Monday, October 03, 2005

A Lot of Grace and a Little Bit of Moxie

Luke 7:31-35 (New Living Translation)

31 “How shall I describe this generation?” Jesus asked. “With what will I compare them? 32They are like a group of children playing a game in the public square. They complain to their friends, ‘We played wedding songs, and you weren't happy, so we played funeral songs, but you weren't sad.’ 33For John the Baptist didn't drink wine and he often fasted, and you say, ‘He's demon possessed.’ 34And I, the Son of Man, feast and drink, and you say, ‘He's a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of the worst sort of sinners!’ 35But wisdom is shown to be right by the lives of those who follow it.”

I had an interesting conversation this morning. I had just about completed my walking loop through town and decided to stop at the Town Crier, one of our local book stores. There were two books in the display window that attracted me, Bernard Goldberg’s “100 People Who Are Screwing Up America” and Bob Dylan’s “Chronicles.” As I was completing my purchase the sales clerk, a young woman, updated me on the news flash. “We’ve got a girl nominee now,” she said. “I think she’s a Bush crony.” I registered a bit of mock surprise at her revelation, just enough to try to convince her that my interest was in buying the books, not Supreme Court politics. Apparently my look wasn’t convincing enough. “And she’s from Texas to boot,” the young woman added. I realized that she was in a provocative mood and decided to oblige her. “What’s wrong with Texas? I asked.
“Nothing I guess, but doesn’t it seem strange to you that a president from Texas is nominating a woman from Texas?”
I tried to see the conspiracy in the nomination, but all that I could muster was a brief chuckle. “No, it doesn’t surprise me,” I said. “In fact it would have been more surprising to me if he hadn’t nominated the person he wanted.”
My answer was met with a frown of dismay. “But she’s a crony, and she’s from Texas.”
I tried my best to reassure her that there was nothing sinister in what the president had done. “When John Kennedy was elected president a lot of his friends from Massachusetts went to Washington with him. He even appointed his brother to be Attorney General. And, not too long ago Bill Clinton brought every Arkansas chicken farmer or political hack to the Capital with him. So, to answer your question, I don’t see anything unusual about it.”
“Maybe so,” she replied. “But she’s kinda’ old too.”
I rubbed my hand against the receding hairline above my right temple. “Young lady, you’re not making many points with me this morning.”
Her apology only made things worse. “What I meant was that she is probably out of touch with the younger generation.”
“How so?” I asked.
“She’s going to come to the job with outdated thinking.”
“I mean, it’s just hard for older people to think clearly about all the issues.”
I saw that it was time to really bore in. “Kid, I’ve got to let you know something. I’m two years older than Harriet Miers and I’ve never thought more clearly in my life. Not only am I smarter than most young people I meet nowadays, I’m a whole lot wiser too.”

I think she had more to say, but saw that I was going to be a tougher nut to crack than her average customer, so the only response I got was, “That’ll be forty-one, eight-five, please.”

As I was making my way out of the store I noticed the headline in this morning’s
USA Today. “Govs to Bush” Relief Our Job,” it read. Wanting to read further, I plunked down seventy-five cents and added it to my growing stack of reading material.

I got home and took about thirty seconds to read the USA Today piece. The story, by Bill Nichols and Richard Benedetto, outlined how most state governors are feeling about George Bush’s trial balloon, floated in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Congress, and left-leaning America. To blunt the complaints about the slow response to the disasters, the president out loud asked, “Is there a circumstance in which the Department of Defense becomes the lead agency?” As I suspected, most state governors, including Republicans, think it’s a bad idea. Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, a Republican said, “Some federal help might be necessary, but we don’t need them coming in and running things.” Democrat Jennifer Granholm of Michigan issued a two word response – “Hell no!”

I don’t like the idea of too much federal intervention either, but I understand the president’s dilemma. What do you suppose might happen in the future if some great cataclysm were to strike the state of Michigan? If there are problems with the response do you think that Jennifer Granholm is going to fall on her sword, taking full responsibility for what’s happened? Don’t you think that the congress would fight federalizing disasters, limiting the ability of the federal government to respond and then complain when the state or states at ground zero don’t get the “proper” response?

I suppose this damned if you do, damned if you don’t thinking has always plagued America’s political process, and probably always will. The people who do the complaining have almost always been the ones who act like frozen ropes at the most inopportune times. They get elected as leaders and prove to be nothing more than critics. Unfortunately, that’s normative politics in America these days.

This morning’s White House announcement has the critics crawling out of the walls like cockroaches, sensing there’s a good meal to be had at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. To critics on the right she’s not conservative enough. To critics on the left she’s an unknown quantity. Some are thinking she’s too far from the center and some are thinking she’s too close to it. She’s got enough to displease almost any critic.

I doubt, given the current reality, that someone like Mother Theresa or Jesus Himself would be given a free pass.

The process has just begun, but I’m sure that the rhetoric will reach a fever pitch before long. Senators and interest group icons from all over the country will soon be sharpening up their meat grinders, hoping to make full use of them to discredit her. If she passes muster I suspect someone’s going to have to put all the pieces of flesh and sinew back together and drape a judicial robe over her bruised and broken body.

One of the interesting things going on early in the process is that some have taken note of the fact that Harriet Miers
has absolutely no judicial experience:

“Other Democrats sounded anything but conciliatory. “The president has selected a loyal political ally without a judicial record to sit on the highest court in the land,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.”

As I thought about the Ms. Miers’ apparent lack of experience my mind faded back to a time in my life when I didn’t have the “credentials.” It happened in 1994. At the time I was a logistics analyst for Fed Ex, working in the company’s eastern region. I’d been in place for close to six years and felt that I’d done everything I could with the position. As the feelings of the day to day humdrum slowly came over me I cast an admiring glance at the engineering department. It seemed to me that the engineers I’d met and had interaction with had interesting jobs. So, I decided to find out what it would take to become an one. I talked to engineers. I listened to them. I followed them around in the evenings after I’d finished my daily logistics chores, observing what they did.

Some thought I was foolish, but I became convinced that I could become a very good engineer. So, when the right time came I applied for an open position. When I didn’t get the position, some assumed I was going to give up and go away. But in time another position became available. I applied, was interviewed, and again turned down. A third interview came and went with the same result. Then came a fourth. Finally, after my fifth interview the hiring manager gave me the position, based, he said, primarily on my persistence.

In the years after that final interview I proved to be what others called “a cracker jack engineer.” I was good, very good. What had been seen as a professional disadvantage became my biggest plus. I was able to look at things with a much fresher eye than most who had been educated and “trained” in the discipline. I was also able to apply years of experience and wisdom to the position, translating linguistics, creativity, theology, and experience into the language and decorum of an engineer. I formed alliances with the managers I supported and they found that in me they had someone who would shoot straight with them and give them what they needed to succeed. I can say today, with some measure of pride, that those I supported did so because of the work I did on their behalf.

In the years after I was hired as an engineer people have asked me how I managed to do it. They look at my resume, with the undergraduate degree in linguistics and creative writing and the graduate degree in theology and ask how it all fit together. My answer is always the same – “A lot of grace and a little bit of moxie can go a long way.”

I suspect that in the current political environment that Harriet Miers is going to need a lot of grace and a little bit of moxie too. She’ll be excoriated not only for her lack of experience, but also for her loyalty to George Bush or her temperament. Every closet in her life will opened in a search for political or judicial skeletons. The boys and girls on Capital Hill are soon going to pull the swords out of their scabbards to see how much political flaying they can do. Unlike John Roberts, Ms. Miers will have to fend off the blows and slashing from the far right and the far left. I hope and pray that she’ll hold her ground, centered on her faith and integrity. If she maintains her hold on those pillars of her life she’ll fare well. I wish her the best.


So Lost said...

Just surfing through from Blog Explosion and wanted to say hi!

mindflame said...

You’re the kind of Democrat I feel like I could sit down with and have a talk. I am sure to come back, thank you for your thoughtful discourse.

Ed Darrell said...

Harriet's nomination demonstrates that Bush knows just how deeply in trouble he is, and that he still thinks he has a chance of getting out. Miers may be the best we can get from this administration -- better than Scalia Redux.

Maybe God does work in mysterious ways.

Heathen Dan said...

More like Rehnquist redux. Rehnquist had no bench experience prior to his appointment to the SCOTUS. Given how Rehnquist turn out to be, I think Bush is hoping the same for Ms. Miers.

dog1net said...

A very satisfying read on many levels. The encounter with the sales clerk at the book store was rich, and I found myself chuckling more than once. At the same time though it is rather sad that most people so readily offer blanket opinions in regard to what they hear or read in the news rather than take the time to figure out what they actually think about it.
Personally, I think this is a brilliant move on Bush's part. Instead of offering up someone who might become the target of obfuscation and obstruction, he instead nominates someone without any judicial experience or opinions that could be used in opposition to her nomination. Let the hearings begin. . . Again, this essay is definitely you at your very best.


Lucas Stephens said...

Greetings Phil,
You have expressed yourself so very well. I like your analogy to yourself and that others in Harriet's situation have gone on and done well. I really liked this blog and find reading it that I am right there almost experiencing what you experience. God bless you, greatly.