In one of his more delightful articles, Jonah Goldberg tackles Justice Ginsburg’s disingenuous claim that the most “conservative” thing the Supreme Court can do is to pick its way through all 2,700 pages of the ObamaCare bill and save all the good bits. After politely decimating Ginsburg’s word choice, Goldberg has this to say:
The conservative thing to do — and I don’t mean politically conservative — is to send the whole thing back to Congress and have it done right. Leaving aside the fact that Obamacare largely falls apart if you remove the mandate, it’s not the Supreme Court’s job to design our health-care system from the scraps Congress dumps in its lap. What Ginsburg proposes is akin to a student handing in a sloppy, error-filled term paper, and the professor rewriting it so as to give the student an A.
Goldberg’s charming analogy reminded me of something a friend told me. Although a conservative, she’s a strong, brave woman, and still listens to NPR. (I don’t, because I find myself screaming at the radio too much, especially with NPR’s Israel coverage.) During a call-in show, she said that several of the callers were deeply offended that the conservative justices used analogies, such as questions about broccoli and cell phones, to discuss ObamaCare’s provisions. The tone seemed to be “How dare those evil conservatives dumb down a sophisticated act to appeal to the rubes in America in order to justify destroying the best legislation ever.”
I was actually reminded of someone who used analogies with incredible grace to simplify (not destroy, but make accessible) challenging ideas:
Behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
He said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?”
He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind [Deuteronomy 6:5]; and your neighbour as yourself [Leviticus 19:18].”
He said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this, and you will live.”
But he, desiring to justify himself, asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbour?”
Jesus answered, “A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who both stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. By chance a certain priest was going down that way. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite also, when he came to the place, and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he traveled, came where he was. When he saw him, he was moved with compassion, came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, and gave them to the host, and said to him, ‘Take care of him. Whatever you spend beyond that, I will repay you when I return.’ Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbour to him who fell among the robbers?”
He said, “He who showed mercy on him.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” — Luke 10:25–37, World English Bible
He told them this parable. “Which of you men, if you had one hundred sheep, and lost one of them, wouldn’t leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one that was lost, until he found it? When he has found it, he carries it on his shoulders, rejoicing. When he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I tell you that even so there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.” — Luke 15:3-7, World English Bible
I don’t call this dumbing things down. I call it the wisdom to drill down into something’s essential element and the skill then to communicate those core principles (whether they are good, as with the parables, or bad, as with ObamaCare) to others.
P.S. I am not likening the conservative Supreme Court justices to Jesus Christ. I’m just saying that smart analogies are a staple of intelligent communication, and should be admired, not denigrated.