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Joining the “Withdraw Now” Crowd


Subject: Joining the “Withdraw Now” Crowd
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I harbor no illusions that my opinions have any influence on others, but I have to report that, like Ed Whelan and Roger Clegg, I am now firmly in the camp of those calling for the withdrawal of Harriet Miers’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Up to now I have been in the “waiting for hearings but highly skeptical” camp, but no longer. The release of those two 1993 speeches by Miers that have garnered so much attention today (PDF files available thanks to the Washington Post here and here) has been decisive for me. Ed Whelan’s essay on the first of these speeches is must reading for fence-sitters, as is the exchange on The Corner between Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru (along with much of the associated extended Corner commentary).

In one of the passages from the first speech, noted by Ed, Miers proclaims our modern freedom from the benighted old idea that we can “legislate morality.” Of course no one actually believes that we cannot legislate morality. It’s doubtful whether one can legislate anything else. Almost no act of legislation is proposed or passed without some moral underpinning being cited as its justification. “You can’t legislate morality!” is a total non-starter as an argument, and is almost exclusively the province of leftists (and occasional libertarians) who wish to ridicule alleged bluenoses and Puritan moralists who want (in their critics’ view) to “impose their values” on everyone else even when no one is “harmed” by “private” behavior. You know, such “private” behavior as abortion, homosexual marriage, adultery, gambling, drug abuse, prostitution, etc.–all of which are activities that must be supported or opposed by, you guessed it, moral arguments. In short, “you can’t legislate morality!” is a sophomore’s version of John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty and its “harm” principle. It is not a statement one should expect from someone nominated to serve on the Supreme Court.

One could go on dissecting the opinions expressed in these two speeches–like Miers’s apparent endorsement of the late Barbara Jordan’s foolish remark that she realized one day that the words “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence “did not apply to her.”

But I have a more basic criticism to make, echoing the aforementioned comments of John Derbyshire. These two texts of Miers’s speeches are either the written basis of her remarks, prepared by her, or they are transcriptions made by others (from recordings, stenography, or very good notes) of speeches delivered more or less extemporaneously. One hopes they are the latter, since the two texts are riddled with elementary errors of grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Wasn’t Miers the famous White House grammarian with other people’s work? Well, hardly a paragraph of these speeches is free of obvious blunders. (And what’s the deal with half of page three apparently missing from the second speech linked above?)

Let us suppose that Harriet Miers didn’t write what we are reading–that these texts are the work of others, based on her oratory. Then we would still have to conclude that the two speeches are somnolent strings of banalities, platoons of platitudes marching nowhere, utterly devoid of any rhetorical or argumentative structure or, indeed, any point whatsoever that lasts longer than a few lines. They strike one as the sort of thing that, once heard at the monthly lunch of the small-town Rotary Club, would prompt one to tear up one’s membership card as a bad bargain.

These speeches, in fine, are not the works of a thoughtful person. However pedestrian their occasions (and the demands of pedestrian audiences must be borne in mind), they nevertheless suggest that we will wait a long time for any evidence that Harriet Miers has ever had an interesting thought cross her mind. That we are still waiting for such evidence, more than three weeks after her nomination, has finally destroyed my patience.

Sen. Charles Schumer, inveterate mischief-maker as always, has declared that a withdrawal of Miers’s nomination before her scheduled hearings would signal Pres. Bush’s “caving in” to the right wing of his party–a sure sign of weakness, says Schumer. It is a good rule for the president to follow that if Schumer advises something for your own good, do the opposite.


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