Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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A Good Story to Engage the Voters

I am still enjoying my extended visit with my parents in the great state of Ohio and, as chance would have it, my father was invited to attend a reception for Ohio Supreme Court Justice, Evelyn Stratton. Noting that she would be speaking at the Ashbrook Center in September, I decided to tag along.

The event was a fundraiser for her campaign and, because I’ve never heard a judge give a campaign speech, I was very interested to see how she would do it. A judge cannot and, really, should not campaign in the same way as a Congressman or a State Representative. The job description of a judge requires impartiality before the law and not naked partisanship. To be sure, one may speak of one’s understanding of the Constitution and laws but it cannot be in such a way as to promise outcomes or guarantee certain types of decisions. Justice Stratton gave a clear accounting of her strict constructionist judicial philosophy but--what was more important for this audience and also helped to illuminate her understanding of the Constitution--was that she told a great story explaining who she is and what she is all about.

You can hear that story here. You get the sense that this is a woman who understands herself and who knows, not only what she is doing, but why she is doing it.

It seems to me that there is probably a lesson to be learned for McCain in this narrative approach to a campaign. Stratton has a great story to tell and she tells it well. McCain could and should do the same. And do note the multiple postings on YouTube for Stratton. According to Stratton, this is explained by the fact that people under the age of 39 don’t really watch television in the same way that people used to do. If they want to make a decision about who to vote for in an election (especially a judicial election) they’re more apt to Google the person’s name than remember anything they’ve seen in a TV ad. (I know this is true because I plead guilty to the charge! I always do that when I have to vote for judges . . . how else would one know a thing about them?)

TV ads cannot be considered as effective as they once were in campaigning for this reason and because you have to run them so much earlier to get the absentee votes. This makes them more expensive and less effective. Thus, money--though still important--becomes much less important than old fashioned methods of campaigning like word of mouth, new fashioned methods like email (Stratton called this "the power of send" . . . as in email 25 of your friends about her), and other unconventional methods of getting one’s story told like YouTube. If this is all true, I have to say first that I am impressed with Stratton’s adaptation to the new order of campaigning and, second, that I think it is a positive development in the history American campaigns. Television ads, even when clever, are sorry substitutes for an engaging story and thoughtful conversation between citizens. Of course, a Presidential election is very different from an election for a judge and an engaging story isn’t the only thing a candidate should offer the voting public (substantive engagement on the issues would be wonderful too) but it is a start. If I were John McCain, I’d be talking to Eve Stratton.

Discussions - 11 Comments

You are right, it is a good story to engage the voters. Only now I think the voters have caught on, first, to the myth of strict constructionism with regard to right-wing judges, and second with these little stories to signal the faith-based evangelical fundamentalists to vote for her, as if to vote against Stratton is to vote against God's will. The whole idea of Ohio judges attending fund-raisers and then sitting on cases after receiving campaign contributions from the parties involved in the case before them has made national headlines.

Laugh Stertinius, but it was God's preforeordained will for you to write that stupid comment. And even though you had no choice in the matter, He will still punish you for it.

The best thing, really, would be to end the whole idea of electing judges. It ought not to be a political office in the same sense that others are. I don't disagree with S. when he says that there is something distasteful about a judge campaigning, soliciting donations, and then sitting on a case facing a donor. But what can they do under the current system that demands they stand for election? Judges probably should be appointed and confirmed, not elected. Of course, this hasn't always proven a fail-safe method either . . . but what is?

Clint . . . I know you didn't mean to be funny but sometimes . . . anyway, you put a giant smile on my face this evening. I am going to laugh myself to sleep thinking of God forcing Stertinus's hand and then spanking him for it.

Stertinius,

can you explain your choice of pseudonyms from antiquity?

Mind you I've no prob with the occasional use of pseudonyms, from whatever time period, fictional or non-fictional. But what is the nexus between your comments, or your vantage point, and your choice of pseudonym? Shouldn't there be some kind of connection? Shouldn't the comment flow from the pseudonym, or the handle.

Simply as a matter of courtesy, could you share your reasoning with us on this narrow point?

And Julie, before you dismiss the public on the selection of judges, --------------- do you really think the American electorate would have chosen a lead lawyer for the ACLU to sit on the Supreme Court? Wasn't Rose Bird rejected by the California public for her increasingly whifty rulings?

Recall WFB, who said he would prefer to be governed by those culled from the initial pages of the Boston phone directory than the faculty of Harvard. That goes too for the courts. The people have a great deal more common sense than the legal class.

And what's more, have a healthier sense of what the Constitution truly means. I want to hear MORE of the people,

We need the PEOPLE to be heard, and we need the elites, {ESPECIALLY the legal elites} to be muffled, or at the very least, chastened.

5: Dan, I would agree that there must be some popular recourse, on the state level, against the Rose Birds of the world. I'll take that one over constitutional theory every day. However, Bird and her two liberal colleagues were removed by what amounted to a de-confirmation vote (a bit complicated to explain), not by failing to be elected in the first place. I don't believe judges should be elected, but they should be removable by difficult but not impossible democratic means. Sadly,
I believe in this day and age of threatened democracy that the same should apply to the federal system, including the Supreme Court. I would have had no objection whatsoever to national campaigns against the reconfirmation of justices Douglas, Marshall, and perhaps a few others, or to their recall, had such been an option. I probably would have enthusiastically supported such "vulgar" efforts. The Federalist Papers -- God bless 'em, but they take us only so far.

Word of mouth is enormously powerful in campaigns, if it goes primarily in one or the other direction. If each engaged Republican persuades two undecideds he/she knows, and each engaged Democrat persuades only one, we probably win the election. How to create such a ratio? Well, that seems quite complicated. At a minimum, the highly politicized stratum of the GOP base must be more (appropriately) aggressive and spirited, and better-informed, than those on the Democratic side. The McCain campaign can make clever, even intelligent, You Tubes 24/7; if they get lost in the clutter or don't engage on gut-level concerns, it doesn't matter. I suspect that in terms of motivating the opinion leaders (word of mouth people) among the Republican base, strong, early TV ads -- however old-fashioned the concept may seem -- are quite helpful. In addition, I have no doubt that they still do persuasive work as well, be it negative or positive. Politics is a game of addition, and political tactics are a game of addition as well. It is best to try many things, and rarely good to radically de-emphasize an "old" method. Especially when we will be depending quite significant on old voters.

Recalls or impeachments are a different thing than simply electing judges in a popular contest. There should always be a way to rid ourselves of bad judges or officials. I agree.

Glad you smiled. I thought the "preforeordained" would tip it off that my post was half a joke, half a whitty critique on Stertinius' characture of conservatives.

I am Stertinius. I have been dead for centuries. I have been to Baiae but I am not originally from there. Long ago I was a Stoic philosopher, not the Roman militarist. Horace made fun of me, I think. While alive I rationalized my conservative beliefs. To atone for my sins I have been condemned to haunt pseudo-intellectual websites. I am not a spider, as some have come to believe, but the species might be named after me.

Well, how will you "atone" for your support of Barrack Hussein Obama?

But thanks for providing that brief explanation of your chosen pseudonym.

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