Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

In another context altogether King Kaufman writes, "I have a bootleg recording of a concert at which a woman yells out "I love you, Bruce!" After a little cheer dies down in the crowd, Springsteen says, "But you don't really know me."

Kaufman is talking about the fact that we can't know public figures through their portrayal in the media, although it seems as though we do, an interestingly clear eyed observation, and an important one in the context of our civic lives this electoral cycle. It seems that voters are basing their decisions on "character" rather than on any specific policy differences between Barrak and Hillary, or McCain and Huck. This is nothing new, of course, but it is nevertheless disturbing when you consider that we really know very little about what these people are like. When you listen, as we did last night, to the stuff that Huckabee says, it quickly becomes apparent that he is not a particularly deep thinker, for all that he is a very engaging speaker. Hardly a surprise-- his degree is in Divinity, not in anything analytical. McCain, sounding more like Bob Dole every day, likewise has very little of substance to say-- he is platitudinous, nothing more. Really, the only candidates left on the board who say specific things about specific stuff are good old Mike Gravel and HRC. Obama certainly has the intellectual chops, and when called upon to do so he can display them, but he does better at rallies than in debates for a reason-- in debates, specifics win, and Hillary has those. Actually, it is when Clinton gets away from her policy wonk roots that she loses me-- she didn't vote for this horrible war because it was good policy, after all, she did it out of political expedience, or cowardice, or both. That is, I think that's why-- but actually, I don't know. I can't know. Her statements about why she voted that way do not have the ring of truth to me, ("I trusted the President." What! How could you? You have got to be kidding me!) but it is impossible for me to know why she did what she did if what I am basing this on is an assessment of her character.

I get almost none of my news from television, and I wonder if this affects the way I process my political opinions. I read, and I argue with the radio, and both of these encourage a more analytical approach than tv news. Reading and arguing are what we do in our glamor profession-- when you roll in the video monitor at trial, you can see the jury relax, like slipping into a warm bath. They are abandoning their critical reasoning skills when the tape starts to roll, and that means that they are about to start making decisions based on impressions-- like the impressions we have about our politicians. McCain is a straight-talking maverick-- until you look at his voting record. Hillary is a liberal-- until you look at her voting record. I'm not sure what Huckabee is supposed to be-- a bible thumping cracker, maybe, but that doesn't completely fit with his record as governor. Obama is the Black Kennedy, I guess, but who knows what that is supposed to mean. If these are the evaluative criteria that we we use, why would anyone think that voting for people is the way to find leadership that will accomplish anything worthwhile? With democracy you get the government you deserve, maybe, even if it isn't what you think you want.

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