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"The Harriet Miers I Know"

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Cal

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October 14, 2005
Op-Ed Contributor
The Harriet Miers I Know
By MATTHEW SCULLY
Los Angeles

WHITE House speechwriters first learned the name Harriet Miers in January 2001, when drafts started reappearing full of corrections, instructions and particularly annoying requests for factual substantiation. In the campaign, life had been simpler, the editing and fact-checking a little more casual. Now the old ways wouldn't do anymore because "Harriet said" this or "Harriet said" that. Who was this woman, and could the staff secretary please confine herself to secretarial duties?

We had a few things to learn about the job of the staff secretary - the person who controls all paper passing through the Oval Office - and above all about the caliber of the woman behind the editing. And now that fellow conservatives in Washington are asking variations of the same question about President Bush's nominee to the Supreme Court - Who is this "crony," "cipher," "hack," "functionary" or, as my former speechwriting colleague David Frum has called her, this "petty bureaucrat"? - I think I can help with the answer.

When you know Harriet Miers, it's funny to think of her as the subject of such controversy. Yet already her notoriety is such that even the most innocent of virtues can be thrown back at her as inadequate - "not even second-rate," as a National Review Online posting said, "but third-rate." She's a detail person. Diligent and dependable. Honest, kind, modest, devout and all that. A real mediocrity.

Her qualities are disappointing only in comparison, of course, to all those perfectly credentialed lions of the law we keep hearing about. Her critics couldn't run to the TV studio and expertly discourse about her. Therefore, she must be a nobody.

My friend David Frum expresses the general complaint when he asks, in his blog, when did Harriet Miers "ever take a risk on behalf of conservative principle? Can you see any indication of intellectual excellence? Did she ever do anything brave, anything that took backbone?" To translate: When all the big-thinkers were persevering year after year at policy institutes and conferences at the Mayflower Hotel, or risking all for principle in stirring op-ed essays and $20,000 lectures, where was Little Miss Southern Methodist University?

If four years observing the woman is any guide, the answer is she was probably doing something useful. But whatever she was up to, it's not good enough. Harriet Miers, says Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard, is undoubtedly a well-meaning person, but he was expecting "brilliance," and her selection signaled "weakness" and "capitulation." Mr. Kristol also suggested how the Miers nomination could be withdrawn. In the tone of Michael Corleone laying out some general instructions, he said that with Ms. Miers out of the way, "the president's aides would explain that he miscalculated out of loyalty and admiration for her personal qualities," adding, "and he could quickly nominate a serious, conservative and well-qualified candidate for the court vacancy."

When it was Mr. Kristol's charming friend John Bolton whose fate was in question, that was family business, and for the president no price was too high for loyalty. But Harriet Miers, who is only the president's friend, is now to be led away like Carlo in "The Godfather" with his "ticket to Vegas." Quickly replace her with some credentialed luminary, and in a week no one will even ask where the woman is.

Overlooked in all this caviling is the actual ability and character of the person in question. Indeed, about the best quality to recommend Harriet Miers just now is that she is not at all the sort of person who goes about readily and confidently dismissing other people as third-raters, hacks and mediocrities. She has too much class for that.

It is true that Harriet Miers, in everything she does, gives high attention to detail. And the trait came in handy with drafts of presidential speeches, in which she routinely exposed weak arguments, bogus statistics and claims inconsistent with previous remarks long forgotten by the rest of us. If one speech declared X "our most urgent domestic priority," and another speech seven months earlier had said it was Y, it would be Harriet Miers alone who noted the contradiction.

The accounts of the nominee's work habits are also true. But even better, when the lights went on at 5:30 a.m. or so in office of the staff secretary or the legal counsel, she was not starting the day with a scan of the newspapers in search of her own name. And all of us who leave our White House jobs and go on to write and trade on our service to the president could stand to learn more from Harriet Miers about service to a president. Whenever she was in the room, calmly listening and observing, you knew that on any matter, great or small, at least one person involved had in mind only the interests of the president, the office and the nation.

Surely the most pertinent conclusion to be drawn from Harriet Miers's low profile is that this is not a person susceptible to the charms of news media flattery. Already we have read suggestions that, should the next justice find a comfortable place in the liberal wing, the "O'Connor court" could well become the "Miers court." But I can assure the editorialists, too, that all such offerings to vanity will go untaken. They can save their catnip for the next nominee.

It may be, in fact, that a details person is just what the Supreme Court needs right now. If anyone can be counted on to pause in deliberations over abortion cases, for example, and politely draw attention to small details like the authority of Congress and of state legislatures, or the interests of the child waiting to be born, it will be the court's newest member. As a justice, however, she will command the kind of respect that has nothing to do with being conservative, or liberal, or anything else but a person of wisdom and rectitude.

Although it is conceivable that President Bush has had his fill of advice from overreaching pundits, that is not why he chose Harriet Miers. Maybe he didn't want somebody who had been planning for 20 years for a place on the Supreme Court. Maybe he has looked around every so often and noticed that the least assuming person in the room was also the most capable and discerning. Or maybe he remembered how the hardest-working person in the White House found time to prepare the will of a terminally ill 27-year-old colleague, and to spend nights and mornings staying with her and praying with her.

Whatever his reasons, what America got is a nominee of enormous legal ability and ferocious integrity, and in the bargain a gracious Christian woman only more qualified for her new role because she would never have sought it for herself. And in a few years, when the same critics we hear now are extolling the clarity, consistency and perhaps even the "brilliance" of judicial opinions, that's when you'll know it's the Miers court.Matthew Scully, the author of "Dominion," was special assistant to the president and deputy director of speechwriting for President Bush from 2001 to 2004.

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/14/opinion/14scully.html?pagewanted=print
 

Disagreeable

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Matthew Scully, the author of "Dominion," was special assistant to the president and deputy director of speechwriting for President Bush from 2001 to 2004.

Also animal rights activist. Have you bothered to read "Dominion?"

It's been very enertaining to watch the Right implode. You have Pat Robertson threatening Senators that they won't be re-elected if they don't vote for her. (As if he had that much influence) You have (R)Senator Brownback saying she's not good enough. (Of course, he's running for president...maybe) You have Pat Buchanan in a rage. George Will is not happy. Dobson supports her because he knows a secret and the Senate Judicary Committee, chaired by (R) Arlen Spector may ask him to come tell them the secret. (Dobson tried to get Spector removed from his Chairmanship after the last election) You have Scott McClellan scolding reporters because they aren't looking at Mier's paper trail while Bush is promoting her as a good Christian! We know that she has supported liberal causes in the past, even donated money to Democratis running for office! With Carl Rove testifying to the Grand Jury again, our president seems to be on his own. And we see his real sense of humor.
 

Cal

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Also animal rights activist. Have you bothered to read "Dominion?"

Thank you, I actually wasn't even aware of it until now, but did a search and read several reviews and an interview of Scully. I don't know if you could consider him an activist, as was stated he isn't an activist, but speeks out against the most cruel forms of treatment of animals. I agreed with a few things I read, disagreed with others. Did you read the book and what was your reaction?
 

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