If only the real world--especially the world of politics--could be as Christopher Buckley portrays it in his novels. It would be just as precipitous, just as scary, just as ridiculous as it already is...but it would also be screamingly funny. In previous novels he's made us laugh at the excesses of big money lobbying in Washington, D.C. (Thank You For Smoking), our worship of the stock market (God is My Broker), and health care and social security (Boomsday). In his latest, Supreme Courtship, Buckley takes on election year politics and our sometimes shaky justice system.
Supreme Courtship takes place during the presidency of Donald "Don Veto" Vanderdamp, who is not "riding a tidal wave of popularity." He earned his popularity rating--and his nickname--by writing NO on every spending bill sent his way by congress. Now he has to get a nominee to the Supreme Court past the Senate Judiciary Committee, every member of which he has managed to alienate by denying pork of one sort or another. Even more unfortunate for the president the chairman of said committee, Senator Dexter Mitchell, dislikes the president more than most, considering his own recent bid for the open justice position--denied without even being considered. Senator Mitchell takes out his rancor on the president by shooting down his first two squeaky clean nominees (the worst dirt that could be found on the first was that when he was twelve years old he wrote a review of the movie To Kill a Mockingbird for the school newspaper which opined that it was kind of boring). So the president nominates Pepper Cartwright, young, sexy, Texan, and star of the extremely popular reality TV show Courtroom Six. Judge Pepper is so hot and so popular that even Dexter Mitchell has to give her a pass.
There are laughs on every page of Supreme Courtship, but the behind-the-scenes look at the Nine alone is worth the cost of admission. The justices are ambitious, calculating, and just generally not very nice to one another. The cases they deliberate on, and the rulings they hand down, are decidedly less portentous than Brown v. Board of Education or Roe v. Wade. Oh, and their bickering and banter contains a healthy (or, perhaps, not so healthy?) sprinkling of Latin phrases.
Buckley layers the satire thickly. Consider this: a constitutional amendment limiting the president to one term, which forces President Vanderdamp to seek a second term (which he doesn't want) just to prove he's not intimidated. Or this: Senator Dexter Mitchell leaving office to star in a West Wing-esque TV show called POTUS (insider lingo for President of the United States, doncha know) in which he plays--that's right--the president of the United States, and which he uses as a jumping off point for his own campaign for president.
I eagerly await Christopher Buckley's books, which--hilarious though they are--still contain heart and soul. So I leave you with this exchange between Justice Pepper Cartwright and Chief Justice Declan Hardwether:
He: Well, to work. Industry is the enemy of melancholy.
She: Rochefoucauld or refrigerator magnet?
He: William F. Buckley Jr.
I think the great man might have liked that tribute even more than his son's eulogy. I know I would