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Jewish World Review Oct 10, 2005/ 7 Tishrei, 5766

Suzanne Fields

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Politics, sex and the court | Identity politics is a world of paradox. To liberal women, their conservative sisters are merely men in drag, so affirmative action should never apply to them. The accomplishments black Americans have made in education and the professions are sometimes churlishly discounted as driven by "positive" discrimination.

Political correctness, the child of identity politics, demands that Indian mascots of sports teams be erased, even though many Indians take considerable pride in the exploits of the Florida State Seminoles, the Fighting Illini, the Atlanta Braves and of course the Washington Redskins, now that they're beating the Cowboys again.

Paradoxes all. What makes identity politics bad is that it invites generalizations, stereotypes, and projects on others the narrow prejudices of particular groups in pursuit of privilege. Identity politics is intellectually shallow and inevitably runs afoul of the iron law of unintended consequences. By scapegoating certain groups and patronizing others, identity politics sacrifices the individual on the altar of groupthink.

Harriet Miers, the president's heartthrob, is discounted by conservatives because she's just a sympathetic woman the president found to fill a "woman's seat." There's some truth in that. The president's wife put a little pillow pressure on the president with her public wish that he would choose a woman. Feminists, however, don't want just any woman, however qualified, to replace Sandra Day O'Connor. Janice Rogers Brown, Priscilla Owen or Edith Jones need not apply. Eleanor Smeal, president of the radical Feminist Majority Foundation, demands a minimum of four women on the Supreme Court: "The era of tokenism is over." This is what happens when sex appeal trumps judicial appeal.

Not so long ago, women were touted as more feeling, more caring than men, but George W., the "compassionate conservative," followed Bill Clinton, who could feel everybody's pain but the pain of national humiliation he often inflicted on everybody else. Today the notion that we ought to have a woman's chair, seat or office no longer has so much to do with her female sensibility. Sen. Harry Reid, the leader of the Democratic minority in the Senate, says he likes Harriet Miers because she comes with "real life experience." (As compared to what?)

When the president introduced Miss Miers, he gave several examples as to how she was "the first woman" to achieve this and do that, but he insisted that she was nevertheless the best person for the job no matter what her sex. Can anyone believe that if Harriet Miers was Harry Miers he would have been nominated?

There's more than a little coyness in the president's choice because the woman he chose, like her or not, is not easily stereotyped, unless you count the label "spinster," which the media has conveniently attached to her resume. But calling her an old maid undercuts the idea that she has "real life experience." Columnist Maureen Dowd, a spinster herself, sneers in The New York Times that Harriet Miers merely joins other "vestal virgins" who guard the sacred fire of W's reputation. The president invited these characterizations, of course, when he told his conservative friends not to be afraid of her thin resume because he could "see into her heart."

So far we haven't a clue as to what kind of judge, big heart or not, Harriet Miers would make. She contributed $150 to a right-to-life organization in Texas, but that doesn't tell us anything about what she thinks about Roe v. Wade, or whether she sees that penumbra of privacy in the Constitution on which Roe v. Wade rests. She gave money to an early Al Gore campaign, so her biography, such as it is, offers scant support for the president's assurance that "she's not going to change."

We can all admire her as an accomplished woman. But a cultural conservative is inevitably disappointed by what's missing in that biography — and absence of evidence of judicial philosophy. Since the nomination like it or not is out there, it's only fair to keep an open mind about it (so long as our minds are not so open that our brains fall out). Her answers to questions by the Senate Judiciary Committee should give us a hint of whatever judicial philosophy she may have. Maybe George W. was blinded by political sex appeal. Maybe not. The ball is in the Senate's court, and the score is 15-love.

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© 2005, Suzanne Fields, Creators Syndicate