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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Miers' Thank You Cards

After reading this very snarky NYT article (hit tip: these blog posts)  about Harriet Miers' correspondence to (then) Governor George W. Bush, I took a look at material for myself.  The article suggests that Miers is a mindless sycophant, but I have to say,  I think that poking fun at the nominee based on this material is more than a little unfair.

Almost all of the comments that folks have focused on are located in hand-written thank you cards or notes that Miers sent Bush in acknowledgment of one function or another.  It is my impression, based on family experience, that for some women - especially traditional ones - in some parts of the country, writing thank you cards is an automatic and necessary part of social exchange.  There are even guides on how to write one, and part of the process is to be a little - but not too -informal - while not saying much of substance.  Thus, using this record to say anything about Miers, apart from her being polite, is probably an error.

To be more blunt: because single men don't face similar social expectations to write thank you cards (I don't feel it, at any rate) criticizing Miers for producing the fluff that Texas etiquette required her to produce is just wrong.

Posted by Dave Hoffman on October 11, 2005 at 09:28 PM in Law and Politics | Permalink


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Dave, thank you SO much for the most insightful post I've ever read. You're the best blogger EVER! And you're 'cool'! (Sappy card to follow in the mail.)

(Sorry... couldn't resist...)

Posted by: Scott Moss | Oct 13, 2005 3:42:27 PM

Found out that Bush did veto the bill that would've limited the Texas Supreme Court's rulemaking authority.

Posted by: Chris | Oct 12, 2005 4:17:44 PM

I have to agree with Mr. Levin[1]: this fact, taken with all the other small facts, seems to add up to a strange critique of Ms. Miers. As I've argued in another post, while each of these little facts may be refutable by itself, taken together they add up to something greater than all the parts. Were I a senator, I'm not sure sum of the minutae would be enough to justify a vote against her. But --alas!-- I'm not a senator; and there's plenty of non-minutae to instruct a vote.

As far as the sycophancy goes: I've written a few few personal letters and thank-yous, though not as many as I should. Even my informal notes to dear friends don't sound like they were written by a 'tween with a crush. After reading "her" blog, to read actual quotes that sounded the same was a little disturbing. However, the NYT should have been above such tabloid tactics; surely they could have been more fair and balanced. Comments like "You're the greatest governator ever!" shouldn't have been more than footnotes in the article that could have given us more details about what the released papers say about her abilities as a laywer and a future judge.

...unless the released papers contained nothing of the kind, which wouldn't surprise me.

[1] First time for everything, I guess.

Posted by: HeScreams | Oct 12, 2005 1:27:59 PM

The notes don't seem terribly sycophantic to me. The letter at 14-16 of the PDF certainly suggests she knows how to take off the friend hat when she needs to--it's really quite harsh. Did Bush veto the bill?

Posted by: Chris | Oct 12, 2005 12:56:07 PM

" That the notes appear, at times, to cross over into the grossest sycophancy, is troubling."

I couldn't agree more.

Posted by: anon | Oct 12, 2005 12:37:34 PM

I'll admit that my previous post on these quotes was a bit harsh; it was mostly meant tongue-in-cheek.

But the assertion made by some critics of this pick is that Miers was chosen neither for her intellectual prowess; nor for her jurisprudence; nor for her ideology; nor as a matter of political strategy; but rather as a result of her close relationship with the President.

Did Ginsburg write a truckload of thank you cards to Clinton? Did O'Connor? Did Breyer? Did Scalia? Did Brown? Did Owens? Did Roberts? The answer is probably a resounding "no." In other words, the FACT of these thank you notes, together with everything we know about her (not to mention the fact that we really don't know much), plays right into the critique--regardless of what the notes actually say.

Posted by: Hillel Levin | Oct 12, 2005 11:48:05 AM

Dave, the comment wasn't directed at you, or people who don't send thank-you cards in general. (It was directed at people who do not send thank-you cards, and who then make fun of what people who do write thank-yous, write in them.) Sorry about any confusion. You're the greatest!

P.S. Even if Miers had written "Your the greatest," her thank-yous should still remain off limits, though that's pushing it.

Posted by: Mike | Oct 12, 2005 11:28:42 AM

Mike: does that mean I have no class (I don't send thank you ards) or that I do (I didn't criticize her.)

I do agree, on the whole, that there seems to be a general "pile on" meme against Miers, which ought to be resisted until we hear from her before the Senate.

Christine raises a few good points, which I hadn't thought about. What, though, is the purpose of the junior league, and do adults belong to it?

Posted by: Dave Hoffman | Oct 12, 2005 11:01:44 AM

Okay, I've written the same or similar things in thank-you notes. What's wrong with being a little cheesy/overly gracious? I've told people more powerful and less powerful than I, "You're the best!" It wasn't to suck up, but to be polite. Besides, if like me you feel obligated to write thank-yous, you have to write something. These things aren't supposed to be Aristotle.

It would be much different if she had written, "Based upon my extensive study of the State of Texas (see attached dissertation), I conclude that you're the best governor Texas has ever had." In writing, "You're the best!" she basically said, "Holla back!" Criticizing her for that is either strange, or indicates that the critic, quite frankly, has no class. Seriously, what kind of person makes fun of someone for what she writes in a thank-you note? Answer: The same kind of person who never sends thank-you notes.

Posted by: Mike | Oct 12, 2005 10:44:23 AM

I always send thank-you notes. I thought everyone did. What do you do when someone, e.g., takes you to a nice dinner or invites you into their home, or does some other favor for you?

Posted by: Mike | Oct 12, 2005 10:37:01 AM

I also would not attribute Miers' gushy prose to Texas feminine etiquette. She wrote many of these notes on her law firms' letterhead, I believe. At Baker Botts, all attorneys were given BB stationery/note cards/holiday cards with the thought that we would use them for thank yous and greetings to clients. It was not expected that we would tell our clients that we thought they were "cool" or gush over them. And besides, I don't think we can say that Miers is a product of Texas feminine molding. She does not seem to have adopted that mold -- I read that she was not in a sorority, and I have not heard that she was one in that other esteemed bastion of Texas feminine etiquette, the Junior League.

Posted by: Christine Hurt | Oct 12, 2005 10:15:37 AM

With respect, I couldn't disagree more. The specific content of the notes gives us much-needed information about whether Ms. Miers could and would act with genuine independence from the executive branch, both during the remainder of Pres. Bush's term and thereafter. That she wrote thank you notes and cards to her friends, the Bush family, is to her credit. That the notes appear, at times, to cross over into the grossest sycophancy, is troubling.

Posted by: Joe Miller | Oct 12, 2005 9:59:06 AM

After looking at the notes, I, too, thought the attack was a bit heavy handed. I also decided that I now have the additional lame excuse (of not adding to my paper trail) for never getting around to writing thank you notes.

Posted by: Doug B. | Oct 12, 2005 12:52:15 AM

The reference to "scatology" is either on a Birthday card or a thank you note from Bush to Miers.(See my comment on Miers on Bush). Texas boys too write these notes - it is just that the etiquette required of them is different.

Posted by: Ruchira Paul | Oct 11, 2005 11:05:03 PM

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