“This guy is dangerously unhinged. And, for all the things people have said about me over the years, I should be able to spot Dangerously Unhinged.”
–Glenn Beck, regarding Donald Trump
“This guy is dangerously unhinged. And, for all the things people have said about me over the years, I should be able to spot Dangerously Unhinged.”
–Glenn Beck, regarding Donald Trump
Not always, but more often than not, I’ve disagreed with Antonin Scalia’s fiercely conservative judicial opinions, just as I disagree in principle with his deeply felt conviction in the philosophy of constitutional originalism. It’s not that my opinion on the subject matters much, or at all, but I do have my thinking moments, and in those moments it occurs to me that a document approaching its 250th birthday, serving as guidebook and center of a nation that is similarly aged, during a time in history during which the world has changed more profoundly than any equivalent in human history, merits some reflective interpretation of how monumentally different our nation, and our perspective, has changed over those years.
But I digress. As I’ve said earlier this week, while Scalia is no moral or philosophical role model, I have a deep appreciation for his devilish mind, especially as an often gleeful contrarian who deeply enjoys using wordplay to elevate, skewer, and occasionally just entertain, as well as respect for some–but certainly not all–of his personal opinions, if for no other reason than they are often presented so wonderfully. Many of Scalia’s most scathing opinions could have been expressed in terse, coldly efficient language, but instead the man had a penchant for verbal knife-twisting that will be missed, especially compared to milquetoast lightweights like fellow conservative Clarence Thomas. And while I am certain that the America I long to see becomes more possible without Scalia at the bench, I mourn for the loss of his keen and inimitable intellect and irrepressible style.
With that in mind, here is a selection of his “greatest hits,” so to speak. We’ll start with one of my favorites, which I happen to agree with very much.
“If I were king, I would not allow people to go about burning the American flag. However, we have a First Amendment, which says that the right of free speech shall not be abridged.”
And I’ll follow with one of his most wrong-headed, on Citizens United v. FEC, which granted corporate entities, political groups, and other organizations to contribute virtually limitless funds, often under a veil of anonymity, to candidates.
“I don’t care who is doing the speech — the more the merrier. People are not stupid. If they don’t like it, they’ll shut it off.”
And there are so many more of these gems, of which I offer but a sampling:
“The Court’s argument also overlooks the rudimentary principle that a specific provision governs a general one. Even if it were true that the term ‘such Exchange’ … implies that federal and state Exchanges are the same in general, the term ‘established by the State’ … makes plain that they differ when it comes to tax credits in particular,” he said. “The Court’s next bit of interpretive jiggery-pokery involves other parts of the Act that purportedly presuppose the availability of tax credits on both federal and state Exchanges.”–dissenting opinion on thwarted challenge to the “Obamacare” legislation.
“The opinion is couched in a style that is as pretentious as its content is egotistic. It is one thing for separate concurring or dissenting opinions to contain extravagances, even silly extravagances, of thought and expression; it is something else for the official opinion of theCourt to do so.”
And this one, oozing with rightful condescension, regarding a case about permitting a handicapped (no pun intended) golfer to use a cart in a PGA tournament.
“If one assumes, however, that the PGA TOUR has some legal obligation to play classic, Platonic golf — and if one assumes the correctness of all the other wrong turns the Court has made to get to this point — then we Justices must confront what is indeed an awesome responsibility. It has been rendered the solemn duty of the Supreme Court of the United States, laid upon it by Congress in pursuance of the Federal Government’s power “[t]o regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States,” to decide What Is Golf. I am sure that the Framers of the Constitution, aware of the 1457 edict of King James II of Scotland prohibiting golf because it interfered with the practice of archery, fully expected that sooner or later the paths of golf and government, the law and the links, would once again cross, and that the judges of this august Court would some day have to wrestle with that age-old jurisprudential question, for which their years of study in the law have so well prepared them: Is someone riding around a golf course from shot to shot really a golfer? The answer, we learn, is yes. The Court ultimately concludes, and it will henceforth be the Law of the Land, that walking is not a “fundamental”
“The judge who always likes the results he reaches is a bad judge.”
“A man who has made no enemies is probably not a very good man.”
“Never compromise your principles, unless of course your principles are Adolf Hitler’s, in which case you would be well advised to compromise them as much as you can.”
“In a big family the first child is kind of like the first pancake. If it’s not perfect, that’s OK. There are a lot more coming along.”
“Is it really so easy to determine that smacking someone in the face to determine where he has hidden the bomb that is about to blow up Los Angeles is prohibited in the Constitution?” he asked. “…It would be absurd to say you couldn’t do that. And once you acknowledge that, we’re into a different game.”
“I even accept for the sake of argument that sexual orgies eliminate social tensions and ought to be encouraged.”
“Indeed, follow your star if you want to head north and it’s the North Star. But if you want to head north and it’s Mars, you had better follow somebody else’s star.”
“If it were impossible for individual human beings (or groups of human beings) to act autonomously in effective pursuit of a common goal, the game of soccer would not exist.”
And just when you’re thinking, “this guy isn’t the villain I thought he was,” you run into something like this:
“There are those who contend that it does not benefit African-Americans to get them into the University of Texas, where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a slower-track school where they do well. One of the briefs pointed out that most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas. They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them.”
“This case, involving legal requirements for the content and labeling of meat products such as frankfurters, affords a rare opportunity to explore simultaneously both parts of Bismarck’s aphorism that ‘No man should see how laws or sausages are made.'”
“Our manner of interpreting the Constitution is to begin with the text, and to give that text the meaning that it bore when it was adopted by the people … This is such a minority position in modern academia and in modern legal circles that on occasion I’m asked when I’ve given a talk like this a question from the back of the room — ‘Justice Scalia, when did you first become an originalist?’ — as though it is some kind of weird affliction that seizes some people — ‘When did you first start eating human flesh?'”
“I find it a sufficient embarrassment that our Establishment Clause jurisprudence regarding holiday displays has come to ‘requir[e] scrutiny more commonly associated with interior decorators than with the judiciary.’ But interior decorating is a rock hard science compared to psychology practiced by amateurs.”
And lastly, you’ve got to love a man who sticks it to his haters–in a letter to the editor of the Boston Herald…ouch.
“It has come to my attention that your newspaper published a story on Monday stating that I made an obscene gesture — inside Holy Cross Cathedral [Boston], no less. The story is false, and I ask that you publish this letter in full to set the record straight. Your reporter, an up-and-coming ‘gotcha’ star named Laurel J. Sweet, asked me (o-so-sweetly) what I said to those people who objected to my taking part in such public religious ceremonies as the Red Mass I had just attended. I responded, jocularly, with a gesture that consisted of fanning the fingers of my right hand under my chin. Seeing that she did not understand, I said ‘That’s Sicilian,’ and explained its meaning– which was that I could not care less… How could your reporter leap to the conclusion (contrary to my explanation) that the gesture was obscene? Alas, the explanation is evident in the following line from her article: “‘That’s Sicilian,’ the Italian jurist said, interpreting for the ‘Sopranos’ challenged.” From watching too many episodes of the ‘Sopranos,’ your staff seems to have acquired the belief that any Sicilian gesture is obscene– especially when made by an ‘Italian jurist.’ (I am, by the way, an American jurist.) Sincerely, Antonin Scalia.”
Yes, my religious views have been well documented across the whirled why’d web, so you’re a little surprised to see me quoting “the good book” but there’s a lot of great stuff in there, some of it resoundingly, wonderfully evocative. Like this.
Proverbs 26:11: As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.
I posted an NPR video a few days ago that featured this poem, and the video below, because it is SO DAMNED AWESOME, and because I’ve been reminded lately of how America, distracted by fear, anger, hate, suspicion, partisan caterwauling and self-serving rhetoric, has surrendered our collective zeal for greatness, settling for loudmouthed mediocrity. I intend to address this in the near future, when I’ve collected my thoughts, but in the meantime I’m posting this video again because the accomplishment is mind-boggling.
“Nine year old boys are always finding me out. A ten year old boy ran up to me a few years ago and said, ‘Mister Bradbury,’ and I said yes, he said “that book of yours, The Martian Chronicles?’ and I said, Yes. He said, ‘On page ninety-two?’ and I said, yeh, He said, ‘you know you have the moons of Mars rising in the east?’ and I said, Yes. He said, ‘No.’ So I hit him. I wasn’t about to be bullied by a small boy…..Seriously, I’ve been hoping…as we got closer to Mars, and the dust cleared, that we’d see a lot of Martians standing around with huge signs that read, BRADBURY WAS RIGHT.”
–Ray Bradbury, on the eve of the Mariner 9 probe entering Mars orbit, November 12,1971
“If Only We Had Taller Been”
The fence we walked between the years
Did bounce us serene.
It was a place half in the sky where
In the green of leaf and promising of peach
We’d reach our hands to touch and almost touch the sky,
If we could reach and touch, we said,
‘Twould teach us, not to ,never to, be dead.
We ached and almost touched that stuff;
Our reach was never quite enough.
If only we had taller been,
And touched God’s cuff, His hem,
We would not have to go with them
Who’ve gone before,
Who, short as us, stood tall as they could stand
And hoped by stretching, tall, that they might keep their land,
Their home, their hearth, their flesh and soul.
But they, like us, were standing in a hole.
O, Thomas, will a Race one day stand really tall
Across the Void, across the Universe and all?
And, measured out with rocket fire,
At last put Adam’s finger forth
As on the Sistene Ceiling,
And God’s hand come down the other way
To measure man and find him Good,
And Gift him with Forever’s Day?
I work for that.
Short man, Large dream, I send my rockets forth
between my ears,
Hoping an inch of Good is worth a pound of years.
Aching to hear a voice cry back along the universal Mall:
We’ve reached Alpha Centauri!
We’re tall, O God, we’re tall!
“I am pleased enough with the surfaces – in fact they alone seem to me to be of much importance. Such things for example as the grasp of a child’s hand in your own, the flavor of an apple, the embrace of a friend or lover, the silk of a girl’s thigh, the sunlight on the rock and leaves, the feel of music, the bark of a tree, the abrasion of granite and sand, the plunge of clear water into a pool, the face of the wind – what else is there? What else do we need?”
― Edward Abbey
The United States does not have a choice as to whether or not it will or will not play a great part in the world. Fate has made that choice for us. The only question is whether we will play the part well or badly.
— Theodore Roosevelt
If you read me regularly, you know that I’m a big fan of Teddy Roosevelt, the “last great Republican” who, arguably, was more responsible than any other single person for the grand switch that turned the Republican Party–the power brokers of which regarded TR as a class traitor– towards corporatism, and headed the Democratic Party, in word if not deed, towards populism. That’s how the party of Lincoln became the party of Nixon. The evolution of the Democratic Party is a little more complex, largely due to it’s entanglement in race politics of the south.
In simplest terms, the millionaire President, disgusted by his party’s betrayal of his populist legacy, ran for election under the canopy of a third party, the Bull Moose Party, drawing many of the most moderate Republicans with him. Democrat Woodrow Wilson easily defeated the fragmented opposition. Following the election, the Bull Moose supporters either joined the Democrats or, chastened, skulked back to the Republicans.
As flawed as any man, Roosevelt was not only an idealist, but an iconoclast–a leader with no fear of doing what he felt was right (even when that “right” meant invading Cuba pretty much because it was convenient, and seemed like fun). He was not afraid to embrace the disdain of his peers, and a stubborn son of a bitch in just about every sense of the word. I started thinking about him yesterday, when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie–a candidate with much of the oratorical bluster but none of the substance, conviction, or verity and integrity of TR– declared himself as the 14th candidate for the Republican Presidential Nomination.
It occurred to me then, that across just the two major parties there are now sixteen hopefuls running for possible election, and if the vote was held today I’d have to defer. What has become of our country that we have so few viable leaders. What does is say that Bill Clinton, with his severely questionable personal choices, shines in comparison to to the ineffective and unremarkable George W. Bush? That even while Barack OBama has accomplished a few things domestically, his management of our middle east entanglements falls somewhere between naive, inept, and highly questionable (drone kills, kill lists, domestic surveillance….), and his most notable accomplishments have occurred not by gathering popular support, but by fiat and litigation–all of it timed to fall after he was free of the possibility of political fallout? To be blunt, he waited until things were safe before he extended himself. Roosevelt would have pushed in his first term.
*Beginning Today, Wednesday Word of Wisdom will be called, simply, Wednesday Words–making for less unwieldy titles and more flexibility in the type or tenor of quotes I include.
One of the great writers and thinkers in the American legacy, the powerful and wonderfully controversial, W.E.B. Du Bois stands tall, his work growing in stature and significance as time passes, in the way certain monoliths seem not to dwindle in the the distance but rather to assert themselves by virtue of scale and prominence in comparison to the lesser things around them.
“I sit with Shakespeare, and he winces not. Across the color line I move arm and arm with Balzac and Dumas, where smiling men and welcoming women glide in gilded halls. From out of the caves of evening that swing between the strong-limbed Earth and the tracery of stars, I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously with no scorn nor condescension. So, wed with Truth, I dwell above the veil. Is this the life you grudge us, O knightly America? Is this the life you long to change into the dull red hideousness of Georgia? Are you so afraid lest peering from this high Pisgah, between Philistine and Amalekite, we sight the Promised Land?”
—W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk
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