Politics & Policy

Miers Mess

Hypocrisy, double standards, and contradictions.

The nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court is foundering, but President Bush is confident that she will be confirmed. Bush thus displays a touching faith in the power of hypocrisy, double standards, and contradictions to see his nominee through. The case for Miers is an unholy mess, an opportunistic collection of whatever rhetorical flotsam happens to be at hand.

The White House and its allies have long argued that it is wrong to bring a judicial nominee’s faith into the discussion about his merits, and any attempt to do so amounts to religious bigotry. When it was suggested that John Roberts’s Catholic faith might be an area for inquiry in his confirmation, White House allies recoiled in horror.

Now the White House tells conservatives that Miers will vote the right way because she’s a born-again Christian. This is the chief reason that some prominent Christian conservatives are supporting her, in a blatant bit of right-wing identity politics. They apparently believe her religious faith will determine what she thinks about the equal-protection clause, the separation of powers, and other nettlesome constitutional issues. As sociology, there is something to this–an evangelical is more likely to be conservative than a Unitarian–but to place so much weight on Miers’s demographic profile, rather than her own merits and judicial philosophy, is noxious and un-American.

But don’t worry: As soon as Democrats try to probe Miers’s evangelicalism, these Republicans will be back to saying her faith should be off-limits.

When Roberts’s past work in Ronald Reagan’s White House counsel’s office was released, revealing an eager participant in the Reagan Revolution, the White House downplayed it. It didn’t want its nominee to appear too conservative. So, Roberts was only taking orders. Nothing could be discerned about his own philosophy from his work in the counsel’s office.

Now that the Miers nomination has encountered conservative opposition, the White House points to her work in Bush’s counsel’s office nominating strict constructionist judges as evidence of her own conservatism. She wasn’t just taking orders, but offering a window into her political soul. When Democrats demand to see the documents from Miers’s work there, the White House will surely reverse field in yet another acrobatic flip-flop-flip, refusing the requests partly because the documents supposedly don’t reveal anything about her after all.

During his nomination process, there were signs that Roberts was pro-life. But the White House didn’t want any of that discussed–his personal views were deemed irrelevant. Now White House aides whisper to conservatives that Miers is personally pro-life, as if it is a clinching argument in her favor.

The White House was happy to trumpet the fact that Roberts graduated summa cum laude from Harvard undergrad and law school. Now it insinuates that anyone looking for similar credentials in its latest Supreme Court pick is guilty of “elitism.” Indeed, White House point-man Dan Coats suggests her role will be to keep the Court from becoming too intellectual (what with that egghead Roberts now leading it).

And on it goes. Miers is a trailblazer, but she will loyally follow Roberts’s lead. She is an independent woman, but will vote however Bush wants her to vote. She has an excellent judicial temperament, but conservatives better not criticize her too harshly or she will turn against them. The attacks on Miers are patronizing, but one of the reasons she will be such a good justice–as a pro-Miers blogger argued–is that she will win over her colleagues by uncomplainingly “fetching beverages” for them.

It is a sign of how far lost the White House is that one of its key operatives, Ed Gillespie, is reading off the same talking points as liberal Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski. Both discern sexism in the criticisms of Miers. If it’s sexist to question Miers, what is it to be even more unimpressed with the men trying to boost her nomination?

Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years.

(c) 2005 King Features Syndicate

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