Most of us were raised to believe the basic glue of democracy is the rule of law. You can refer to our Constitution, the Bill of Rights, federal and state laws, local county or municipal ordinances or that large stack of regulations some spend a lifetime complaining about. They’re rules. Our rules. All of ‘em.
We’ve learned to live with them. Or change them. Amend them when time or other conditions require - void them when courts decide they’re invalid or unnecessary. Rules, we’ve always believed, have separated us from the uncivilized or the lesser nations that live without them or under “rules” made by some dictator.
More than just having rules, we expect those in public leadership to know the applicable ones and to live by them. Be guided in the conduct of public business and in the conduct of their own lives. Which is why we get angry when they don’t. Like a Dennis Hastert. Or a Newt Gingrich. Or a Bill Clinton. Or a Bob Packwood. Or - well you get the idea.
More troubling to me than these and other public figures who befoul their own nests are the other ones - those in the current crop of “leaders” who know the law, but won’t uphold it, or have vowed to take actions that will directly break one or more laws.
Here are some examples. In Nebraska, the multi-millionaire governor knowingly, secretly and illegally purchased chemicals with which to enforce the state’s death penalty law. He bought them from a foreign country - action which U.S. laws expressly forbid. The Nebraska legislature subsequently passed a bill to eliminate the death penalty which the governor vetoed. Legislature overrode. Now, the governor says he doesn’t give a damn and will proceed with both the illegal poison purchase and what will now be illegal executions. Damn the legislature. Damn the laws he swore to uphold.
Take that goofy teapartier governor of Maine. Please! He’s been flouting numerous laws of his state for the first two years of his term. And now, with the legislature refusing to pass his irresponsible tax reduction bill that would severely damage Maine’s economy, that same nutball has promised to kill any legislative-passed bill that hits his desk - no matter the subject and no matter the consequences - if that bill was originated by Democrats. Damn the laws he swore to uphold.
Then, there’s that little bitty governor of Louisiana who wants to be somebody. Anybody. Even his own party leaders have publically said he should not be president. Well, Bobby has set out to prove his fellow Bayou State GOP brothers and sisters correct. Now, he’s promised to ignore the upcoming decision from the U.S. Supreme Court if said decision upholds the Affordable Care Act, as is expected. The dreaded Obamacare. Bobby says he’ll never let his state be a participant despite SCOTUS. Damn the laws he swore to uphold. Damn the Supreme Court of the land.
Rick Santorum. Removed from the U.S. Senate by voters in Pennsylvania and twice since rejected in bids for public pay. Now, he’s one of the more unqualified among the totally unqualified running for his party’s presidential nomination. He sides with that l’il Louisiana fella against the power - much less the wisdom - of SCOTUS. In his case, the issue is gay rights. Ricky says “SCOTUS is not the final judgement” on the subject, calling the court “a set of liberal judges.”
Rickie scores a Palin award on that one - twice wrong on a single issue. SCOTUS is not full of “liberal judges” and SCOTUS IS the final voice in our system when it comes to the constitutionality of our laws.
There are far too many ignorant scoff laws in our public life. Rather than master a system which has served this country’s legal needs for centuries, they’d sooner play to small constituencies for their own purposes. Rather than conduct themselves in accordance with laws, their personal and professional lives often run counter to them. Is it any wonder so many Americans are “turned off” to politics - that so many won’t participate even as voters - that ignorance and self-service have given us political office holders with little regard for the work to be done while doing and saying anything to preserve their places at the public trough?
These “damn the laws” and “win by saying anything” attitudes are also creating another very real problem for our nation. Good people, who might be outstanding leaders, look at this bunch of political heretics and decide against public service. People with intellectual, academic and personal skills that could restore common sense and civility to our badly abused system of government won’t put themselves forward because they don’t want the abuse. Because they see other good people walking away in frustration. Because they see the public’s disdain for politicians and politics in general. Because they don’t want to risk their futures and their family’s futures in a public service career held in lower esteem than hookers.
Election to public office is the voter’s extension of a contract to the winners. Conduct of those offices is governed by law. If the elected flout those laws - break those laws - or promise such conduct regarding those laws - they should be removed. Quickly.
Our body politic has been badly damaged by the cancers of ignorance, self-service, intemperance, malfeasance and personal greed. Those in public life who renounce the laws by which we are governed are unfit to serve. There’s just too damned much at stake.