Monday, April 12, 2010

The REAL Message

Boy, lots of fascinating things going on in my life these days. Which do I tackle? What it's like to be the only tenor in the choir? The highlights of last weekend's antique show? My progress (or lack of same) as a tennis player? And some of the audience of this blog thinks these things are interesting? No wonder I find it more fun to pretend to be a pundit, writing about things that are a little,,,bigger.

For instance, there's the latest on our nation's Supreme Court. You probably heard that the Court's chief liberal, Justice John Paul Stevens, has announced just short of his ninetieth birthday that he plans to hang up his robe and retire. You might not have heard of Senator Orrin Hatch's announcement, made the same day.
Senator Hatch evidently still yearns for the time when he was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and swung a lot of weight in such matters. That's no longer the case, but the Senator still feels comfortable issuing a warning to President Obama. "Don't", he said in so many words, "try to put an activist on the Court. We (me and my forty GOP sidekicks) won't stand for that. Get what I'm a-sayin', Mister?"
Let's consider the whole situation for a moment. Does Hatch think that the President has given no thought to this matter since the ratification of Justice Sonja Sotomayor last year? That's not likely. Does Hatch believe Obama could win his support by nominating a "non-activist"? The term has no defined meaning, so that's pretty unlikely, too. Is Hatch really scared that a Senate filibuster opposing the nominee could hurt the country? I guess he wouldn't make threats unless he was willing to carry them out, right? So, what's Hatch really saying here, and who is his real audience?
The answer starts with the buzzword, "activist" judge. It's been used so much since the Nixon days that it has a built-in payoff. It supposedly refers to judges who overstep their judicial bounds by trying to enforce their will vs. Congress, but for easy purposes, it really just refers to judges who make rulings "we" (white religious folks who hate criminals and don't mind seeing them suffer, but kind of like anti-union corporations) oppose. So Hatch uses the code term, and to what end? Why, reminding the faithful folks back in Utah that old Orrin has their backs on this issue and will do everything he can to support "our" side against those awful liberals. After all, if he had really wanted to send a message to the President, there are a hundred ways to get it done without elbowing your way in front of the cameras and shaking your finger at POTUS. No, Hatch wasn't thinking of the next nominee at all, who won't be named for a few weeks anyway. Whoever he/she is, the Senator will be among the "nays". But thirty some years in the Senate teaches a guy how to deliver a message even when you appear to be doing something else.
I don't really object to Hatch's ploy here. Football coaches and executives do this kind of thing all the time. And there's nothing to keep Democrats from using it, either. It isn't illegal or unethical. I just want someone to know that I see it happening, and am not fooled.


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