"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

A dangerous larger picture

rainey BARRETT


“From sea to shining sea” across our national landscape, we are awash in unnecessary, racist, homophobic and outright despicable efforts to legislate against us and our neighbors – to control what we think and do. It’s being done in the name of someone’s “God” or someone’s corporate interests or others with self-serving, underhanded – often dangerous – attempts to prolong their worthless political lives at the public trough.

We’ve been inundated by media coverage of one of the worst of the crop that made it to a governor’s desk. A piece of legislative trash – sponsored mostly by a Colorado group calling itself “christian” – to allow “religious beliefs” to trump citizenship rights of those whom the “believers” disapprove. While the media made it mostly a matter of sexual orientation, it was, in fact, an effort to legislate absolutely any person’s activities if those activities ran counter to someone providing a public service or product. That’s all of us.

The governor vetoed the bill. Not, I think, because it was the right thing to do. Which it was. Remember, this is someone running for re-election. I’d bet she suddenly realized overwhelming public – and corporate – opposition was a prime indicator of Arizona political winds and that she’d be better off temporarily angering her right-wing base than running afoul of possibly a much wider – and likely corporate “contributor” – constituency.

But her political fortunes aren’t the issue here. What IS the issue is eight other states are dealing with the same piece of phony moralistic garbage. Legislatures in Oregon and Idaho appear to have bottled up those bills in committee. For now. But they’ll be back. You can count on it. What the other six states will do is anyone’s guess.

This is just one area in which wrong-headed, narrow-minded, moralistic minorities are trying to do through law what they can’t do any other way – infringe on the rights of the rest of us by making our conduct in various issues illegal if our conduct flies in the face of their “moral beliefs.” There are many, many more similar legislative land mines out there..

Whether it’s gay rights, voter rights, abortion rights, access to medical care, privatizing schools or the post office or prisons or other public institutions of choice, a network of these ideologically vacant “moralists” has been created to raise havoc with our society. We hear and read so much about their efforts that it’s hard to keep in mind they’re minorities. But they are.

It’s no secret who’s behind them. James Dobson and other fundamentalist church leaders, the Koch brothers and their various 501(c)3 and (c)4 fronts, the John Birch Society, Family Forum, the NRA, Heritage Foundation and dozens and dozens of small, tin-hat groups and billionaire self-appointed keepers of the national moral flame. Some are new- some aren’t. But the Internet and other recent technologies have given them the means of spreading their societal undermining so they seem much larger and more important than they really are.

I tangled repeatedly with the little Idaho nest of the Birch Society in the 1960’s. The message then was the same as the message now – this country is “going to Hell in a handbasket “ because of (insert your favorite conspiracy). The focus 50 years ago was mostly on “Communists” hiding in our government. But abortion and subjugation of the rights of minorities were – and are – also Birch menu items.

Back then, they were isolated. Now, with the push of a computer key, they flood the Internet with hundreds of thousands of email messages of hate, suspicion, conspiracy and nut-ball fantasies. Their presence is so much more noticeable because of the ease of access to the rest of us., But, if you pull back the electronic curtain, you’ll likely find the same scared little people – resistant to change – unable to cope with our quickly moving technologies – afraid of the government bogeymen they still see in every dark corner – frightened of the “Communist infiltrators” of years gone by.

But there have also been at two very real changes for these small, disparate groups of haters and conspiratorial nuts. First, largely by years of hard work in mostly local and state Republican central committees – coupled with the normal political indifference of most Americans until it’s one of theirs in the wringer – they’ve captured party nominating control and, in some cases, frozen out otherwise normal candidacies. Our political zoos are now filled with the likes of Bachmans, Ghomerts, Brouns, Cruzes, Issa’s, Lees, Kings, etc.. Check your local legislature for carbon copies.

The second change is the proliferation of dangerous front groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Sponsored by the Koch’s and other corporate interests with a right wing agenda, ALEC and others are clearing houses used to create sample bills for introduction into the 50 legislatures and Congress. The current rash of anti-gay, “religious freedom” and voter suppression garbage can be traced back to these various sources. They’re “one-size-fits-all” copies intended to flood statehouses and Congress. Some die Some don’t.

For those who want additional proof – check out what’s happened to the anti-gay bills signed into law in nearly a dozen states. As one federal court after another strikes them down one by one, the wording in the decisions is almost as uniform as wording in what’s being tossed out.

Something dangerous is afoot here. As state after state passes this junk – and as court after court cancels much of it – judges are in the position of making law rather than deciding it. They do so by overruling legislature after legislature. One state loses and ten more lose as well.

There’s also the issue of those few bad laws that might survive lower federal courts moving up to the U.S. Supreme Court. That puts SCOTUS in the position of not just deciding federal constitutional questions but also state laws by the handful. So, what happens to the balance of power among the three branches of government? Or the sovereignty of states? Or, if SCOTUS refuses to hear the appeals, then what?

There’s much more at stake in examples like the Arizona Legislature making bad law. Or Idaho. Or Oregon. We’ve got a cancer of single-minded minorities shoving self-serving agendas through the 50 states – agendas that don’t respect the rights and privileges of the citizenship the rest of us enjoy and are entitled to by law.

You may be comfortable on your pillow at night with having SCOTUS and Chief Justice Roberts acting as freedom’s backstop for this legislative effluent. Me? I’m not sleeping nearly as well.

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