Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Trayvon Martin Rorschach Test

America’s past and possible future converge as Jimmy Carter and Hillary Clinton speak up about the Zimmerman verdict. What they have to say reverberates far beyond the limits of a local murder trial and into the heart of what is becoming a wider debate about the nation’s values and, even deeper, the state of its heart.

The case that refuses to go away is turning into a Rorschach test. In the ink blots, Carter sees “the right decision” in “a nation of laws.” Clinton discerns “deep, painful heartache” for families who “have to fear for their child walking down a street in the United States of America.”

Now that Juror B37 has had her long Confessional with Anderson Cooper and been rebuked by others, a deep division emerges between those who expect everything to be rational and those who know that such mastery of the mind is beyond human reach.

Journalists strive to be objective, but they soon learn the impossibility of such a goal. Being fair, dispassionate and aware of one’s own prejudices is as good as it gets. Politicians are not called to be that way, but the very best try. Lawyers are paid to be truth-twisting advocates.

As the talkative juror pours out her story, what comes through is a state of mind manipulated into a literal reading of a set of facts blinkered into “following the law” but abandoning common sense and human feeling, a robotic concession to courtroom reality.

Over the years, during jury service, I have often been amazed at the ability of a dozen disparate strangers to evaluate what they have seen and heard and come to what struck me as the right decision. Their wisdom may have been turned into a melodramatic cliché by “Twelve Angry Men,” but such a basic collective sense of reality is, in the main, undeniable.

Jimmy Carter’s response to the verdict is, for a long-time non-admirer, typical of the man—-a brilliant parser of facts that led him into being a President with no emotional intelligence or empathy whatsoever to complain about “a national malaise” that he himself helped create.

In last year’s election, voters responded to a huge Rorschach test by seeing beyond the many Mitt Romneys flashing before their eyes.

Now, as the Zimmerman case eventually fades away as it must, three improbable figures are in New Hampshire—-Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, two Tea Party Latinos, and Rand Paul, the Anglo from Mars.

What will be voters see as those cards flash before their eyes? 


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