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Bibliolatry: opinions from a very independent bookseller
no. 10   

 

Supreme Injustice
by Alan Dershowitz
Supreme Injustice
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The Betrayal of America
by Vincent Bugliosi

The Betrayal of America
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Bush v. Gore
ed. by E. J. Dionne

Bush v. Gore: The Courst Cases and the Commentary
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Answered Prayers
by Truman Capote
Answered Prayers
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In Cold Blood
by Truman Capote
In Cold Blood
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Capote: A Biography
by Gerald Clarke

Capote: A Biography

I'm worried about Supreme Court justice William H. Rehnquist. Sticks and stones may break bones, but as we now know words can do all kinds of damage: heart disease, ulcers, etc. And ever since the Supreme Court majority disregarded all legal and personal precedent – not to mention the Constitution – in order to give the 2000 Presidential election to their man, pundits, scholars, citizens, and even a heap of law professors have felt free to call our Chief Justice all manner of names: cheater, partisan, traitor, bigot, perjurer, lawless, etc.

Of course, they can't really mean any of those things. After all, Rehnquist is Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court. But even if they're just blowing smoke, they really ought to be ashamed of themselves. Can't anyone show an old man respect anymore?

Sadly, Rehnquist is quite familiar with the darker corners of the human heart. People love to twist innocent words inside out in order to achieve selfish aims. You have to be careful. And in fact, one of Bill Rehnquist's closest friends was tragically destroyed by just such a "misunderstanding." It was so terribly painful to watch, you'd think Bill would have made a concerted effort not to repeat the mistake.

If you haven't already guessed, I'm referring to William Rehnquist's longtime companion, Truman Capote. That's right, they were "friends" in the Biblical sense. The Greek parts. Naturally, given the time, they were very discrete, though it wasn't really necessary. They were so charming together, even Strom Thurmond gave the pair his blessing.

William and Truman first met in Arizona of all places. Truman was with his current beau Reggie, a big, bulging black number with a taste for Wittgenstein and wimps. One day Reggie said he was going out to vote – this was during the 1964 elections – and Truman decided to tag along: he couldn't bear to keep the hunk out of his sight.

The line at the polling booth was surprisingly long that day, and was moving remarkably slowly. Reggie didn't seem to mind. He knew most of the people in his primarily black neighborhood, and was soon chatting away with his friends and neighbors.

But Truman's attentions were elsewhere. Some stuffed shirt was going through the line and systematically harassing each of the voters – well, at least each of the black ones. At that time in Arizona, only citizens who could both read and interpret what they read were eligible to vote. So this Teutonic fury with the Operation Eagle Eye button, clearly not a big supporter of the 14th Amendment, was reading each of the potential voters a passage from the Constitution and then asking them to interpret it. If they couldn't do it to his satisfaction, they weren't allowed to vote.

Annoyed, Truman confronted this outrageous fellow, and, with a slight quiver in his high-pitched voice, told him off: "Listen, ya big lug. With that simian shelf of a forehead you look a bit preliterate yourself. And your momma couldn't interpret the Constitution. Now get out of here and let the brothahs vote."

As the brute turned to face his diminutive interrogator, those few who were paying attention didn't mistake the look that flickered, momentarily, over his face as he grabbed Truman gruffly by the lapels: "I'll be damned if I'm going to be pushed around by some simpering shrimp in seersucker..." Truman's eyes began to flutter, his knees gave way, and he turned his head to the side slightly, as if to avoid a blow, or perhaps to hear better: "...If you want me to leave, you're going to have to show me the door personally."

So he did. Reggie didn't get so much as a good-bye. By the time he noticed, Truman was already halfway out the door on the arm of his new friend Bill Rehnquist (for that's who it was, of course), who could be heard all the way out to the car, "Now, little man, what was that about my momma?"

And that was it. From that day forward, Truman and Rehno (as Truman liked to call him – apparently he had quite a horn) were inseparable. At first, Rehno was a bit in awe of Truman. After all, he was a world-class writer and international celebrity, author of such classics as Other Voices, Other Rooms, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and A Christmas Memory. Rehno was just a two-bit lawyer with ties to the extreme right and an oversized slice of ambition.

Truman himself couldn't have cared less about politics. What he did care about was money and power, which is why he spent so much of his time cultivating his impressive collection of rich and powerful friends. But Truman could see right away that William Rehnquist had the requisite qualities to go places: he was a good talker; he knew which wheels to grease; he was entirely free from the distraction of scruples; and he had his gaze firmly planted on the prize: a seat on the highest court in the country.

Admittedly, Truman wasn't entirely comfortable with all of Rehno's views. For example, he was genuinely disturbed by Rehno's open support for Plessy v. Ferguson, the controversial "separate-but-equal" ruling that made possible the Jim Crow South. Truman told him that if he had to hold such views, he should at least stop putting them in print. Racism makes people uncomfortable, and giving his enemies such a smoking gun could only cause trouble.

But, alas, what repelled Truman – Rehno's arrogant, self-serving elitism – was also, inexplicably, what made him so wildly irresistible. There were other attractions, of course. Truman was simply mad for Rehni's heini. And he would soon be called upon to prove it.

In 1971, Richard Nixon finally gave William Rehnquist his big break. Despite his relative lack of qualifications, he nominated him for a position on the Supreme Court. But as predicted, one of those memos Rehno had written in support of Plessy v. Ferguson did come back to haunt him. Drat! Realizing that those he's-not-heavy-he's-my-brother longhairs were going to skewer him, he quickly fell into a blind panic. William Rehnquist has never been known for the strength of his intellect, and he simply didn't know what to do. But he was smart enough to know who would. Though Truman Capote was one of the most brilliant writers of his generation, he was an even better liar.

At first Truman protested. "You know, sugar, I'd do anything for you. But in a matter so important to the American people, I just can't interfere." But Rehno wouldn't take no for an answer. He made all manner of promises: mink coats, diamonds, yachts...he even offered to take out a hit on Gore Vidal. Tempting, yes. But no dice. So, plan B: He threw Truman up against a wall; he threatened to break both his legs; he called him all manner of filthy names. This just elicited a few naughty giggles.

But then the answer struck him: "Truman. If you help me get confirmed to the Supreme Court, I'll let you wear my robes." Bingo.

The answer, of course, was simple: "You're a lawyer, for Christsakes. Figure it out. Just tell 'em that someone else wrote the memo, and make sure it's someone that can't deny it; i.e. choose someone dead. You used to clerk for that other Supreme Court justice, right? Say he wrote it. No one will believe a word of it, but they won't be able to prove it either. You'll be confirmed in no time."

Soon enough, Truman was swimming in black robes. And let's just say, he did far more than just wear them.

These were the good times, the halcyon years. Rehno was sitting on the most powerful court in the country and Truman was on top of the world. He'd written one work that was already being hailed a masterpiece, In Cold Blood, and had hosted the single most prestigious social event of the later half of the twentieth century, the legendary Black and White Ball. Truman was now not only one of the greatest, and most famous writers in the world. He was also the most coveted social guest of the rich, the famous, and the very, very powerful. But then – ah then – he made a foolish, a vain mistake and threw it all away.

After the success of In Cold Blood, Truman got cocky. He had been hobnobbing with the world's social elite for decades, so he decided to write about them. With his experience and talent he thought to become the American Proust. His magnum opus, his warts-and-all portrait of the richest people in the world, would borrow its title, Answered Prayers, from a quote attributed to Saint Teresa, "More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones."

Once he had three or four chapters completed, he chose one from the middle and submitted it to Esquire. The story was called "La Côte Basque." Its publication would spell the beginning of the end for poor Truman.

"La Côte Basque" is a bucket of venom, a brazen feast of gossip. It is also, as a piece of writing, the work of a master. Truman, naively, assumed the latter would justify the former. He was wrong. In "La Côte Basque" Truman put in writing a number of the outrageous stories he'd been told over the years in confidence. Sex, murder, betrayal: the works. And he didn't even bother to change names.

The outrageousness of the story caused an uproar. Readers were shocked, and they couldn't get enough. It was one of the most talked about pieces in Esquire's history. The rich and famous, however, those whom Truman had so casually exposed, were much more than shocked. They were determined to get even. After "La Côte Basque," Truman Capote was dropped like Madonna tickets at a Promise Keepers convention.

Truman tried to pretend otherwise, but he was devastated. Though a few of his friends remained loyal (and, of course, Truman could always count on the strong shoulders of Bill Rehnquist) he had nonetheless lost, overnight, almost all of his dearest friends. He pathetically tried to call, explaining that he meant to amuse, not offend. But it was no good.

Soon, Truman was awash in booze, pumped full of pills. Rehno felt helpless as Truman made a fool of himself in a series of disastrous, incoherent public appearances. He soon became depressed, suicidal, and, except for one brief period of creativity, entirely unable to write. Of course, Rehno did everything he could to help his friend and often went to extraordinary lengths to cheer him up. He sent flowers; he made him dinner; he called from his chambers wearing "nothing but my robes and Drakkar Noir." But it was no use. Sad but true, Truman Capote was through. He'd simply given up. And one night, to absolutely no one's surprise, he quietly passed away in a drugged stupor.

Rehno was grief-stricken. It took years before he could again greet the New Day with a bounce in his step. But we human beings are slow to learn, aren't we? William Rehnquist, of all people, knows how bent out of shape people get when they feel betrayed. And yet, ever the optimist, when he voted to stay the counting in Florida, he failed to anticipate the consequences.

Granted, to someone who didn't understand the benign intent of the Supreme Court majority, Bush v. Gore did seem like a partisan grab for power. Yes, in order to stop the vote-counting in Florida and hand the election to Bush, they had to hijack the Constitution; they had to disregard all legal precedent; and they had to each embrace principles diametrically opposed to those they had espoused for decades (imagine the courage it took Rehnquist to accept that specious Equal Protection argument). And all this, not to please themselves, but for the good of the nation. Imagine letting the people decide the future of the country. They might as well hand the reins to Fidel Castro.

In Bush v. Gore the Supreme Court has saved us from ourselves. Don't you think it's high time we showed some appreciation? And the first group that needs to stop their whining is those blasted law professors. For no matter how shortsighted, all those mean things they are saying have got to hurt. If they don't stop, their accusations could cast a shadow over the entire career of a distinguished civil servant. The whole mess could spoil William H. Rehnquist's long-anticipated retirement. That would be a shame.

—Carlisle

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