There’s a great quote in this book, just past the halfway point, that sums up the entire message. Roughly paraphrased, Americans seem to want things both ways. We want social programs but don’t want to pay for them. We want our government powerful, but not too powerful, etc. etc. The main crux of this novel is a constitutional crisis that you can see a mile off, though its very hard to see how everyone is going to get out of it. Supreme Courtship isn’t Christopher Buckley’s best book, but it’s still a fun read and it still does a great job of skewering our American absurdities.
Everyone who has paid any attention to politics in the last, oh, thirty years or so is well aware that supreme court nominations are contentions. Buckley takes them to new heights when one of the fictional president’s nominees is dismissed because he didn’t like To Kill a Mockingbird when he was young. The president, Donald Vandercamp gets so pissed off with the head of Senate Judicial Committee (who nixed two very good candidates) that he nominated the highly popular TV judge, Pepper Cartwright. After the nomination process, things cool off until later in the book when the constitutional crisis crops up.
The head of the Judicial Committee has dreams of being president himself and manages to get a Constitutional Amendment that limits the president to a single term. Vandercamp’s habit of vetoing any legislation that proposes new spending has pissed off a lot of representatives and brought to a halt the entire pork barrel system. But Vandercamp runs* for president and wins. Of course it results on a lawsuit. And of course the case ends up in front of the Supreme Court. So what can the justices do? On the one hand, they have to uphold the Constitution. But on the other hand, might the will of the people in the form of an election (with a clear winner) actually be the higher law? And, of course, it comes down to the deciding vote of the newest Supreme Court justice.
Supreme Courtship doesn’t hit as hard as the other Buckley novels I’ve read. It’s almost as if Buckley pulled his punches toward the end because this book could have been a lot snarkier. I wish that he had spent more time examine the conflict between the Amendment and the election. It highlights the disconnect I see between what legislators get up to and what the actual will of the people is. (It’s a little weird to call them the people. It sounds like it should be capitalized like the Communists used to do). I mean, most of the people I know don’t think profiling is a good idea and don’t support measures like Arizona passed last year. Most of the people I know think gay people should be allowed to get married. Most people I know think that women should have control of their own bodies when it comes to medical decisions. That’s the sort of thing we need satire about because someone has to point out the stupidity of it all.
* He does it on principle. But since he doesn’t participate in debates or campaigning or any of that, it’s hard to say he actually “runs” for president.