Playing to the Crowd

With the kerfuffle over the nomination of White House counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, and with President Bush having to persuade his wild-eyed supporters that she is every bit as reactionary as they are, it is time to pause and express wonder at this process.

What a thing it is — a cross between kabuki theater and the Three Stooges. Why, it sort of reminds me of how I got my job, which, as you know, involves writing ridiculous opinions in the newspaper. From this parallel universe, perhaps I can offer Miers some tips.

Although no Supreme Court bench, mine is nice, steady work that has this in common with the law _ it beats selling aluminum siding for a living. While it is not exactly lifetime tenure, I have been here so long I am listed on the inventory of office furniture. (But don’t go thinking I am a couch just because I am well-upholstered and plump in the middle.)

When I first applied for the job, I wasn’t well-qualified in the usual sense, but it helped that I was a friend of the boss.

When it comes to credentials, it is all very fine attending the best Ivy League schools, but, if you are a friend of the boss, you can go to the University of Hard Knocks and save your parents a lot of tuition money.

To those of you who may be a tad jealous of my good fortune, it should also be said that I was an ideal candidate in that I have always been quite conservative in a liberal sort of way and possessed of good values. For example, I am a stickler for the cocktail hour starting at 6 p.m. and not a moment before (excluding, of course, lunch). I believe it was bedrock principles such as this that made our country great.

Nor can I be called an activist in interpreting the great issues of the day. Why, I am hardly active at all. I am what is called a pillar of society _ rigid, upright and prone to cobwebs. The opinions I write are of the original-intent school, which holds that whatever one originally intended to write is probably improved by a game of golf in the meantime.

Although I was in like Flynn as regards my career advancement, I did have to go through a confirmation hearing that impressed me for being unusually intensive. I was denounced a good deal in the process, but, being a married man, I was well-prepared for that.

A distinguished committee held the hearing _ distinguished, that is, by the number of egomaniacs in attendance. They wanted to know what I thought of things. Can you imagine? The impudence of them!

There are two strategies for dealing with such nosy rascals. One is to have left no paper trail, which is what Miers has done. Unfortunately, I have written many opinions during my newspaper career, but _ and any reader will tell you this _ they are very hard to figure out. A sense of humor is often required, but who has one of those? Certainly not senior editors. They are like gravediggers in eyeshades.

Thus the committee was forced to probe my philosophy and my views on certain notorious subjects. But it is very bad form to answer questions because it is against journalistic canons, which state quite clearly: “We ask the questions, we don’t answer them.” So I was affable, polite and uncommunicative.

“As you know, your editorships,” I said to the committee members, “I would like to tell you how I feel about children mining coal or operating heavy machinery, but if I expressed an opinion now, everybody would know what I would write before I wrote it, and the spontaneity would suffer. But I promise you that I will study the precedents of past editorials and give them a good mulling over lunch.”

One woman editor wanted to know about Reg Henry, the person. “What sort of heart do you have?” she said. Very large, I said. But I also have a very large brain, so large that it pushed my hair out of my scalp, and the head and heart work together to denounce the government.

Needless to say, a majority voted to confirm me in my position, much to the consternation of the public. I am sure that this will also occur with Miers, because this is America and all sorts of crazy things happen when the boss is confused.

(Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. E-mail rhenry(at)