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Location: Kansas City, Missouri, United States

Doing my part to irritate Republicans, fundamentalists, bigots and other lower life forms.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Engaging in a little huffin', puffin', hyperventilatin' hyperbole

There's nothing wrong with a little hyperbole. Mark Twain was a master of the craft in many of his short stories. In Twain's dry, droll wit, hyperbole was an exceedingly sharp rapier of wit thrust at the puffed-up personages of the Gilded Age. But when hyperbole ceases to be a literary device and enters the world of politics, its sharpness is instantly dulled and it becomes closer to a crude cudgel than a sharp-edged sword.

Case in point - On the web site Page One Q is this headline (in screaming capital letters) about Harriet Miers, Bush's nominee to replace Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor: "MIERS AGAINST LEGAL GAY SEX."

Whoa! Lord only knows what she'd think of the ILLEGAL kind!

Click on the link and it takes you to a commentary by veteran political journalist Doug Ireland's DIRELAND blog site. The headline on the piece (also in all caps, but with a little more detail) reads: "MIERS AGAINST MAKING GAY SEX LEGAL, AND AGAINST LEGAL ABORTION, IN 1989."

According to Ireland's comentary:

Says the AP, "Miers opposed repeal of the Texas sodomy statute -- a law overturned in 2003 by the court on which she will sit if confirmed -- in a survey she filled out for a gay rights group during her successful 1989 campaign." The survey was conducted by the Lesbian/Gay Coalition of Dallas -- to whom Miers said she didn't want and wouldn't seek their endorsement.

This revelation means that Miers was against the single most significant Supreme Court decision affecting gay people ever to come from the Court. And it also makes a vote for Miers' confirmation by any Democratic Senator utterly inexcusable.

Now wait a second. No doubt the 2003 Supreme Court decision that overturned the Texas sodomy law was "the single most significant Supreme Court decision affecting gay people ever to come from the Court," but how can it be said that Miers was against a Supreme Court decision that was still 14 years in the future? Besides, at the time Miers was quoting the established law of the land under Bowers v. Hardwick in which the Supreme Court had upheld sodomy laws a few years previously.

OK, so Miers lacks a crystal ball to foretell the overturning of the Bowers decision. I'll grant Ireland that point.

It does, however, bother me that in racing to paint Miers as a raging homophobe who would use her seat on the high court to make sure any kind of sex between members of the same sex is prohibited, he leaves out a few items from the Associated Press story.

Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers went on record favoring equal civil rights for gays when she ran for Dallas city council, and she said the city had a responsibility to pay for AIDS education and patient services.

But Miers opposed repeal of the Texas sodomy statute -- a law later overturned by the court on which she will sit if confirmed -- in a survey she filled out for a gay-rights group during her successful 1989 campaign. ...

Miers answered "Yes" to the survey question, "Do you believe that gay men and lesbians should have the same civil rights as non-gay men and women?"

She was noncommittal on several other questions, saying, for example, that she would be willing to discuss the need for a law prohibiting discrimination in housing or public accommodations against people who had AIDS or were HIV-positive.

Asked whether qualified candidates should be denied city employment because they are gay or lesbian, she said, "I believe that employers should be able to pick the best qualified person for any position to be filled considering all relevant factors."

She answered "No" without elaboration when asked whether she believed, both as a citizen and a legislator, that criminalization of the private sexual behavior of consenting adult lesbians and gays should be taken out of the Texas criminal code.

She said Dallas had a responsibility in AIDS education and treatment and that she favored more money being spent in that area "assuming need and resources. I do consider the AIDS illness as a serious total community problem." She underlined "total."

If answers to a 1989 candidate questionnaire are what we are using to base our judgments on Miers, then she is far from being a wild-eyed Fred-Phelps-in-a-skirt that Ireland seems to want to portray. It's as one of the founders of the Lesbian/Gay Coalition of Dallas commented: "She didn't seem like a right-wing nut or anything like that."

I can think of a lot of things about Miers that make me nervous. There are her ties to the Bush family that may or may not include helping to cover up allegations that Dubya hadn't fulfilled his National Guard duties. There are charges that she was involved in corruption and scandal while involved with the Texas Lottery. Then there's the charge that she's completely lacking in judicial experience. And of course there's the whole issue of her tabla rasa record on any of the hot-button issues of the day.

Doug Ireland is a very capable journalist. I've enjoyed reading many of his articles such as his recent pieces on Iran's attempt to purge homosexuals.

But to engage in an attack purely on the basis of one or two lines out of a wire service story and then twisting the facts to fit an agenda does not strike me as responsible journalism.

By all means, investigate Miers. Ask her tough questions. Interview former coworkers and associates. Talk to her neighbors. Dig as deep into her background as you can.

But if the best you can do is breathlessly report that she failed to see the Supreme Court overturning sodomy laws 14 years in advance, then you really don't have much to report.

And save the hyperbole for Mark Twain. He was much better at it than you or I.