Weather Forecast


It's all just a matter of judgement

As this article is being written, hearings began today in the Senate Judiciary Committee on the confirmation of Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court. Kagan, now Solicitor General of the U.S., former Dean of Harvard Law School and former clerk to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, is a brilliant lawyer with amazing credentials, but she has never been a judge. She has promised to be impartial, to consider each case on its own merits, and reserve judgment until she's heard both sides. They all say that. Then when they get on the court, nine honest justices read the same brief and listen to the same arguments, then, exercising their independent judgment, five see it one way and four see it another. How can that be? That can happen because judgment, for judges and for everybody else, is not a science, but it is like taste -- we all start from a different starting place.

Umpires are no different than Supreme Court justices. The home plate ump in a game I was watching the other night called a pitch over the middle of the plate and below the letters on the batter's uniform a ball. The rules say a ball over the plate and below the letters is a strike. But honest umps sometimes call one like that a ball. And sometimes they call a pitch just inside or outside the plate a strike. The rules say it has to be over some part of home plate to be a strike. How can that happen? It's a matter of judgment. Some argue that balls and strikes could -- and should -- be called by electronic devices that would never make a mistake. But they don't understand sport -- it's not a science, it's entertainment and it wouldn't be nearly as much fun without the human element.

As for politics, it has been said that if you're young and you're not a Democrat, you don't have a heart, but if you're old and you're not a Republican, you don't have a brain. Fortunately it's not that simple as young Republicans and old Democrats will tell you. Rich and poor doesn't necessary separate the parties either, as there are rich Democrats and poor Republicans. Even the terms liberal and conservative can get fuzzy depending on whether you're talking about economic or social issues.

Politics is a mixed bag and we are what we are for a combination of reasons including our starting points and our individual judgments. You look at one pitch and call it a strike while I look at the same pitch and call it a ball. Political discussion among friends who agree can be pleasant, but political arguments among those who disagree is not only a waste of time, it's a needless antagonism.

The same is true about religion. How many do we have? We have Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Confucianism, Taoism, Shinto, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, Baha'i and others. Some started at the same place and went off in different directions while some started poles apart. Is yours right and mine wrong? Differences in religion are interesting for discussion but dangerous to debate. More wars have been started over differences in religion than differences in politics.

And so it is: we discuss books, movies, TV programs, art, music, philosophy and life styles. No matter what we discuss, there is more than one point of view, some with deep commitment -- true believers, maybe even zealots, while others may have more casual views. And the deeper the commitment, the more likely to believe that those who don't share the same view are wrong. This is where political discussion in 2010 has gone haywire.

Politics in 2010 has become irrational. Is there no recognition that reasonable people can have honest differences of opinion, honest differences in judgment? Why do devoted followers of the respective parties scream at one another, call one another outrageous names, question the patriotism, even the nationality of the other guy, why are folks spitting at one another, threatening one another, ridiculing one another? It's time to tone down the screaming before we start shooting. It's time for sensible leaders to cool down the crazies on their own side and pave the way back to rational discourse. We've had enough frenzy. It's just a matter of judgment.