- The Washington Times - Friday, May 8, 2009

COMMENTARY:

Souter & Specter sounds like a vaudeville song-and-dance team, stuck in Cleveland and still dreaming of the Palace. You can almost hear their Peoria humor and see their old soft shoe.

“Did you hear the one about how John Sununu was dispatched by the original President Bush to find a slugger who would hit home runs for the conservative side on the Supreme Court,” asks Justice David H. Souter. He executes a neat heel, toe and tap, and grins a goofy grin. “Well, here I am. Nothing but foul balls and long fly balls to left field. Ain’t I a scream?”

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania shuffles over with a syncopated stomp. “When I switched to the Democrats, all my Republican pals could do was quote Dorothy Parker on hearing that Calvin Coolidge was dead: ‘How can they tell?’ Ha, ha, ha.”

Justice Souter and Mr. Specter have little in common except drawing conservative ire and sharing in a triumph of intellectual mediocrity. Only the confluence of events has thrown them together in the public eye. Justice Souter reminds everyone of how a conservative president misjudged him, and Mr. Specter reminds everyone of how easily he trades in his convictions for a mess of Democratic pottage.

A contributor to Vanity Fair suggests that President Obama replace Mr. Souter with Anita Hill, a law professor at Brandeis University. For those who were born yesterday or are ignorant of events of more than a year or so in the past, Miss Hill was the woman who accused Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment when the Senate was considering his confirmation to the High Court. The drama was the low point (so far) of feminist sniping and congressional griping, a televised spectacle in which Mr. Specter played a leading role.

The Senate Judiciary Committee had already reported the Thomas nomination to the Senate when Miss Hill’s accusations surfaced, and she was summoned as a witness before a special hearing of the Judiciary Committee. The committee wanted to find out whether she was lying. Mr. Specter, in an uncharacteristic tribute to principle, rose to the occasion with a passionate concern for the integrity and reputation of Justice Thomas. A onetime federal prosecutor, he demanded the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. He was unrelenting with tough questioning of the accuser; a man’s character and career hung in the balance.

Republicans were particularly proud of Mr. Specter for not submitting to the intimidation of the mob of usual suspects of media, feminists and other liberals. Justice Thomas rightly called his ordeal a “high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves.” Popular sentiment swung dramatically to the nominee’s side and he won confirmation by a narrow, angry partisan vote of 52 to 48. The feminists quickly went to work to punish the senator, whom they dubbed “Snarlin’ Arlen.”

He was quickly tamed. I encountered him at a reception a week or so after the vote and he greeted me with a politician’s practiced warmth and geniality. When I remarked on how he had stood up to the feminists, he couldn’t get to the other side of the room fast enough. But even after he worked hard to enact the Violence Against Women Act, the radical feminists paid him little mind. Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, says her outrage remains unappeased no matter what his current label.

Ironically, the Thomas nomination struggle became a flashpoint in feminist politics. Many women who weren’t radicalized by the sight of Miss Hill at the mercy of an all-male panel nevertheless worked to elect more women to Congress.

Conservative women who stood firmly against the feminist mob began to organize themselves. As testimony to their success, the Women’s Freedom Network, founded in 1993, recently went out of business, saying it was no longer needed. “The voices of radical feminists have become muted and the overall atmosphere has changed such that affirmative action vis-a-vis women is no longer a major concern,” says Rita Simon, the foundation’s last president.

The Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute, also founded in 1993, thrives in training conservative women for leadership on college campuses. Though still a minority voice on liberal college campuses, these women are now speaking up and speaking out in greater numbers, adding authenticity to the clamor for “diversity” which on most campuses means a clamor for more liberal and leftist voices.

The noise about Souter & Specter is noise about not very much. Justice Souter will be replaced by another liberal and the ideological tilt of the court won’t change. Mr. Specter will still be the Old Unreliable. We’ll all move on. Vaudeville is dead, after all.

Suzanne Fields is a syndicated columnist.