June 27, 2009

When Chief Justice John Roberts was a vox clamans in terris... about Michael Jackson.

"I recognize that I am something of a vox clamans in terris in this area, but enough is enough. The Office of Presidential Correspondence is not yet an adjunct of Michael Jackson’s PR firm. 'Billboard' can quite adequately cover the event by reproducing the award citation and/or reporting the President’s remarks. (As you know, there is very little to report about Mr. Jackson’s remarks.) There is absolutely no need for an additional presidential message. A memorandum for Presidential Correspondence objecting to the letter is attached for your review and signature."

Ha ha ha. What a character! The wise Latin! The voice of a terrified clam!

And later:
I hate to sound like one of Mr. Jackson’s records, constantly repeating the same refrain, but I recommend that we not approve this letter. Sometimes people need to be reminded of the obvious: whatever its status as a cultural phenomenon, the Jackson concert tour is a massive commercial undertaking. The tour will do quite well financially by coming to Washington, and there is no need for the President to applaud such enlightened self-interest. Frankly, I find the obsequious attitude of some members of the White House staff toward Mr. Jackson’s attendants, and the fawning posture they would have the President of the United States adopt, more than a little embarrassing.

It is also important to consider the precedent that would be set by such a letter. In today’s Post there were already reports that some youngsters were turning away from Mr. Jackson in favor of a newcomer who goes by the name “Prince,” and is apparently planning a Washington concert. Will he receive a Presidential letter? How will we decide which performers do and which do not?
A newcomer who goes by the name "Prince." Yeah, don't want the Prez bowing down to bogus royalty.

And I love the resistance to ad hoc decisionmaking and the demand for neutral rules of general applicability. Put that man on the Supreme Court!

Equal justice under law.

And still more Roberts vox clamans in the White House:
I recommend that no such letter be sent. The Jackson tour, whatever stature it may have attained as a cultural phenomenon, is a massive commercial undertaking. The visit of the tour to Washington was not an eleemosynary gesture; it was a calculated commercial decision that does not warrant gratitude from our Nation’s Chief Executive. Such a letter would also create a bad precedent, as other popular performers would either expect or demand similar treatment. Why, for example, was no letter sent to Mr. Bruce Springsteen, whose patriotic tour recently visited the area? Finally, the President, in my view, has done quite enough in the way of thanking and congratulating the Jacksons, and anything more would begin to look like unbecoming fawning.
Patriotic? I see the dawn's early light of a non-neutral rule.

Undoubtedly, Roberts was thinking of the song "Born in the U.S.A.," which was popular at the time. Yet a close reading of the text — as opposed to an empathetic response to the sound of the repetitious refrain — would show that it's not at all patriotic, something conservatives seem to have had a hell of a time figuring out:
[T]he widely-read conservative columnist George Will, after attending a show, published on September 13, 1984 a piece entitled "A Yankee Doodle Springsteen" in which he praised Springsteen as an exemplar of classic American values. He wrote: "I have not got a clue about Springsteen's politics, if any, but flags get waved at his concerts while he sings songs about hard times. He is no whiner, and the recitation of closed factories and other problems always seems punctuated by a grand, cheerful affirmation: 'Born in the U.S.A.!'" The 1984 presidential campaign was in full stride at the time, and Will had connections to President Ronald Reagan's re-election organization. Will thought that Springsteen might endorse Reagan, and got the notion pushed up to high-level Reagan advisor Michael Deaver's office. Those staffers made inquiries to Springsteen's management which were politely rebuffed.

Nevertheless, on September 19, 1984, at a campaign stop in Hammonton, New Jersey, Reagan added the following to his usual stump speech:
"America's future rests in a thousand dreams inside your hearts; it rests in the message of hope in songs so many young Americans admire: New Jersey's own Bruce Springsteen. And helping you make those dreams come true is what this job of mine is all about."
The campaign press immediately expressed skepticism that Reagan knew anything about Springsteen, and asked what his favorite Springsteen song was; "Born to Run" was the tardy response from staffers.
Just picture Ronnie and Nancy out riding through mansions of glory in suicide machines, chrome-wheeled, fuel injected and stepping out over the line. Did you know Washington, D.C. rips the bones from your back? Well, I guess it does!


By the way, Michael Jackson and John Roberts were/are both Hoosiers. I love Hoosiers. Nobody has to be ashamed of being a Hoosier:
"Hoosiers do all right. Lowe and I have been around the world twice, and everywhere we went we found Hoosiers in charge of everything.... Lincoln was a Hoosier, too. He grew up in Spencer County.... I don't know what it is about Hoosiers... but they've sure got something. If somebody was to make a list, they'd be amazed... We Hoosiers got to stick together... Whenever I meet a young Hoosier, I tell them, 'You call me Mom.'"


gaywrites said...

Yay Hoosiers! I was born and raised in THE Elkhart, Indiana, the RV manufacturing capital of the world and twenty minutes east of the University of Notre Dame. Indiana is a wonderful place, and Hoosiers are some of the friendliest people you'll meet.

Ann Althouse said...

Hoosiers are *the* friendliest people I've ever met. Especially in West Lafayette!

chickenlittle said...

Three cheers for John Roberts!

William said...

There does seem to be a surface disparity between the upbeat drive of Springsteen's melodies and the blue sensibility of his lyrics. But it is more apparent than real. Born to Run is not the lament of some laid off factory worker without enough money to get his aching teeth fixed. It's a carpe diem plea to Wendy to take advantage of this moment, of this passion to knock off a piece and rejoice at the significance of their lives. It is not sung in contemplation of poverty but in celebration of the possibilities of life.....Jackson's dancing expressed the firefly moment of life on earth, but there were no deep chords in his music and lyrics.

Beta Conservative said...

So I googled the latin term used here and learned that it either means his was a voice in the dessert (no one was going to listen), or he was offering an opinion in an area in which he was not an expert.

What do the law prof and the other learneds on this site have to say?

As always, I await enlightenment.

Stephen C. Carlson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Simon Kenton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stephen C. Carlson said...

Vox clamans in terris ("a voice crying on the lands") is an allusion to Isaiah 40:3 in the Vulgate vox clamantis in deserto ("a voice of one calling in the wilderness"), quoted in the gospels in reference to John the Baptist.

EDH said...

Frankly, I find the obsequious attitude of some members of the White House staff toward Mr. Jackson’s attendants, and the fawning posture they would have the President of the United States adopt, more than a little embarrassing.

Nothing starker then seeing "for the people" politicos using their "do you know who I am" influence to suck-up to celebrity, lurking in arena corridors purposefully emptied of the public, meanwhile clutching anything from a stick-on after-show to a AAA laminated pass, lying in wait to pounce for that moment of face time to pitch their self-serving shit.

Than again, nothing more uplifting than hearing the celebrity privately say "who was that ponce" (old British rock) after politely disengaging.

And never underestimate how much "public servants" are driven by the allure of celebrity, both in terms of being close to it and having it for themselves.

As Mark Steyn quoted in the previously linked post:

But, as Christopher Hitchens says, politics is show business for ugly people.

Beta Conservative said...

Thank you Mr. Carlson.

Roger Sweeny said...

I hope you were being ironic with the hoosiers quote at the end. Vonnegut was far from proud of being from Indiana (about as proud as Springsteen is of being from America), and considered the whole idea that everyone from Indiana was something unique and special called a "hoosier" to be a "granfalloon": "a proud and meaningless association of human beings." (from his 1963 novel, Cat's Cradle)

sean said...

Most Bruce Springsteen fans seem to have had trouble figuring out "Born in the U.S.A"--many of them used to wave flags during the song.

"Spy" magazine suggested that Springsteen title his next album "America--I Hate It" so his rather dense fans would get the message.

$9,000,000,000 Write Off said...

Why is Dartmouth's motto: Vox Clamantis in Deserto, a voice of one clamoring in the desert?

Is it accurate or aspirational? In both cases, is that a good thing?

I wish John Roberts had worked Reagan and Jackson into Stephen Crane's Vox Clamantis in Deserto (which I'm typing from memory, so don't niggle me with details):

In the desert,
I saw a creature,
Naked and Bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
held his heart in his hands,
and ate of it.

"Is it good friend?" I asked
"It is bitter, bitter," he replied
"But it is good because it it is bitter and because it is my heart"

Robert Cook said...

This may be a bit late, but I was born a Hoosier, and remained a Hoosier until age 8. (Evansville.)

Chris said...

Excellent. Although it does make the CJ seem like a bit of a Young Republican caricature.