The Magazine

Robin Givhan, Slate, Judith Miller.

Aug 1, 2005, Vol. 10, No. 43 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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The Kids' Clothes Make the Man?

It is, to coin a phrase, a mad, mad, mad, mad world. Terrorists bomb subways. Dictators not-so-secretly build nukes. Civil wars rage. And sometimes, parents dress their children in clothes "which do not acknowledge trends, popular culture or the passing of time."

In the midst of the last of these crises The Scrapbook is especially grateful for the insights of Robin Givhan, fashion writer. Givhan's musings grace the pages of the Washington Post "Style" section, where her specialty is allergic reactions to the clothing of people whose politics she disapproves of. And so it was Friday, July 22, when Givhan recoiled from the sickening display of "self-consciously crafted perfection" at the White House announcement of John Roberts as President Bush's nominee for the Supreme Court. In a shocking lapse of judgment, Givhan reports, the Roberts family failed to select its "attire from the commonly accepted styles of this century."

The nominee was in a sober suit with the expected white shirt and red tie. His wife and children stood before the cameras, groomed and glossy in pastel hues--like a trio of Easter eggs, a handful of Jelly Bellies, three little Necco wafers. There was tow-headed Jack--having freed himself from the controlling grip of his mother--enjoying a moment in the spotlight dressed in a seersucker suit with short pants and saddle shoes. His sister, Josie, was half-hidden behind her mother's skirt. Her blond pageboy glistened. And she was wearing a yellow dress with a crisp white collar, lace-trimmed anklets and black patent-leather Mary Janes. . . . The children, of course, are innocents. They are dressed by their parents. And through their clothes choices, the parents have created the kind of honeyed faultlessness that jams mailboxes every December when personalized Christmas cards arrive. . . . Everyone looks freshly scrubbed and adorable, just like they have stepped from a Currier & Ives landscape.

The horror! Her blond pageboy glistened. In the 21st century, washing children's hair before TV appearances is out. Dirty is the new clean. And who among us would go anywhere in threads that do not acknowledge trends, popular culture or the passing of time? Maybe they should have thrown a clock around little Jack's neck--a la Flava Flav--and accomplished all three at once.

In dressing this way, Givhan continued, "the Roberts family went too far. . . . In the desire to be appropriate and respectful of history, the children had been costumed in it." It is this kind of insight that keeps The Scrapbook from canceling its Washington Post subscription. Without Robin Givhan's timely critique, we would have naively believed that the Roberts children looked "freshly scrubbed and adorable" simply because it was a big day for Dad, and that the Robertses would want their kids to look nice while sharing the White House stage for his media-saturated historic moment.

We suspect that despite the fashion faux pas of his family, John Roberts will almost certainly be confirmed. And we look forward to Givhan's critique of the new justice's robe, plainly a symbol of the dark, foreboding shadow his presence on the court casts over the new century.

Blank Slate

No sooner had President Bush nominated John Roberts to the Supreme Court last Tuesday than Slate, the Internet magazine, published an attack on the nominee's jurisprudence. Which was to be expected, we suppose, since finding fault with Bush is the publication's animating editorial impulse. What wasn't to be expected--Slate also being the sort of Internet magazine that caters to the right side of the bell curve--was that this criticism would make absolutely no sense.

In "Thank You, Mr. President," senior editor Emily Bazelon attacks a July 15 decision in which Roberts--who currently sits on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals--joined two of his colleagues to reverse a lower court's decision enjoining Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld "from conducting any further military commission proceedings" against one Salim Ahmed Hamdan, formerly of Afghanistan.

The three-judge panel's unanimous ruling, Bazelon harrumphs, is "seriously troubling." Anyone "who values civil liberties" oughta be concerned. Because Roberts & Co. just wrote a "blank check grant of power" to President Bush, allowing him "to try suspected terrorists without basic due-process protections."

Well, no.