As a lawyer, there’s a lot about the movie The Verdict (1982) I don’t particularly like, even as I bow respectfully to Paul Newman’s superb portrayal of Frank Galvin, as a down-on-his-luck and up-on-the-bottle lawyer. For one thing, the film’s representation of the litigation process is a crock. To give just one example, Galvin’s dramatic closing argument would have been objectionable in a court of law from start to finish.
Yet, here of late, as I’ve been trying to find some way for liberals to tap into the ocean of discontent rising within the American electorate, I find my mind drifting back to Galvin’s words during that courtroom speech,
Galvin: Well…You know, so much of the time we’re just lost. We say, “Please, God, tell us what is right. Tell us what is true.”
I mean there is no justice. The rich win; the poor are powerless. We become tired of hearing people lie. And after a time we become dead, a little dead. We think of ourselves as victims — and we become victims. We become weak; we doubt ourselves; we doubt our beliefs; we doubt our institutions; and we doubt the law.
But today you are the law. You are the law, not some book, not the lawyers, not a marble statue, or the trappings of the court. See, those are just symbols of our desire to be just. They are, in fact, a prayer,
I mean a fervent and a frightened prayer.
In my religion, they say, “Act as if you had faith; faith will be given to you.”
If we are to have faith in justice we need only to believe in ourselves and act with justice. See, I believe there is justice in our hearts.
(You can listen to it from the movie soundtrack here.)
Think about it for a minute — no, don’t think — feel it for a minute. Isn’t that it? Change a few words, of course — change “law” to “political process,” “book” to “politician,” “lawyers” to “lobbyists” and “court” to “capital.”
Isn’t that the message we need to be offering? Modern politics has become soooooo professional, so focus grouped and triangulated. Have we lost sight completely of the power of the poetry of persuasion?
Political professionals spend so much time these days talking about how scared people are, scared of terrorists in airplanes, and scared of angry people in far off places with beliefs we don’t understand. And they’re right, of course, people are scared. How could they help but be scared, given a national government run by people who maintain power almost entirely by expertly exploiting those fears?
But fear isn’t the only emotion Americans are feeling today related to their government. Perhaps even more, they feel numb — numbness that itself grows out of a sense of helplessness. They see nothing but corruption, incompetence and an almost unbelievable smallness in their government, and, perhaps even more sadly, in the entire democratic process. But they have no idea how to change it, and, except for a few braves souls largely ignored by the major media, no one is talking to them in these terms.
I know many political professionals will think it’s naïve, but I strongly believe that the American people are waiting, desperate even, to be inspired. They want to hear that they have nothing to fear but fear itself and, for that matter, that it’s morning again in America.
Come on Democrats, take a chance: Can a political operative or two and replace them with a poet, a philosopher or even a dreamer, or at least a political operative who’s capable of appreciating poetry, philosophy and dreaming. Stop just parroting what the opinion polls tell you people want to hear, and start saying some of the things their hearts are telling them they need to hear.
People don’t have to be small all the time, they really don’t. In fact, I think that just may be the biggest lie of them all: Americans aren’t just about tax cuts and zero sacrifice politics. They do care about their children, and what sort of world they will live in. They do care about the environment. They do care about justice.
America hasn’t lost its greatness. It’s lost the leadership needed to take it there.
And who knows? Maybe a fictitious, washed up lawyer named Frank Galvin can help us to find it again.