14 September 2005

When words are too hard, perhaps it's time for a new job

I listened to NPR coverage of the Roberts confirmation hearings this morning as I drove to campus and ended up filled with indignation listening to questions by Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma), who kept referring to the fact that he's a practicing physician. He didn't mention the fact that he's a practicing physician in a running conflict with the Senate Ethics Committee about whether his medical practice poses a conflict of interest, but he repeatedly mentioned that all the legal terminology flying about the room on the previous day's hearings was a little overwhelming. Those legal terms, just a little hard to understand, he said more than once.

OK, legal language is hard. Even in legal documents where I fully understand the purpose of the transaction, I can find the language challenging (our adoption decrees, for example, or wills or powers of attorney, are not what I hold up as the easiest-to-read texts in our house). But let's see, what is the purpose of the Senate? Among other things, to make laws! Which use that pesky legal language! So why is it that Senator Coburn thinks he's qualified to hold his own job if he can't understand the language surrounding it?

The tradition of the citizen-lawmaker is appealing (I like Mr. Smith Goes to Washingtonas much as anyone. But the United States is a very big country. We have very big problems to address in a very big world. And I would like to think that it's a full-time job to participate in legislating about those issues. I don't want my senators dividing their attention between a business back home and the work of governing. Senators and representatives don't have enough time to learn about everything they need to know even working full time. It's not repsonsible to try to be a senator as a part-time job.

And I'm disgusted by the anti-intellectualism of Coburn's references to the hard vocabulary he heard. I'd rather our lawmakers value the work it takes to learn the language. Running the country is hard work. It takes brains to do it. Why should it be OK for our elected representatives to pretend that it isn't?


Phantom Scribbler said...

Hear, hear!

If legal terminology is too hard for him, he must make one heckuva doctor. Half of medical school is learning the specialized terminology.

Jody said...

The anti-professionalism aspect worries me more. There's always been a tendency in the US to distrust "experts," but these days, there seems to be an organized movement to let people feel better about the enshrinement of hereditary privilege by running down the "educated elite." It's very old-hat (gilded age stuff, really) but the way that people who are stuck are helped along in feeling okay about their lack of access to decent anything worries me terribly.

Hmmm, I don't think I'm being coherent there. Anyway, Coburn's one scary guy. [And unfortunately, I worry about his supporters, too. Not very democratic of me, but there you have it.]