The establishment’s expectations

THE ESTABLISHMENT’S EXPECTATIONS…. To close out “Face the Nation” yesterday, CBS’s Bob Schieffer offered a commentary on Justice David Souter’s retirement. Since Souter announced he’s leaving the bench, there’s been a fair amount of discussion about his service and legacy, but I think Schieffer is the first prominent public voice to criticize Souter for not being more of a social butterfly. (Media Matters has the video.)

“Finally today, so David Souter, maybe the quietest and most low-key man ever to serve on the Supreme Court, has made it official. He is retiring to return to the New Hampshire woods from whence he came. By all accounts, he was a good justice, thoughtful, reasonable. For sure, he was the surprise to the man who nominated him, the first George Bush, who thought he was picking a conservative, only to discover he had chosen a liberal. But these things happen sometimes when people get jobs for life.

“I had no problem with the justice’s legal work, but as one who has lived 40 years in Washington, I’ll be honest — I didn’t care for his attitude.

“He made it no secret that he hated the city, once describing his work as the best job in the world in the worst city in the world. Another time he called life here akin to an ‘intellectual lobotomy.’ Really? Our nation’s capital, one of the most beautiful cities in the world?

“Call me corny, but I have to confess I’ve run into some pretty smart people here over the years. But then again, I’ve tried to get to know the city and its inhabitants. Who wouldn’t, if you were going to live in a place? Justice Souter, obviously. I’ve never known anyone who ever saw him outside the court. And now he is leaving. I take it he won’t miss Washington, but my guess is Washington will hardly miss him.”

It reminds me a bit of David Broder famously criticizing Bill Clinton for having “trashed the place — and it wasn’t his place.” For members of the D.C. establishment, there’s a certain sense of ownership when it comes to the center of the political world. It’s theirs, and you’re supposed to play along with their rules and expectations.

Souter, by all appearances, didn’t much care for Washington, and preferred privacy over politics. The high court justice was no doubt invited to some of the social gatherings Schieffer and his friends attended, but he never felt compelled to rub elbows.

Part of this, I suppose, has to do with the nature of one’s responsibilities. If you’re an ambitious House member, I can see why you might be anxious to hit the cocktail party circuit to raise your profile.

But Souter was a justice, and already had the last job he’d ever have (a job, by the way, he was awfully good at). Who cares if no one Schieffer knows “ever saw him outside the court”? What about this suggests a bad “attitude”?