A screed about lawyers landed in our inbox this week. Democrats, you see, are the party of the “lawyers.” The article is called — diction be damned — “Why this country is going down.” It’s basic premise is that all lawyers are Democrats and all Democrats are lawyers. Here is a sample:
The Democrat[sic] Party has become the Lawyers’ Party.
The Republican Party is made up of real people doing real work. The Democrat[sic] Party is made up of lawyers.
The Democrat[sic] Party is made up of lawyers. Democrats mock and scorn men who create wealth, like Bush and Cheney, or who heal the sick, like Frist, or who immerse themselves in history, like Gingrich.
The Lawyers’ Party sees these sorts of people, who provide goods and services that people want, as the enemies of America .
Most Americans know that a republic in which every major government action must be blessed by nine unelected judges is not what Washington intended in 1789.
Those five sentences inhabit a fact-free zone. Not one is true. But they are the basis of the entire piece. Hiding in the verbiage, they are not easy to spot. Drag them out to the light of day and they shrivel.
But we knew at the outset that this is propaganda, not serious republican discourse. The title tells us that. “Going down?” What does that mean — in this context? Does it mean our political system? Our culture? Our population? Our economy? We’re not told. Perhaps the author means something along the lines of, “It’s just like the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.” But that can’t be right. There is no evidence of that. Whatever the title means is left to the reader to fill in. (Which, as we will see, is the point of ambiguous language. Your reader can project whatever she wants onto it. It also saves the writer a lot of hard work.)
In the first paragraph the author launches into the “Democrat[sic] Party.” That is our second clue that we’re in propaganda-land and not in a serious discussion between citizens of the Republic. It is the Democratic Party. Conversation and persuasion begin, as we’ve known since at least Aristotle, with mutual respect; not denigration and demonization. Imagine having a conversation with a man named Bill. He’s not going to hear much of what you say if you call him “Little Billy” all the time.
The few facts presented are patronizingly selective. For instance, here is a list of businessmen-politicians:
The Republican Party is different. President Bush and Vice President Cheney were not lawyers, but businessmen. The leaders of the Republican Revolution were not lawyers. Newt Gingrich was a history professor; Tom Delay was an exterminator; and, Dick Armey was an economist. House Minority Leader Boehner was a plastic manufacturer, not a lawyer. The former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is a heart surgeon.
You’ll note that the list leaves out two of the real businessmen who served as president in the 20th Century; Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter. While it is too early for history to weigh in on the successes and failures of George W. Bush’s presidency, no one seriously argues that either the Hoover or the Carter presidency were successes. Which is why the piece omits both. Both businessmen failed as presidents and that undermines the idea that non-lawyer businessmen make better presidents.
A second significant omission — again because it is evidence contrary to the belief embraced — is that only Democrats become lawyers and only Democratic lawyers reach the high levels of our government. That is not right. For example, the person who sent this email — on a federally funded, taxpayer paid email account — works for a Republican Congressman seeking to replace Republican Senator Pete Domenici, a lawyer. And, as I have noted elsewhere, 78% of all federal judges in the United States today were appointed by Republican presidents. Seven of the nine members of the Supreme Court were put there by a Republican president. None are liberals. No mention is made of all the lawyers working in the Republican controlled Executive Branch.
Even the Republican lawyer-president Richard Nixon is absent. I wonder why?
The piece misses entirely the downside of legislator-lawyers. Lawyers, by training and inclination, are verbal. Most believe that problems can be solved by talking and writing. That is true only some of the time.
In addition, most political beliefs are emotionally based and not rational; you don’t talk people out of them, although lawyers are always trying. Innumerable scientific studies show that all of us reject factual information that collides with our emotional beliefs. Emotion trumps reason.
Besides, the author is crying “Wolf!” The current Congress has 215 lawyers, but it also has 189 businessmen and women. And, just to pick another profession at random, 128 are veterans of the military. It is a risky business, this smearing of Congressmen on the basis of prior occupation; you end up criticizing our soldiers. (Or professional musicians. There are three of those in Congress.)
This piece adds nothing to our civic discourse. Patriots do not engage in such folderol, they converse with fellow citizens with respect. Lawyers are often well-deserving butts of lawyer jokes. (How do you save a drowning lawyer? Take your foot off his head.) But lawyers are useful. Many are capitalism’s mechanics: They grease our economic wheels by making business transactions possible. Many more operate the executive branches of the federal and state governments. Some still strive mightily as courtroom adversaries. (Half of those work for businesses, not employees of businesses.) And a few go into politics.
Politics, like other professions, is an honorable calling — if pursued honorably. So is a life spent teaching, serving in the military, treating illnesses or being a lawyer. Lawyers are trained to communicate clearly and to persuade, two of the most important skills of a successful politician. As Republican-lawyer John Yoo reminds us, they also serve as constitutional advisers, deal-makers, and investigators.
Small wonder then that they gravitate to politics and governing. Where would the nation be had it not been blessed with some of these lawyers: Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, James Madison, Daniel Webster, John Marshall, Robert Jackson, Thurgood Marshall?
Let me say this again: It does nothing to help meet our Nation’s challenges to scapegoat one another. We’re all in this together. And the overwhelming majority of us are people of good will. Even the lawyers.
Which reminds me, the author leaves out one of the most skilled lawyers of the Illinois bar. From humble, unschooled beginnings he rose to be one of the most famous lawyers in Illinois. He represented the titans of capitalism of those days, the railroads, arguing several cases on their behalf before the Supreme Court of Illinois. He even argued one case before the United States Supreme Court. And he represented the downtrodden and oppressed as well, occasionally defending even accused murderers, sometimes for free. He went into politics too. As a Republican. His name was Abraham Lincoln.