Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Andy Griffith, John Roberts, Chris Christie, And The Death Of Civility

Andy Griffith, John Roberts, Chris Christie, And The Death Of Civility

For those of us who might have been traveling to parts unknown over the last two weeks or so, the Supreme Court, with Justice Roberts in the majority, upheld the individual mandate portion of the Affordable Care Act.

In other news, Andy Griffith passed away.  He was predeceased by Barney, Aunt Bee, Floyd the Barber, Goober, Ms. Crump, Otis, the Town Drunk, and my mother, who just loved him as the small town law man and the wily country lawyer. 

Mr. Griffith is survived by son Opie, and millions of friends who watched (and still watch) every week and found humor and comfort in his ease, his fairness, and his quiet authority.  And that of his extended Mayberry family-small town folk, sometimes parochial or even silly, but honest, decent people who looked after each other and displayed kindness and simple charity.

Justice Roberts, has, in most conservative quarters, been declared dead for heresy.  He has been mocked for upholding the individual mandate and torched by a scabrous Wall Street Journal Editorial.  The whispering (and shouting) campaign directed at the Chief (which also includes questions about whether he was impaired by an epilepsy drug) has fed the furnace of conspiracy theorists everywhere, since the idea he might have reached this result through careful consideration of the law apparently seems preposterous.  A few conservative columnists have tried to give Roberts cover by saying he planted a virus on the Commerce Clause hard drive, but most insist he’s a craven turncoat cowed by the massive power of the liberal media.

Compounding this, there are leaks coming from inside the Supreme Court that cast Roberts in a particularly bad light while holding Justices Thomas and Scalia as paragons of rectitude.  Those leaks have filled the bucket of a CBS News reporter (Jan Crawford) who has a good relationship with Justice Thomas and his wife, Ginny (a coincidence, I am sure). Leaks are not supposed to happen at the Supreme Court, and there haven’t been any juicy ones since Chief Justice Burger, who apparently was so heartily disliked by the rest of the Brethren that he was called “Captain Stuebing” (of Love Boat fame).

Meanwhile, back in Mayberry, newspaper obituaries elicited an outpouring of affectionate stories, of baby boomers talking about favorite episodes, of quiet little moral lessons mixed with humor.  Last November, I wrote about one of my own, in which a hard-boiled businessman’s car breaks down on a Sunday and he is temporarily driven mad by being stranded in a town that does nothing on the Sabbath.  He recovers in time to enjoy Aunt Bee’s pie.

Those same obituaries also brought out some of the ugly in us.  As readers reminisced and posted condolences in on-line forums in The Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, others indulged themselves in political grievances, angry that Sheriff Taylor and Madlock had endorsed Barack Obama in 2008.  Some of these comments were so vitriolic that the moderators removed them. 

Nasty and crass is in these days.  In Illinois, Republican Congressman Joe Walsh, in a tight race for his seat with Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War Vet who lost both legs and the use of one arm after the helicopter she was piloting was shot down, criticized her as “not a true hero.”   Walsh, who seems to have a remarkable gift for the inappropriate, then followed up on his comments by getting into a shouting match with a CNN interviewer, Ashleigh Banfield.  Classy guy.

Back in Jersey, Chris Christie, the formidable Republican Governor (and fantasy-baseball Presidential candidate) got into his own shouting match with a bystander who asked a question about education (actually, Christie shouted, the bystander asked).  This followed closely on the heels of Christie calling a reporter “stupid” and an “idiot” for asking a question at a press conference that Christie did not want to answer.  The Governor’s easily pricked ire has been pricked a lot recently with the disclosure that a Christie-favored private company that runs half-way houses for the State under a favorable contract hasn’t been doing a particularly good job. 

What’s going on here?  I can understand disagreement and even anger with Justice Roberts’s decision, but is it really acceptable to take after him personally like this?  As to Andy Griffith, must we carry our politics to his gravesite? Joe Walsh is clearly a jerk, but Chris Christie is a very intelligent man, and a talented one.  I can’t help but get the feeling that these folk act this way because their ideological soul mates cheer them on.  They are rewarded for their outrageousness, rather than ashamed. 

That just wouldn’t fly in Mayberry, and my guess is it wouldn’t fly in most people’s homes, either.  My mother, the Andy Griffith fan, wasn’t much for shouting, but she had a way of expressing herself when she thought you had been mean, or spoiled, or selfish, or boorish, or unjust. My father called it “The Face” and he absolutely hated it, because he knew she was right. You never wanted to see The Face, and as the totally deserving recipient of it on too many occasions, I assure you it could take weeks before the guilt passed.

I’m all for bringing back some of that guilt.  If the good people of Mayberry, or my Mom, wouldn’t have approved, you just shouldn’t be doing it.