The Return of Sexism

Gentlemen, let the meltdown begin. It’s tape-off-the-mouth time in Washington. The Bush administration has so successfully reversed women’s advancement that elite Good Ol’ Boys who make their living telling other conservatives how to think no longer find it politically incorrect to publicly display sexist attitudes.

I’m not one to cry “sexism.” In 15-plus years of writing a weekly opinion column, I’ve never accused the neo-con movement of sexism en masse.

Finally, the moment has arrived.

It arrived specifically last Thursday morning. I uncharacteristically tuned into C-SPAN to view a stunning performance by neo-con extraordinaire and commentator David Frum. He seemed to be trying hard to be genuine. He was having difficulty deploying the requisite muscles for sympathetic facial expressions (they had apparently gone unused for so long). While explaining that he worships at the Bush altar of pious politics, he still could not support the president’s nomination of White House counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court.

Interesting, I thought. Neither do I. But he must be right for the wrong reasons. He went on to explain that Miers is unqualified for the court. True enough, she is no judicial exemplar. But a court scholar who appeared on C-SPAN just after Frum noted that more than half of the justices thus far in U.S. history had little or “no significant” judicial experience before joining the high court, and that includes most of the chief justices.

Pop goes that argument. If judicial experience were a sine qua non for court service, the late conservative icon and chief justice, William Rehnquist, would never have been allowed to serve.

Frum then went on to explain that Miers lacks the intellectual gravitas of Justices “Scalia or Thomas.” I was with him until the word “or,” at which point I had trouble keeping my breakfast down. As a former reporter who covered the Supreme Court for nine years after Clarence Thomas was confirmed, I never once saw him ask a question during oral arguments. His lack of intellectual gravitas was a question before his confirmation hearings and a continued font of conversation among court watchers since. To put it mildly, Thomas is known for many things, but genius is nary among them. Yet that bothers neo-cons not at all.

Miers would never have been my choice for the Supreme Court. But that would be based on her extreme religiosity and her former campaign manager’s quote to the Dallas Morning News. Lorlee Bartos, who managed Miers’ one and only political campaign for the Dallas City Council in 1989, told the paper that Miers “is on the extreme end of the anti-choice movement.” Extremism has no place on the Supreme Court, lest the objective is civil and political strife.

My objection would not be due to her intellectual or other credentials.

Frankly, it’s premature for Frum and buddies George Will, Charles Krauthammer and other denizens of the extreme right to challenge her intellectual rigor. There’s simply not enough in the record to confirm or deny those points.

How odd, then, that those who most likely espouse her precise political leanings would be tantrum-ing off the charts against her nomination. And tantrum-ing it is! The Washington Post reported Oct. 7 that a White House tribute to conservative opinion leader William F. Buckley was ruined by prickly right-wingers clearly perturbed over the Miers pick.

“In the front row for Bush’s speech to the conservatives sat George Will, who the day before wrote that Bush ‘has forfeited his right to be trusted as a custodian of the Constitution.’ In the back row sat William Kristol, who wrote earlier in the week that the nomination of Miers had the look of ‘a combination of cronyism and capitulation on the part of the president.’ ”

Would these guys have felt as sanguine about rattling Miers’ credentials if she were a man? No. Why? Because as far back as this administration has shoved so many progressive causes, none comes close to the damage the president has done to women’s advancement. Of course, his clones feel comfortable publicly berating a woman’s credentials, from intellect, to resume to conservative commitment. Sexism is once again cool. At least, one can hope, until the neo-con meltdown drives this president and his political ilk permanently from power.

(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)