October 11, 2005
When the first news stories about Harriet Miers' nomination to the Supreme Court all used the same quote from President Bush describing her as "a pit bull in size 6 shoes," I decided I would listen carefully to this debate.
Even before all the criticism of cronyism and her thin qualifications, I had the feeling that this conversation - coming so close on the heels of the confirmation of John Roberts as chief justice - was going to be different.
And it certainly has been.
"When it comes to cross-examination, she can fillet better than Mrs. Paul."
Another Bush quote about Miers the likes of which would never have been found in the Roberts transcripts.
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd called her one of "Bush's office wives," like Condoleezza Rice and Karen Hughes. Another bit of phraseology that has no gender equivalent in Karl Rove's wing of the White House.
Descriptions of her visits to senators on Capitol Hill noted her having her hands folded in her lap and her legs crossed at the ankles.
Profiles of her early life include a description of her as "blond, pretty and athletic," and remark upon the fact that she wore her hair in a modest braid, unlike the other girls and their bouffants.
"As sweet as anybody in our class," said a former classmate.
"Steel magnolia." "Sweet Southern lady." "Part silk, part steel." "A very decent lady."
All of these phrases have been used to describe Miers.
Attempts to humanize her resulted in this nugget: "She's a terrible cook."
The fact that she faced discrimination as a female law school graduate and later as a woman lawyer are seen as qualifications.
Such experiences would give her empathy for victims who come before the court, it is being argued.
"She is one tough woman," allowed one senator. But she could be expected to charm the Judiciary Committee "with her Southern lady drawl."
Take any of these comments and recast them as a description of Roberts, and you will see that we have still not found a way to drain our language of the sexist shorthand that often demeans women.
Imagine if a profile of Roberts had included the fact that he can't hammer a nail to save his life.
Imagine if someone had described him as "a bulldog in size 13 wingtips," or if they had compared him to a flower.
And while Rove's closeness to Bush means that he is a power to be reckoned with, Miers' loyalty makes her, as Dowd put it, "a den mother."
But there have been differences in the discussion of Miers and Roberts that have less to do with gender than they do with the mix of politics and religion under this administration.
While Roberts was asked to make assurances that his Catholicism would not influence his decision-making - harkening back to the old fear that the pope would dictate to John F. Kennedy - Miers' evangelical Christianity is being offered as proof of her suitability as a conservative nominee.
Perhaps the most disturbing comment about Miers came from the president himself, who said, "I know her. I know her heart."
Bush went on to say that he expects Miers to vote on the Supreme Court exactly as he wants her to vote.
The suggestion that this woman could be counted on to do his bidding for years to come is perhaps the most demeaning comment of all.
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