Sunday, September 14, 2008

Staal v. Scalia

Leslie Stahl made me laugh out loud during her 60-minutes interview of Justice Scalia. First she said that Bush v. Gore is (I quote from memory) "possibly the most controversial Supreme-Court decision in recent history". This seems to be a common opinion among the Democrats, who are more impressed by the case that really made them angry than by the case (Roe v Wade) that caused a major realignment of American politics and has been one of the top voting issues in national elections for decades.

Then the reporter started arguing with the Supreme-Court Justice about the Constitution. Stahl was talking about the practice of torturing suspects for information and she brought up the "cruel and unusual punishment" clause. Scalia pointed out that torture used for interrogation is not punishment. He tried three times to get this simple point across but Stahl just didn't get it. Scalia said "What is he [the terrorist] being punished for?" and Stahl answered "for being a terrorist". She just doesn't get the difference between punishment and interrogation. Apparently everything you do to a prisoner that the prisoner doesn't like just fits into one big conceptual box for her. If she had said "for not answering questions", she would at least have furthered the debate, but she clearly didn't comprehend the point at all. So Scalia got impatient with her stupidity and finally said, "Well, that's my opinion and I'm right."

Shortly after that line, 60-Minutes broke out of the interview and Stahl said something like "Well, Justice Scalia is never unsure or uncertain, and next we are going to look at his childhood to see what made him that way". That's when I laughed out loud.

This is one of the most ridiculous and pathetically self-unaware fantasies of the Left --that conservatives are somehow peculiarly, even pathologically certain and inflexible (as opposed to themselves, of course). Stahl is so confident, so certain about her own untutored opinion of the Constitution that she is willing to argue on national television with one of the world's foremost constitutional scholars. But it's not her certainty that needs to be explained. It's not the certainty of the amateur arguing with a Supreme-Court justice that is so odd or reckless that it needs to be explained. What is odd and reckless and in need of psychological explanation in terms of irrational impulses is the fact that someone who has spent decades studying the Constitution isn't interested in the opinions of a rank amateur.

And what is the source of Stahl's certainty? I guarantee you that it isn't years of scholarship. What makes her so certain, I expect, is her faith in the truth of her leftist world view --a faith based on no evidence, with no plausible ontological basis but entirely certain and unshakable for her anyway. And I'll also bet you that she gets frustrated with religious conservatives and how they are willing to take things on faith.

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