See Ed spin

Critics of the Miers nomination are sexists and elitists? Ed Gillespie takes it all back, sort of.

Published October 6, 2005 7:52PM (EDT)

Appearing on CNN today, White House advisor and former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie tried to explain what he meant when he suggested yesterday that critics of the Harriet Miers nomination are elitists and sexists. But even for a master of spin like Gillespie, the triple reverse is a tough move to execute.

Step one: Gillespie insists that when he complained of a "whiff of elitism" in criticism of the Miers nomination, he wasn't referring to the concerns of "conservative allies" -- despite the fact that conservatives ranging from George Will to Ann Coulter have, in fact, argued that Miers isn't qualified to serve on the Supreme Court.

Step two: Gillespie says that people who question Miers' qualifications for a seat on the court seem to believe that Supreme Court justices have to have attended "Harvard Law School or practiced law in Boston or New York." Add Yale and Washington to that list, and there's probably some truth to the charge: Some of us do have this crazy notion that a Supreme Court nominee should have a record of extraordinary academic achievement or at least a demonstrated history of grappling with the questions of federal and constitutional law that come before the court. Even George W. Bush shares that view -- or at least he used to. It was the president, after all, who not so long ago was said to be "particularly impressed" with John G. Roberts' "impeccable credentials" from Harvard College and Harvard Law School and the fact that he'd argued dozens of cases before the Supreme Court.

Step three: Gillespie claims that when he said there was a "whiff of sexism" about the early opposition to Miers' nomination, he didn't mean that people doubted Miers' abilities because she's a woman. No, what he meant was, people don't understand what the president's "staff secretary" does. "I saw an analysis that said, well, it's -- it's -- the president shouldn't elevate his former staff secretary to the Supreme Court, as though the staff secretary of the president of the United States is someone who goes and gets coffee," Gillespie explains. "The staff secretary of the president of the United States is someone who is responsible for the flow of information to the president as he makes decisions on the critical issues facing our country today. It is a critically important position ... And I -- I -- I got the impression from reading these there was a sense that -- that because there was a woman in the staff secretary's job, it is -- that -- that, somehow, that meant she was responsible for getting coffee. And it was demeaning. I thought -- I felt that was -- there was some -- that smacked of sexism to me. That's a different argument than -- than -- than the discussion I had with the conservative -- our conservative allies yesterday."

Yes, Ed, we're sure that it is.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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