The Gipper may have been the one who started it. He’s the one who brought in people he would recognize in the audience, and things of that sort—made it a television spectacle. And once it becomes a television spectacle, it’s nothing serious.
Of course, the press has the whole thing, and they’re up in the gallery—you can hear them turning pages as the president is speaking. Why doesn’t he just print it out and send it over?
It’s like the Haggadah.
In the years when I went, we used to take bets on how long the speech would be. Rehnquist loved to have betting pools—on football games, baseball games.
Did you ever win?
I never won.
It was recently reported that the justices don’t communicate with one another by e-mail. Do you go online at all?
Yeah. Sure, I use the Internet.
You’ve got grandkids. Do you feel like the Internet has coarsened our culture at all?
I’m nervous about our civic culture. I’m not sure the Internet is largely the cause of it. It’s certainly the cause of careless writing. People who get used to blurbing things on the Internet are never going to be good writers. And some things I don’t understand about it. For example, I don’t know why anyone would like to be “friended” on the network. I mean, what kind of a narcissistic society is it that people want to put out there, This is my life, and this is what I did yesterday? I mean … good grief. Doesn’t that strike you as strange? I think it’s strange.
I’ve gotten used to it.
Well, I am glad that I am not raising kids today. And I’m rather pessimistic that my grandchildren will enjoy the great society that I’ve enjoyed in my lifetime. I really think it’s coarsened. It’s coarsened in so many ways.
One of the things that upsets me about modern society is the coarseness of manners. You can’t go to a movie—or watch a television show for that matter—without hearing the constant use of the F-word—including, you know, ladies using it. People that I know don’t talk like that! But if you portray it a lot, the society’s going to become that way. It’s very sad.
And you can’t have a movie or a television show without a nude sex scene, very often having no relation to the plot. I don’t mind it when it is essential to the plot, as it sometimes is. But, my goodness! The society that watches that becomes a coarse society.
What do you make of the new pope?
He’s the Vicar of Christ. He’s the chief. I don’t run down the pope.
I’m not inviting you to run down the pope. But what do you think of his recent comments, that the church ought to focus less on divisive issues and more on helping the poor?
I think he’s absolutely right. I think the church ought to be more evangelistic.
But he also wanted to steer its emphasis away from homosexuality and abortion.
Yeah. But he hasn’t backed off the view of the church on those issues. He’s just saying, “Don’t spend all our time talking about that stuff. Talk about Jesus Christ and evangelize.” I think there’s no indication whatever that he’s changing doctrinally.
I spent my junior year in Switzerland. On the way back home, I spent some time in England, and I remember going to Hyde Park Corner. And there was a Roman Catholic priest in his collar, standing on a soapbox, preaching the Catholic faith and being heckled by a group. And I thought, My goodness. I thought that was admirable. I have often bemoaned the fact that the Catholic church has sort of lost that evangelistic spirit. And if this pope brings it back, all the better.
The one thing I did think, as he said those somewhat welcoming things to gay men and women, is, Huh, this really does show how much our world has changed. I was wondering what kind of personal exposure you might have had to this sea change.
I have friends that I know, or very much suspect, are homosexual. Everybody does.
Have any of them come out to you?
No. No. Not that I know of.
Has your personal attitude softened some?
I don’t think I’ve softened. I don’t know what you mean by softened.
If you talk to your grandchildren, they have different opinions from you about this, right?
I don’t know about my grandchildren. I know about my children. I don’t think they and I differ very much. But I’m not a hater of homosexuals at all.