Jonathan Chait

Michael Gerson Really Hates Al Franken

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Former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson absolutely despises Al Franken. It's not hard to see why. Aside from the ideological differences, they are temperamental opposites. Franken is a policy wonk who thinks in details; Gerson thinks in broad narrative strokes (George W. Bush is a champion of the poor) and isn't always clear when those narratives are at odds with reality; Franken is a satirist -- yes, you can be a satirist and a wonk -- while Gerson is humorless. I suppose these are the reasons I like Franken.

In today's Washington Post, Gerson lights after Franken again. Franken gave a speech at the American Constitution Society ripping into the judicial philosophy of the Republican Party. Republicans fashion judges as "umpires," but the metaphor is deeply misleading. The notion of an umpire presumes that there is only one correction interpretation of the law (either a ball is inside the strike zone or outside) and the judge's own interpretation plays no role whatsoever. Franken pointed out that the GOP-appointed "umpires" on the Supreme Court happen to believe that the law sides with corporations an unusually high percentage of the time.

Gerson replies:

Most of the traditional elements of a Franken rant were employed against Chief Justice John Roberts and conservatives on the Supreme Court. The attack on motives: The "Roberts court has consistently and intentionally protected and promoted the interests of the powerful over those of individual Americans." The silly hyperbole: "What individual rights are so basic and so important that they should be protected above a corporation's right to profit? And their preferred answer is: None. Zero." The sloppy, malicious mixed metaphor: The Roberts court is putting not a "thumb" but "a fist with brass knuckles" on the "scale" of justice. Franken was clearly summoning all his remaining resources of senatorial dignity not to say something like Roberts is a "lying liar who lies along with his lying lackeys for his lying corporate lying masters."

Okay, fair enough, Franken was certainly employing hyperbole. You know what else is hyperbole? This:

Franken mocks Roberts's description of the role of a judge as an umpire, applying rules he does not create. "How ridiculous," Franken says. "Judges are nothing like umpires."

No, in Franken's view judges should be more like the Committee of Public Safety during the French Revolution -- an unelected group of super-legislators who issue binding verdicts based on their advanced conceptions of justice and class warfare.

That's Gerson's same column, two paragraphs later. Gerson is generally deficient the self-awareness department, but even he should feel some tingle of discomfort when he bitterly assails Franken for hyperbole in one breath and compares him to the executioners of the French Revolution in the next.

Gerson concludes his column with a characteristic appeal to seriousness:

Franken is attempting to be serious, but he should not be taken seriously. A judge who does not think himself an umpire may end up an autocrat.

Really? Anybody who acknowledges that judicial rulings sometimes involve interpretation rather than merely discerning objective fact is not only wrong but doesn't deserve to be taken seriously?

 

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