When I was a boy one of my favorite cartoons began with a sheepdog and a wolf. “Mornin’ Ralph,” said the sheepdog. “Mornin’ Sam,” said the wolf. They would clock in to work, the sheepdog would casually sit down, and the wolf would begin some ingenious scheme by which he hoped to abscond with a sheep. Inevitably Sam, always a step ahead of Ralph, would catch his nemesis in the act, grab him by the throat, and send him over a cliff with a mammoth punch. But sometimes, a split-second before Sam could give Ralph the business, the lunch whistle blew. Sam would release his grip from Ralph’s neck, the two retrieved their lunch pails, and they both enjoyed a nice, quiet lunch together. When the whistle blew again, they dutifully re-assumed their respective positions – you know, with Sam’s hand around Ralph’s neck – and over the cliff went the wolf with a fresh black eye.
As a lawyer, the work I do often reminds me of this cartoon. I show up with my briefcase, another lawyer shows up with his (or hers), and we exchange pleasantries. Then the whistle blows, and we proceed to use all of our training, skill, intelligence, and wit to pummel each other. It’s a pretty unique occupation, if you think about it. After all, my success depends upon the other side’s failure, and vice versa. Outside of professional sports, who else can say that? Sure, it can be frustrating. It can be aggravating. It can even be devastating. But it is never, ever personal. Not for the lawyers. At least, it’s not supposed to be. At the end of the day we clock out, and then we stand in the parking lot for a while and talk football. Or family. Or hunting season. Or politics.
Speaking of politics, that’s another subject that brings Sam and Ralph to mind these days, especially during an election cycle. I’m sure you’re aware of it, how some people – nice, happy, genuinely good people – become angry, raving lunatics when espousing their personal political beliefs. If you’re reading this on Facebook, then you already know what I’m talking about. But in case you don’t, then take a moment to just scroll up or scroll down.
Now, before you send me an email, I do know that I’m as guilty as anyone else. You are, too. Most of us are. Probably all of us. We’re all crazy. But not half as crazy as the idiots and morons who can’t see things our way. The truth as we see it. The truth as we know it. Right?
So let’s talk about Justice Antonin Scalia.
Scalia, who was arguably the most conservative of the nine justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, passed away on Saturday. For those of you not in the business of reading Supreme Court opinions, I won’t even attempt to catch you up. I couldn’t begin to try. However, the New York Times did an excellent piece on Scalia, which you can read here. In short, he was a conservative’s conservative. His opinions leaned so far right that, sometimes, they seemed to make a full circle. As a lawyer who represents average, everyday people being taken advantage of by insurance companies and big business, I will admit that I was not a member of the Scalia fan club. But I can’t deny that his legal opinions, and the wit with which he delivered them, often cracked me up and, more importantly, challenged me to think through my “beliefs” very carefully. Scalia may not have always received my agreement, but he always had my admiration.
And I’m not alone. If Scalia stood at the farthest right flank of the Supreme Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg most certainly holds down the left flank. A liberal’s liberal, Ginsburg has never seen a progressive cause that she wouldn’t champion. Ideologically and otherwise, she seemed to be the anti-Scalia. Ginsburg, the Jewish woman appointed by Bill Clinton; and Scalia, the Roman Catholic appointed by Ronald Reagan. They were polar opposites of each other.
They were also best friends.Washington’s version of the Odd Couple, Scalia and Ginsburg attended operas and spent every New Year’s Eve together. In Ginsburg’s words, they were “best buddies,” and after Scalia’s death she penned him a warm and bittersweet tribute, in which she wrote:
“’We are different, we are one,’ different in our interpretation of written texts, one in our reverence for the Constitution and the institution we serve.”
It’s certainly ironic that these two people with such extremely opposite viewpoints, two people charged with the profound responsibility of interpreting laws in such a way as to shape the course of the greatest nation the world has ever seen, could….well, get along at all. And yet the rest of us – you, me, and 99.9% of everyone we know – we who have virtually no impact whatsoever on national or global politics, insult each other daily.
From the beginning, our Founding Fathers warned us that political parties are “to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.” Let’s be honest. Most of us are neither sheepdogs nor wolves. We’re the sheep. But you wouldn’t know it by looking at how we treat one another. Half of us cheer for Sam, while the other half cheer for Ralph. And when the whistle blows and they walk off arm in arm, where does that leave us?
This may sound corny or naive, but I dream of the day that we refuse to allow special interests to manipulate us by our emotions rather than our intellect. And I dream of the day when we finally realize that we can respectfully agree to disagree, because maybe that’s the day we truly understand what @AndyStanley means when he says that all this bickering back and forth is, quite frankly, scaring the children. But most of all, I suppose I dream of the day when we all throw Ralph and Sam off the cliff, and we figure this stuff out together. So yeah, I guess it does sound corny and naive, but I dream of the day when We Are One.
As a lawyer, I suppose that whole idea might be bad for business. But as for the boy still inside of me…hey, a boy can dream.