The Era of Bad Feelings, Contd.
Right on! Who cares about Robertss legal reasoning, for Petes sake? This is twenty-first century America! We want to know about his feelings!
Does he have the right feelings? How does he feel about abortion, the death penalty, affirmative action, and stuff like that? Does he feel the way we do, or does he feel the way our enemies do? Does he appreciate how women and minorities feel? (The first article of the liberal creed is: Women and minorities never have a nice day.)
Much of the commentary on Robertss nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court has assumed that he may be cagily concealing his real feelings until he is confirmed, whereupon he will be free to implement those feelings in his judicial rulings, rolling back a century of liberal ... er, progress. Senator Ted Kennedy, another who unfailingly sinks to the occasion, has discerned those feelings in Robertss previous decisions as a Federal judge, and finds them mean-spirited.
To be sure, Robertss views on the law tend to lack the lyrical note. He has the trained lawyers habit of answering the question he is asked, without histrionic amplification. He can entertain different sides of a controversy without indignation at those who may hold them.
To emotional people who demand that the law cough up the results they want, this seems inhuman. They shout, and they wonder uneasily why he doesnt shout back. Where are his feelings? He must be hiding them, and they must be shameful.
Modern American politics is about feelings, but Roberts, as he says, isnt a politician. In his own apt metaphor, hes an umpire, not a player. He addresses the questions put to him scrupulously, surgically, by the book. Nobody comes to the game to see the umpire, and nobody asks the umpire how he feels about calling a struggling hitter out on strikes. (Have you no sense of the pathos of the situation, ump? The kid may be sent down to the minors!)
Some of Robertss answers are open to criticism. I suspect he gives too much weight to precedent. But even this is at least a sign of prudence, not the judicial arrogance weve seen too much of lately.
I admire Roberts precisely because he has kept his poise under great pressure this week. He refuses to be rushed into giving the answers partisans want him to give. He makes everyone ask which side hes on, when the correct answer seems to be that he has no side. Hes ready to see the legal merits of all sides.
At times he reminds me of a famous courtroom lawyer, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was a charming, disarming equivocator. He opposed slavery, but he could represent a slaveowner seeking to recover a fugitive slave. On some occasions he was outspoken; on others, he kept his own counsel maddeningly. Maybe he was Honest Abe, but nobody ever called him Candid Abe. He stuck to the point at issue, and he usually won his cases. Anyone who took Lincoln for a simpleton, it was said, would wake up on his back in a ditch.
Nobody doubts that Roberts is a conservative. Presumably he has feelings, conservative ones. The record is pretty clear on that. But this doesnt mean hes playing possum and waiting for the chance to give these feelings the force of law. Thats the liberal racket.
Liberals celebrate precisely those justices who love women and minorities not wisely, but too well the ones whose feelings impel them to overturn law and precedent and tradition in search of penumbras formed by emanations unsuspected by the authors of the Constitution. So when liberals ask you if you recognize the constitutional right to privacy, the last thing they want to hear is a politely skeptical, Well, it depends what you mean. Have you no feelings, man?
Hence liberals are forever complaining that conservatives lack compassion and are mean-spirited. The only feelings they can imagine conservatives having are nasty ones, primarily hate. Ignoring such childish spite, Roberts has taken a quiet and dignified stand for the sovereignty of reason.
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