Scalia’s virtue

In his White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner speech, Stephen Colbert so thoroughly skewered both the Administration and the tame press that he attracted few laughs, and personal snubs from the First Family and the Tony Snow. But when he nailed Justice Scalia, Scalia nearly fell out of his chair laughing. Good for him!

Stephen Colbert’s astonishing rant at the White House Correspondent’s Association dinner hit so near the bone &#8212BushCo’s bone, and the bone of the lapdog journalists present&#8212 that it drew few laughs, despite its superlative excellence both as text and as performance. (Only the final “press conference” bit dragged; it was funny in concept, but not in execution.) Apparently both Bushes and Tony Snow openly snubbed Colbert after the speech.

But, as Atrios and Daily Kos both note, there was one great exception. In the course of Colbert’s mock “recognitions” of distinguished guests, he greeted Justice Antonin Scalia: “Justice Scalia is here. Welcome, sir. May I be the first to say, you look fantastic. How are you?” punctuating his sentences with a series of obscene Sicilian gestures, starting with the one that drew so much unwanted attention to Scalia when he used it in church.


But when the camera pans to Scalia, it shows him laughing hysterically: not just a polite ha-ha to show that he got the joke and is being a good sport about it, but deep, out-of-control, impossible-to-fake belly-laughs. He is obviously enjoying &#8212 really enjoying &#8212 a joke at his own expense

No, that doesn’t make up for Bush v. Gore. But it does make Scalia, in this one respect, a better human being than most of us. (I can promise you that I wouldn’t have been laughing, or at least not laughing sincerely, in his shoes.) As eager as I am to bash Scalia when he earns it, as he often does, I would be remiss in not noting his possession of one of the rarest, and one of the most engaging, of the virtues.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

12 thoughts on “Scalia’s virtue”

  1. Beside Scalia being, vicious, hypocritcal and hatefull he is supposed to have the best sense of humor on the bench according to the Law Clerks that work there.
    I see your point.

  2. The virtue of Scalia's that you cite is a personal one. He may also be a good husband and father. But, except to people who associate with him personally, it is of no relevance to his official conduct, and not only does not make up for Bush v. Gore, but could not, even in principle.

  3. When you're a supreme court justice, you can afford to find pretty much anything funny.

  4. A lawyer colleague of mine died about a year or so ago, and I went to his funeral. Scalia spoke. I believe that Scalia and the deceased lawyer were friends with long Republican connections. Scalia was eloquent, heartfelt, and touching: just the guy you would want for your eulogy. I think Scalia is a mensch. But then again, it doesn't signify much to anybody but his family, friends and neighbors. De Maistre personally ministered to those awaiting execution.

  5. LOTS of people can convincingly fake a huge belly laugh. Who HASN'T laughed hard at a boss's stupid joke?

  6. I'm surprised that people expected anything different than what Stephen Cobert delivered. Watching him at the dinner was just like watching his show – some really, really funny and some not so funny.
    To get a good read on what he is all about all you had to do was watch his show last night when he even poked fun at himself. He showed people in the audience not laughing at him. Typical Stephen.

  7. This was the only one of Colbert's gibes that involved a moment of personal weakness, a lapse of temper. The rest was really about civic virtue. These are, despite the efforts of Joe Klein et al, very different spheres. Making fun of Scalia the way Colbert did is humor in the vein of Bush using an impersonator to smooth out his vocal tics. Shining a spot light on your ability to laugh at yourself in this way is supposed to butress your reputation and increase the legitimacy in which your other actions are viewed. If Colbert had talked about Bush v Gore or Scalia's conflicts of interest (duck hunting) in the pointed way he critiqued both the press and the president things might have gone differently…..

  8. I may be completely wrong, but I interpreted Scalia's laughter more as a reflection of how much he likes being in the limelight (i.e., he's an egomaniac), and a reflection of his good-humor persona (which may well be authentic, but also serves to disguise his egomania), rather than a particularly noteworthy ability to laugh at his own expense.
    He may have the latter, but, after all, the bit wasn't really so funny as to provoke the kind of laughs Scalia offered, and in any case the "self-expense" here was quite minor; being uptight about it would have been far more ridiculous and petulant-looking than the Preznit's uptightness over the jokes at his well deserved–but much greater–expense.

  9. I’m surprised that people expected anything different than what Stephen Cobert delivered. Watching him at the dinner was just like watching his show – some really, really funny and some not so funny.
    To get a good read on what he is all about all you had to do was watch his show last night when he even poked fun at himself. He showed people in the audience not laughing at him. Typical Stephen.

  10. Liberal Media Attacks Stephen Colbert

    Colbert attacked the liberal media and praised the President and for that he is being excoriated.

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