Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Sedition is stupid
I'm sure most of you have seen this column by now. Kaye Grogan, a very scary looking woman on the Alan Keyes very scary site, thinks insulting Bush should be a crime.
There needs to be a law passed where any person who disrespects the "Office of the Presidency" by making false accusations and spreading deliberate rumors about the president, should be charged with a felony or at the very least a high misdemeanor.

Personally, I think there needs to be a law passed where any person who uses "disrespect" as a verb should be charged with a felony or at the very least a high misdemeanor. But that's just me. Ms. Grogan is clearly not one of those old-fashioned conservatives who believe in actually conserving things (like grammar; the rest of her column would have caused me to be held in the fifth grade for the rest of my life if I'd given it to Mrs. Morgan). After wandering around for a while, mostly off topic, she concludes her column by warning that "administering... ambidextrous motivational charges against the president" will turn or "pliant teens" into assassins. I'm not kidding.

Jesse over at Pandagon gives her writing the fisking that it deserves--much more than it deserves--so I'll go on to attacking the proposal itself. Obviously, what comes next is a nuanced and historically literate discussion of free speech, the First Amendment, the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, John Adams, and all that. It's so obvious that I'm not even going to make that argument. This is an unconstitutional and immature suggestion. Let's accept that as a given. I want to talk about why it's also a mind-bogglingly stupid idea.

We always tell ourselves that power corrupts, but we don’t as often point out that makes people forgetful and stupid. Speaking as someone who has never made it very far up the ladder of power, I’m always surprised that certain principles that seem obvious from down here are often forgotten or unknown by people at the top. The principle I have in mind is that in any business as volatile as politics, where power frequently changes hands, it is a very bad idea to advocate any laws or rules that could be used against you next time you are out of power.

In the last three years Republicans in congress and conservatives in general have decided changing parties is bad and should not be allowed (referring to Jeffords), filibusters are bad and should not be allowed, not approving judges is bad and should not be allowed (see Helms, Jesse), and now spreading rumors about the president is bad and should not be allowed. Add to this list frivolous recall elections and mid-decade redistricting and a big pattern emerges. When we look at this, most of us get incensed over the bad sportsmanship, the naked grab for power, the intolerance for democratic norms, and the vulgar hypocrisy. Forget the hypocrisy issue; ideas like these are just stupid tactics. Do the Republicans really want these rules and behaviors to define the political landscape next time the Democrats are on top?

There are only two ways to make sense of it all. One is to don our tinfoil hats and assume these folks don’t ever expect to be out of power again. Actually, this theory has a lot going for it. Many in the apocalyptic religious right who have become one of the leading voices in the Republican Party do view politics as a zero-sum game with a clear end date. They plan to be on top when the final whistle blows. They want complete annihilating victory over those they perceive as the enemy. Fair play and sharing have no place in their black and white, us and them world.

The other, more optimistic, way to make sense of it is to believe power makes people stupid. This theory has some good historical support. Think of the pathological way some corrupt politicians, venal business leaders, and plagiarists take bigger and bigger risks even as they come under greater scrutiny. Stupidity in power is not a monopoly of the right; Roosevelt’s court packing scheme was plainly the most stupid thing he ever tried.

For now, I’m going to stay in denial and believe they are stupid.

No comments: