Uncontrollable envy

Driving home from my office this afternoon, I heard a National Public Radio bit on Chief Justice Rehnquist. NPR decided to interview some folks in Rehnquist’s original home town in Wisconsin. Instead of interviewing people who might remember Rehnquist as a boy or young man(the only sensible reason for such a feature) they asked residents about Rehnquist’s judicial opinions. A conservative said she liked them; a liberal said she did not. For good measure, the liberal opined that that she disapproved of Rehnquist because he was an “old boy.”
The NPR piece might have been worthwhile if the interviewer had asked the liberal for the basis of this assertion. In reality, Rehnquist got where he got not because of some old boy network but because he was number one in his class at Stanford Law School and did outstanding work in every job he held thereafter.
The “old boy” theme has also been sounded against John Roberts. Liberals and some minority group leaders claim that he is a son of privilege who was fortunate enough to attend Harvard as an undergraduate and law student. Actually, Roberts got to Harvard by excelling in high school. He did that because he’s very smart and because (as his classmates recall) he worked harder than anyone else. If I remember correctly, he was either the first from his high school to attend Harvard, or a rare instance of this. Roberts graduated from Harvard in three years with top honors, and along the way wrote two award winning papers. This gave him the “privilege” of attending Harvard Law School. As with Rehnquist, his outstanding performance there, and subsequently, enabled him to progress to where he is now.
Neither Roberts nor Rehnquist was disadvantaged. But the only privilege either had was the opportunity to outwork his competitors in order to reach his goals. This is the same privilege most Americans, including those who are publicly attacking Roberts as an “old boy,” enjoy. Such critics betray a defining characteristic of the modern left — uncontrollable envy.
UPDATE: Betsy’s Page has a nice piece about Chief Justice Rehnquist, including quotations from the Linda Greenhouse obituary in the New York Times.


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