Why is it that battles for the Supreme Court have become more about sex than about the constitution? In 1991 the hearings on Clarence Thomas's nomination contained the raunchiest language that had ever been heard on TV. This week the current battle over Harriet Miers appeared to be about religion but actually the Bush team used Miers' religion as a surrogate for her views on abortion. So once again, back to sex.
Sex and sexism. Laura Bush and Ed Gillespie joined forces with Barbara Mikulski and Eleanor Smeal in suggesting that a lot of the opposition to Miers was based on sexism. Conservatives like Bill Kristol yelped that Republicans were using liberal arguments and trendy liberals like Tina Brown pooh-poohed the sexism charge.
Maybe sex discrimination is in the eye of the beholder, but one reality-based insight came from Marsha Greenberger, president of the National Women's Law Center. She told the New York Times that the charge that Miers was unqualified because she hadn't clerked for a major judge overlooked the fact that when Miers graduated from law school it was almost impossible for women to get those prestigious clerkships.
But Miers figured a route to the top, first in Dallas, then in the White House and now possibly onto the Court. Whether she just ingratiated her way or whether she earned it by years of hard work, smarts and good advice, she won the trust of the person who held the keys.
A new book by two women pollsters Democrat Celinda Lake and Republican Kellyanne Conway "What Women Really Want" suggests that a lot of women are figuring out ways to the top in what they call a "revolution without fanfare." They say that "today we are in a post-feminist age. More and more women are not fighting for a place in the establishment. They are the establishment."
They base this claim, not on the political establishment which is still decidedly male, but on the huge cultural and economic changes in American society. The growing financial power of women, the lack of sanctions against staying single, the shifting priorities about what makes for a satisfying life have occurred because of the behavior of women. And, what they call the "electronic hive," the ability to work from the home has enabled women to raise families and not retreat from the public sphere.
They also make the point that the HERS agenda — health care, education, retirement and security — is the "primary agenda for both political parties" and that winning female swing voters was the key to the 2004 election.
The book is chock full of arch-types, trends, buzz words and predictions, many of which are based more on faith than science, but the pollsters present an interesting new paradigm for assessing where American women are today.
While the old boy network still dominates the elite club Harriet Miers is trying to crack, women have made some real strides in government and elective office. Emily's List, the organization which supports pro-abortion rights Democratic women, turns 20 this year. When the group started writing postcards in President Ellen Malcolm's basement in 1985 there were no Democratic women in the U.S. Senate and only 12 in the House.
Today there are nine Democratic women and five Republicans in the Senate and 43 Democratic women and 24 Republican women in the House. In 2004 the group had 100,000 members and raised over $43 million.
In 1992 the "Year of the Woman" followed the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings and the number of women in the House jumped from 28 to 48 and the number in the Senate tripled from two to six. A lot has been made of cronyism in the Bush nomination of Harriet Miers. But the selection and the debate tell us a lot about how far women have come — maybe more beyond the beltway than within it.