Monday, December 26, 2011

Newt Kills the Umpire

Newt Kills the Umpire

Those of you who read this blog know I have an almost unhealthy appetite for political news.  However, in the spirit of these confessional times, where past acts are absolved when one genuinely (if opportunistically) professes present ardor, I feel I have to be transparent.

I really like baseball.

There is something about baseball that is so simple, so human.  You don’t need a lot-a bat, a ball, a glove, and a ragged piece of open ground. Baseball is like life-the greatest hitters of all time failed more than they succeeded.  You just have to keep trying.  Hemingway wrote about “the Great DiMaggio” as a symbol of perseverance in “The Old Man and the Sea.” Baseball seems democratic and fair.  The people who play it are normal-sized.  There are rules, and brute force doesn’t get to decide who wins and loses.  We have umpires who use their neutral best judgment and call it as they see it, and we accept it and move on, to the next pitch, the next play, the next game, the next season. 

Most of the time, anyway.  In the 1985 World Series, umpire Don Denkinger, erroneously, and infamously, blew a critical call at first base, leading the trailing Kansas City Royals to score two runs and snatch victory from defeat in the 6th game.  The Royals then went on to beat the Cardinals in game seven to win the Series.

For this irredeemable sin, Denkinger reportedly wears a beard, false nose, and large black glasses whenever he nears the city of the Gateway Arch. I happen to root for the Yankees, so I don’t feel this particular event as viscerally as Cardinal fans do.  Notwithstanding that, the intense outrage I experience every time Commissioner Bud Selig gives the loathed Boston Red Sox yet another special favor (Bud loves the Red Sox and bends the rules for them whenever they need it) probably gives me a rough approximation.  Irrational?  Who's irrational?

Kill the Umpire!  And take the Commissioner with him.

Which, inevitably, brings me to Newt Gingrich.  Newt, as everyone knows (because he tells us constantly) is a Historian.  As a Historian, he is able to impart a special intellectual glow, such as that which emanates from polished mahogany bookcases near a Tiffany lamp, to the musty old trunk of the bizarre where he keeps his ideas.

Newt is currently pushing a Gulag for judges whose decisions he doesn’t agree with.  After abolishing their courts, he would haul them before Congress, reduce them to a quivering mass of be-robed tears, have them confess they were enemies of the state (Newt’s been watching those grainy newsreels of Stalinist show trials) and then pack them off to some internment center. 

This is so idiotic an idea that members of his own party, and conservative columnists like George Will, have publically opposed it.  The essence of our democracy is that we have checks and balances between the three arms of government. No one branch can become so powerful that it can dominate.  Our Constitution was designed this way, and the Federalist Papers support this idea.  That’s the deal we made more than two centuries ago.  No one gets to be King. 

Of course, if you run for office, you probably have a healthy ego.  “King” sounds pretty good. But it’s not very attractive to say it.  So, politicians talk about “activist judges” and “original intent” when what they really mean is “I don’t agree with that, and I want to be in charge.”

This all gets pretty tiresome, red-meat lines for the partisans notwithstanding, and as voters, we’ve pretty much given up hope that the winners will go to Washington with an intention to be fair, to find consensus, to govern well and to work for the common good.

Fair is supposed to be the province of the courts. Yes, appointments are intensely political, and the long draw-out confirmation process often shows the very worst of that.  And judges obviously have political opinions and a philosophy. 

But we expect them to be like umpires; to follow the rulebook, to call balls and strikes fairly, to display no favoritism. Obviously, like Don Denkinger, they can blow a call-as a mistake, not a deliberate act of partisanship.

There are three critical, and highly political cases before the Supreme Court that will be decided next summer, right in the middle of the election cycle.  Obamacare, a Congressional redistricting case from Texas, and an immigration case from Arizona.  What is really interesting is that the lower Federal courts have split, and not always on ideological grounds.  Those splits tell you just how much wisdom the Founders really had.  The Supremes will get to make the final call.

And, after they do, and political hay is made, and outrage expressed, we will accept it and move on, to the next pitch, the next play, the next game, the next season.  Legislation may have to be amended and new approaches taken, but no responsible leader who takes the oath of office can simply say, “Forget that, I’m King.” 

Not even Newt.  I hope.