She was a woman named to one of the highest positions in the land. The choice was a shock. Immediately, calls went out that she was unqualified, and that the pick had trivialized the institution.
That woman, of course, was Harriet Miers.
When President George W. Bush named his White House lawyer to the Supreme Court in 2005, the backlash was almost immediate and her credentials were subject to withering review.
The harshest critique came not from Democrats, but from intellectuals within the Republican Party, who were concerned that Miers, who had been a corporate lawyer with a firm in Dallas before signing on with then-Gov. Bush, didn’t have the brainpower and background to advance the conservative legal agenda.
By all accounts, Miers was a reliable Christian conservative, but that wasn’t enough. The din grew so loud that Miers gave the president a way out. She withdrew her nomination, and Bush picked Samuel Alito, a long-time federal appeals judge–a choice that was met with acclaim by the conservatives who pushed Miers out.
While Alito seems to have settled in, some on both sides of the philosophical divide still lament that a chance to add a second woman to the court went by the boards. Ruth Bader Ginsburg remains just one of nine. Bush had tabbed Miers because, he said, he was intent on nominating a woman.
This time around, the controversial female nominee is Sarah Palin, who ascended to the governorship of Alaska after serving as a mayor of tiny Wasilla. Again, the pick seemed to come out of nowhere, and the shock is still being felt in some circles.
Like Miers, every aspect of her life is being examined. Miers was childless, but had dated a Texas Supreme Court justice (who become her unofficial spokesman during the tumult). Palin has an entire brood along for the wild ride, one of whom as become a story in her own right.
But the intelligensia within the Republican Party is keeping quiet this time, even some who may object to Palin’s lack of expertise on national security and foreign policy. The Huffington Post Wednesday called it an omerta – the Mafia’s vow of silence.
The party has closed ranks. And editors at conservative standard bearers such as the Weekly Standard and National Review, the same publications that buried Miers, praised the selection and are backing her to the hilt. (One lonely Bush administration source was quoted, anonymously, saying the McCain had trivialized the office of vice president, which is true irony, not simply the Alanis Morrisette kind.)
The question is: What is different? Is it the nominee herself? Is it that Palin is more qualified to be vice president than Miers was to be a Supreme Court justice? You could argue that Miers had been a lawyer (much) longer than Palin had been an executive-level politician. But the counterargument is that Palin has been a decision-maker, where Miers was an adviser.
Or is it matter of criteria. Palin is praised by conservatives because they believe she can connect with middle-class and working-class voters. That isn’t a requirement for a Supreme Court justice. The publicationPolitico recently ran a story that suggested Palin’s very averageness would help her with, well, average voters.
Or is it simply politics – no one in the party wants to be the one to hand an advantage to Democrats, even if, personally, he or she doesn’t believe Palin is up to the job. (And then the hope in that circle is that Palin never has to govern.)
Or perhaps it’s simply a question of history. Some Democratic women reacted to the news of Palin’s selection with dismay – not because they believe she is unqualified, but because of the chance that it could be the Republicans who place the first female vice president in office. Perhaps supporting Palin is advocating shattering the glass ceiling – and that’s worth a roll of the dice on her credentials.
Scores of reporters are now in Alaska, combing over every inch of Palin’s public, private and political life. If dirt is discovered beyond Troopergate or if the Bristol Palin pregnancy becomes a radioactive issue, then the whispering campaign will begin, the anonymous sources will surface, and the pressure will begin to build.
Then, the question will be is whether Palin can see it through, or like Harriet Miers, will have leave the stage and simply go home