One of my favorite websites for an occasional visit is Communications from Elsewhere. Every time you go to the site, you see a completely new essay in the academic discourse of postmodernism. The sentences are complete, the grammar is correct, and there is a kind of surface coherence to the brief essay. But at the bottom of the page is this information: “The essay you have just seen is completely meaningless and was randomly generated by the Postmodernism Generator.” Key phrases are strung together by a computer program to produce an appearance of intelligent thought at work, but there’s no there there.
Somewhere in the editorial offices of the New York Times, I begin to think, is a similar “Supreme Court Editorial Generator.” Giving actual thinking human beings the weekend off, the SCEG churns out a predictably outraged editorial stringing together phrases like “Americans’ most cherished rights,” “aggressive right-wing force,” ”eliminate the right to abortion,” “conservative crusade,” and “erode the separation between church and state.” All that’s missing is the line at the end letting us in on the joke: “The editorial you have just seen is completely meaningless and was randomly generated . . .”
Take today’s output from the SCEG, cranked out by the machine without any connection to reality:
“Mr. Obama seems likely to pick moderate justices,” says the Generator. Later it tells us that
Mr. Obama has put distance between himself and legal liberals on issues like the death penalty for child rapists and the constitutionality of gun control. As president, Mr. Obama would probably be more inclined to appoint centrist liberals, like Justice Stephen Breyer, than all-out liberals, like William Brennan or Thurgood Marshall.
It’s true that Obama has stumbled awkwardly into mumbling, bumbling “distance” from (though not crystal-clear disagreement with) standard left-wing positions on capital punishment for rapists of children and on an effective ban on handgun ownership. But if Justice Breyer is to be held up as the sort of “centrist” who would be a model for Obama nominations to the Court, the Generator might at least take note of the fact that Breyer voted against the death penalty in Kennedy v. Louisiana and for the handgun ban in D.C. v. Heller. Of course, actual intelligence would have been required to avoid this obvious self-contradiction.
Contrast the Generator’s statements about McCain, who we’re told “has promised the right wing of the Republican Party that he would put only archconservatives on the Supreme Court.” The Generator, being a mere computer program, has no conscience about telling the bald-faced lie. In John McCain’s one full-length speech on the judiciary, what he actually promised everyone in the country was that he would nominate “men and women who understand the proper role of our judiciary,” with a view to “restor[ing] humility to the federal courts.” These would be, he pledged, “jurists of the highest caliber who know their own minds, and know the law, and know the difference.” And he named Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito as models for the nominations he would make.
Noting McCain’s stated view that Roe v. Wade should be overturned, the Generator spits out the canard that he “would appoint justices who could be expected to lead the charge to eliminate the right to abortion.” I hope his appointees would lead the charge to repair the damage Roe has done to the Constitution. But that would leave the future of the “right to abortion” where it belongs, in the hands of the people and their elected legislators.
McCain justices, the Generator tells us, “would also be likely to undermine the right of habeas corpus, allowing the government to detain people indefinitely without access to lawyers or family members.” Well now. “People” is such an interesting word to use here. The “people” we’re talking about are unlawful alien enemy combatants held beyond the shores of the United States. But the Generator has been programmed to scare Times readers with images of innocent American citizens being scooped off the streets and “disappeared” by Hollywood-villain masterminds of the military-industrial complex.
It also tells us that McCain supported, and Obama opposed, the “odious Military Commissions Act of 2006, which the Supreme Court held to violate the right of habeas corpus.” That was a bill so odious that it was supported by 65 members of the Senate, and thought to be harmless, even a historically generous provision for our enemies, by four members of the Supreme Court.
But the Generator is capable of no arguments. It can only yell irrationally about fictitious dangers to “food and drug safety” and ring the alarm about “discrimination against women and minorities.”
When there are actual people back in the office at the Times, they need to have one of their IT geeks check the Generator’s Credibility Algorithm.