The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers. Henry The Sixth, Part 2 Act 4, scene 2, 71–78
We’re all used to hearing the truism that the bulk of our legislators, our congresscritters, our leaders and wannabe leaders, are lawyers, and there’s a good reason for that. A lawyer deals daily in the law and its consequences and is therefore often prompted to either change it or uphold it as his interests see fit. So s/he runs for office. It’s the old story of the one with the hammer for whom the world is filled with nails.
I’ve wondered sometimes whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing that our legal system is primarily an adversarial one, but I generally think about that relationship in regard to the system of courts, of guilty and innocent, of right and wrong, black and white, with little room left for nuance, for relative values, for the expanse of gray which covers most of human behavior.
It’s a small step from there to the fractious effect that the adversarial method has on our political system as well, but I hadn’t made that leap until someone, I forget who, mentioned the effect on TV the other night. Someone who reminded me that those lawyers who fill the bulk of our political offices are people with a specific kind of training. They are trained to argue in an adversarial system, to argue for guilt or innocence, for right or wrong, for black or white.
No wonder folks have been so dismissive of Mr. Obama and his insistence on nuance, voiced respect for conflicting values, and the gray areas. I’m probably the last one in the world to overuse sports metaphors, so I’ll stick one in here now. I’ve never heard of the a stadium ovation that threatened to blow the roof off when the scoreboard final read dead even. There’s no satisfaction in knowing that each side played well enough to tie. There’s only a determination that next time one side will put the other in the ground.
The point here is that too many of our decision makers are trained to argue in an adversarial system, a system in which compromise seldom raises its fuzzy little head. When I brought this point up to the housebuddy, he very rightly pointed out that good arguments are often needed to bring about one result over another. I’ve long understood this point as well. It’s always been difficult for me to argue for the ultimate rightness of what I want as opposed to the ultimate wrongness of those who want something else, but I also know that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, to coin a phrase, and that that’s the way the world goes round, to coin another. And I appreciate the efforts of all those out there squeaking away for my benefit. I just can’t go out and squeak with them. I spend too much time in the nuance.
But I could also wish that there were fewer lawyers in government. Maybe we should institute a quota system. 25% lawyers, so that someone knows the law, a point gets well argued, and the legal I’s and T’s get dotted and crossed. Then maybe 25% from the professions – scientists, doctors, engineers – so that we don’t go too far astray from the facts of the case. The remaining 50% might consist of economists who can add and subtract as well as theorize, able politicians who know how things get done, and a good sprinkling from the humanities - historians, novelists, poets. For vision. For clarity of speech. For understanding.
Our politics will always have adversarial elements, but we needn’t be definitively so. First, we have to kill (some of) the lawyers. Or at least vote them out.