By The Progressive on September 15, 2005
The Roberts Mask
By Matthew Rothschild

September 15, 2005

I’ve watched a bit of the Roberts hearings, and the guy is smart and the guy is prepared and the guy is smooth.

But he may be too smart, too prepared, and too smooth for his own good—and for the country’s.

I sense in Roberts a troubling patness.

He’s figured out all the angles, he knows just what to say, and he says it with agility, aplomb, self-effacement, and humor.

But what lies behind the mask?

A summa cum laude from Harvard and Harvard Law School surely is savvy and self-aware enough to put Clearasil on his face.

And so he’s presented this facade of moderation and modesty.

But beneath the façade lies a foundation of Republican hackwork, and behind the most studied modesty often lurks arrogance.

I suspect it does here.

Let’s look beyond the rehearsed performance and examine the record.

Roberts was not just “working for a client” when he worked in the Reagan Justice Department and when he was principal deputy solicitor general under the first George Bush. “Roberts chose the ‘client.’ He chose to serve Administrations committed to rolling back civil rights protections, overturning Roe v. Wade, limiting access to federal courts, and undermining separation of church and state,” as People for the American Way has noted.

He wasn’t just some hired gun. He eagerly enlisted in the Reagan Revolution. And during the confirmation hearings, he beamed proudly at his association with it.

He was one of the architects of Bush I’s legal rollbacks, including prohibiting the use of federal funds in family planning clinics that perform abortions, limiting affirmative action, loosening the demands of school integration, and restricting prisoner appeals.

And he wasn’t hired at all in 2000 by George W. Bush. No, Roberts volunteered his legal services to help swing the disputed election into the Republican column.

The idea that he is somehow just an Indiana lawyer carrying a yellow legal pad and a briefcase for whoever wants his high-priced services is a joke.

In private practice, he faithfully served corporate America. And it’s returning the favor. For the first time ever, the National Association of Manufacturers has come out in support of a nominee to the Supreme Court.

He’s always understood that being a warrior for the right and a booster of business went hand in glove.

“It is possible to ‘defund the left’ without alienating TRW and Boeing,” he wrote in a February 3, 1983, memo.

In two recent cases as a sitting judge, Roberts showed his true colors.

In Hedgepeth vs. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Roberts upheld the actions of a police officer who arrested and handcuffed and booked a 12-year-old girl for eating a single French fry at a subway station, as Nat Hentoff has pointed out.

Roberts ruled that the arrest furthered “the legitimate goal of promoting parental awareness and involvement with children who commit delinquent acts.”

A compassionate justice? Don’t believe it.

Then there was Roberts’s participation in Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld. In this case, Roberts “upheld President Bush’s creation of special military tribunals for trials of alleged terrorists,” wrote Stephen Gillers, David Luban, and Steven Lubet in the Los Angeles Times.

On the merits, that’s bad enough, since such tribunals violate the Geneva Conventions.

But procedurally it’s even worse. “While the case was pending in his court, Roberts was interviewing with high White House officials—including Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove—for a seat on the Supreme Court.”

That was unethical. But he was pleasing his masters.

Roberts may be the best legal mind the Republicans have to offer.

But that doesn’t mean the Senators are obliged to confirm him.

In the exercise of their constitutional duties to advise and consent, they’re within their rights to conclude that he’s too smooth by half, and too much of an ideological warrior. That’s what Roberts has been his entire adult life when you strip away all the layers of lawyerliness and polish.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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