In the end, poor Harriet Miers was reduced to a caricature: an intellectual lightweight who was lax in filling out her Judiciary Committee questionnaire and had a tendency to overdo the eyeliner.
Miers withdrew her Supreme Court nomination yesterday. In the weeks since her nomination was announced on Oct. 3, observers learned that Miers is loyal to the president, that her heart is good and that her knowledge of constitutional law may not be exemplary. But the first impressions, of course, were made by her appearance. The day President Bush proclaimed her his nominee, she was dressed in blue. Her jacket had gold knot buttons the diameter of an espresso cup. She wore a jeweled broach, an American flag pin, a pair of button earrings, a pendant necklace and what appeared to be a lanyard of the sort that would hold her official ID. Her hair was clipped in short layers and a curtain of bangs covered her forehead. Most noticeable, however, were her eyes. They were rimmed in heavy, black eyeliner. The makeup surrounding her eyes was so dark that it had the effect of transforming them into tiny disks of coal. Miers called to mind a woman in need of an aesthetic fairy godmother to explain that dark eyeliner can make one look harsh.
Over the course of the public debate over Miers's qualifications for the court, she stood out as a blur of bland blue suits and pastel blouses surrounded by a lot of men in interchangeable gray suits who shuttled her from one senator's office to another. It was easy to spend time studying Miers's appearance because there was only the thinnest paper trail to compete for attention. There was a curious juxtaposition of her traditional suits with the American flag pin and the high drama of eyeliner. Typically, the two do not go hand in hand.
While her restrained suits steered clear of any flashy references to femininity, Miers wore makeup applied in the manner of a young woman who views eyeliner as something quite grown-up, tough and just a little bit sexy. This isn't a question of height, weight or age or any fixed trait. In turning to cosmetics, Miers made a conscious decision to alter her appearance. She made a choice to exaggerate her eyes and demand that they be noticed.
As a result, Miers executed a clumsy merger of Washington's particular brand of stodgy power-dressing with one of the iconic markers of gender: dark-rimmed, look-at-me eyes. (But as Bobbi Brown might say, "Blend, blend, blend!")
In some ways, part of what made Miers's eyeliner distracting was the fact that it was visible at all. Here was proof of someone trying to pretty herself up. In official Washington, where it can often be difficult to get folks to even admit that they own a mirror -- let alone that they spend any time in front of it -- here was a woman who admitted to vanity.
Miers did not have the opportunity to present her total self for inspection. Instead, the public got only a cursory, superficial glimpse. And in that, one found contradictions rather than the easy, expected answers.