Justice Antonin Scalia is burning up the social media world today with a big, free-ranging interview he gave Jennifer Senior at New York magazine. In it, Scalia pretty much out-Scalias himself yet again. Highlights include his objections to the coarsening of modern discourse, his fondness for Seinfeld, the rationale behind his fiery dissents, and a rather remarkable discursion about the devil.
But beyond the wacky stuff and the bombastic stuff and the typically unrepentant poke-in-the-eye stuff (including his insistence that he doesn’t hate homosexuals) and the Freudian slip about the “Nazi soup kitchen,” what’s glaringly in evidence throughout the piece is the way he has managed to shutter himself off from the world of his critics and intellectual opponents. He seems a bit like a man living on a tiny remote island of the Supreme Court, and even on that tiny island, he’s forever more alone.
Scalia himself notes that something has changed about Washington: “When I was first in Washington, and even in my early years on this court, I used to go to a lot of dinner parties at which there were people from both sides. Democrats, Republicans. Katharine Graham used to have dinner parties that really were quite representative of Washington. It doesn’t happen anymore.” When Senior asks him what was “the last party you went to that had a nice healthy dose of both liberals and conservatives?” Scalia replies, “Geez, I can’t even remember. It’s been a long time.” But then Scalia also seems oblivious to the ways in which he himself might be playing a role in the polarization and rancor that has literally brought the capital to a halt.
Much has been made of the fact that Scalia admits in the piece that the only newspapers he and his wife have delivered are the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Times. The radio he listens to is “talk guys, usually,” especially Bill Bennett, because they “keep off stupid people.” He also says that it’s unusual for him to listen to NPR and that he “used to get the Washington Post, but it just … went too far for me. I couldn’t handle it anymore.” He contends that the Post’s coverage of “almost any conservative issue … was slanted and often nasty.” And that he decided not to bother anymore because “why should I get upset every morning?” The Post, he concludes, had become “shrilly, shrilly liberal.”
But it’s not just liberal media Scalia cops to avoiding these days. He shuns the State of the Union every year because it is “a childish spectacle.” He isn’t sure he has any gay friends, but insists that “I have friends that I know, or very much suspect, are homosexual. Everybody does.” When asked by Senior if any have come out to him, Scalia says, “No. No. Not that I know of.” Stop and consider, for a moment, how difficult it would be in a major American city in 2013 to construct a social world in which you might not know anybody who’s openly gay. And, perhaps most tellingly, when Scalia needs to get “outside the Beltway with people of the sort I had never known before,” it’s to hang out with hunters who “live in the woods. Give ’em a gun, they could survive in the woods on their own.” (This is precisely what Justice Clarence Thomas does when he undertakes his summer NASCAR tours.) In other words, when Scalia craves ideological diversity, he goes out and meets real Americans who hate shrill liberals as much as he does.