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Souter, Specter and a Soft Shoe

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Souter & Specter sounds like a vaudeville song and dance team, stuck in Cleveland and still dreaming of playing 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 Souter. He executes a neat heel, toe and a 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?"

Arlen Specter shuffles over with 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.

David Souter and Arlen 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 Sen. Specter reminds everyone of how easy he trades in his convictions for a mess of Democratic pottage (or maybe a pot of message).

A contributor to Vanity Fair suggests that President Obama replace Souter with Anita Hill, a law professor at Brandeis University. For those who were born yesterday or ignorant of events of more than a year or so in the past, Anita Hill was the woman who accused 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 Specter played a leading role.

The Senate Judiciary Committee had already reported the Thomas nomination to the Senate when Anita 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. Sen. Specter, in an uncharacteristic tribute to principle, rose to the occasion with a passionate concern for the integrity and reputation of Clarence Thomas. A one-time 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 Specter for not submitting to the intimidation of the mob of the usual suspects of media, feminists and other liberals. 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, who 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 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 flash point in feminist politics. Many women who weren't radicalized by the sight of Anita 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, who was 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. Specter will still be the Old Unreliable. We'll all move on. Vaudeville is now only about nostalgia, after all.

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