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,
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
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
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
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."
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
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.