Because my first name is "Noel" spelled backwards, I am all set to write one of those touchy-feely Christmas columns. You know, the kind that begins with the despair of a little boy's very sick dog and ends with the miraculous uplift of "Joy to the World" wafting from the church across the street while the sick dog, on his bed of old gunnysacks, cocks an ear and feebly wags his tail.
But then the U.S. Supreme Court elects George W. Bush by a 5-4 vote and I see immediately that Dubya as president-sort-of-elect is a condition that needs my attention even more than the sick dog does.
Because all the other columnists seem confused.
Some see the ruling as payback to Dubya's daddy and Ronald Reagan for their Supreme Court appointments. Others worry about conflicts of interest because before the ruling Justice Thomas' wife was already checking resumes of job-seekers in Dubya's administration, and Justice Scalia's two lawyer sons were working for law firms representing Dubya.
And still others wonder:
How could the court so blithely reverse itself on states' rights?
How could the court reject the recount on grounds that not all the ballots were counted by the same standards, but then accept the Nov. 7 votes that also were not counted by the same standards?
How could the court stop the recount on Saturday, a day before it would be complete, then rule on the following Tuesday that it couldn't resume because the deadline was only an hour or so away?
Joel Achenbach in the Washington Post calls the ruling "something of a dog's breakfast, not the kind of thing you really want to look at too closely."
You know what I say to all that? I say picky, picky, picky.
I say these guys are top-feeders who merely skim the surface of meaning. What we need are bottom-feeders, pundits who dive deep into murky depths to find hidden truths.
I'm a bottom-feeder.
And here's the shocking hidden truth I get from an anonymous source close to the Supreme Court: One of the five justicesócall him Justice Xómade his ruling out of absolute malice for George W. Bush. Yes!
My source gets me a meeting with Justice X shortly before midnight on Christmas Eve. It's in the murky depths of an underground parking garage.
"At last," the black-robed figure in the shadows tells me, "I got the little goofball. I got him good."
The "little goofball" is the president-sort-of-elect. Justice X explains that he’s been seeking revenge for something Dubya did during Poppy’s administration. In his early forties then, still in his young and irresponsible phase, he'd played a boyish prank when Justice X was visiting the White House. It involved a live frog in a punch bowl, a dead fish in a briefcase.
The Truth, Mainly
"I swore then that some day I'd get even," Justice X tells me, "and as there's a heaven above us, I now have my revenge!"
But how, I ask, does making Dubya president constitute revenge?
"Don't you see?" he says. "Stopping the recount is the nastiest thing I could have done to him."
"Hah?" I say.
"Look, meathead," Justice X says, "if we let them finish the recount, one of two things happens: (1) Gore gets more votes and Dubya gets to go back to his cushy job in Texas and be a martyr to half the population. Or (2) Dubya gets more votes and becomes a legitimate president. Either way he wins."
"Hah?" I say.
"But I wanna ruin his life," Justice X says. "I want him to be seen as the Great Pretender who lost not only the popular vote but maybe the electoral vote too. As long as we don't let them finish the recount, his legitimacy will always be in doubt. He'll be humiliated for four years and I'll be avenged."
"Jeez," I say, "that is nasty. That's some revenge."
"Yes, I think so," Justice X says.
In the distance, I hear church bells and I remember that my first name is "Noel" spelled backwards.
"But aren't you overdoing it?" I say. "It was only a live frog in a punch bowl, a dead fish in a briefcase. It's Christmas, a time to forget old slights and hark the herald angels sing. Remember, the wrong shall fail, the right prevail."
Justice X doesn't say anything as we walk up the steps of the underground parking garage into a cold winter night that is so deep. An old guy who looks a lot like Ebenezer Scrooge is whistling "Ave Maria" as he dangles a dead goose, and something that looks a lot like the Grinch is carrying on his shoulders a laughing little girl who looks a lot like Little Cindy Lou Who. From a church nearby wafts the strains of "Joy to the World" and in the dark streets shineth an everlasting light.
"OK," Justice X says, peering into the midnight clear, "You're right. I don't want to be that cruel to the little goofball. How do I change my vote?"
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity
from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail