'Sexism' and the Bush Family

Asked on NBC’s "Today" show if criticism of the Harriet Miers nomination might be rooted in sexism, first lady Laura Bush seemed to welcome the question.

"I think that’s possible," she purred, describing Miers as "an extraordinarily accomplished woman" who had "broken the glass ceiling." Thus did Laura Bush associate herself with the stand of Ellie Smeal of the Feminist Majority Foundation, who has branded critics of Miers’ meager credentials a pack of sexist males.

"I think that essentially that this hue and cry that she isn’t qualified, there’s a sexist basis to it," Smeal told the New York Times. "Does she have the mental capacity? Give me a break. Would they say that about a man? I don’t think they would."

Sen. Barbara Mikulski also waded in: "I am shocked at the sexism … coming out of the far right."

Ed Gillespie, the former RNC chair with the unenviable task of shepherding Miers through confirmation, told a gathering of conservatives last week his sensitive nostrils had also picked up a "whiff of sexism and a whiff of elitism" among them.

What the first lady and Gillespie seek to accomplish by tarring critics of Miers’ nomination sexist — i.e., men bigoted against women — thus impugning the motives and character of conservatives who have loyally supported President Bush, escapes me.

But if there is sexism in this nomination, it is transparently not the critics of Harriet Miers who are the guilty party.

Indeed, if one defines "sexism" as denying consideration for high office of all members of one gender, regardless of ability, or a conscious favoritism rooted in gender alone, it is President Bush and the first lady who are guilty of sexism in the nomination of Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court.

For we have it on the word of Dr. James Dobson that, in filling this decisive swing seat on the Supreme Court, President Bush, at the prodding of his wife, eliminated from consideration every male lawyer in the United States — and more than 80 percent of all U.S. district and appellate court judges — solely because of his gender.

Is this not deliberate discrimination on the basis of sex alone?

According to the Washington Post, Dobson, "after receiving permission from (Karl) Rove," revealed the contents of their now-famous conversation. Dobson, said the Post, claims "Rove told him Bush was focused on finding a woman for the court, which he said may have cut the list of candidates ’80 percent.’"

Conservatives never asked Bush to eliminate women from consideration. But Bush unilaterally and arbitrarily eliminated men.

Who, then, is the sexist here?

Bush apparently narrowed even further the pool of nominees by eliminating Catholics and Jews. "People are interested to know why I picked Harrier Myers," AP writer Nedra Pickler quotes Bush as saying. "Part of Harriet Miers’ life is her religion."

Now, there is nothing wrong about considering ethnicity, religion, geography or gender in a nominee. Every Democratic president since Wilson maintained a "Jewish seat" on the Supreme Court. But Brandeis, Frankfurter and Fortas were all considered brilliant, and Clinton’s choices, Ginsburg and Breyer, were never accused of lacking credentials.

LBJ appointed the first African-American, Marshall. Nixon in ’68 pledged to appoint a Southern conservative. Reagan named the first woman, O’Connor, and the first Italian-American, Scalia.

The problem with Bush’s selection process is this: He included so many extraneous disqualifiers that he eliminated all of the most qualified. In the hallowed name of "diversity," excellence was thrown out the window.

If anyone put into an IBM computer the name of every lawyer in the United States and then added the following qualifications — the nominee must be a devout Christian, a woman and preferably "outside the monastery" of the federal bench, with no paper trail, who will not trigger a Senate fight or filibuster, and who George Bush has come to know and like — the name of Harriet Miers will pop out every time.

In adding so many disqualifiers, Bush and the first lady lost sight of what should have been his first and supreme consideration: a justice cut from the same bolt of cloth as Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas, who had a formed judicial philosophy of strict construction of the Constitution, and the intelligence and capacity not only to argue that position, but to persuade other justices of its wisdom.

By hanging out a shingle reading "No Males Need Apply!" Bush has made the O’Connor seat the affirmative action seat for women on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Which raises a question: Will Justice Harriet Miers, a beneficiary of affirmative action, recuse herself when the issue of discrimination against men comes before the court?


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