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August 19, 2005

My Last Political Rant

Cal Thomas remembers a time when things were hard-won: the product of hard work, right living, and discipline. They meant something, but because everyone had known hard times you knew your neighbor and were willing to lend a helping hand or share what you had if needed. Now it's easy-come, easy-go and the more we have, the less we satisfied we seem to be:

Now my house is super-sized, my cars are new and gas in my old/new neighborhood is rapidly approaching $3 a gallon. I rent two storage rooms to hold stuff I don't need and no longer want. I am a "victim" of consumerism, and I don't like being caught in this web from which escape is difficult. A neighbor's house is up for sale. He has been in it less than a year. I don't know his name. We've moved from plaster walls to wallboard - from a time of permanency and things worth keeping to one of transience and the disposable. People who stay married are now regarded as retro. A new film, "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," is not a tribute to self-control or what was once known as purity.

In 60 years we have gone from other-focused to self-centered, from sacrifice to self-indulgence, from commitment and fidelity to easy divorce and promiscuity, from $3 fill-ups to $3 a gallon. My latest fill-up cost me $51, and my car is not an SUV.

Once, people mattered more than things. Now, "feeling good" is all that matters. Feelings - at least good ones - were once considered the product of right decision-making. But what's right today? If you think you know, you might be accused of trying to impose your morality on others or of being insensitive to someone else's personal "truth."

The funny thing is, back then someone's granddad was probably penning a similar diatribe to the lost virtues of a bygone era. Along with the benefits of wealth and affluence come a certain amount of complacency and ennui. But these are just temporary effects of transitory living conditions: human nature remains unchanged through time. If adversity threatened, we would no doubt summon up the same reserves of strength our grandparents drew upon. The Founding Fathers took all this into account:

Our Constitution's framers understood that pure democracy was not conducive to good government, so they structured the government as a constitutional republic. Nothing better illustrates the wisdom of their decision than our current national turmoil concerning the war in Iraq.

Understanding human nature and the potential volatility of the people, they designed the government to insulate elected representatives from the fluctuating passions of the people whose unbridled, unchecked sentiments could otherwise lead to a self-destructive mobocracy.

Once elected, the representatives were not to govern by ever-changing polls but would be guided by their best judgment, subject to the deterrents of impeachment and the next election. There were also the institutional safeguards built into the Constitution, such as federalism, the separation of powers, narrow grants of power to and express limitations on government. These would naturally retard the pace of government and militate against the mischief of renegade politicians.

But even the most cynical of the Framers surely could not have foreseen the near-hypnotic effect of bringing demagoguery into the living rooms of the Vast Unwashed Electorate. Via TV cameras, it has become pitiably simple to manipulate popular opinion. People addicted to passive entertainment, reality TV, soap operas, and piped-in prime-time TV pap don't bother to research complex economic or legal issues. Nor are they likely to sift through disingenuous palaver like that served up by that most Hapless of Toads, the Senior Senator from Massachusetts:

Before entrusting Judge John G. Roberts with a lifetime position on the Supreme Court, the Senate must be able to determine whether he will uphold the fundamental principles of our Constitution and laws to continue our nation's march of progress or whether he will adopt a cramped and contorted view of our Constitution that will turn back the clock.

After watching the fundamental principles on which this nation was founded betrayed in a series of landmark Supreme Court decisions, that Senator Kennedy can say this without succumbing to Spontaneous Human Combustion is astounding. But hey - we're talking about a Party whose leadership has come to see flagrant dishonesty as a legitimate political tactic. A Party whose chairman publicly blamed Kelo on the "right-wing" of SCOTUS. A Party whose Senators place false quotes in John Roberts mouth and constantly misrepresent his record. But he's not finished yet:

To help us perform our constitutional duty, the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee have requested information on 16 of the cases that Roberts handled as deputy solicitor general from 1989 to 1993. The information in those cases relates directly to his personal views on -- and his views on the courts' role in enforcing -- civil rights, disability rights, women's rights and other fundamental rights guaranteed by laws and the Constitution.

Since when does a Deputy Solicitor General have the luxury of foisting his "personal views" on the American public? This is a ludicrous statement and Kennedy knows it. The job of a Supreme Court justice is not to impress his "personal views" on the nation. It is to judge whether a given law does, or does not, violate the Constitution. And that is a matter of law, and not personal opinion.

Kennedy hastens to charge that John Roberts is "radically out of the mainstream" and hence unfit to be confirmed. Well, even assuming one can ascribe the positions he took as a public servant to him, personally, that is a bridge too far. On Title IX, Kennedy says:

during his tenure in the Reagan Justice Department, Roberts tried to limit the scope of Title IX, which prohibits discrimination against women in educational institutions receiving federal funds.

Not so fast. Didn't Roberts take the same position as Sandra Day O'Connor, that rabidly anti-woman, extremist judge?

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 was born with a simple purpose: to ban sex discrimination in "any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." Yet a debate soon arose over its limits. If a school benefited indirectly from federal aid--through, say, tuition grants to some of its students--was the entire institution subject to Title IX? Or did the law apply only to the specific program? The Reagan Justice Department concluded the latter. "Under Title IX," Roberts wrote in a 1982 memo to Smith, "federal investigators cannot rummage willy-nilly through institutions, but can only go as far as the federal funds go."

In the landmark 1984 case Grove City College v. Bell, the Justice Department argued for that interpretation of Title IX. A Supreme Court majority that included Justice Sandra Day O'Connor concurred. The receipt of federal aid by students "does not trigger institutionwide coverage under Title IX," the Court held.

Kennedy throws the race card early, carefully avoiding any specifics that can be refuted:

As a young but high-ranking political appointee in the Reagan administration, Roberts was involved in, among other things, setting policy on issues of civil rights -- including those as fundamental as the right to vote and to be free from discrimination based on race, gender, national origin and disability. If Roberts continues to hold the views he appears to have expressed in the early 1980s, then his views on civil rights are out of the mainstream, and the people have the right to know that.

But Roberts' record was more in tune with the opinions of most Americans (and the Supreme Court) than Kennedy lets on. Hardly "out of the mainstream":

During the early 1980s, he backed Reagan's "anti-quota principles" and cast a skeptical eye on "the purported need for race-conscious remedies such as busing and affirmative action." Racial set-asides were fatally flawed, Roberts wrote in 1981, because they obliged "the recruiting of inadequately prepared candidates."

"Under our view of the law," he went on, "it is not enough to say that blacks and women have been historically discriminated against as groups and are therefore entitled to special preferences." The Supreme Court agrees. "An amorphous claim that there has been past discrimination in a particular industry cannot justify the use of an unyielding racial quota," it held in Richmond v. J.A. Croson (1989). Six years later, in Adarand Constructors v. Pena, the Court insisted on "strict scrutiny" as "the proper standard for analysis of all racial classifications." Writing for the majority, Justice O'Connor stressed that affirmative action programs "must serve a compelling governmental interest, and must be narrowly tailored to further that interest."

If Democrats wish to press Judge Roberts on racial bean-counting, they won't get much succor from public opinion. The same holds for mandatory busing to achieve racial integration in public schools, a policy that has remained, as the historians of race relations Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom write, "profoundly unpopular with the general public."The Justice Department should of course "guard against impermissible discrimination," Roberts counseled Attorney General Smith in a May 1982 memo. But it should eschew "intrusive remedies" such as busing, which had proven "so disruptive to the education of our children." He described busing not just as fruitless but as counterproductive. He advised White House counsel Fred Fielding in February 1984, "the evidence [shows that] busing promotes segregation rather than remedying it, by precipitating white flight."

Kennedy's reference to the Voting Rights Act is both explosive and misleading. The original intent of the VRA was to protect the right of black individuals to free access at the ballot box. But later on, the focus shifted to ensuring that more blacks won political offices. Lobbyists wanted to, in effect, gerrymander all-black political districts to stack the deck at the polls - something the original Act never contemplated:

The 1982 debate hinged on just that issue. In Justice Department memoranda, Roberts warned that a House bill to amend the Voting Rights Act would "establish a quota system for electoral politics, a notion we believe is fundamentally inconsistent with democratic principles." He favored an extension of the law, but not "a system of proportional representation based on race or minority language status." The law was working, Roberts noted, and "if it isn't broken, don't fix it." But the "fix" was in, as it were, and Congress retooled the Voting Rights Act to bring "results" under the rubric of "discrimination." Looking back, Roberts was vindicated: The 1982 bill did indeed midwife racially gerrymandered districts.

Even the majority of American blacks do not favor quotas - they are discriminatory. But by concealing the nature of the case in question, Kennedy makes it sound as though Roberts opposed Voting Rights and affirmative action for blacks, and not quotas.

This kind of cheap theatrics is why we have rules, and laws, and why we don't govern by polls. The Democratic Party's increasingly shrill insistence that the President stop leading and "listen to the people" is laughable when one stops to consider that the average person does not bother to read up on the issues, does not know the name of his Congressman or woman and if asked, could not tell you what John Roberts' position was on any given legal point, much less summarize the current geopolitical ramifications of a US strategic withdrawal from the ME now as opposed to a phased withdrawal over the next four years. He has not been briefed on our current military capabilites. He has no idea what the enemy's situation is, nor what the prospects are for the Iraqis if we stay or go. He has no top secret security clearance, and I'm fairly certain the CIA hasn't been briefing him.

So why on earth should the President "listen to the people"?

What are we paying Congress for? Why do they go to briefings on Capitol Hill? Why do people like my husband spend hours and hours preparing detailed information for Congress that the average citizen will never see, if Joe SixPack down the street is going to make all the decisions about whether we stay or go in the MiddleEast, or who gets to be on the Supreme Court for the next twenty-five years?

The things our elected leaders say reveal much about their values. And ours, because we voted for them.

I'm sorry, but when I listen to some Democratic leaders spouting off about how the President has a duty to listen to Joe SixPack or Cindy Sheehan, it really makes me wonder what in the heck I'm paying these people a salary for? This is pandering, pure and simple. Making voters feel all warm and fuzzy inside, as though their uninformed "opinions" are just as important as those of a professional Cabinet member who has spent his or her life preparing to make decisions of national import. Well if that is so, why are we even fighting over these stupid confirmation hearings at all?

If any Tom, Dick, or Harry can make these decisions, if the President should listen to Joe Blow because his opinion is so incredibly insightful, if the grief of Cindy Sheehan conveys some vast moral authority on her that other bereaved parents mysteriously lack, then perhaps all these "professional" qualifications the Democrats are asking for are highly overrated after all. Maybe we should just start handing out Cabinet posts on the basis of Life Experience or Moral Authority Points. You know, sort of like they do with Continuing Ed classes?

Why don't I just send my next-door neighbor a check? I trust her much more than I trust any of them.

Or better yet, have Dubya give me a call. I've got plenty of opinions. I'll be perfectly happy to tell him how to run the country. Or maybe... just maybe we could stick with the system of representative government that has worked for over 200 years and simply ask our elected representatives to do their jobs and earn the paychecks we supply with our tax dollars.

But that would require effort, wouldn't it?

Posted by Cassandra at August 19, 2005 10:44 AM

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» Yeah, right. from What Attitude Problem?
Cassandra has posted what she says is her last political rant. Right. Being as how it's Friday, I'd say it's her last political rant for the week. And it's a doozy. [Read More]

Tracked on August 19, 2005 04:45 PM

Comments

I love your writing! It's delicious!

Posted by: Beth Barnat at August 19, 2005 12:59 PM

Difference between then and now? I'd say free time. "Speech" is now on TV and computers. No one gets on the literal soapbox any longer, nor has to, and reaches many people who don't have to be bothered with building a fire to heat the house, a fire with which to cook, scrub clothes against a metal board that now serves only as a musical instrument in Lousiana, kill dinner, etc. We work at our jobs longer hours nowadays I think, but 4 minutes later, after rotating once and stirring, we eat dinner and sit our fat butts in front of the TV, ready to be manipulated.

Posted by: KJ at August 19, 2005 01:45 PM

Cassandra - just recently found your blog and I'm enjoying it immensely!

Anything that Teddy (love the Hapless Toad moniker) has to say I totally disregard. Typical leftist liberal - I know some Democrats who think he hits the bottle too early in the morning... The older he gets the more tripe & dribble that comes out of his mouth. It's time for him to retire, or die - either way I'll be celebrating on that day!

Posted by: bynki at August 19, 2005 03:15 PM

Differences between "now" and "then":

The world was going to hell in a hand basket (yup)
the younger generation is out of control (like, always?)
Valuable traditions were being lost (huh?)
The Vandals were sacking Rome (then)

or not.

History has turned a page, uh-huh,
And the beat goes on.

Pop open a cold one and remember its Friday.

Posted by: David at August 19, 2005 03:17 PM

Thank you Beth, bynki: some time, before I die, I will learn to handle compliments more gracefully.

I am still working on it :)

Here's to Friday.

Posted by: Cassandra at August 19, 2005 04:09 PM

Take a deep breath...now let it out, slowly...slowly.

Now, grasp the can firmly in one hand. Place your finger under the lip of the flip-top. Gently pull upward, until you hear a heavenly snap-and-whoosh sound. Push tab back down, put the opening to your lips, and take a nice long pull. Yep, it's beer-thirty on Friday!!!

Ahhhhh!

Lime daquiris work for this purpose, too, although the instructions are somewhat different!

Posted by: JannyMae at August 19, 2005 04:29 PM

Oh, come on. Let this not be your last political rant (though you were joking?) You just made a lot of sense for me. Is it guilt for our past that drives us to ruin? Or, is it pure political power that makes the difference? Perhaps both. You are lifting the veil, don't stop.

Posted by: Luther McLeod [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 19, 2005 11:50 PM

Great post, but what is up with the title?

Posted by: Pile On at August 20, 2005 12:26 AM

wonder

Posted by: Pooke at August 20, 2005 04:00 PM

which staffer got stuck with that job; finish my op-ed and get me anutuh Jonny Walker

Posted by: Pooke at August 20, 2005 04:01 PM

Cass, who are you calling hapless? I am a very accomplished toad!

-- Teddy (hic) Kennedy

Posted by: a former european at August 20, 2005 06:36 PM

Talk about chutzpah---Ted Kennedy (D-Jack Daniels) asking for accountability is like Lizzie Borden pleading for mercy because she's an orphan.Sheesh.

But, it affirms my opinion of Ms. Cassandra's writing abitlity.

Greg

(finally filled up the gun cabinet)

Posted by: Greg at August 20, 2005 07:09 PM

I'm hoping you meant "last political rant" for the evening or the week or similar. :-o

Posted by: Patrick Chester [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 21, 2005 05:49 AM

So...based on the most recent post, you've changed your mind. At least, I hope that's the case; you are an excellent communicator, with a very rational perspective, at least from my (admittedly biased) point of view.

Personally, I only post on my blog about once per week, but you've been at this game longer. I would miss your views, and your wit, but obviously the decision "to blog, or not to blog"* is your own.
(With apologies to William Shakespeare)

Posted by: camojack at August 21, 2005 08:21 PM

I think you're pretty sharp. But if you don't want to do this, don't. I don't understand this thing about dragging everyone through our angst. Is this something we're supposed to do as bloggers? No thanks. Last time I checked, no one had a gun to our heads to make us do this. Please just get on with it one way or the other. Life is complicated enough on this end. Nothing personal, so everyone else kindly calm down.

Posted by: greg at August 21, 2005 09:49 PM

Shane? Don't leave Shane! Shane! (with apologies to the Western movie of the same name).

Posted by: a former european at August 21, 2005 09:56 PM

Good morning.

Posted by: spd rdr at August 22, 2005 07:21 AM

Hello. Welcome back :)

Posted by: Cassandra at August 22, 2005 07:28 AM

Rest up, Cass.

Posted by: portia at August 22, 2005 10:10 AM

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