The Disgruntled Dylanologist

All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie.

The Hangin’ Judge Appears Before the Senate: Dylan, Sotomayor and the case for confirmation

The hangin’ judge came in unnoticed and was being wined and dined,

The drillin’ in the wall kept up but no one seemed to pay it any mind.
It was known all around that Lily had Jim’s ring
And nothing would ever come between Lily and the king.

Listening to a Bob Dylan song is a lot like taking a Rorschach test. Nothing really changes, yet somehow it’s different every time.

Ambiguity won’t, however, be a factor when Sonia Sotomayor appears before the Judiciary Committee later this week. Senate confirmation hearings tend to resemble more closely a litmus test than Herman Rorschach’s infamous, highly interpretive inkblots.

As it turns out, delving into the personal psyche of our Supreme Court nominees wasn’t always such a public affair. In fact, 101 nominees went before the Senate without having to utter a single word in public.

The appearance of Louis D. Brandeis before the Judiciary Committee in the spring of 1916 not only set a precedent of opening the hearings to public, it defined the modern selection process. Nominees may be inches away from joining the highest court in the land, but before they do they must first pass through the court of public opinion.

And so, for the last 90 years nearly every nominee has been called on the Congressional carpet and begrudgedly been asked to strip down to his or her briefs.

For some, it’s been tough sailing. Clarence Thomas was asked to appear 11 times before finally being confirmed in 1991 by a razor-thin margin of 52-48. For others, the seas have been decidedly calmer. Three of Reagan’s five nominees were confirmed unanimously. And while the outcome isn’t always predictable, the vetting process most certainly is.

Of course, most of the nominees have an advantage as they prepare for what is likely to be the last job interview of their career, and Judge Sotomayor is no exception. She’ll know the questions going in.

And if the past three decades are any indication, only three matter—abortion, gay marriage, and ‘judicial activism.’

On the first two issues, Sotomayor’s record is ambiguous at best. She only has one opinion regarding abortion. But never having actually ruled on the issue makes her real resolve anyone’s guess. And even though Sotomayor’s record on civil and gay rights is non-existent, gay legal activists tend to think she’ll go to bat for them should she be called to the bench. On the issue of ‘judicial activism, the Committee actually has something to go on: Sotomayor’s words.

Her 2005 off-the-cuff comment stating that, “the court of appeals is where policy is made,” might not be enough to hang the brash, opinionated judge, but it’s been enough to set the conservatives right.

In the end, however, it hardly matters how Sotomayor answers any of the questions that she’ll be asked next week. Bar an unforeseen debacle, all Sotomayor needs to do is show up, keep her responses vague and just be herself. Of course, it helps that “being herself” means being an Hispanic, a woman, and someone who, by all accounts, is not only affable but the embodiment of the American dream.

Of the 158 Supreme Court nominations sent to the Senate to date, only 12 have been rejected, seven have declined to serve and another 11 nominations have been withdrawn. The President and members of Congress long denied there is any ‘test’ for the Supreme Court gig. Yet when the locust of your success revolves around your position on three pivotal issues, how can that not be considered a litmus test?

Robert J. Bork may have gone out with a bang, appearing 12 times before the Judiciary Committee before being rejected by the Senate by a vote of 42-58. Harriet Miers might have gone with a whimper, withdrawing her nomination in 2005 without having to make a single trip to the Hill. But it’s almost a foregone conclusion Sotomayor will successfully stonewall the few Republican Senators left who can scrutinize her.

So knowing this going in, perhaps it’s time to abandon that lackluster litmus test in favor of something that actually gives us some insight into what kind of judge she’ll really be.

Instead of asking Sotomayor three questions she isn’t going to answer anyway, perhaps just one will do: “How would you have ruled in the case of Lily, Rosemary and Jack of Hearts?”

After all, if any of Bob’s songs are open for interpretation, the second song off side two of his classic 1975 offering, Blood on the Tracks, is a perfect candidate.

An allusive account centered around a card game gone decidedly wrong, if Sotomayor can untangle the twisted plot long enough to figure out just what that ‘one good deed’ Rosemary did before she died, she’d definitely have my vote…

Rosemary started drinkin’ hard and seein’ her reflection in the knife,
She was tired of the attention, tired of playin’ the role of Big Jim’s wife.
She had done a lot of bad things, even once tried suicide,
Was lookin’ to do just one good deed before she died.


June 8, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Barack Obama and Bob Dylan: Citizens of the world

I pity the poor immigrant,

Who wishes he would’ve stayed home,
Who uses all his power to do evil,
But in the end is always left so alone.

Barack Obama has always had his detractors. It is politics, after all. And considering the playing field for the last 18 months has been the presidency, it’s to be expected when people came after him, they came hard.

But unlike Bush, Clinton, or any of the other recent candidates for the highest office in the land, Barack Obama has been held to a different standard. From the beginning, there have been those who maintained something ‘just isn’t American’ about Barack Obama.

But the latest controversy, which suggests Obama may not be a natural born American citizen (and therefore must be prohibited from assuming the office to which he was elected in November), ironically is the most ‘American’ controversy of them all: Build them up so we can tear them back down.

‘Legitimacy’– that’s precisely what’s at the core of this most recent affront on the meteoric ascension of Barack Obama. And the argument goes something like this:

Kenya was still a British colony in 1961
• Obama’s father from Kenya and therefore a British citizen
• British citizenship passed on to his son
• Obama was born with dual citizenship
• Obama is therefore not a naturalized, US citizen

The Obama team maintains the president-elect’s proof of citizenship is right on his birth certificate.

State of birth: Hawai’i.

Furthermore, they contend, Barack’s dual Kenyan citizenship expired when he turned 21. Case closed.

Not so fast. It turns out that the case just may be heading to the Supreme Court. Yet despite the excitement generated over the December 5th announcement that the highest court in the land could take the Obama case, most legal experts expect the Court will take a pass. As a result, what it means to be a “national born citizen of the US” will likely stay ambiguous. The rationale? The Court doesn’t like to step in and override the will of the voters.

It seems the legal experts overlooked a certain case the Supreme Court took in 2000 that very much did override the will of the voters—but that’s another grunt altogether.

The point is this: Fame comes with a price. We raise our idols to the pinnacle of fame, only to rejoice in their demise as they suffer the wounds we inflict upon them. We’ve seen it with Elvis, we’ve seen it with Marilyn, we’ve seen it with Brando. And we’ve seen it with Bob.

Just as with Barack Obama, the ‘legitimacy’ of the Bob Dylan has been called into question ever since a snot-nosed kid by the name of Robert Zimmerman arrived in New York on a cold winter day in February 1961, and began his own lifelong process of reinvention.

Maybe it’s their dubious backgrounds, maybe it’s their enigmatic, shape-shifting personalities, or maybe it’s their meteoric rise from obscurity. But whatever it is, there is definitely something about these men that excites us–and makes us extremely uneasy.

We marvel at the way they shimmer in the spotlight, yet we can’t help but wonder what it is they do when the lights turn off and they retreat to the shadows. They walk among us; yet the world they inhabit is not our own. They may be restless souls, determined and undaunted. But we are the ones left unsure and wary.

And though Dylan and Obama are both cloaked in a shroud of mystery, that cloak is cut from distinctly different cloth, two men tailored for two very different times.

But one thing is for sure. Just as something happened when the man born Robert Allen Zimmerman became ‘Dylan,’ something happened when the man born Barack Hussein Obama became simply ‘Barack’ to millions of Americans. And while Bob Dylan may be in the twilight of his spiritual journey, for Barack Obama the dawn is just now breaking.

In the end, however, the joke is on us. We may have engaged in what is a uniquely American tradition of raising these two men to the highest echelons of fame, but once we put Barack Obama and Bob Dylan on their respective pedestals, they no longer belonged to us. They became citizens of the world…

Whose visions in the final end,

Must shatter like the glass.
I pity the poor immigrant,
When his gladness comes to pass.

December 8, 2008 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , | Leave a comment