Your Complimentary Gavel Is in the Tote Bag!
And other advertisements for Supreme Court justices


Roughly 1,000 years ago, when Sunday-morning political talk shows were relevant, I used to enjoy watching This Week with David Brinkley. One thing about the show confused me, though — aside from the presence of ABC White House correspondent Sam Donaldson — and that was the commercials.

There were a lot of them for an agricultural-products company called Archer Daniels Midland — ADM for short — and during my early post-college years, when I watched This Week with religious devotion, it seemed like an unusual way for a company with no products in the stores to spend its money. It was a perplexing “media buy,” to use a term I regret having learned since that time. Why would a company spend so much money to advertise its unavailable wares to me?

It wasn’t advertising to me, of course. ADM couldn’t care less about me. Or you, probably. Its target audience was, maybe, the roughly 1,000 people — lawmakers, lobbyists, lawyers — on Capitol Hill who were busily making agriculture policy. The actual viewership of the television program — all of those political junkies across America in their pajamas and Sunday bed-head — was irrelevant. ADM knew that the 1,000 important movers were all watching the show, and that made its advertising decision very smart.

It’s the same in Hollywood. Marketing is marketing. Because the Golden Globe Awards reliably influence the voters for the Academy Awards six weeks later, movie studios aggressively court the folks who hand out Golden Globes, who turn out to be a rather downscale and threadbare group called the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. They’re pampered and gifted and smothered in swag, in the hopes that they’ll present a Golden Globe to this actor or that movie, which in turn will influence the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — which isn’t downscale or threadbare at all — which will in turn award an Oscar to this actor or that movie, which in turn, statistically, means millions more in ticket sales. So if a Serbian journalist living in a crappy studio apartment in some murderous part of town wants a leather satchel with the studio logo on it, give it to him!

It’s the same, apparently, when it comes to the Supreme Court. About the only believable explanation for the torturously incomprehensible decision by Chief Justice John Roberts — who, until a week or so ago, was thought to be a staunch conservative — to uphold the Affordable Care Act known as “Obamacare” on grounds that it was not dependent on a liberal reading of the Commerce Clause (which supporters of the act said it was) but instead was a tax (which supporters of the act said it wasn’t) is that he was the target of some very specific, very focused marketing.

July 30, 2012    |     Volume LXIV, No. 14

Books, Arts & Manners
  • Vincent J. Cannato reviews Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic, by Jay Cost.
  • Michael Rubin reviews The Twilight War: The Secret History of America’s Thirty-Year Conflict with Iran, by David Crist.
  • Ryan T. Anderson reviews Debating Same-Sex Marriage, by John Corvino and Maggie Gallagher.
  • Andrew Stuttaford reviews The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins.
  • Diane Scharper reviews Pity the Beautiful: Poems, by Dana Gioia.
  • Ross Douthat reviews Ted.
The Long View  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Athwart  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Poetry  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Happy Warrior  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .