Politics & Policy

When The President Lost His Women

They called it sexism. All those women-hating women!

It won’t go away. Throughout the Harriet Miers confirmation fight, critics were characterized as, among other things, “sexists.” Back then, while the nomination was live, it was often Republicans lobbing that charge against conservative critics of the nomination. Now it’s loudest from the left. “I don’t believe they would have attacked a man the way she was attacked. I’ve never seen it happen,” California Democratic Dianne Feinstein–the lone woman on the Senate Judiciary Committee–declared on Thursday.

So an anti-woman male conservative movement did in “trailblazer” Harriet Miers as an associate justice of the United State Supreme Court?

Uh…speaking as the editor of a major conservative web outlet–who happens to be female (did the “Kathryn” given that away?)–not quite.

Of course, like women in general, conservative gals are in no way monolithic, but Republicans would be wise to pay heed to many of their outspoken, sensible women. Taking their advice–see Heather MacDonald today (and see, much earlier, Charmaine Yoest and yours truly; see also Danielle Crittenden; see Kate O’Beirne in the current National Review…the list goes on)–could keep Republicans out of trouble in the future. And, you know, some of these gals come in handy when you need backup. After all, I think it is safe to say that some of them were missed during the Miers fight.

At the height of summer heat in late August, the buzz was that John Roberts–now Supreme Court chief justice, then this president’s first Supreme Court nominee–was a “Neanderthal.” It was a ridiculous contention, lobbed by “unhinged”–to borrow Michelle Malkin’s characterization of the Left’s–critics. (Malkin, conservative female, also did not support Miers. (I suspect she would have supported the second coming of Roberts, or a non-stealth Scalia.)

So, one dog-day morning, a group of conservative women gathered at the National Press Club to out the ridiculousness of the criticisms–just down the hallway from a Ralph Neas’s dump-on-Roberts press conference, as it happened. Ironic though it may be, sometimes it takes a few good women to be the most effective gender-politics bashers. She they reported for duty. I emceed the event.

D.C. radio-talk-show host Linda Chavez was there defending Roberts against the silly August chattering. “He doesn’t have a sexist bone in his body,” she said, having worked with Roberts in the White House where he (outrageously, in the eyes of the real misogynists, the National Organization for Women and its sisters) had an “anti-comparable worth” paper trail. Amen, brother. As comparable worth is socialism, it was safe to say that he was for common sense and fairness in his younger days.

(On the Miers nomination, by the way, Chavez wrote, “Trotting out Miers’ pastor and old boyfriend (who happens also to be a judge) to vouch for her and touting her Evangelical Christian faith won’t substitute for clear insight into Miers’ judicial philosophy.”)

The “Women for Roberts” press conference was attended by women who probably had two goals in mind: to knock down the idiotic anti-women claims against John Roberts and to focus everyone like a laser on what matters: judicial philosophy. A future without judicial activism.

If a gathering of conservative women about SCOTUS had happened, say, on Wednesday of this week, it might have been in opposition to Miers–from women who all voted for President Bush, and possibly spoke at or attended a “W is for Women” rally back in the campaign days.

We’ve come a long way baby. Sigh.

One woman who was at the August event told me earlier this week, “If Miers really is a good candidate, conservatives have not been well treated by the White House. If she’s not a good candidate, then it’s a slap in the face…which is how most conservatives are reading it.”

It was a weird position for many Bush supporters–on one of the key reelection issues, with a president who had a good track record on naming judges to lower courts. (Remember the Janice Rogers Brown-Priscilla Owens-Bill Pryor days?)

Earlier this week, conservative evangelical blogger Chairmaine Yoest told me she was “tremendously disappointed” in the Miers pick and added: “I have not been vocally opposed to Miers. But I would not support her either. Although of course the heat and momentum against her is coming from those actively opposing her, I think the president also misunderestimated how damaging silence from one’s supporters can be.” Byron York noticed the absence of the Judicial Confirmation Network’s articulate Wendy Long. I think the White House will be glad to have her back.

The Chicago Sun Times noticed the silence, too. Lynn Sweet, covering an event promoting Kellyanne Conway’s new book on women and politics (written bipartisanly with Democratic pollster Celinda Lake) wrote:

If the scenario played out predictably, the conservative female GOP pundit corps would have flooded the talk shows once Bush made his announcement to hype Miers. Not to rubber stamp the selection of a woman–that would be sexist in its own way. The point, as in the campaign to support the nomination of John Roberts for chief justice, would be to praise a qualified nominee who incidentally is female. The Bush White House wanted to find someone with no record the Democrats could attack and presumably calculated that picking a female would help provide cover.

So much for that. Instead, many a Ms. Conservative was being called “sexist” by Miers defenders. “She’s no slap-ass” one White House staffer told a Republican Capitol Hill audience in the first days of the Miers campaign. Women who have knocked down silly conventional wisdom whining about glass ceilings and equal pay were being lectured to and patronized by a Republican administration that seemed to be channeling some 1970s bra burner (as did those speeches–the ones that did her in, ultimately–the Washington Post posted earlier this week).

That’s what was sexist about the Miers fight.

But now Harriet Miers has graciously withdrawn her nomination. She served her country and her president well in doing so. And lucky for Republican leaders, I doubt most women who felt dissed by the White House’s ham-handed Miers campaign will hold grudges. There are more important things to worry about. For many such Republicans, the Court is the thing: Presidential mistakes and insults can and will be forgiven when the eye’s back on the ball and the president’s Supreme Court pick is one that makes good sense, free of gender quotas and other nonsense.

One of the many messages of the failed Miers nomination is: Identity politics get you nowhere good. In this case, the president cut off some of his usually reliable support base–people who were standing with him on John Roberts, nominated for what conventional wisdom dubbed a “woman’s seat” on the Court. And guess what? Dianne Feinstein will never like any good George W. Bush choice.

So just go for the best. Quotas be damned.


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