I always used to smile knowingly, which is another way of saying smirked, when someone would tell me they didn’t go to funerals because the dead wouldn’t know if they showed up and besides, 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, that pretentious “funerals are for the living” blather is looked upon as a pathetic excuse to get out of going to church. Growing up, there was no question about attending the funeral Mass: You pulled out the black dress (which made you look 10 pounds slimmer, and therefore funerals became a highlight of those tortured, tubby teen years), stood, sat, kneeled and prayed at the appropriate moments for the repose of the dearly departed’s soul, and then went and ate the equivalent of three lunches in someone’s kitchen.
Yes, I’m having a little fun at my bloodline’s expense, but that’s because I love my Italian upbringing so much that nothing I say can be taken for anything other than good-natured tweaking. To me, funerals were simply a part of the great continuum of life. I even attended a few where the body was on full display and I was required to kiss the dearly departed on the forehead and then say something along the lines of, “He looks so beautiful.” It was the polite thing to do.
Courtesy is, after all, an important part of life. If we told everyone exactly what we thought of them, we would all be living in a reunion episode of one of those “Real Housewives” horror stories. It may not seem that way to the regular readers of this column, but I am able to suppress my most sincerely felt opinions about people I don’t like before they become legally actionable defamatory statements. Conversely, I am capable of pretending to love someone when all I really want is for her ovaries to dry up like tiny raisins and drop out of her body, in front of me.
Some would call this hypocrisy. I call this common decency.
Which brings me to this week’s topic. As we all now know, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died late last week. It is both a national tragedy and one that touches me personally, as I wrote in a column days ago. The shadow cast by this giant of jurisprudence is so vast that even in death, its depth and breadth are not diminished. Scalia, like Holmes and 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 Founding Fathers’ 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 column on Scalia’s death garnered more than 500 anonymous comments in the first 24 hours, the majority 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, involving some special people.
Take Barack Obama. He is owed respect simply because of his office. In other words, we can dislike the man, but we should try and respect his title.
I have tried to do that for the past eight 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 elected the first time 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.
And yet, when people would say slanderous things about him on social media, I’d try and push back because he was, for better or worse, the president. I remember the vicious gangs of hyenas that yapped and pursued President George W. Bush, and I wanted to be better than them. I might have wanted Obama’s ovaries to dry up into raisins and roll out of his body (or the male variation thereof) but I covered that up fairly well.
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 that the president wasn’t attending the funeral of my hero, Justice Scalia.
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 that time six decades ago when Ike snubbed Justice Robert H. Jackson.
I suppose there could be some good reason that he’s boycotting the Mass. Perhaps he’s received some unrevealed death threats, or perhaps he doesn’t feel comfortable in a Catholic church given his advocacy for abortion rights.
But barring any safety concerns, Obama should be in the pews when we commend Antonin 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.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.