Bush Plays The Faith Card
Ralph G. Neas
October 13, 2005
Ralph G. Neas is president of People For the American Way.
With statements yesterday from influential evangelical leader James Dobson and the president himself, the hypocrisy over the role Harriet Miers’ religion is playing in her nomination continues.
During previous judicial confirmation debates, including the nomination of Chief Justice John Roberts, right-wing leaders insisted that any mention of a nominee’s faith—or even indirect implication that their faith might influence their judicial opinions—would be evidence of rank religious bigotry. But now, the White House and leaders of the religious right rallying around the beleaguered nomination of Harriet Miers continue to cite her religious beliefs and the church she attends as reasons to believe she will oppose abortion rights—and to bolster support for her among activists on the far right.
It’s hypocrisy doubled and quadrupled. What’s wrong for John Roberts can’t be right for Harriet Miers. Her legal views on constitutional issues must be thoroughly explored. But whether her supporters are shouting it from the rooftops or whispering into the ears of their right-wing supporters, Miers’ personal religious beliefs should have no place in her nomination. And those double-talking ultraconservatives who claim to be looking for a ‘strict constructionist’ to interpret the Constitution need look no further than Article VI—where the Constitution spells out that there must be no religious test for any public office. The president and his people are using repeated assurances about Miers’ religion to send not-so-subtle messages about how she might rule on the court on issues important to the president’s political supporters. It’s a shabby ploy unworthy of the debate over a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.
Broadcaster and power broker James Dobson revealed on hisOct. 12 show that White House strategist Karl Rove called him before Miers’ nomination was announced publicly. Among the assurances he received from Rove, according to Dobson, were “that Harriet Miers is an Evangelical Christian” and “that she is from a very conservative church, which is almost universally pro-life.”
And yesterday, President Bush himself defended his advisers’ use of her faith to build support for her candidacy among his restive right-wing supporters. “People are interested to know why I picked Harriet Miers. They want to know Harriet Miers' background. They want to know as much as they possibly can before they form opinions. Part of Harriet Miers' life is her religion. Part of it has to do with the fact that she was a pioneer woman and a trailblazer in the law in Texas.”
The administration’s use of Miers’ faith to build support for her nomination is even troubling to some commentators on the right. For example, Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review, calls the selling of Miers’ religion a “blatant bit of right-wing identity politics.” He adds, “But don't worry: As soon as Democrats try to probe Miers' evangelicalism, these Republicans will be back to saying her faith should be off-limits.” Joseph Cella of the right-wing Catholic organization Fidelis writes in the National Review that Miers’ defenders have created “a double standard on the issue of raising a nominee’s religion during the confirmation process” and warns them to “exercise more patience and discretion rather than making such a big issue of her religion.”
The Constitution says there shall be no religious test for public office. During previous nomination debates, right-wing leaders tried to twist that cherished constitutional principle into a ban even on asking nominees about core constitutional issues like a right to privacy. But they’ve thrown it out the window to convince right-wing activists that Harriet Miers will be the kind of justice they want.