Harriet Miers And The Christmas Card Debacle

Ken AshfordBush & Co., Supreme CourtLeave a Comment

With so little known about Harriet Miers, this story may take on certain undue significance.

We know that Harriet Miers, as White House staff secretary, was responsible for vetting documents that made their way onto Bush’s desk.  Apparently, she was a bit of a tyrant in this area, although this is arguably necessary for anyone in that position (after all, the Leader of the Free World shouldn’t be dealing with knucklehead stuff).

But apparently her high standards drove White House staffers nuts:

"You had to meet her standards, which are very, very high standards, to get documents in to the president," said one former administration official who agreed to speak of a former colleague only on the condition of anonymity. "I would be fibbing if I didn’t say at times that was frustrating."

Here’s a typical example:

In 2001, Bush’s first year in office, Miers rejected the text of the White House Christmas card and ordered a new version because, the White House said, she did not think it was written well enough.

Now, right away, this begs the question: how qualified is this Supreme Court nominee, whose job tasks included proofreading Christmas cards?

But, as it turns out, the whole Christmas card issue may actually be important.  Ned Ryun, a former White House staffer (and son of Rep. Jim Ryun (R)), writes about the Christmas card issue, and it turns out that Miers’ objection to the Christmas card was based on reasons other than "poor writing":

I worked with Miers at the White House. Though my interaction with her was limited, since I was merely a Presidential Writer and she was the Staff Secretary, I had a unique experience with her. In 2001, I was given the task of writing the President’s Christmas message to the nation. After researching Reagan, Bush, and Clinton’s previous Christmas messages, I wrote something that was well within the bounds of what had been previously written (and in case you are wondering, Clinton’s messages were far more evangelical than the elder Bush’s).

The director of correspondence and the deputy of correspondence edited and approved the message and it was sent to the Staff Secretary’s office for the final vetting. Miers emailed me and told me that the message might offend people of other faiths, i.e., that the message was too Christian. She wanted me to change it. I refused to change the message (In my poor benighted reasoning, I actually think that Christmas is an overtly Christian holiday that celebrates the birth of Christ and the beginning of the redemption of man.).

The director and deputy of correspondence supported me. I even emailed Ken Mehlman (then the Political Director at the White House, now the Republican National Committee Chairman), to see what he thought about the message. He was not offended by it in the least. Miers insisted that I change the tone of the message. I again refused, and after several weeks, the assignment was taken out of my hands. I was later encouraged to apologize to Miers. I did not apologize.

Miers purposefully sought to dilute the Christianity of the message, thus revealing to me at least a willingness to compromise unnecessarily without outside pressure. That is my opinion based off that experience and I would be more than happy to be proved wrong.

This might cause some concern among the Christian right, who seem to the bulwork of those supporting Miers.  She was, after all, accomodating to atheistic and non-Christian sentimentalities.  She apparently watered down a Christmas message to be more secular. Does James Dobson know?