I stumbled across Article One last week when doing a little research on gubernatorial pardons. Immediately, I was intrigued.How come we don’t we use titles like that these days?
Yes, they’re old fashioned and stilted. And yes, it would sound ridiculous if the denizens of the State House suddenly started talking like the cast of Downton Abbey.But maybe, just maybe, a little more formality would go a long way toward reminding us and our elected officials that they play very serious and consequential roles in our society, and that the words they use with one another in transacting the people’s business do matter.
Words can elevate the human spirit or run it down with equal effectiveness. They can inspire generosity as easily as anger. The can create good or bad memories that each endure with remarkable persistence.To test my hypothesis that a more formalized language could change life within the State House for the better, I decided to spin out two scenarios. Each is based on an imaginary, chance encounter between the Governor of Massachusetts and the House Chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary on one of the Capitol’s magnificent marble staircases.
In Scenario 1, the language is common, like what most of us hear every day. In Scenario 2, the language is what it could be if our leaders today somehow willed themselves back to the time when our state constitution was written and adopted.I must emphasize that I definitely was not envisaging or projecting any individual who has actually been the governor or the judiciary co-chair into either scenario. I’ve put these words into the mouths of completely fictional human beings. This is a thought experiment only.
Scenario 1Chairman: “May I have a word with you?”
Governor: “Depends. What word are you thinking of?”“Whiffer Williams.”
“Oh, your friend, the aspiring justice. Middlesex County’s gift to the bar.”“He’d make a wonderful judge.”
“Every friend of every burnt-out lawyer says something to that effect.”“You wound me.”
“Not hard to do. Your veins are close to the surface, Mr. Chairman.”“Whiffer is a good man, and a good friend. When will you place his name in nomination before the Executive Council?”
“May I ask you a question.”“Yes. Unlike you, I’m not afraid to give an answer.”
“When is your committee going to release my court reform bill?”“Hard to say.”
“Only if one wants to make it hard.”“It is not I who is making it hard.”
“Who then?”“The people I work for.”
“Your fundraising committee?”“The voters of my district, of course.”
“Name me one constituent who’s has spoken to you against court reform.”Chairman (smiling): “I never break a voter’s confidence.”
“But you don’t mind breaking Whiffer’s heart.”“Look, Governor, there are so many things I can do for your administration. And this is such a small matter. Such an easy matter!”
“Let’s talk about easy when that bill comes out with a favorable report.”“The Globe would not like to hear of such horse-trading.”
“Only a horse’s ass plays games in the dark with the Globe.”“Speaking of asses, how’s your legislative director doing, the Little Professor?”
“Any time you need to buff up your office operation, I’ll be glad to lend him to you.”“Go to hell!”
“You’ll be there first. Your career’s already dead.”
Scenario 2Chairman: “Ah, Excellency. Good day!”
Governor: “Representative! As I live and breathe, it is the Honorable House Chairman of Judiciary. Good day to you, Sir.”“Excellency, may I have a word?”
“Approach, Your Honorableness. What is on that marvelous mind of yours?”“Excellency, I speak now on behalf of a dear friend -- a barrister of renown throughout the Commonwealth: the Honorable Wilfred Williams.”
“Ah, yes, the gentleman who aspires to the bench in the District Court of Eastern Middlesex.”“Nothing would please me more, Excellency, than to see his nomination advance forthwith.”
“Yes, I see. Yes. Yes.”“Then may I convey to The Gentleman your wish to submit his nomination?"
“Oh, such eagerness. How endearing! Like a young racehorse, you are: always bolting toward the prize.”“Is that hesitation I hear? Some hidden doubt, perhaps?”
“Honorable Representative, this is not the time or place to explore such complexities.”“How then shall we ‘explore’ them, Excellency?”
“I shall dispatch my legislative director to your office next week. You may speak with him in total confidence. And I trust he may do the same with you.”“On my word of honor, Sir. We shall speak as gentlemen and scholars. He, like all Harvard men, is uncommonly mature for his years.”
“Good Day, Sir.”“Good Day, Excellency.”