It’s a columnist tradition to write an “end of year” piece about the preceding 12 months, and put everything into focus and context. Many folks try and give a positive spin to catastrophic events, prompting the thought: can you ever have too much hope? Others are matter of fact in their examination, while still others would find something to complain about even if Jesus came back to earth, gave everyone a blanket absolution and distributed loaves and fishes like Oprah delivering cars in her heyday. (It’s a joke. I already went to confession. Lighten up.)
I used to write that sort of column, obviously lacking in both creativity and ideas, but this year I decided to do something different. This year, I am going to focus on the one event that, for me, synthesized pretty much everything that’s been happening over the past 365 days.
I’ll call it The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and it refers to December 28th, the day that this country lost three of its most notable citizens. Each of them represents an aspect of this country that defines our complications, our virtues and our vices.
On that day, we lost John Madden, Harry Reid and Sarah Weddington.
The first two are fairly well known, and don’t really need an introduction. The last is not a household name, but she’s very familiar to those of us who fight for the lives and dignity of unborn children.
Let’s start with The Good.
John Madden is an example of the best this country has to offer in terms of human beings. He was big, brash, honest, authentic, funny, warm, and deceptively simple. This was a cross between Yogi Berra and Tom Brady, someone who had the gentle approachability of a loveable goofball but the steel-trap mind of a killer (or Super Bowl champion). Very few individuals personify the greatest game, football, the way that Madden did. For Philadelphians, we might hold out for John Facenda and that voice. For old-timers, it might be Vince Lombardi or even Tom Landry and their bespoke sobriety on the sidelines.
But Madden crossed generations, which is understandable since he’d been playing, talking about, coaching or simply breathing football since before I was born (and I just turned 60). He was a championship coach, an Emmy-winning broadcaster, a creative genius in the video game world and someone who loved the game with every sinew of that substantial body. To see someone who was so passionate about something so American, and know that he lived a life filled with grace and gratitude, is its own unique sort of blessing. He was, indeed, The Good.
It’s perhaps unfair to call Harry Reid “The Bad.” The former senate majority leader and longtime senator from Nevada was actually a very effective legislator, and someone who, in his own way, served the country that he loved. There’s nothing particularly “bad” in that. However, Reid was also a forerunner of that type of partisanship that morphed into what we see today. He was the sort of Democrat who wanted to win at all costs, did not brook opposition, could not work “nicely” with his colleagues on the other side, and who was as intransigent in his own way as Donald Trump showed himself to be years later. Reid was the Jurassic version of today’s “Squad,” just with more gravitas and less hair. I don’t mourn his loss as much as I mourn the loss of the civility he helped, in his own way, to destroy.
Which brings me to the ugly, the very, very ugly. Sarah Weddington was a woman of outward beauty, which contrasts so sharply with the body of her life’s work. Weddington’s name is well known in Pro Life circles, because she was the woman who, as a young lawyer in Texas, argued the case for legalizing abortion before the Supreme Court. She was successful, and the decision in Roe v. Wade is largely attributable to her legal skills as well as her legal dishonesty.
The case should never have come to the high court, since it was already moot by the time it was in the hands of the justices. Norma McCorvey, the nominal “Jane Roe,” was no longer pregnant at the time that the case was argued. There was no “pregnant woman” seeking an abortion before the court. There was no longer a “case and controversy” before the court, meaning that the whole thing was what we lawyers call “moot.” But Weddington ignored that, pushed on, and was the driving force behind the decision in Roe.
Harry Blackmun gets the credit (or the blame) for penning the majority decision, but had it not been for Weddington, who actively pursued this case so abortion would finally be legalized, we would not be here 49 years and millions of lost lives later. The great irony of Weddington’s death is that it fell on the Feast of Holy Innocents, a day that Catholics venerate in memory of the babies murdered by Herod when he learned that the Christ Child had been born. How fitting. I like to think those babies are at the Gates of Heaven, asking St. Peter to forgive Weddington, and let her in.
So this day, in the last week of a very difficult year, is what I think represents the arc of our lives in 2021. The Good, the (not so) Bad, and the Ugly.