will not forgive Fitzgerald for what he did to you," said Dobbs, accusing him of "a disgusting abuse of government power."

Miller was more circumspect, saying that if Fitzgerald brings indictments, "perhaps I will have to say his zealousness with respect to this mission is justified," but if not she'll wonder why she was the only one who wound up behind bars. She called jail "the most soulless place" and said her experience there was "demeaning" and "degrading."

Dobbs didn't really press her on why she accepted a waiver of confidentiality from Scooter Libby now as opposed to three months ago. Miller said that "I didn't want Mr. Fitzgerald to pressure my source into giving me the waiver because then it wouldn't be a voluntary waiver{lcub}hellip{rcub}I didn't want to participate in a fishing expedition." Until she spoke directly to Libby, Miller said, "I was willing to sit in jail."

Bill Keller says the Times plans a definitive piece on all this, perhaps by the weekend.

Jay Rosen | http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/ is losing confidence in the NYT:

"The New York Times is not any longer -- in my mind -- the greatest newspaper in the land. Nor is it the base line for the public narrative that it once was. Some time in the least year or so I moved the Washington Post into that position . . .

"The Post, I believe, is our great national newspaper now; the Times is number two, with the Wall Street Journal close behind. Still a strong fleet. With a new ship in the lead perhaps it will sail to unexpected places.

"It was a long time in the making, this change in my half-conscious rankings of the great players in news. The Web has a lot to do with it, for the Post has been bolder, more willing to experiment online, less hung up . . . TimesSelect has something to do with it, too, for the reasons I explored in an earlier post. The breakdown in controls in reporting Weapons of Mass Destruction is, of course a factor -- along with earlier episodes: Jayson Blair, Wen Ho Lee, Paul Krugman's correction trauma.

"The switch happened a while ago, but I only realized it Monday night, as I was about to read Katharine Seelye's account of Judith Miller's return to the newsroom of the New York Times. When I clicked on the story about 1:00 am I thought to myself . . . They're not up to it. And while it may seem strange to some PressThink readers, I had never really felt that way before in reading a news story in the New York Times.

"On plenty of occasions since I began reading the paper I would say to myself after finishing a Times article, 'nah, I don't trust it.' Often I have waved an imaginary hand at what I had just read, as if to say: get out of here with that! There were columnists whose way of arriving at opinions I didn't trust, and periods when I lost trust in the editorial pages entirely. But I held to a half-conscious assumption as a news reader (and paying subscriber) that the New York Times would always try to tell me what it knew when it covered a story, and it would always try to cover the stories it knew were news."