Page Two

Page Two
By the time you read this, the City Council may have passed the anti-smoking ordinance. The following is from "Bar closures blamed on smoking ban," an article in the May 11 edition of the Arizona Republic:

"Nearly one year after Tempe enacted the state's toughest smoking ban, sales revenues from downtown bars and restaurants have fallen 12 percent and at least a dozen bars and restaurants citywide have gone out of business.

"'If this isn't the smoking gun on the smoking issue, I don't know what is,' said Rod Keeling, executive director of the business group Downtown Tempe Community."

Regardless of long-term consequences or considerations, this is the wrong environment for social experimentation. All the letters to the editor from folks claiming they're dying to go out to hear music if not for the smoke won't contribute a real cent to revenue. Giving lip service to small businesses and the live music scene, council members vote with opposite concerns. They will be held accountable!

If one more idiot on either side tries to work the Alamo in as a metaphor for the Democrats' heading to Oklahoma, well, it will be another idiot speaking up. The inane, inappropriate Saddam Hussein-era Iraq/Nazi Germany comparison carries almost as much meaning as this Alamo metaphor (though the latter is slightly more relevant because both happened in Texas).

The split in discussing the Democrats' action nauseates because it is framed as being based on ideals, when in reality it is so overwhelmingly partisan -- though, regardless, the Alamo is not an appropriate reference. My prejudices and opinions have been clearly stated: I think the Democrats' actions were heroic. Watching the Republicans strut their righteous indignation over the consequences of legislative inaction after they sat on their hands while Gov. Rick Perry, without much warning, devastated more legislation last year by vetoing 78 bills in one day is a sad sign of the times. Having done their best to shut the Democrats down all session, Tom Craddick and the gang's distress over partisan action instead of bipartisan legislative discussion seems more a Jon Stewart performance piece than a position. Either side citing the Alamo as precedent is blaspheming Texas history (as a quick aside, I point out that, nationally, many Republicans feel they know God's partisan party leanings, which is also blasphemous).

At that mission in San Antonio, a heroic stand was made, for which we will always honor the defenders. To pretend we can impose the meaning of that action onto a current political activity means translating personal partisan, political, and/or policy beliefs that lead to the defenders' decision to take that stand into specific positions relevant to 2003 issues. Such assertions are unbelievably and arrogantly demeaning. What would the political allegiances of gambler, slave trader, duelist, hustler, and then recently bereaved Jim Bowie be? If he were in the current Texas Legislature, what would William Travis' positions be? Having left his wife and child when he came to Texas, Travis became politically involved because of his indignation at the faraway Mexico City government's dictates to the local indigenous population. When lawyer James Butler Bonham was ordered to apologize by a judge, he instead insulted him and was jailed for contempt. What would be his take on quorum-busting? Although the right often trots out an anti-government-spending speech that Rep. David Crockett gave, as a state legislator he defended the rights of poor landowners, especially their voting rights. When elected to Congress, he made trying to pass legislation in defense of squatters his first priority. Crockett was finally defeated for re-election because he was one of the few voices against Jackson's imperial Indian-removal bill, in addition to his poor record (he hated compromise) and, allegedly, because the other side bought votes. Better to put a coonskin cap on Crockett at the Alamo than to decide his present-day politics. Let it not come across that I think these defenders would be supporting Democrats or their actions. I don't know. But I am respectful that their stand at the Alamo was for freedom for Texans, and to decide how they would want that detailed in current times is outrageous, from any side.

Partisan to an extreme, the whole debate is dishonestly framed as philosophical. The best way to examine this is to flip the situation: What if, after a session, a Democratic governor, to assuage his most generous political contributors, had vetoed 78 bills in one day, a number costing the state millions in federal funds? The vetoes benefited powerful special interests rather than ideology or the people of Texas. The next session, a powerful national Democratic congressional leader mandated that the Democratic House speaker redistrict Texas to create more congressional seats for their party. This move was unprecedented in an off-census year and without a court order, and equally unprecedented in that it affected incumbents. The redistricting specifically targeted an outspoken Republican leader in the U.S. House of Representatives but also negatively impacted not only other incumbent Republicans but also rural Democrats. Collin County (Plano), for example, was to be divided into four districts (it is currently a single district), one stretched to the border with New Mexico, another down to the Gulf. The session had been dominated by the Democrats' ramrodding badly conceived legislation down the throats of not just House Republicans, but essentially all Texans. In light of the worst budget crisis in the state's history, this Washington, D.C., leader arrogantly demanded this fractious, partisan action at the session's end, sidelining crucial legislation on issues of vital concern to the state. The Democratic leadership early on had paid lip service to bipartisanship but ran the most partisan session anyone had seen in a long time, allowing neither genuine debate nor serious compromise. In order to preserve the electoral integrity of their constituents and the integrity of their state's government, enough Republican legislators absconded to Oklahoma to deny the Texas Legislature a quorum.

Now, under those circumstances how do you think partisan Republicans would react? What would be the position of loyal Democrats? Would all those denouncing the maneuver still denounce it, those that support it still do so? I will note that most liberals/progressives I know have long been frustrated and disgusted by the Texas Legislature, even when dominated by Democrats. Most of these folks were used to being on the losing side, ideologically speaking, and had long decided that principle trumped party. Many conservatives equally privilege ideology over party. The intoxication of the first decade of widespread Republican domination just has some of them a bit disoriented. Still, it is surprising that, given some state and national actions, their voices aren't louder.

Interestingly, the Republican Party is trying to make hay of the Democrats' action, with aggressive campaigns in 10 districts where white, male, Democratic legislators were elected by thin margins. In their wailing over disrespect of the political process and their passion for bipartisan lawmaking, one of those being attacked is freshman Patrick Rose, whose 2003 record is arguably one of the most bipartisan among any sitting legislators. Hey, but what does the record matter when the idea is partisan triumph?

Believing that democracy is best served by dialogue and compromise, I've always been uneasy with overwhelmingly Democratic majorities. The conservative Republicans' passion for a one-party system is more than a little scary. The denial of the minority party's voice is seen as a real triumph and as necessary for this country's return to greatness. This is ideologically heartfelt, if philosophically corrupt. In lockstep with their beloved President Bush, principles pale next to partisan goals. The ends justify the means to the current administration, with a lean-government, free-market Utopia just around the corner. Trampling on basic American principles -- not just rights but basic political ideas, such as dialogue, compromise, and discussion -- is not too high a price to get there. This is the context for our state's current political atmosphere. Without referencing the Alamo specifically, one can think on the greater, nonspecific symbolic meaning of so many events of that time in terms of current events. This draws no conclusion but invites creative, philosophical speculation. Different people will offer very different trains of thought.

The blatant hypocrisy of the morally superior is evidenced by their own narrowly focused arrogance regardless of party allegiance. Still, William Bennett's reaction to the revelation of his gambling misadventures is stunning. Having made a career of passing narrow moral judgments on the cultural interests and personal obsessions of all Americans, he has quickly forgiven himself. He will simply never gamble again. Now, any veteran of even the most mild addiction knows the meaninglessness of claiming, "I can quit anytime I want." Still, in not acknowledging this as any kind of problem, Bennett, who wants to control what you watch, read, and listen to, is claiming that he gambled away $8 million of his family's money as casual, personal entertainment. It wasn't a problem; he wanted to do it. This is not the kind of morally reasoned leadership to which anyone should be listening. The truth is that Bennett has an addiction and is in denial, which is worse than hypocritical: It is adolescent. end story

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