And perhaps I deserved the rebuke, for the Judge, despite his coldness toward most of the world, including, usually, his children, was never anything but tender and affectionate with our mother. Even when my father was a practicing lawyer, before the move to government service, he was constantly leaving meetings with clients to take calls from his Claire. Later, on the Securities and Exchange Commission and then on the bench, he would sometimes leave litigants waiting while he chatted with his wife, who seemed to take such treatment as her due. He smiled for her in a natural delight that told the world how grateful he was for the day Claire Morrow said yes; at least until Abby died, after which he did not do much smiling for a while. Once a semblance of family stability was re-established, my parents used to take evening walks along Shepard Street, holding hands.
Of course, my father was on the road constantly. At the time of his death, he liked to call himself just another Washington lawyer, which meant that when he wanted to reach me he would have Mrs. Rose place the call, his own time being too precious, and, when I came on the line, he would invariably put me on the speakerphone, perhaps to leave his hands free for other work. Mrs. Rose told me once that I should not be upset: he put everybody on the speakerphone, treating it as though it had just been invented. Indeed, everything that he was doing was new to him. He was, formally, of counsel to the law firm of Corcoran & Klein--of counsel being a term of art covering a multitude of awkward relationships, from the retired partner who no longer does any lawyering to the out-of-work bureaucrat trying to bring in enough business to earn a full partnership to the go-go consultant looking for a respectable place to hang a shingle. In my father's case, the firm offered a veneer of gentility and a place to take his messages, but little more. He saw few clients. He practiced no law. He wrote books, went on nationwide speaking tours, and, when he needed a rest, showed up on Nightline and Crossfire and Imus to beguile the evil armies of the left. Indeed, he was the perfect talk-show guest: he was willing to say nearly anything about nearly anybody, and he would call anyone who argued with him the most erudite and puzzling names. (The censors would have a terrible time when he used words like wittol and pettifoggery, and he was once bleeped out on one of the radio talk shows for describing a particular candidate's shift to the right during the Republican presidential primaries as an act of ecdysis.) Oh, yes, people hated him, and he reveled in their enmity.
Mariah, naturally, made more of all this than I did. I have always thought that the far left and far right need each other, desperately, for if either one were to vanish the other would lose its reason to exist, a conviction that has freshened in me from year to year, as each grows ever more vehement in its search for somebody to hate. Now and then, I even wondered aloud to Kimmer--I would say it to no one else--whether my father manufactured half his political views in order to keep his face on television, his enemies at his heels, and his speaking fees in the range of half a million dollars a year. But Mariah, having been in her time both philosophy major and investigative journalist, sees oppositions as real; the Judge and his enemies, she would say, were playing out the great ideological debates of the era. It was the culture war, she would insist, that brought him down. I thought this proposition quite silly, and came to think, after years of reading about it, that the scandal-mongers who drove him from the bench might have had a point; and I made the mistake of saying this, too, on the telephone to Mariah, not long after Bob Woodward published his best-selling book about the case. The book, I told her, was pretty convincing: the Judge was not a victim but a perjurer.
Excerpted from The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter Copyright 2002 by Stephen L. Carter. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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