Affairs of State

I find myself appalled by the current political scene in this country. No sooner did Supreme Court Justice Scalia die than the Republicans began battling over the President’s right to nominate a successor, a right clearly specified in the Constitution.

I do not hold to the views of Justice Scalia, the longest serving member of the Court, but I respect his intelligence and wit in holding forth on many of them. However, I find it thoroughly disrespectful the way so many have responded to his death. Disrespectful, rude, insensitive—to his wife, to his children and to the spirit in which one might feel about the death of anyone.

And then there are the so-called debates, debates that are not debates at all but little else but shouting matches. The way we hold elections in this country is utter madness, they last forever, become repetitious, tedious, boring.

By contrast, in some European countries, elections are called when the ruling party loses a vote of confidence. An election is held to form a new parliament or assembly about a month or so before a vote is held. The candidates for the legislature campaign during that relatively short time, the election is held and the ruling party or coalition elects a leader. How terribly sensible.

in a less polemical comment on the current political scene, Scott and Ami Dodson, report a study of the literary citations nine Supreme Court justices. Who among them has made the most literary citations in their opinions? They frame the question in terms of the purported effects of reading literary fiction—“develops deeper thinking, greater empathy, and better decision making.”

Leaving that matter aside, the Dodson’s searched all the opinions written by the current justices for what they call “high” literature references, excluding the Bible and popular fiction (e.g. J. K. Rowling). The most cited fiction authors were William Shakespeare and Lewis Carroll, each mentioned sixteen times by the same five justices (Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg and Breyer).

Eight other authors were cited at least two times—Orwell, Dickens, Huxley, Aesop, Dostoyevsky, Faulkner, Melville, Salinger. Such authors as Tolstoy, Dante, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Austen, etc. were cited once. And then there were a group of authors not cited at all—Toni Morrison, Murakami, Nabokov, Camus, etc.

In terms of simply counting literary citations, Justice Scalia was by far the most prolific. However, he had also served on the court the longest and therefore has had an opportunity to write far more opinions. Nevertheless, correcting for this factor, still leaves Scalia as the most frequent citer (39) of literature. Breyer (15), Thomas (11), Ginsburg (7), and Kennedy (8), with the remaining four justices trailing far behind.

I’ve been led to wonder by all this is any of the current political candidates have cited a work of literature in the many speeches they have given. My hunch is not a one has done so. Has any candidate for public office or elected official in this country every cited a work of literature? These questions are not raised in jest. After all, isn’t a country’s literary culture one way to measure its quality of life?


crofter said...

I think your observations are valid. Big money is controlling the whole political process, and while we still have the right to vote, the process is so skewed, that the people running are selected by the big money before we vote. My sense is democracy died with the passage of the "Citizens United" ruling by this very same court that allows unlimited amounts of money to the candidates. That was the big nail in the democracy coffin. I have watched none of the debates, in fact I watch hardly any TV. I have very strong feelings of who is "fit" for the office, but neither (one from each party) has a snowball's chance. Rather depressing actually as to what this tells the rest of the world.

Justice Scalia came to western Nebraska hunting often. Never met the man, but friends that did held him in high esteem.

Richard Katzev said...

Crofter: Yes, it's terribly depressing. The whole scene, especially the deadlock in Congress and the prospect that's it's going to be the same for the next four to eight years. Obama's selection for the Court will be extremely interesting and that will determine the likelihood of confirmation. I share your views about TV and rarely watch it, as well. What a waste. What a world. What a future. Richard

crofter said...

My being 70 this next birthday gives me the sense that I was blessed to experience America' s best years. I don't see things getting any better in the time I have left. Downside risk vastly exceeds upside potential I'm afraid.

Richard Katzev said...

Crofter: I hope your good fortune continues. And you are surely right about the comparative risks potential. As I watch the games now, they are becoming more and more brutal, vicious, excessively so. My hunch is that the penalties for unnecessary roughness are increasing, as are the on-field injuries, Richard

Stefanie said...

I don't share Scalia's views either and when he came to the law school where I work just a few months ago I had to leave his presentation early because his remarks about LGBTQ people were making me very angry. Nonetheless, I respected him and the work he has done serving this country to the best of his abilities. I was shocked by the immediate response from the Republicans and their continued insistence that they will block anyone the president nominates. In relation to politics in this country people--politicians and civilians--have become so mean and nasty. And we are supposed to believe that the presidential candidates ripping each other to shreds will suddenly be bipartisan and collaborative if elected? It's enough to make one consider applying to be a NASA astronaut and take a one-way ticket to Mars.

Richard Katzev said...

Stefanie: You are sure right about Scalia. Bravo. See Jeffrey Toobin's scathing critique in the current New Yorker: http://nyer.cm/ieTmm19 And another bravo for getting up and leaving his lecture; I don't blame you. In my post, I was too kind. The future is bleak; I would move to Italy, rather than Mars. Have you seen the Martian? Fun. Richard

Linda said...

I swing between extreme depression over the state of our government and anger bordering on the coronary. I think I need to stop watching the news - the media is like a megaphone in an echo chamber, nastiness and stupidity bouncing back and forth. I agree with you, Richard - maybe a parliamentary government would be preferable, at least we wouldn't have the gridlock we now have. I was reading a review on the book "Dark Money" about the tactics of the mega-wealthy Koch brothers - when people like that can influence how our government functions, it is frightening - can we even claim that we are a democracy any more? I don't know.

And I don't think that the staged shouting matches among the candidates can even remotely be called debates. I read an article recently calling for the Commission on Presidential Debates to adopt the Oxford-style debate, a proven format that encourages and provides time for depth, nuance, and serious discussion of policy, where the moderator actually ensures that the candidates debate each other on the chosen topic, not just repeat canned messages. What a great idea! How far do you think that idea will get?

The Martian was great. But it's Canada for me.

Richard Katzev said...

Thank you, Linda: What is to be done? What can be done? Is there an alternative to the New York Real Estate broker--crude, intolerant, infantile? Who else is there? Let us assume Trump will be nominated. Is it assured Clinton will defeat him? And what about the next Congress? Surely there won't be a Democratic majority in either house. Yes, turn off the TV. Is there a sane country anywhere left in the world, one where it is warm or relatively warm and sunny a fair amount of the year? I am not thinking of Great Britain, but note how they are holding the referendum to depart from the European Union or remain. The various points of view will be voiced and election will be held a few months away in June. I am all in favor of experimenting with a unicameral legislature, but we do not live in an experimenting society. Will we ever? Canada is too cold and chilly for me, although they certainly have a far more sensible society than we do. Carry on. Richard

Stefanie said...

Heh, yes I have seen the Martian. I am boning up on my potato growing skills :) And if Donald Trump wins the presidency I am seriously considering taking Cape Breton up on its offer:

Richard Katzev said...

Cape Breton is appealing but far too cold for me. Like Jhumpa Lahiri in her recent book, In a Word, I will flee to Rome where the weather is usually pleasant most of the year and warm a good deal of the spring and summer. I will blog about the book in a week or so. But I am confident Trump will not be elected, let alone nominated. Is that wishful thinking?