It being August, and it being the first Supreme Court nomination in eleven years, I expected some fairly daft commentary from the White House press beat. But the Washington Post has set the bar very high with today's stinker, Roberts Resisted Women's Rights. The substantive gender issues concern the then-hot topics of the Equal Rights Amendment, state legislative forays into workplace gender discrimination, and the economically addled demand for "comparable worth" wage mandates, about which I'll have more to say later. However, the Post places front and center a scribbled aside on a 1985 memo from Roberts to Linda Chavez, who was then White House Director of Public Liason.
Chavez proposed to nominate her deputy, Linda Arey, for a contest sponsored by Clairol to honor women who had made significant career changes after the age of 30. Arey, once a schoolteacher, had later gone to law school, eventually becoming assistant dean of the University of Richmond Law School before joining the Reagan administration. Chavez ran the idea by Roberts, who found no legal problem with the nomination. In a marginal aside, however, Roberts noted that at Richmond Arey had actively promoted older homemakers' law school attendance and added, "Some might question whether encouraging homemakers to become lawyers contributes to the common good, but I suppose that is for the judges to decide."
As the Post phrases it: "Roberts's comment about homemakers startled women across the ideological spectrum." The article's authors managed to collect hyperventilating quotes not just from usual suspect Kim Gandy, but from Phyllis Schlafly, who moderates her criticism of the "smart-alecky comment" by recalling that Roberts, then 30, was "a young bachelor and hadn't seen a whole lot of life at that point."
Oh, for crying out loud in a bucket. Roberts's comment was not condescending to housewives, or women, or anyone at all -- except lawyers. He was telling a lawyer joke!
American humor mines lawyer jokes like the Spaniards mined Potosi. If you Google "lawyer joke" you will get 920,000 hits. ("Knock-knock joke" gets you a third that number.) Is it really possible that out of six Washington Post staff writers, three research assistants, the head of NOW and the head of Eagle Forum, not one of them recognizes a lawyer joke when she hears it? Smart alecky -- you betcha. This man has marinated in the pompous narcissism of Washington for twenty-odd years and yet demonstrates the capability of such self-mockery. I liked him before; I love him now.