I used to smile knowingly, which is another way of saying “smirked,” when someone would tell me they didn’t go to funerals because it was more important to show respect while the person was still alive.
Pardon me while I make the obligatory retching sound.
When you come from an Italian background, such pretentious blather is looked upon as a pathetic excuse to avoid going to church. To me, funerals are simply a part of the great continuum of life. I’ve even attended a few where the body was on full display, and I was required to kiss the dearly departed on the forehead and say something along the lines of “he/she looks so beautiful.” It was the polite thing to do.
Which brings me to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death last weekend. It is both a national tragedy, and one that touches me personally. The shadow cast by this giant of jurisprudence is so vast that, even in death, its depth and breadth are not diminished. Scalia, like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis before him, will be studied by our great-great-grandchildren, and his opinions will make them laugh and marvel at his brilliance, wit and humanity.
His philosophy was not embraced by everyone, and he managed to anger a lot of liberals with his inescapable logic and biting sarcasm. They couldn’t challenge his mind, so they attacked his methods. They couldn’t demolish his arguments, so they sulked about his intolerance. They couldn’t dismantle his revolutionary framework for viewing the Founders’ vision, so they attacked him personally.
And when he died, they came full force after him with vitriol unseen since feminists were given laptops and taught how to blog. My previous column about Scalia garnered over 500 anonymous comments in just the first 24 hours, most of them vicious attacks on the man I consider the greatest legal mind since Learned Hand.
That’s where partisanship has gotten us. And it’s too late to turn back the clock. But we should still cling to the appearance of courtesy on some special occasions.
Take Barack Obama. He is owed respect simply because of his office. In other words, we can dislike the man, but we should try to respect his title.
I have tried to do that for seven-plus years, and it has been very hard. I agree with virtually nothing he represents, I oppose his policies, his ethical orientation, his priorities. After he was first elected in 2008, I wrote a column about how I cried, and felt the heaviness of depression descend on my shoulders. Clearly, I am not a fan.
Yet, when people said slanderous things about him on social media, I’d try to push back because he was, for better or worse, the president. I remember the vicious gangs of hyenas that yapped and pursued President Bush, and I wanted to be better than they.
But this week, that changed. This week, Obama lost the benefit of any lingering doubt I had about his character. This week, I found out the president wasn’t attending the funeral of my hero.
Some excuse it by saying he’ll go to the wake. Some say he’s not a hypocrite (Justice Samuel Alito might say “filibuster!” to that.) Some defend him by pointing to other presidents who missed judicial funerals. But none of those cases involved Supreme Court justices who died while they were still on the bench, unless you count when President Eisenhower snubbed Justice Robert H. Jackson’s funeral.
Perhaps he is avoiding the Mass for some unrevealed death threats, or he doesn’t feel comfortable in a Catholic church, given his advocacy for abortion rights.
But barring safety concerns, Obama should be in the pews when we commend Scalia to the angels. His absence is a slap in the face to that great man, to his grieving family, and to all of us who call him Mr. President.
Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, and can be reached at email@example.com