The Long View 2004-02-13: Scandals; Legislative Tactics; Creeping Doom

Secretary of State Lurch

Secretary of State Lurch

It is kind of fun to relive past presidential elections through John's blog when another one is going on. It is much easier to gain perspective on manufactured scandals when you see them again twelve years later. For example, who now remembers the alleged sex scandal involving John Kerry. Or who cares? Fortunately, I tend to see elections as dark comedy. Very dark comedy.

I also find it interesting to re-read John's musings on gay marriage from the future. By now, the culture war is over, and the Left won, but I am curious to see whether something like the Roe v. Wade model will persist. A dogged, and sometimes unpopular, anti-abortion movement has slowly, slowly scaled back abortion in the United States. Probably both because abortion is widespread, and icky, if you think about it, which most people don't.

Gay marriage isn't like that in either way, because ceremonies are usually big parties, and there also aren't all that many gays and lesbians who want to get married, in comparison to straight people. Thus, despite years and years and years of electoral defeats, the eventual imposition of gay marriage by the US Supreme Court was mostly met by quiet acceptance. However, it does seem likely that there will be an unconvinced minority in the United States on this issue for a long time, and there is now a template for how to play a successful long game.

Scandals; Legislative Tactics; Creeping Doom

I actually voted for Michael Dukakis in 1988. I hadn't planned to, but my mind was changed by that stultifying campaign the elder George Bush ran. It was Bush's visit to the flag factory that did it. For many people, this year's flag factory could be the attempt to manufacture a sex scandal involving John Kerry. The allegation that Kerry might have been carrying on with women above the age of consent while married to a ketchup heiress would be deplorable if it turns out to be true, but I am appalled that someone would make this a campaign issue.

It's worse than a crime; it's mistake. The public willingly forgave Bill Clinton his trailer-park shenanigans during the primaries of 1991-1992. Why would they do less for the achingly respectable Senator Lurch? Moreover, if one must bring up an issue like this, one does it in the final days of the general election. Some such bit of foolishness about the younger Bush was released to the press just before the pre-election weekend in 2000. (What was it: something about a drunk-driving incident?) It probably lost Bush the popular vote. Had the matter been raised six months earlier, its effect would been zero.

Of course, for pure cluelessness, nothing can beat the National Guard Scandal. To begin with, even if Bush the Younger did miss some Guard-service weekends, that is very far short of a hanging offense. More important: if you are going to stage a scandal, the scandal has to be about something interesting. Sex is good. Death is better. Even accounting will do, if the accounting is about money. The Guard attendance "issue" is about as interesting as whether a candidate took enough course credits in a subject to justify him listing it as a minor academic concentration on his resume.

* * *

And what does a People Magazine political system do to the actual operation of government? Mark Steyn hit the nail on the head:

As we learned in the days after, because of incompatible computers, the FBI was unable to e-mail pictures of the 9/11 killers to local offices. Yet there's money for rock 'n' roll nostalgia, and an "indoor rain forest" in Iowa. The president should not be the National School Superintendent, the Pharmacist-in-Chief, the Curator of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, or the Inspector-General of Janet Jackson's Breasts. And, if neither politicians nor the electorate understands that at a time of war, then republican government is doomed.

* * *

Legislative challenges continue to Roe v. Wade, as they will until the Supreme Court relents or the principle of constitutional judicial review collapses:

After over two hours of emotional debate, the South Dakota House last night overwhelmingly passed House Bill 1191, 54 to 14. The Bill establishes that life begins at conception and would outlaw abortions in the state making the practice a five year felony. The Bill is designed to have the U.S. Supreme Court reconsider its 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade which legalized abortions nationwide....

Approval by the House now sends the bill to the Senate where support continues to be strong. Should South Dakota's pro-life governor sign the bill, the new law would directly confront Roe v. Wade.

The novelty here is that the statute attempts to address some of the issues that the Supreme Court said were beyond its competence, and, apparently, to meet the "strict scrutiny" test that the Court demands for the restriction of rights that the Court has decided are basic:

In the preamble to HB 1191, the legislature determined that based on the best scientific and medical evidence, life begins at fertilization and that South Dakota's Bill of Rights applies equally to born and unborn human beings. The Bill also finds that abortions impose significant risks to the health and life of the pregnant mother, including significant risk of suicide, depression and other post traumatic disorders.

This strategy will almost certainly not work, though it might force the Supreme Court to adopt a position that is publicly untenable. However, the statute will itself garner only limited national support, because it seeks to recriminalize an area that most people only want heavily regulated. What such statutes should seek to do is fold the abortion question into medical ethics: any physician who performs an abortion that does not fall into a very short list of exceptions should be deemed to have committed a breach of medical ethics. The physician's license should be suspended, pending the satisfactory completion of an ethics course.

If you live in South Dakota, you might consider writing to your state senator to this effect.

* * *

On the matter of gay marriage, which the Supreme Court has told us is the same issue as Roe v. Wade, I see that the Massachusetts constitutional convention has suspended its deliberations. The convention was trying to formulate an amendment that would have overturned the Diktat by that state's supreme court, which requires that same-sex unions be included in the definition of marriage. Most of the convention seems to have wanted to compromise, by passing an amendment that would have allowed civil unions. The proponents of the gay agenda, however, would have none of it: they insisted that any amendment exclude the possibility of both gay marriage and civil unions. The idea is that the public will see this as an extreme position, which the voters would reject when the amendment goes on the ballot.

Once again, we see the Left daring the body politic to defy progressive opinion: "It's us or them!" When challenged in this way, the voters almost invariably choose "them."

By the way, if no one has done so already, someone (other than myself) should draft a standard, nationally valid document that creates domestic partnerships. I suppose that it would take the form of a mutual exchange of powers of attorney, along with a joint will (which is possible, but tricky). Such a partnership would be a far more complete sharing of private fortunes than matrimony affords. People who want to hire a complaisant member of the clergy to preside over the signing would be welcome to do so.

What nonsense this whole subject is.

* * *

No doubt part of the reason I am so keen on models of history is the dread that the world might be derailed by something wholly unheard of, as in a J.G. Ballard story. Consider this news from Sicily:

Italian utility Enel cut off the town's power after the first reports, but the fires continued.

And then it gets worse:

On Monday the affair took a new turn when a chair burst into flames. Then a fire started in a water pipe.

Incidents like this tend to evaporate in the light of later information, but I can't help wondering what would happen if the effect spread. Suppose some airborne organism has evolved that spontaneously combusts when given a little encouragement. This won't do. This won't do at all.

Copyright © 2004 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site