I was watching TV last night and a campaign commercial came on for Debbie Stabenow, the Democratic incumbent US Senator from Michigan. Like most campaign commercials, it was just a medley of scenes of her shaking hands and talking to people with the appropriate look of concern on her face. And the voiceover features her talking about how great Michigan’s workers are and how they can compete with anyone. It ends with her saying, “This isn’t about Republicans and Democrats, it’s about our Michigan way of life, and I’m fighting for it every day.” You can actually see the commercial on the front page of her campaign website.
When it finished, I had a bit of an epiphany on why I have so much more respect for and faith in the judiciary than in the elected branches of government: because they don’t have to shovel out this kind of absolutely meaningless drivel in order to keep their job. Yes, they do have to build connections within the parties and that inevitably involves doing the bidding of idiots at some point along the way. But once on the bench, they’re there for life and they don’t have to pander to a barely literate and predominately ignorant population by showering them with shallow flattery, making false promises, and the like.
That lack of having to go through the constant motions of appealing to the public is an enormous distinction. No one of genuine intelligence and dignity could possibly look in a camera and repeat the kind of idiotic pablum that elected officials have to repeat dozens of times a day, every day for their entire career in office. Every election campaign in the nation consists of little more than a battle of stupid catchphrases and cliches, all of them completely devoid of meaning. Anyone with an IQ over room temperature immediately glazes over when asked to choose between the candidate who wants to “get America moving again” and the one who wants to “invest in America’s future.”
What bothers me the most is that such campaigns actually work. The slogans are designed for a prescribed emotional effect, vetted by focus groups and psycho-marketing experts, created by PR flaks with an extraordinary talent for putting words together in a manner that gives them the appearance of meaning but leaves them intrinsically hollow. What the hell could it possibly mean for someone to say they’re fighting for “our MIchigan way of life”? As opposed to what, the Wisconsin way of life? This is nothing more than a word salad, totally devoid of meaning. What intellectual could possibly repeat such inanities with a straight face?
And that’s why I like the judiciary, because it is the last bastion of intelligent thought in government. It’s the only place in government where an intellectual could possibly survive with their dignity intact and their soul unsold. It’s the only place in government where an individual can actually care first and foremost about what is right and just rather than about what is politically expedient or pleasing to a populace that is, on the whole, staggeringly ignorant and easily manipulated.
That’s why, when I hear people wax eloquent about the “wisdom of the people” I just laugh and shake my head. That’s why I despise populists of every stripe, because all they really have to offer is empty praise that they know isn’t true. Scratch a populist and you reveal a demagogue. And that’s why I think the founding fathers were quite correct to establish a judiciary that is as immune to the pressures of electoral politics as it is possible to be in a democracy. Our liberties are far safer in their hands than they are at the whim of a simple majority vote.
That’s why the Bill of Rights is such a brilliant idea, because it puts those liberties out of the easy reach of the majority. Yes, they can still amend the constitution, but they made that process extraordinarily difficult on purpose. And in over 200 years, weve had some 11,000 proposed amendments to that document and passed only 27 of them. But time and time again over the last century, it has been the judiciary that has saved our liberties from the constant assault that “the people” have put them under.
They don’t always get it right, of course; there is plenty to criticize among their many rulings. But I firmly believe that it is the only branch of government where doing what is right and just is even possible. In electoral politics, the man who cares about what is right and just rather than what is politically safe and popular soon finds himself out of office. Especially at the national level, where the amounts of money that must be raised to be competitive in a campaign is completely out of control, integrity is ultimately not an option. Only in the judiciary is it even possible to care more about truth than about short term expediency.