Affirmative Action Hearings, Meeting Jeffrey Toobin, and Being a Moderate
“David Souter was so great because he was so weird.” -Jeffrey Toobin, Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures, 08 October 2012
I had no idea what to expect in going to a lecture by a political analyst. My expectations were of a long-winded, sleep-inducing lecture, the only saving grace of which might be some lively crazy people at the Q&A.
In fact, when Jayne Adair (Executive Director of Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures) stepped onto the stage wearing what were possibly the most incredible brown boots I’ve ever seen in my life, I figured that was the highlight of the night.
I couldn’t have been more wrong about Jeffrey Toobin. His artful lecture was a history lesson wrapped in current events, wrapped in occasional tongue-in-cheek humor and sincerity.
The quote above was his preemptive answer to a typical question he receives at such events: name his “favorite” supreme court justices. And his answer referred to Souter’s intentional rejection of cell phones, answering machines, and even his distaste for “electric light.”
Toobin offered up many light-hearted anecdotes during his time at the podium while also giving the premise of his latest book, The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court. His lecture gave a surprisingly bi-partisan view of the supreme court’s history, helpful to understanding the book and its John Roberts/Barack Obama parallel.
The best look at the book itself was done by NPR, so I’m going to refer you to their article (and audio!): How Obama, Roberts Interpret Laws In ‘The Oath’
Toobin piqued my interest in the workings of the Supreme Court and its history, so I’m also looking forward to reading one of his earlier books, The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court. I think my second favorite quote (because, really, can there be a better insight into a person than having him affectionately call a supreme court justice “weird?”) is why I found Toobin a reliable and level-headed lecturer: “We have a tendency to idealize the constitution as something apart from politics…but the only way to address the difficult questions is through a merger of law and politics.”
Of course, like literal bible interpreters, literal constitutioners will take issue with this stance, but I think it shows a healthy understanding that 18th century men, no matter how well-intended, decent or intelligent, could not predict so many of the issues that would one-day hang on the balance of words written in the context of a revolution in the 1700’s.
I delayed this post from yesterday, because today the Supreme Court begins hearing arguments on a case that could change the law regarding Affirmative Action. I won’t tell you my views on this issue, because I believe, like so many cases put before the court, there is no easy answer. What I do believe is that “easy” answers (whether liberal or conservative) are for fools. I think black and white is for wussies who can’t think for themselves, who retreat behind an absolute because it’s easier than trying to put yourself in another person’s position and come from a place of compassion and empathy.
Moderation is the most difficult stance of all, because you refuse not only to play the game of “sides” but you refuse to acknowledge that “sides” exist in “truth.” In aligning staunchly “liberal” or “conservative” you are surrounded by a network of peers, a support group (some, maybe me, might call them lemmings or sheep).
Perhaps the only thing I’ve noticed that many liberals and conservatives can come together on, is their absolute dislike of moderates. As a moderate, I’ve received the equivalent of adult bullying from both liberals and conservatives who think I should be more definitive on a given issue, or that my embracing of a mixture of both left-wing and right-wing values makes me wishy-washy.
And I myself have fallen for that peer pressure. For a long time I thought that maybe I’m just spineless jello, unwilling or unable to take a stand. But what I’ve come to understand is that it’s not a lack of conviction, or a lack at all, but a refusal to accept that there is only one truth, or that believing in one part means that the whole is correct. I believe in multiple layers of truth, and I do not and will not, ever believe in one party, even if I choose what I think is the closest party to high priority issues in a given election.
Wow. Who knew today’s post would include a nice long rant?
Well, that’s how I feel “in the moment.” Maybe tomorrow I’ll become a Dothraki and take the burden of voting out of the equation entirely.
Thanks, as always, for stopping by to read my assorted slice-of-life posts (and occasional rants).