It’s interesting to be visiting Washington, D.C. on the day that SCOTUS Justice John Paul Stevens announced his retirement after 30+ years on the bench. Here, you are surrounded by so much national history, and the buzz of political wheeling and dealing is felt everywhere. The Common Bluesuit is often seen gathered in packs of three or four, set off by a red or yellow neckfeather, and shiny black leather feet. They never cease their constant low-level chatter, either while walking at a fast clip or resting momentarily, sitting hunched closely together lest the chatter be overheard by rival Common Bluesuits or the Plainly-Dressed Touristspy, or the Articulated Ambititousreporterus. In the land of the free, so much is done behind closed doors, unknown to us all.

The retirement of a Supreme Court Justice is a big f-ing deal, as VP Joe Biden would say. It certainly is no surprise at all that Justice Stevens is leaving; he will be 90 years old in a few days and at 90 I figure he might want to maybe take time for more naps or learn to surf or paint people’s names on a single grain of rice for a little extra cash down on the National Mall. Whatever he wants to do now, I hope he does with great enjoyment and success.

Of course, all the tributes start coming in with such announcements almost immediately. What bothers me is that most of the Senators can’t just say, hey J.P., thank you and we appreciate you for your thoughtful service and give a few examples of his outstanding writing or the major decisions he wrote. No, most of them have to get a dig in if they didn’t care for his “liberalism” and then blow past that to whine about who will be nominated to be his replacement. Can’t that wait JUST A DAMN MINUTE? Give the guy his due without pretty much stamping “NEXT!” on your fancy press statement.

Justice Stevens was no weeping liberal as some of our more moronic politicians might attempt to assert. He was in fact a Republican, and a true moderate, when the term actually meant something and was perhaps something to strive towards in the non-FOX-corrupted term of “fair and balanced.” He understood that walking the party line is not what his job was about. His job was about striving to understand all sides, the grays and the slate blues and the muddy maroons, synthesizing information, understanding our laws and the times in which they were formed and the changing current day flow, and forming an independent opinion not based on political alliances. It is a sorry measure of how the American justice system has degraded over the years to say that it would be difficult to name many truly independent thinkers now. I am beyond certain that the righteous right will make a giant stink over whomever President Obama nominates, because they have to make SOME kind of reactionary strike over health care legislation passage. This is the way it goes now. The Common Bluesuits will peck at each other until their neckfeathers are frayed and flapping in the breeze, while the rest of us stare into their Capitol cage, shaking our heads at the stupidity.

I think I may understand a little of Justice Stevens’ character and why he was so well-suited to his work, because of my own father. Stevens was born in 1920, the same year as my dad. They were both born Midwesterners, although my father in a miniscule Wisconsin farm town to a rural mail carrier, and John Paul Stevens to a wealthy Chicago family. But both were deeply affected by the Great Depression, and could not take their comforts for granted. Both men signed up for military service prior to WWII; in Stevens’ case, a day before Pearl Harbor. The failures of the Depression did not cause my dad or Justice Stevens to lose faith in their nation; instead, they looked towards service and what each could do to protect their country. Both men returned home after the war to attend college in an era that promoted limitless possibilities for hard working people to achieve their dreams, and both succeeded in this in their very different ways. The grounded character of the Midwesterner, the basic tenets installed into them of reason and common-sense, balanced by compassion and fairness, remained solid despite the despair of long years of difficulty and the horror of war. You had to work together, these guys knew, or nothing was ever going to work out and the bad would overwhelm the good.

Is there a Common Bluesuit out there now that is strong enough to stand apart from the flock as well as stand with them when needed, as Stevens did? When President Ford appointed Stevens to the Supreme Court he said that he was looking for “the best legal mind he could find.” Oh, if only this idea could be the standard for the nomination now, and no more. If only.

Thank you, Justice Stevens, and I wish you some gnarly waves and bitchin’ times.