You gotta put down the duckie if you wanna be a justice
CAMBRIDGE, MASS. — The Washington fandango over Judge John G. Roberts has left me somewhere between "The Education of Henry Adams" and the Sesame Street classic:
You gotta put down the duckie
Put down the duckie
Put down the duckie
If you wanna play the saxophone!
The song asked:
What good are flying fingers
If they're wrapped around a duck?
The image was hilarious on TV, but even we off-screen people may have to drop a favorite toy or trait to play our best.
If you always knew you were going to play the saxophone, would you ever have picked up the duckie? If you always knew you were going to be nominated for the US Supreme Court would you have done anything different along the way?
Someone is always seeing clues to the future in the past of Supreme Court nominee Roberts. "Mr. Nice Guy," says one headline. Another in the same paper says, "Nominee leaves trail of sarcasm from the 1980s." We're told he was a meticulous lawyer - but also a "regular guy," dropping in at a bar and playing pool, being liked by everybody.
Would Judge Roberts have done anything different in life if he knew from the beginning that he would be a Supreme Court nominee? Or would he give Woody Allen's long-ago reply to what he'd do if he had his life to live over again: Exactly the same, with the possible exception of going to the movie "Petulia."
Roberts might be excused for saying it doesn't matter what people say he did or didn't do. After all, so many of his supporters and detractors seem to agree with Henry Adams that "practical politics consists in ignoring facts."
But Roberts is made of better stuff, as someone no doubt will be found to have said when he was in fourth grade. To be on the safe side, shouldn't we all act as if we're going to be nominated to high office some day? Then we wouldn't have to worry what all the spinners say.
I for one wish I had shared my new spring-launched gyroplane with the neighbor boy I turned my back on. Nominee showed selfish streak before he was 10. Nominee saw importance of protecting private property when just a boy.
I'm glad I delivered my mother's small packages for shut-ins. Nominee early displayed unexpected signs of compassion. Nominee may not have realized importance of people taking care of themselves.
Why did I join the snake dance through our small-town streets after the homecoming game? Nominee had tendency to follow the crowd. Nominee had valuable ability to have fun.
Maybe I should not have spoken without permission right after our fifth-grade teacher said, "No talking without permission." I had to stay after school and write "I will not speak without permission" 500 times on the blackboard. Nominee casually flouted authority. Nominee was rightly impatient with petty regulations. Nominee's acquaintance with punishment may have laid groundwork for fair sentencing.
Maybe I should have insisted on the infantry instead of the radar repair job I was assigned in World War II. Nominee wore the uniform but let others do the fighting. Nominee received the training to understand issues in a high-tech society.
I suppose I should have played on the college football team instead of in the band. Nominee's taste for the finer things could put him out of touch with mainstream issues. Don't forget nominee grew up in days of legendary FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who said, "Teach a boy to blow a horn and he'll never blow a safe."
If I were to go on, I'd face even more questions in the confirmation hearings.
But suppose Judge Roberts decides he did do or say something he wouldn't have if he had always known he would be the nominee. Since he has small children maybe he already has heard, "Ernie, put the quacker down!"
• Roderick Nordell is a former editor at the Monitor.