We were supposed to forget about our sorrows at the sight of Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, on the house floor, preparing to cast her vote, one of the last needed, on the House approval of the new deficit-reduction plan. Never mind she was shot in the head and left for dead in Tuscon in January. Never mind that she is still recovering from a traumatic brain injury. Never mind that we advertised to the world we were ready, willing and able to default on our obligation to pay our federal debts. Gabby had all but risen from the dead to help slash government spending: the Tea Party welcomed her back with open arms. She was no longer a victim of scalding rightwing propaganda. No. Gabby was now merely a prop.
That Congress knows no shame goes without saying. Calling Giffords out of rehab to cast a ballot might have backfired. It does support the contention that all that is needed is a pulse to vote on the House floor. Higher cognitive powers may well be optional.
Trillions of dollars will be cut in government spending. Those cuts are reportedly to take place across the board. The poor and the middle class will feel the pinch, but so too, will the military. The only folks apparently left out of the new national austerity plan are the wealthy. To shrink government, we must reduce spending. The government must be used, apparently, to protect the assets of the affluent, however. No new taxes. The City on a Hill is becoming a luxury high rise.
Not long ago, I interviewed a potential intern for a position in my office this coming academic year. He was a bright kid, from a college I admire. His mother is a respected lawyer here in Connecticut.
Perhaps I assumed too much about the kid, but I did not sugar coat what the private practice of law looks like. I told him about suicides, despair and the unfeeling reach of a law blind to the lives of those it attempts to govern.
“There’s a class war brewing in this country,” I told him. “The law is blind to the needs of ordinary people: We are taught that clients bargain in the law’s shadow. That is antiquated nonsense. The shadows come from within. This is a profession engaged in minimizing harm to persons. The image that guides me is one of cultural collapse. I read medieval history to learn how institutions emerged and a sense of order created when society collapsed,” I told the student.
He looked stunned, in a surprising sort of way. I don’t know if he expected me to wave the flag and sing the national anthem.
“That’s an awfully dark view,” he said. “I am afraid if I worked here I might get too depressed.”
“If you are thinking about a career in the law,” I responded, “you should go into it with eyes wide open. Whether rightly or wrongly, my sense is the law’s rhetoric increasingly fails to address the reality of the lives of ordinary Americans. Don’t go into the law unless you are prepared to taste despair. It goes with the turf.”
I feared I had said too much.
“How do you keep at it?,” he asked.
“The law is about people,” I said. “We represent ordinary people in extraordinary struggles. The law is a tool, a means of resolving conflicts short of bloodshed. Most days, I still think the law is better than violence.”
“Most days?,” he said, his eyes now wide with alarm.
“I don’t know where I am heading,” I replied. “I was home when I learned a congresswoman had been shot in Arizona. My wife called out the news to me from another room. `A congressmen has been shot,’ she said. Without thinking, I blurted out: `Now there’s a start.’ My reaction surprised me.”
The intern remained in the room after hearing that, but his spirit walked out the door.
I thought of the interview with the student this morning when I saw pictures of Rep. Giffords on the House floor. I am relieved she has recovered, and troubled by my candid reaction to news that a congresswoman had been shot. But as I watched Congress dither and dicker over a budget, I had the sense that this grand experiment of ours isn’t working all that well. Government is out of touch, a mandarin’s chess game unrelated to the chaos all around me. I suspect I am not alone in feeling so.