The recent brohaha over Judge Calabresi's intemperate remarks at an American Constitutional Society speech, well-analyzed and criticized by the Curmudgeonly Clerk among others, leads me to wonder what it is that the people who make these sorts of statements hope to accomplish.
To recap, Judge Calabresi was paraphrased as saying that "President Bush’s rise to power was similar to the accession of dictators such as Mussolini and Hitler." The newspaper article goes on to quote him as saying:
"In a way that occurred before but is rare in the United States…somebody came to power as a result of the illegitimate acts of a legitimate institution that had the right to put somebody in power.That is what the Supreme Court did in Bush versus Gore. It put somebody in power.
"The reason I emphasize that is because that is exactly what happened when Mussolini was put in by the king of Italy," Judge Calabresi continued, as the allusion drew audible gasps from some in the luncheon crowd Saturday at the annual convention of the American Constitution Society.
"The king of Italy had the right to put Mussolini in, though he had not won an election, and make him prime minister. That is what happened when Hindenburg put Hitler in. I am not suggesting for a moment that Bush is Hitler. I want to be clear on that, but it is a situation which is extremely unusual," the judge said.
Since ACS has positioned itself as a counterweight to the Federalist Society, it's not surprising that, despite some gasps from the audience, this invective went over well.
Still, knowing your audience is one thing. In the long run, though, what is to be accomplished by hyperbole of this sort? Judge Calabresi has no need to urge the members of ACS to vote for John Kerry; probably the vast majority of them will do so and would do so even without Judge Calabresi's urging. And I seriously doubt that Judge Calabresi is going to persuade diehard Republicans that they should dump President Bush by comparing President Bush's ascension to office to Mussolini's.
So that leaves the uncommitted moderates. Does Judge Calabresi seriously think that uncommitted moderates will, upon reading his remarks, think, "Gee, I never considered that before, but it's my duty to vote against President Bush because an unelected federal judge thinks his ascension was illegitimate"? More likely, moderates will think that his remarks are remarkably stupid and at best will have no impact on how they vote. At worst, they'll think that President Kerry might nominate more such intemperate judges to the bench. (President Clinton appointed Judge Calabresi.)
No word from Prof. Althouse yet on what she thinks of this little mess, but based on her past blog entries decrying the lack of civil discussion and rationality in politics, I can't imagine that she's impressed by Judge Calabresi's statement. Which, if I'm right, should be something to keep in mind. Prof. Althouse is much smarter and cooler than the average uncommitted voter, but I think she is a reasonably good proxy for that group; and resides in Wisconsin, one of the battleground states (though probably going to Kerry) to boot.
Just to be clear, I'm not suggesting that there's anything wrong with tailoring your remarks so that the audience will appreciate them. Apart from the judicial ethics problem well analyzed by the Clerk (see link above), Judge Calabresi should be free to criticize Bush v. Gore (if that's what he views as the proximate cause of Bush's illegitimate presidency), the Electoral College, or whatever else. But I just don't get the point of comparing Bush's ascension to Mussolini's.