Harriet Miers: the inkblot nominee

Last month Jenny Diski, one of the sharpest London Review of Books contributors, put the lie to the notion, advanced in Laura Flanders’ Bushwomen: Tales of a Cynical Species, that women affiliated with the Bush administration are “traitors who lend their gender to the enemy to befuddle their sisters.”

Apparently Flanders’ thesis goes something like this: “right-wing women [are] worse than right-wing men on the grounds that they are there specifically to deliver the female vote.”

“Well, they would be, wouldn’t they?” Diski judiciously observes. After all, “[t]hey are right-wing.” She goes on:

We can’t get it into our heads that, barring some anatomy, women are very like men. Being able to write their name in the snow when they pee doesn’t entitle men to rule the world, but shaving under their arms doesn’t stop women being self-serving believers in rampant capitalism.

Diski’s is a penetrating takedown, relying on inconvenient — to Flanders, who evidently believes that those who’ve overcome adversity should be correspondingly more opposed to discrimination against others — yet salient facts such as the life trajectory of Condoleezza Rice’s cousin, Connie, who:

was brought up in the segregationist South with the same family belief that children could educate themselves out of their circumstances. Both of them did just that, after which Condi Rice chose the board of Chevron oil, the invasion of Iraq and right-wing Republicanism; Connie Rice studied law, joined the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and has her own views on capitalism: ‘It’s not an invisible hand, it’s an invisible penis, and my clients always get screwed.’

Now Congress is questioning Harriet Miers about her qualifications to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. Laura Bush and friends are characterizing substantive objections (not to be confused with beside-the-point aesthetics) as sexist. And Diski’s consideration of the Bush administration’s female policy-makers and administrators seems even more relevant now than when it ran last month. Here’s more:

Bushwomen is full of vital information about the present US administration, but the focus on women, Bushbaddies though they may be, deflects the bigger, nastier picture. We need to be scared and amazed by what is being done by everyone in the Bush administration in the name of freedom and democracy. What are women doing there? The same as the men. Why should they be less awful? Because women have experienced the results of social and political repression and therefore know better?…. Because women are nicer? Maternal bodies, softer biology, testosterone-lite, womby, warmy lullabiers. Even if there were those who, irrationally and sentimentally, believed such nonsense in the days of the 1970s feminist movement, Margaret Thatcher’s reign should have put paid to that fantasy.

Sure, for fairness’ sake, we should have more women on the Supreme Court. But as sitting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has pointed out, it’s folly to delight indiscriminately in the nomination of any random woman.

(This only makes sense. Otherwise nominations essentially would boil down to: “Hello! Yes, you there on the street! You have a vagina; you carry a briefcase well; you’d look imposing in a robe. How ’bout it?”)

Calling Miers a “human Rorschach test,” Dahlia Lithwick reviews the paltry information we actually have about Bush’s latest nominee.

We know her notable successes as a Texas attorney; we know she’s a serious born-again Christian; we know she is universally hailed as loyal and discreet. And we know she has been serving the president in various personal and professional capacities for a decade. But what we don’t know could easily fill the 80,000 pages of John Roberts’ documents we scrutinized so carefully before his confirmation: We don’t know her politics, we don’t know her judicial philosophy (or where she may have developed one), we don’t know if she’s even thought about the Constitution since law school, and we don’t know how she would begin to approach a constitutional question.

Until we know the answers to these questions, Congressional Democrats need to dabble less in gender-based, how-much-harm-can-she-do-really? assumptions, and to do more in the way of rigorous probing.


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