By Leonard Pitts: Syndicated Columnist
In a way, you can’t blame the Bush Administration for turning the conversation to Harriet Miers’ religion. What else are they going to talk about? Her qualifications?
Those, as we have learned in the two weeks and counting since President Bush nominated her to the Supreme Court, are a trifle thin. The woman who would become one of the nine most important judges in the land has never been a judge before. Worse, she lacks significant experience in constitutional law. But on the plus side, she is — big surprise here — Bush’s longtime lawyer and friend.
Miers has built a successful career, primarily in corporate law, that has left little paper trail. One might be forgiven for thinking she was meant as a stealth nominee, the idea being that a woman who had never taken a publicly recorded stand offered detractors a smaller target.
It’s not turning out that way.
Predictably, Miers’ nomination raised red flags among Democrats. Less predictably, it has also upset Republicans, already plenty upset over the mishandling of Hurricane Katrina, the budget-busting plan to rebuild New Orleans and the scandal over the leaking of a CIA operative’s name. They fear that in Miers, they are not getting what Bush implicitly promised them: a nuclear weapon in the culture wars, a justice who would vote to roll back previous rulings on gay rights, school prayer and abortion.
Key GOP senators have been cool toward the nomination, and a virtual who’s who of conservative punditry — Charles Krauthammer, Kathleen Parker, George F. Will, William Kristol among them — has lined up to condemn it.
Faced with this uprising among his political base, the president’s first response was that his people should trust his judgment. He said last week Miers was not the type to change and “that 20 years from now she’ll be the same person with the same philosophy that she is today.”
Which was a not-so-coded message that she would not, after being sworn in, betray the conservative cause like other justices he could name. The comment did not answer the question of why the inability to change would be a selling point. Worse, from the president’s point of view, it did not quell the rebellion.
Hence, religion. In a message even less coded than the one before it, the White House, echoed by such religious right stalwarts as James Dobson and Pat Robertson, began this week to emphasize Miers’ evangelical credentials.
Bush told reporters Miers’ faith was one reason he nominated her. Dobson, president of Focus on the Family, said on his radio program that he had been assured by Bush political guru Karl Rove that Miers was a conservative Christian. And on “The 700 Club,” Robertson warned GOP senators of dire consequences if they turn their backs on “a Christian who is a conservative …”
Where Miers is concerned, the White House is winking and nudging like a man with a nervous condition, but its people aren’t buying.
And beg pardon, but wasn’t it three months ago that a Democratic senator asked nominee John G. Roberts Jr. a perfectly legitimate question (Have you thought about how you would handle conflicts between your Catholic faith and the law?) only to have conservatives get their knickers in a knot over a supposedly inappropriate injection of religion into the confirmation process? So suddenly it’s OK to talk religion?
The hypocrisy is suffocating. It is not, sad to say, surprising.
For four years plus, this administration has brazenly flouted law, hired cronies, praised incompetence, pretended up was down and black, white, then dared us to believe the evidence of our lying eyes. This is the same old same old.
Still, it’s a rare and satisfying treat to see that behavior backfire so loudly and so publicly.
Harriet Miers’ bid for the high court has exploded like a novelty store cigar. A stealth nominee, she is not.
Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org