Winner take nothing

Typewriter with paper titled Article

President Obama has nominated a judge to fill the vacant seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. Apart from having a name that makes it sound as if he was conceived during a Broadway intermission, Judge Merrick Garland appears to be the best nominee for the high court that Obama, or any president going back at least to Bush the First, has put in play.

People simply rave about this guy. Merrick Garland, they say, is “brilliant,” has “the perfect background,” “excellent judgment,” and is without a political agenda, “other than to do right.”

Even Republicans like him. “A fine man,” says Utah’s Orrin Hatch.

But does this boffo praise mean that we can look forward to Judge Garland deploying his learned expertise in our country’s court of last resort?

Probably not.

Judge Garland is Pres. Barack Obama’s nominee. Since Republicans absolutely detest Pres. Obama, many have said they will refuse to so much as meet with Judge Garland when he does his ritualistic meet and greet with congressional leaders, no matter how brilliant, perfect or excellent he may be.

If Republicans stick to their guns, the country will be without a Supreme Court justice until well into 2017. A court that is designed to function with nine members will, instead, make do with eight.

This will certainly make a difference in the country’s ongoing business. What sort of difference is difficult to say. The sky won’t come tumbling down. But, in many cases and situations, clarity will be withheld and justice, or what passes for it, will be deferred.

It seems we’re getting used to this sort of thing: government by obstruction. It is easy, in this instance, to pin this on Republicans. Unable, even during their own administrations, to actually reduce the size of government, they have settled for making it as ineffective as possible — even when that means blocking a candidate like Judge Garland, whom many of them have previously voted to confirm.

But this behavior actually knows no party affiliation. It is emblematic of a kind of gamesmanship that permeates society. I have seen it on display on condo boards and in the dealings of small town councils. Indeed, the lower the stakes, the more wickedly intense the partisanship becomes.

People say they long for a bygone bi-partisanship. What they really yearn for is the kind of government where moralizing takes a backseat to problem solving.

Unfortunately, for this kind of governance to work, you have to at least be able to agree on what the problems are — and even this turns out to be tough. Should we be looking at poverty or the public school curriculum? At climate change, or the need for cheap energy?  Through one end of the telescope, or the other?

I heard a voter in one of the recent primaries say that competition is what makes America great. That, he said, is why we’re so crazy about sports. We love the winners.

But we hate losing even more. So much, in fact, we’d rather do nothing, even if nothing is what we get.




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