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A Gentleman’s Guide to Spectacular Public Failure

Donald Verrilli is having a bad week.

He’s the US Solicitor General, currently arguing for the constitutionality of Obamacare in front of the Supreme Court—and as of 24 hours ago, he was an easy favorite. Then came what some writers are calling “one of the most spectacular flameouts in the history of the court.” He stuttered, he rambled, he lost his voice, and by the end of the day, he had gone from an unknown technocrat to the most notoriously incompetent lawyer this side of Lionel Hutz.

But we’re not here to pile on. We’re here to offer some consolation to Mr. Verrilli himself. Don, if you’re reading, it’s okay. Do you need a hug? You do. Take a breath. Try to collect yourself. And for the next five minutes, forget about the crushing media scrutiny and listen to our words of wisdom.

Normally, we’d pass along the usual platitudes about mistakes—basically, admit you’re wrong, address the problem and live it down—but this is bigger than that. No one cares who you are; they just care about the case. In terms of making it up to your colleagues, the only real advice is to win the case, at which point people will mostly forget all about this.

But we’d like to go deeper than that. You’ve just had a unique and transcendent experience, Donald Verrilli. You learned something deep and true and undeniable about yourself. Savor this feeling, and remember it the next time you step up to the bench. (Like, say, this afternoon.) It looked ugly, sure, but now that you’re in touch with your stammery side, it’s worth getting to know it better—and figuring out how to make some kind of truce with it. And if you can live this one down, you’ll be unstoppable.

Just try not to Cundiff things up today.