Saturday, March 11, 2006

Grassroots Dictatorship

Our little controversy here in Montgomery County is about a couple of health classes in the public schools. That, in itself, isn't much to get excited about. But the war for the soul of America is going to have to be fought one insignificant battle at a time, and this is where we put our foot down.

These are historical times like I've never seen in a bunch of years of living. Just looking at the news today, you see America has made some bad decisions.

Yesterday they busted Claude Allen, the guy who until last month was Bush's top domestic policy advisor, ripping off the Target in Gaithersburg. This guy was picking up merchandise, then bringing it to the service desk for refunds, using fake receipts. Stop. Let that soak in. Last month, top guy in government; this month, arrested for stealing stuff at Target. It looks like he's been doing it at least since October. Imagine leaving your office at the White House, "Bye George, by Dick, see ya tomorrow," and then driving out to the suburbs and stealing things.

Allen left the White House last month. Why? Here's what the Christian site Agape Press said:
The Capitol Hill rumor mill says Allen, a strong pro-family Christian advocate, resigned because his advice was being ignored by the Bush administration. Rob Schenck of the National Clergy Council says it often happens that "Christians in the highest levels of government ... are not taken seriously or they are pressured out or put outside the loop." He says believers can sometimes be thwarted by those in the administration who do not share their values or principles. That leads to frustration, Schenck contends, and causes some people of faith working in government to feel that "they're no longer making a contribution; they need to leave. So this could be one of those situations where we have another Christian as a casualty of the culture wars in our country." This is what many Washington insiders believe happened with Claude Allen."

You see, the problem was he was "too Christian" for the Bush administration.

Also in the news today, the Secretary of the Interior, whose connections to Jack Abramoff and bribery involving the Indian casinos have been recent news, has suddenly announced she's stepping down. Turns out $25,000 would buy a meeting with her, and suddenly she needs to spend more time with her family, too.

And that's just this morning's paper. In other news, America tortures innocent people, detains people around the world in despicable secret prisons without charging them with any crime, conducts surveillance on its own citizens without warrants or any legislative or judicial oversight, the leaders of the majority party in both houses of Congress, plus various high-level Republicans in Congress and the White House, are either indicted for corruption or under investigation. Defense contracts are offered for sale by congressmen. We attack foreign countries at random without provocation and without a plan for winning, desert our poor and shovel treasure into the hands of rich, and are completely unprepared for any catastrophe, whether it is a natural disaster or terrorist attack, because unqualified cronies are appointed to powerful positions.

To hear our leaders talk, you'd think abortion was our country's biggest problem, with the possibility that teenagers would use condoms running a close second. Oh, and there's no global warming.

This was an administration that sold itself on its religion. It was the "family values" voter who elected these guys, remember? On "moral" principles. The President said that God spoke to him, and many good-hearted but naive people were impressed with his piety. The goons surrounding him learned to talk that way, too, and they joined up with influential religious extremists to promote the idea that they were the "culture of life," the good guys in the struggle to make life good in America.

Another breaking news story: the head of Christian Coalition, Ralph Reed, one guy who really learned to play this tune, was a top guy in the Abramoff bribery enterprise, taking Indian casino millions and getting favors from the federal government. And whose name is in the emails, who was trying to trim back support for one Indian casino so that the one paying the bribes would prosper? Why, it's none other than Focus on the Family's anti-gay crusader James Dobson.

We have corruption at the top levels of our government, to a degree unknown to American history. And you might ask, how did this happen? How did it happen that the very people who promised the country they were principled and moral, the very ones who claimed the highest standards of virtue, turned out to be the dirtiest, lyingest bunch of rats America could have possibly chosen to run things?

I'm afraid that's just how it works. Everybody thinks they're on the side of goodness, everybody wants to believe they do the right thing. Honor among thieves, remember? So it's the easiest thing in the world to exploit, all people are vulnerable because all people want to be good. And it is so easy, just incredibly easy, to flap your jaw and have some pious sounding junk come out of your mouth. And people, being the trusting souls they are, will believe you.

Normally I don't write about these things, a lot of this happens at a level above our little controversy here. Well, shoplifting at the local Target, maybe not so high-level, but a lot of it we don't really have much to say about. These sorts of thing are just going to happen as long as these guys are in charge, and we only have a million voters in our county, we can't vote them out of office on our own, and it's only related to our controversy as iceberg is related to tip.

A news story from yesterday has motivated this post. It is just so unusual, it has been rattling through my head all day and all night, and I wanted to say something about it.

Sandra Day O'Connor was nominated to the Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan, the first woman on the court. She was known through the years as moderate, fair, nonpartisan, her vote on a case was often hard to predict, and her decisions made the difference a number of times. She retired last year.

This week she gave a talk at Georgetown University. The speech was not recorded, but NPR's Nina Totenberg attended and reported on it. From Raw Story's transcript:
Nina Totenberg: In an unusually forceful and forthright speech, O’Connor said that attacks on the judiciary by some Republican leaders pose a direct threat to our constitutional freedoms. O’Connor began by conceding that courts do have the power to make presidents or the Congress or governors, as she put it “really, really angry.” But, she continued, if we don’t make them mad some of the time we probably aren’t doing our jobs as judges, and our effectiveness, she said, is premised on the notion that we won’t be subject to retaliation for our judicial acts. The nation’s founders wrote repeatedly, she said, that without an independent judiciary to protect individual rights from the other branches of government those rights and privileges would amount to nothing. But, said O’Connor, as the founding fathers knew statutes and constitutions don’t protect judicial independence, people do.

... Pointing to the experiences of developing countries and former communist countries where interference with an independent judiciary has allowed dictatorship to flourish, O’Connor said we must be ever-vigilant against those who would strongarm the judiciary into adopting their preferred policies. It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, she said, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings.

This is extraordinary. Who could imagine, in the land of the free, that someone of O'Connor's status and intellect, a person who is known across the land for her integrity and ability to make sharp distinctions, would be warning us about the dangers of dictatorship?

All Americans need to contemplate this question. Could America become a dictatorship? Should it? Is that what you want?

It doesn't happen by the actions of one guy, or even one guy and a handful of aides. To take over a country of three hundred million people, you need the complicity of a hundred million of them or so. That's you and me.

Look here in our state of Maryland. Recently a judge ruled that the state marriage law was unconstitutional, and that gays could legally marry. OK, controversial decision, any idiot can see that. And a hard decision, too. So what is the radical right's first thought? Delegate Don Dwyer, a CRC spokesman and player in our local scuffle over sex-ed, demands that they recall the judge.

He doesn't want to use the Constitutional legal system we have spent a couple hundred years developing, he wants to throw it out.

When the Montgomery County Board of Education unanimously voted to adopt a new sex-ed curriculum, what did the radical right do? They immediately organized to throw out the whole board, with their website and all the rhetoric and personal attacks that went with that.

This isn't how a democracy works. This is grassroots dictatorship.

There are of course many opinions and points of view about how something like sex-ed should be handled, and we can talk about it. Maybe nobody gets everything they wanted, but in the end we can work out something. It won't work if one side demands that the other side be removed from the discussion. Not if one side insists that it is a hundred percent right, with the approval and support of God Himself, and that the other side represents sin and moral degradation. That can't work, you can't make any decision like that.

These are amazing times in our country: America seems in danger of losing its soul. Some people are convinced that their way is better than the rule of law, that their deities speaking to them supercede the secular Constitution that has empowered this diverse country for these centuries, and they work very hard to see that their will is imposed on the rest of us.

Some people might be comfortable bathing in the warm womb of dictatorship -- America certainly wouldn't be the first country to go that route. Some people are just as happy having their choices handed to them, being told what to think, submitting constantly to authority.

I grew up thinking we were a different kind of country from that.


Blogger Theresa said...

Jim -

Gathering enough signatures to force an issue onto the ballot - like they are doing in Oregon now in order to try and get Jessica's law onto the ballot - is also part of democracy.

There is no way to recall a school board in Montgomery County, unfortunately. No provision for it at all. You would first have to get a law passed by the state legistature to allow for the school board officials to be recalled by a special election.

That probably took me a good 3 hours an a lot of phone calls to figure out.

But some officials can be recalled via democratic vote ...Gov of California comes to mind...

I really don't see how you believe that mechanism is someone un-democratic. It is one of the very principles of democracy.

March 11, 2006 7:15 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Our system protects citizens from mob rule and from the tyrannical whims of the majority.

We vote to elect representatives, who serve for some length of time. During that time, it almost always happens that they have to make some tough decisions, and most elected officials have to take some unpopular positions on some issues. We trust them and let them do their jobs.

Think of the governor who was recalled so Arnold Schwarzenegger could take over in a recall election, Gray Davis. The highest-profile issue there, as you recall, had to do with giving driver's licenses to Latino immigrants. Well, that state used to be part of Mexico, there're a lot of names that end with "z" there -- Lopez, Gomez, Gonzalez, Ramirez, etc., lots of first-and-second generation immigrants, millions of them. And the Anglo conservatives don't like them, think they're dirty, think they come to the US to take advantage of welfare or something. So, what do you do? Do you give licenses to noncitizens so that they can be covered under the rule of law and regulated like the rest of the people, or do you pacify the white conservatives by discriminating against them? (And having lived many years in the Southwest, I have held sentiments from both sides of that question.) It was a situation where it was not obvious what the solution was -- his decision was bound to be unpopular with somebody. And this is exactly why you elect somebody for a four-year-or-whatever term, so they can make these impossible decisions and then go on from there.

Now and then an elected official is so incompetent, or so corrupt, that the process must be interrupted, and we can recall them in some cases with an election. That is a nice escape hatch built into our system, but it's not the fundamental way it all works. As a civilized society, we don't just vote people in and then throw them out when we don't like something they did.

Don Dwyer's attempt to remove a judge because he didn't agree with one ruling is contemptible and shows that he has no respect for American jurisprudence and the democratic form of government we rely on. The people of Anne Arundel County should be ashamed of him. We count on the judiciary to protect us, just like we count on the school board to make the thankless decisions that guide our children's education. Maybe in some tribe in the desert, you kick out your leaders every time they make a decision you don't like, or when you think they've given somebody the Evil Eye. We don't do that.

Jessica's law is a well-intentioned piece of vigilantism that Oregon legislators studied and rejected. It can be summarized in terms that are attractive to knee-jerk voters -- as I explained in this post, everybody believes they are on the side of good, and in this case everybody is against molesting children. That doesn't mean that this was a good law. Husbands are routinely accused in divorces of molesting their children, for example, and this law calls for a mandatory 25-year sentence with no chance of parole for any reason. I knew a high-school coach once who was accused of sexual improprieties with students, because he told the quarterback on the football team he had to put his hands between the center's legs; it actually went to trial, and he was glad to be found innocent. (Of course, it still ruined his career and reputation.) Twenty-five years, mandatory, no chance of parole, for that? Sorry, the law-making is better left to professionals.

The fact is, real legislators rejected Jessica's law in Oregon, but you can still get a mob fired up, and possibly pass it in the heat of self-righteousness. That doesn't mean it's right. That's why we elect representatives, people whose job it is to consider these things, people who can have experts testify, who can hear all sides from lobbyists and citizens, and make a decision.

One beautiful thing about America's way of life is that it protects people whose beliefs or inheritance may be in the minority. It is a delicately-balanced system, but it mostly works, it usually uprights itself when it starts to tip.

What I am saying in this post is that it is possible for it to tip and fall. And I don't want to see that.


March 12, 2006 9:31 AM  
Blogger andrear said...

Did this "very religious" guy forget that the Bible has a line that says "thou shalt not steal"? It just does my heart good when another HTT public figure who has used his religious bias to stop certain programs turns out to be a big phoney. He needs more time with his family? I think he meant with his lawyer. This guy didn't just shoplift- he had a whole scam worked out.

Norton needs more time to make more money - which will be easy considering how she has helped business(and she admits she is going into the private sector quickly)by undermining the environment. I am sure if you saw where she was in a year- she would not be spending any more time with her family -but making a great deal more money based on how she "took meetings" in this administration.

March 13, 2006 10:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One question: after reading this post and the author's subsequent comment, I feel like I deserve some recognition. Does TTF offer a certificate of completion or something?

While this author feigns reluctance to mention personal failure on the part of some, it seems to me to be a regular theme here. A person's corruption has no real bearing on the issues. Does TTF really think that Bill Clinton or Ted Kennedy's bad attitudes toward women negates their views on the subject? That the fact that Richard Nixon extolled democracy while working against it proved that democracy is a corrupt idea? The continual attempt by TTF to turn every issue into a personal issue would seem to represent an insecurity about the strength of their substantive arguments.

Our democracy has set up mechanisms to intervene when elected officials go astray. When that's justified is up to the people. That's not mob rule.

One more thing. Go down to any gift store at a presidential historical site and look at the books being sold. There will be plenty about George Bush and almost all will be critical. Some dictator! He can't even get his own book store to stop selling books critical of him.


Herbert Sherbet

March 13, 2006 1:49 PM  
Blogger Dana Beyer, M.D. said...

Ah, Herbert, the local Barnes and Noble in Bethesda has more books in praise of Bush than against. Just take a look.

In general, when an elected official's personal life takes a dive one shouldn't make a connection between the personal and the political. But with religious conservatives and the Bushies, their whole reason for being is to make the personal political. They want to legislate their morality. So in those cases, when they are shown to be hypocrites, it is only fair that their policies and prescriptions take it on the chin as well. Wasn't it Jesus who said something about being the first to cast a stone?

March 13, 2006 6:15 PM  
Anonymous PasserBy said...

Yo Herbert. The intersection of the set of Bush supporters and the set of people who read is null. Write all the books you want, yer not gonna hurt him any.


March 13, 2006 7:31 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

Herbert, are you saying that TTF always tries to turn everything into a personal issue, but didn't this time?

There was one post recently that was closer to a personal attack than I like, but it was something that neeed to be said, and it was not the person, but what they said, that I opposed.

and to tell you the truth, there is one really big subject that I'd love to blog about, but I'm not, because there's no way to say what I need to say without sounding too personal.

If you think we have gone over the line somewhere, please feel free to tell us where.


March 13, 2006 9:07 PM  
Blogger andrear said...

Well, while Clinton certainly "slept" around, his public policies towards women were quite good. This scammin' guy made his policies which hurt men and women based on being a "deeply religious" man but he wasn't. "By their acts, ye shall know them"(I don't know the NT so well- maybe I am misquoting but it seems to fit) This isn't personal by TTF- this guy took his personal religious "beliefs" as his guide to depriving others and now he is found to be sorely lacking in religious conduct.

March 13, 2006 10:16 PM  
Blogger andrear said...

Read today's latest legal spin on our friend in the Post. His attorney says this is just a series of "misunderstandings". Wow, is that what you call theft now? They have this guy on camera and even an admission of guilt in January.

March 14, 2006 10:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"This isn't personal by TTF- this guy took his personal religious "beliefs" as his guide to depriving others and now he is found to be sorely lacking in religious conduct."

How did his religious beliefs deprive others? You can probably take any view or advocacy position, Republican, Democrat, and find ways it might not benefit others. Democrats use religious views to back up their positions too. It's among their best moments. Think of how they act like they are concerned for the safety of children and then avidly support tolerance for late-term abortion.

Sounds like this guy got tempted astray but from what I read this morning, he seems to be showing remorse, and is working with his pastor. Democrats have been known to steal too. It lowers the discussion to focus on human failings, which, if you want to quote Christian scriptures, are universal. All people are imperfect. We still need to discuss issues. Remember who should cast the first stone.

Herbert Sherbert

March 14, 2006 11:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If you think we have gone over the line somewhere, please feel free to tell us where."

Jim, I think the Claude Allen mention is an example. If he's guilty, it's a tragedy but doesn't impact any discussion here. It proves nothing any more than Hillary Clinton's insider trading proves there shouldn't be national health insurance,

Same with the way your group keeps regurgitating what you feel were improper tactics by CRC. Maybe you're right, maybe you're wrong, but it's irrelevant to what should be taught to kids in school. You've stated your case about their tactics ad nauseum. You should move on.

Argumentation by accusation is unfruitful. Each side should state its case on the best way to raise kids and how the public schools should participate and, then, the voters will make their judgment in November.

Herbert Sherbet

March 14, 2006 1:06 PM  
Blogger andrear said...

"tempted astray" and "showing remorse" - I forgive him. The guy stole 25 times! So he talked to his pastor- maybe he should have done that before he wqas caught This guy gave himself a religious mantle- he had to leave the administration because
"he was too Christian" but fact is- he is a thief. hey, I'm equal opportunity -Abramoff and Rabbi Kaye can pretend to be religious- but they are not. Wearing religious accoutrements, giving(or not- as we learned of Abramoff)charity- while cheating, lying, hurting others- religion is what you do -not what you say.

March 14, 2006 3:16 PM  
Blogger Dana Beyer, M.D. said...

If all you guys think that personal behavior is irrelevant, I suggest you give President Clinton a call and apologize for the outrageous behavior of your party in 1998.

March 14, 2006 3:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What should be taught to kids in school is a full comprehensive sex ed curriculum for health.

Not chalked full of the "ex gay myth" and how homosexuals are less than anyone else and mostly pedophiles.


March 14, 2006 4:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"the local Barnes and Noble in Bethesda has more books in praise of Bush than against. Just take a look."

Private book stores aren't controlled by the govt, are they?

"If all you guys think that personal behavior is irrelevant, I suggest you give President Clinton a call and apologize for the outrageous behavior of your party in 1998."

No one said it's irrelevant. They just said it's irrelevant to discussions here. If Allen's found guilty, he shouldn't be working in the White House but it really has nothing to do with social issues. From what I hear he was more an implementer than formulator anyway.

No one said Clinton was wrong about any particular issue because of his degenerate and undignified behavior- they simply said he was unfit for office. He was wrong about plenty of issues too, but it's not because of Monica.

March 15, 2006 8:02 PM  
Blogger andrear said...

Allen isn't working in the White House anymore- he left to be "closer to his family". Isn't that what every politico says before their crime becomes public? I am sure there have been people like this in every adminstration. I remember this guy who worked for Thutmoses- he used to return his myrrh to the souk saying it was bad- but actually it was poor quality myrrh he picked up from some Hittites - sadly for him- he was tossed alive into a pit of asps, not surviving the ordeal- he was declared guilty.

March 16, 2006 1:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I am sure there have been people like this in every adminstration."

I agree, Andrea, and that's what I've been trying to say.

Herbert Sherbet

March 16, 2006 2:11 PM  
Blogger Dana Beyer, M.D. said...

It's just that it is only in this administration where they are placed in control of moral values and faith-based charities and the like. You really don't see the difference?

March 16, 2006 3:15 PM  

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