Perry Mason has been on my dance card a lot lately.
I’ve been watching shows from his early seasons, which are nearly as old as I am.
Yes, I do watch programs from this century, but a friend got me hooked on this old series that I thought I knew from childhood. As an adult, I can appreciate it as the kid never could.
Are the stories deep? Nope, but there is more to them than I remember. And it’s interesting to see the creation of the superhero, Perry Mason, who’s not only a whiz as a lawyer but also a superior sleuth to the police and Paul Drake, his hired detective. He’s kind, loyal, cool under pressure and no money-grubbing shyster. In one episode, he volunteers to be an embattled woman’s lawyer for a retainer of 38 cents.
And I’m thinking, he’s the kind of lawyer the American people need to go against Alberto Gonzalez.
Channeling Mr. Mason is no problem. I’ve watched so many episodes in the last few weeks, it’s easy enough to dial him in.
Mr. Mason, we really need your help.
“What’s the problem?”
It’s the attorney general. We know that politicians will stretch the truth and sometimes turn it on its head. But honest to Pete, we haven’t had an attorney general who’s played this hard and this fast with the truth since John Mitchell.
“Of course. I’ve had to do something to entertain myself since my series was canceled 41 years ago. Aside from the occasional made-for-TV movie, I’ve had a lot of time on my hands. But why ask me? I’m a defense attorney.”
You are the BEST attorney, Mr. Mason. When you defended your clients, you always uncovered the guilty party — usually making him or her shout out a confession in court. I figure you can defend our rights by getting Gonzalez to confess his wrongdoing. If Congress really tries to impeach him, your help could make the difference between success and failure.
“I’m afraid my help wouldn’t make any difference.”
“Because Mr. Gonzalez has EHSH – an Extremely High Shame Threshold. I could make people break down and confess not only because I knew what questions to ask but also because people in the 1950s had Lower Shame Thresholds. Ask two tough questions – maybe even pose them to somebody else – and the guilty party would break into sobs, confessing to everything, all the way back to kindergarten.
“It was the same way off my show, in state and national politics. Lots of people could be shamed into spilling the beans. Or at least retiring from the stage when confronted with their misdeeds and the threat of trial and prison.
"But more and more men and women in politics for both parties have higher and higher shame thresholds. Confront them with their lies, and they’ll lie to you further and never bat an eyelash. Missteps that used to make others resign and enter rehab the next day only make them vow to fight harder, or declare themselves another branch of government or take some other outrageous action. And they’re succeeding because no one’s stopping them.
“You don’t need a good lawyer. You need a good Congress and an active populace.”
Well, rats. I was hoping I could count on you.
"That’s the problem. As long as people count on everyone else to fix the problem, everyone else to mobilize, everyone else to write letters to Congress and the White House, everyone else to cast the difficult vote, nothing will change. Nothing will ever get done.
"Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney aren’t running for office again. It doesn’t matter how low their popularity goes. But a lot of people in Washington are planning careers past 2008, and voters should use their leverage to get the necessary work done. In this case, that could mean impeaching Mr. Gonzalez."
Do you think Della Street could at least help us get organized?
“I’m sorry. I’m afraid I couldn’t bear to face eternity without her.”
Does that mean you and Della were …
“If you have to ask, you weren’t paying attention.”
Mary Lawrence teaches editing at the Missouri School of Journalism.