P.L.A. - A Journal of Politics, Law and Autism
PLA is a fair and balanced Journal published by Dwight Meredith with a Focus on Politics, Law and Autism
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Saturday, December 28, 2002
The People Who Knocked These Buildings Down Will Hear All Of Us Soon
After the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush made a solemn vow to the American people. In a September 20, 2001, speech to a Joint Session of Congress, Mr. Bush promised:
And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.
In an October 7, 2001, speech to the nation, Mr. Bush again promised to pursue nations that sponsor terrorism:
Every nation has a choice to make. In this conflict, there is no neutral ground. If any government sponsors the outlaws and killers of innocents, they have become outlaws and murderers, themselves. And they will take that lonely path at their own peril.
Mr. Bush reiterated that position in a nationally televised press conference on October 11, 2001:
And the doctrine I spelled out to the American people in front of Congress said not only will we seek out and bring to justice individual terrorists who cause harm to people, to murder people, we will also bring to justice the host governments that sponsor them, that house them and feed them.
The American people have the right to expect that President Bush will identify and bring to justice any nation that sponsored, through financial or other means, the terrorists who killed more than 3,000 Americans.
Recently, the Senate and House Joint Intelligence Committee issued a report concerning the September 11 terrorist attacks. After the release of that report, Senator Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala) appeared on the News Hour. During that appearance, the following exchange occurred (link courtesy of The Memory Hole):
GWEN IFILL: Senator Graham, are there elements in this report, which are classified that Americans should know about but can't?
It is difficult to know what to make of Senator Graham’s assertion that the 9/11 terrorists were provided state sponsored assistance including but not limited to just financial assistance. The information on which he relies is classified and the public has no way to gain access to it. There appear to be a number of possibilities:
1) Senator Graham is just wrong about the existence of “very compelling evidence” of state sponsored assistance. He may have misunderstood the evidence or he may be making charges in advance of a possible presidential bid. To our knowledge, Senator Graham is not a dilettante or a showboat. We have trouble believing that he made such serious charges without any basis;
2) The country of which Senator Graham is speaking is Afghanistan or Iraq and the administration has already acted or is about to act. That scenario is far fetched. The sponsorship of the 9/11 terrorists by the Taliban would not be news and there would be little reason to classify such information. Similarly, if the administration had evidence that Iraq sponsored the 9/11 terrorists, such information would now be public. After all, the number of people who would oppose a war in Iraq in the face of “very compelling evidence” that it sponsored the 9/11 terrorists approaches zero;
3) The Bush administration has taken action against the country that sponsored the 9/11 terrorists but has done so in a quiet and classified way for reasons that are not apparent;
4) The evidence that a state sponsored the 9/11 terrorists is ambiguous and the administration is seeking proof positive before acting; or
5) George W. Bush, for reasons we do not know, has broken his pledge to the American people.
While at the ruins of Ground Zero, George W. Bush, bullhorn in hand, promised that “the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”
Like Cool Rain Falling On A Drought-Stricken Field
Christmas is a time for giving. We hope you gave and received wonderful presents this year. Devra gave homemade treats. TBogg received a Brooks Robinson autographed baseball.
We received one gift this year that was both unique and desperately needed. It was the gift of hope. Hope was given to us by a friend we have never met, Mary Beth of Wampum.
Mary Beth writes:
My 4 and a half year old, Sam, just came up to me and said for the first time, "Mommy, I yuv you", and then ran away giggling.”
To many, Sam's words may not seem to be out of the ordinary. We could not read the remaining portion of her post for a while as we fought back the tears welling up inside us.
Sam, like our Bobby, is autistic. Mary Beth explains:
Sam is my eldest son, diagnosed autistic at just under two-and-a-half. He was a normal baby and infant, but rapidly regressed between fifteen and eighteen months, losing all speech and eye contact…
We have waited seven and a half years for Bobby to speak. We have worried and cried, prayed and cursed. It sometimes feels like we are making progress. Other times it does not. While we still think that Bobby will someday talk, it is easy to lose hope.
Sam and Mary Beth renewed our hope. She described hearing Sam’s words as being “like cool rain falling on a drought-stricken field.” That is exactly how reading her post felt to us. Our hope was renewed. That was the best gift of all.
Thanks Mary Beth. We share your joy and hope for further progress. We are most thankful for the gift you gave us.
NitPicker points us to Thomas Carothers’ article in Foreign Affairs entitled Promoting Democracy and Fighting Terror.
Carothers’ thesis is that the administration is faced with competing, conflicting foreign policy goals of promoting democracy and fighting terrorists. He describes the dilemma as follows:
Although the war on terrorism has greatly raised the profile of democracy as a policy matter, it has hardly clarified the issue. The United States faces two contradictory imperatives: on the one hand, the fight against al Qaeda tempts Washington to put aside its democratic scruples and seek closer ties with autocracies throughout the Middle East and Asia. On the other hand, U.S. officials and policy experts have increasingly come to believe that it is precisely the lack of democracy in many of these countries that helps breed Islamic extremism.
Carothers suggests that the Bush administration has addressed that dilemma on a case by case basis throughout the world, promoting democracy in places other than the front lines of the war on terror while backing authoritarian regimes where the most help is needed. Carothers suggests that finding a solution to the dilemma will be crucial to the success of the administration’s foreign policy:
Resolving this tension will be no easy task. So far, Bush and his foreign policy team have shown an incipient, albeit unsurprising, case of split personality: "Bush the realist" actively cultivates warm relations with "friendly tyrants" in many parts of the world, while "Bush the neo-Reaganite" makes ringing calls for a vigorous new democracy campaign in the Middle East. How the administration resolves this uncomfortable dualism is central not only to the future of the war on terrorism but also to the shape and character of Bush's foreign policy as a whole.
The tension between fighting terrorism and promoting democracy plays itself out across the entire globe. The tension is present in our foreign policy towards large powers such as China and Russia and towards smaller countries in Africa, Asia and South America. Nowhere, however, is the tension more pronounced than in the Middle East. As Carothers notes:
Whereas "Bush the realist" holds sway on most fronts in the war on terrorism, a neo-Reaganite Bush may be emerging in the Middle East. In the initial period after September 11, the administration turned to its traditional autocratic allies in the Arab world, especially Egypt and Saudi Arabia, for help against al Qaeda...
Carothers concludes as follows:
George W. Bush is thus scarcely the first U.S. president to evidence a split personality on democracy promotion. But the suddenness and prominence of his condition, as a result of the war on terrorism, makes it especially costly. It is simply hard for most Arabs, or many other people around the world, to take seriously the president's eloquent vision of a democratic Middle East when he or his top aides casually brush away the authoritarian maneuverings of Musharraf in Pakistan, offer warm words of support for Nazarbayev in Kazakhstan, or praise Mahathir in Malaysia. The war on terrorism has laid bare the deeper fault line that has lurked below the surface of George W. Bush's foreign policy from the day he took office -- the struggle between the realist philosophy of his father and the competing pull of neo-Reaganism.
The article is rich in nuance and detail. Please do not read just the excerpts provided above. Click through and read the entire analysis. It provides an interesting frame of reference through which to analyze the administration’s foreign policy.
Friday, December 27, 2002
Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear. Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair.
The black bears of the Ocala National Forest in Florida are going bald. No one knows the reason. Nursery rhymes sometimes do come true. Did people really eat curds and whey?
This and That
The Political Implications of Demographic Change
The White House is concerned that fall out from the Trent Lott episode could hinder George W. Bush’s reelection efforts.
According to the New York Times:
If the Republican ticket were to take the same percentages of the Hispanic, black and white vote in 2004 as it did in 2000, said Matthew Dowd, the White House's pollster, it would lose the popular vote by three million ballots and the Electoral College. In 2000, Mr. Bush received 544,000 fewer votes than Al Gore but won the Electoral College.
Now that is some news. George W. Bush "cares a lot about" winning the popular vote and the electoral college in 2004.
Affirmative Action Analysis
The American Prospect has a very interesting piece by Charles Fried, former Solicitor General of the United States concerning affirmative action.
Fried argues that affirmative action should be abolished. Along the way, however, he makes the case that affirmative action is necessary to prevent re-segregation of elite institutions. The consequences of such re-segregation will be severe:
But if you embrace the universalistic, nonracialist moral imperative, as I do, then why should this specter of resegregation be so troubling as to lead to an abandonment of the principle of color-blindness? The reason is obvious: a society that is segmented by race, with all the best jobs, places, honors, and titles going to whites (and Asian Americans) is simply not an integrated society, whatever the reason for the segmentation. It is two societies, separated by race. So it will appear and so it will feel to everyone in it, even if (especially if?) everyone understands that there is perfect equality of opportunity, that no exclusionary practices obtain or would be tolerated. African Americans and whites share a common humanity, but if African Americans almost invariably appear in subordinate roles, then this commonality will seem a very abstract thing indeed. It is all very well to say that color is irrelevant and that in a free and open society some will always be worse off than others. But if disadvantage is so strongly correlated with color, then color must retain its saliency.
Fried’s article raises more issues than it resolves. That is perhaps inevitable when the subject is affirmative action. Every course has problems both of practicality and principle.
Drug Companies Defend Their Right To Provide “Gifts” to Doctors
The New York Times reports of the efforts of pharmaceutical companies to continue the practice of giving rewards to Doctors to prescribe certain drugs:
In October, the Department of Health and Human Services said many gifts and gratuities were suspect because they looked like illegal kickbacks. Since then, a few consumer groups, including AARP, have voiced support for the restrictions. But they are outnumbered by the drug makers, doctors and health maintenance organizations that have flooded the government with letters criticizing the proposal.
Requiring Doctors to prescribe drugs solely on the basis of efficacy and cost would surely be disruptive.
The Washington Post reports that the Treasury Department has requested an increase on the debt ceiling. If the ceiling is not raised the United States will default on its debt obligations. The consequences of such a default are so large that the debt ceiling will surely be raised.
Should the Democrats help Bush get the ceiling raised? Should they try to extract some concession for doing so? If so, what concession would be appropriate?
Dana Milbank of the Washington Post reports on the Bush Administration’s compassionate Conservative agenda:
Two years after winning the White House on a platform of "compassionate conservatism," President Bush so far has achieved few of the items on his legislative agenda to help the disadvantaged, even as he has notched a string of victories on foreign, security and fiscal policy….
Quite so. The actually implementation of a comapssionate conservative agenda was never the point.
Wednesday, December 25, 2002
Political Morality vs. Political Expediency
In Tolerance, we showed that the GOP has an unacceptable tolerance for insensitive racial remarks and out-and-out racists within its party. We do not believe that the Republican Party is fundamentally racist. Most Republicans sincerely believe in equality and integration. Why then does the Republican Party tolerate racism, racists and appeals to racists within the party? They tolerate those views because the GOP’s belief in racial equality is not sufficiently strong to overcome its desire to win elections and hold power.
In response to our Tolerance article, reader Andrew posted a comment:
What about equal time for the Democrats, beginning with Robert Byrd, Fritz Hollings, the late William J Fullbright, and, given the fifty year time horizon you have chosen, how about adding the some 35 other Senators from the Democratic party that also voted against every civil rights bill brought forward in the Senate by Republicans and a few liberal D's?
That is a fair complaint. The Democratic Senators mentioned by Andrew sought to perpetuate legal segregation throughout the South. As such, their votes promoted racism. Racism is an invidious evil wherever it is found. Democratic racism is no better than Republican racism. Each contradicts the fundamental ideals of America.
The history of segregation is inextricably intertwined with the Democratic Party. The Democrats built the fort of segregation and manned its walls against all attacks. Jim Crow was a Democrat. The Democrats should be ashamed of that history. History cannot be changed. A political party, however, can change. Through change, a party may seek some measure of redemption for its sins.
The politics of race presents choices to each political party. With regard to race, each party must choose between political morality and political expediency. Race baiting and tolerance for racism may be good politics but they are injurious to the social fabric of the nation.
It is easy to choose morality when that choice is also politically advantageous. True morality requires one to make the choice to sacrifice political advantage for principle.
Among the aspects of Franklin Roosevelt’s political genius was the creation of a coalition that dominated American politics for many years. One foundation of that coalition was the solid, segregated South.
During the five presidential elections from the first term of Franklin Roosevelt through the 1948 election of Harry Truman, the Republican Party failed to win a single Southern state.
The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s threatened the New Deal coalition. If the Democratic Party supported the end of segregation, it would lose its base of support in the Jim Crow South.
The key decisions involved the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Those laws, when combined with Court decisions such as Brown v. Board overturned the legal basis for segregation and paved the way for de jure equality if not de facto equality.
Those two pieces of legislation were passed by the will and political skill of Democratic President Lyndon Baines Johnson. The Republican Party provided significant support and crucial votes for both bills. For that, the Republican Party in general, and Illinois Senator Everett Dirkson, in particular, deserve substantial credit. It is entirely appropriate that Senator Dirkson has a Senate Office Building named for him.
With regard to the landmark civil rights legislation of the mid 1960s, the Republicans chose to support political morality. They were not, however choosing between morality and political expedience. They had little to lose in the South. Having almost no Southern electoral support in any event, the Republican Party risked no losses by choosing the course of morality.
The position of the Democrats was more precarious. The passage of the two landmark civil rights bills rated to fracture their majority coalition. By enacting such legislation, they rated to lose power. Thus, Democrats were faced with the choice of political morality or political expendiency. Some Democrats, particularly from the South chose expediency and voted against the bill.
Lyndon Johnson, a Southerner, may have been the keenest political analyst of a generation. Johnson well understood the consequences of his efforts to pass legislation that would end legal segregation. As Bruce Morton on CNN recently said:
Johnson, no fool, said at the time passing the civil rights bills would cost the Democratic Party the South for a generation, and it did.
Thus, for Democrats such a Lyndon Johnson, the choice was between maintaining segregation and continuing Democratic domination on the one hand, and choosing the moral position of ending segregation while conceding political power to the Republicans, on the other hand.
In an act of political morality and courage unmatched in our lifetime, Lyndon Johnson and the Democratic Party decided to choose to do the right thing and suffer the political consequences.
The consequences were quick and severe. Democrats lost five of the next six presidential elections. An analysis of election results from eleven Southern states is instructive. Those states are Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas (we consider Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri to be border states). From 1932-1964, the Republican Party lost the Presidential elections in 82 Southern States while winning 17. From 1968 –2000, the Democratic Party won only 20 of 99 Presidential contests in Southern States (10 of those 20 were won by Jimmy Carter in 1976. In 6 of the 9 elections, Democrats won either one or zero Southern states).
Lyndon Johnson’s skill, courage and morality helped transform the South from solid Democratic to solid Republican. Johnson knew at the time he signed the legislation that the transformation would occur. Many Democrats, particularly Southern Democrats opposed Johnson and the civil rights bills. That is to their shame.
Nonetheless, without the leadership, political skill and determination of a Democratic President, legislation ending segregation would not have passed in 1964 and 1965.
Once the South shifted from being solid Democratic to competitive and eventually solid Republican, the Republican Party faced the choice of political morality or political expedience.
Would the GOP follow the example of LBJ and put morality above the quest to acquire and maintain political power? Once again, the answer was quick in coming.
Richard Nixon devised the Southern Strategy to use Southern white resentment of integration as a recruiting tool and election strategy for the Republican Party. The Southern Strategy used racially charged issues such as busing and certain judicial appointments to play to white resentment. The Southern Strategy was quite successful both in the short and long terms. Nixon carried every Southern state in his bid for reelection in 1972.
By 1980, Ronald Reagan knew that to win, he had cut into Jimmy Carter’s Southern base of support. Carter had won in 1976 by carrying the South, winning ten Southern states. Reagan used a number of themes to capture support in the South. Taxes and national defense are important issues to Southerners. Mr. Reagan did not, however, ignore white resentment of the civil rights movement nor did he ignore the racists.
Mr. Reagan kicked off his 1980 Presidential campaign by giving a speech in the small town of Philadelphia, Mississippi. A political speech in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with its proximity to the media centers of New York and Washington and with the large audience for local coverage may be a likely locale to start a Presidential campaign. Philadelphia, Mississippi, however, is somewhat off the beaten track.
The choice of Philadelphia, Mississippi was not happenstance. That town has great symbolic meaning. In 1964, three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were brutally murdered there for the crime of helping black folks register to vote.
Mr. Reagan’s choice of Philadelphia, Mississippi provided a perfect opportunity to reject the politics of racial resentment and division. Reagan could have given a speech that renounced the Southern Strategy. He could have announced that under his leadership, Republican tolerance of racial division and racist sentiment would be reduced to zero. Instead, Mr. Reagan gave a speech endorsing States Rights.
Short of willful blindness or indifference, if would be difficult for any Southerner of a certain age, white or black, to fail to understand the symbolism of Mr. Reagan’s speech. Mr. Reagan was embracing the Southern Strategy. He was embracing the politics of racial division. He was actively soliciting the votes of those that felt that integration was wrong.
Mr. Reagan won every Southern state except Jimmy Carter’s home state of Georgia. The politics of racial division had triumphed.
Does that make Mr. Reagan a racist? It does not. It simply shows the choice he made. When LBJ was offered the choice between political expediency and political morality, he chose to sign the Civil Right Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 with full knowledge of the political consequences of his choices.
When offered a similar choice, Mr. Reagan chose to give a States Rights speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi. To Mr. Reagan, the acquisition and maintenance of power was more important than political morality.
George H.W. Bush
After Mr. Reagan’s two terms, his Vice President, George H. W. Bush ran for President. In the general election, Mr. Bush used Willie Horton as a symbol to play to white fear and resentment. Once again, when faced with the choice between political morality regarding race and political expediency, the GOP chose expediency.
Many Republican operatives and shills have attempted to absolve Mr. Bush from the charge that he used Willie Horton as a proxy for race by alleging that Al Gore had first attacked Michael Dukakis using Willie Horton.
That argument is spurious for two reasons. First, even if true, the fact that some Democrat uses race inappropriately does not mean that it is fine for a Republican to do so.
Secondly, the charge against Gore is false. Mr. Gore raised the issue of the furlough program against Mr. Dukakis. He never mentioned Willie Horton by name and never mentioned that Willie Horton was black. Gore showed the appropriate way to raise the issue if one’s concern was with the propriety of a furlough program.
If, however, one was interested in appealing to racial fears, prejudice and resentment, but wanted to retain plausible deniability on the issue, one would follow the course set by Mr. Bush.
South Carolina Primary
George W. Bush ran in 2000 as a different kind of Republican. As a compassionate conservative, he promised to reach out to minorities. He would leave no child, including black and Hispanic children, behind.
The true test of morality comes when one is in a tight spot. George W. Bush was the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. As early as 1999, Republican Senator Robert Bennett of Utah commented that George W. Bush would get the nomination unless “some black woman comes forward with an illegitimate child that he fathered within the last 18 months."
Winning the nomination was more difficult than Senator Bennett imagined. Senator John McCain mounted a credible bid to win the nomination. McCain scored a surprising upset in the New Hampshire primary and seemed capable of gathering momentum to ride to victory.
The next test after New Hampshire was the South Carolina primary. It was essential to the Bush campaign to win South Carolina and stop McCain’s momentum.
John McCain and his wife had adopted a little girl from Mother Teresa’s orphanage. The little girl was dark skinned. The entire McCain family, including their adopted daughter, made appearances in South Carolina. The pretty dark skinned girl was appearing on stage with the McCain family and waving to the crowd.
Someone (the identity of the perpetrator is not known to a certainty) commissioned a push poll in South Carolina. The callers asked voters whether it would affect their view of Senator McCain if they were told that he had fathered a black child out of wedlock.
George Bush won the South Carolina primary, regained momentum, and won the nomination. Did the perpetrators of the push poll choose political morality or political expedience?
The Trent Lott resignation as Majority Leader creates an opportunity for the Republican Party. The GOP can renounce its ties to racists and neo-Confederate organizations. It can withhold its support from politicians who trade in racial prejudice. It can choose to follow the course of political morality. Such a course may cost the GOP its lock on the South and endanger its hold on power.
After Trent Lott’s remarks at Strom Thurmond’s birthday party, many Republicans and conservatives called for Lott to step down from his position as Majority Leader. That, however, was an easy step. The GOP gave up no power in the transition from Lott to Frist as Majority Leader.
The GOP could have called for Lott to resign from the Senate. As Mississippi has a Democratic Governor, Lott’s resignation would have left the Senate with a 50-50 split. If Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island left the party control of the Senate would shift to the Democrats.
We are not aware of a single Republican who called for Lott to resign the Senate. It is easy to do the right thing when the right thing is also politically expedient.
The Democrats supported racism and segregation for decades before LBJ’s morality, skill and courage ended legal segregation in the South. That choice provides some measure of redemption for the Democratic Party. A similar opportunity is now presented to the Republican Party. They shall be judged by their choice.
Tuesday, December 24, 2002
The Natural Experiment
Dr. Manhattan of Blissful Knowledge asks an important question:
Does anyone know how long of a lag there is in the collection and reporting of figures on autism incidence? We have had almost three years of largely thimerosal-free vaccinations being administered to children in the U.S., and I would expect that the resulting data on autism incidence should begin showing up soon. But I don't know for sure how long it takes for the information to be collected and reported.
While we do not know how long it will take for the “natural experiment” to help us know whether or not thimerosal used in infant vaccines is is related to autism, we suspect that it will be a while. Although thimerosal was removed from infant vaccines in 1999, there are a number of reasons why the question will not be immediately answered.
First, autistic behaviors often do not present themselves until 15-24 months of age. Accurate diagnosis can take additional time once autisic behaviors are present.
Secondly, although thimerosal was removed from infant vaccines in 1999, as we understand it, the vaccines were not recalled and we do not know how many kids were vaccinated from multiple dose vials containing thimerosal after 1999.
Third, the best studies of incidence, (like the UC-Davis study) deal with school system and government program data. It takes a while for changes in incidence to filter upwards to those programs and it takes a while to collect and report the data. The U.C.-Davis study looked at data from 1987 through 1998. The final report was issued this year.
The collection and analysis of the data is tricky. States that have good autism programs are likely to attract families with autistic kids. Thus, the studies have to control for migration. They also have to control for severity of the problems so as to avoid reporting an expansion of the spectrum as an increase in incidence. Those factors add to the lag time.
We do not know when the results of the “natural experiment” will be available. Anecdotal evidence is likely to surface soon. Definitive data may take a while longer.
Many of the autism families are convinced that thimerosal and/or the MMR vaccine have contributed to the increase in incidence of autism. One reason for that conviction may be that the alternative explanations are far worse. If thimerosal is not causing the increase in incidence, something else is.
As genetics change so slowly, that other cause is almost certainly environmental. It is easy to stop putting mercury into vaccines. If the causes of the increase in incidence are more diffuse, it will be harder to fix.
One of the real problems is that many think in terms of finding the cause of autism. It seems unlikely that autism is one thing with one cause. Autism is a description of a set of behaviors that appear to be similar. Autism is not diagnosed by a blood test or a C.A.T. scan. It is diagnosed by observing a child's behavior. If sufficient "autistic behaviors" are observed the child is called "autistic."
If we observed 100 people who tend to walk into walls, we have observed a behavior. We could say that such people have a common behavior that we might call "wallwalking." It would be an error, however, to assume that the common behavior had a common origin.
Some wallwalkers might be blind, some drunk, some might have inner ear problems and some might be masochists. Although the behavior may seem similar, the causes could be quite varied.
We suspect that the same is true of autism. The term "autism" describes behaviors that look similar but may have many different origins. We suspect that autism rather than being one thing is actually many "things" that look similar only from outside.
If our suspicion is correct, the task of finding cures will be significantly more difficult. Only time and research will tell if we are correct.
No One Does It Better
There are many smart and talented people who write on the net. We look forward to the perspective and insight provided daily by many of those people. When it comes to writing about personal experience Jeanne D'Arc is beyond compare.
Is tolerance a virtue? In many cases it no doubt is. Tolerance of differing religious beliefs is not only a virtue but is a founding principle of this nation. Tolerance of opposing political speech and belief is at the very core of our First Amendment protections.
The Republican Party has often been accused of intolerance. Pat Buchanan’s “culture war” speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention is often cited as an example of the intolerance of the Republican Party.
We think that the Republican Party shows a great deal of tolerance. Unfortunately, what the GOP seems willing to tolerate is racial insensitivity, outright racial bigotry and a longing for segregation.
Consider the following examples:
The saga of Trent Lott and his long history of support for segregation has been well documented.
Mr. Lott recently resigned from his position as Senate Majority Leader after he made remarks suggesting that the nation would have been better off if Strom Thurmond’s Presidential bid on a segregationist platform had succeeded. That was at least the third time he had made such comments in public.
In addition, in a published interview, Mr. Lott said that:
I think that a lot of the fundamental principles that Jefferson Davis believed in are very important today to people all across the country, and they apply to the Republican Party.
Time Magazine reports that Mr. Lott belonged to the Sigma Nu fraternity during his days at Ole Miss. He led the fight to prevent any chapter of that fraternity in any college in the U.S. from admitting African-Americans.
In the Bob Jones case, Mr. Lott submitted an amicus brief in which he argued that “racial discrimination does not always violate public policy.”
It is difficult to believe that Mr. Lott is more circumspect in his private conversations than his is in his public pronouncements. Thus, Mr. Lott’s views on segregation and race must have been well known to members of the Republican Caucus in the Senate. The Republican Caucus nonetheless elected Lott to the highest office in the United States Senate.
One of two things is true. Either the Republican caucus elected Mr. Lott to the majority leaders position because of his views on race or the Republican caucus was willing to tolerate his views on race because of other qualities they felt he brought to the position.
We prefer to believe the later. Thus, the Trent Lott example shows that the Republican Party, in the form of its Senate Caucus, has a high tolerance for views that can only be described as pro-segregation and racist. Only when the spotlight of national publicity shined on Mr. Lott’s racism did a majority of Republican Senators decide that they could no longer tolerate Mr. Lott’s views.
If Mr. Lott’s view of race were unique among Republicans in high positions, the GOP’s tolerance in his case could be considered an aberration. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
Republican Senator Conrad Burns of Montana shows the two-sided nature of Republican tolerance. The New York Times’ Bob Herbert reports on some of Senator Burns’ history here:
Back In 1994, while campaigning for a second term, Mr. Burns dropped by a local newspaper, The Bozeman Daily Chronicle, and told an editor an anecdote about one of his constituents, a rancher who wanted to know what life was like in Washington, D.C.
Mr. Burns apparently does not have a high degree of tolerance. His tolerance level is tested by the travails of simply living in a city that contains African-American citizens. The GOP, by contrast, is quite tolerant of Mr. Burn’s racism.
Perhaps the most racist member of the United States Senate is Republican Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III of Alabama.
Jeff Sessions was the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama from 1981-1993. In 1986, President Reagan nominated him for a position on the Federal District Court bench. During his confirmation hearings, a number of very troubling facts emerged concerning Mr. Sessions. According to The New Republic:
· Sessions “labeled the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) "un-American" and "Communist-inspired." Sessions complained that civil rights were "forced civil rights down the throats of people.”
· Sessions had called a white civil rights lawyer a "disgrace to his race" for litigating voting rights cases. Sessions called the Voting Rights Act of 1965 a "piece of intrusive legislation."
· Sessions referred to an African-American assistant United States attorney as “boy.”
·Session said that he "used to think they [the Klan] were OK" until he found out some of them were "pot smokers."
· Sessions overheard a black Assistant United States Attorney chastise a secretary and warned him to "be careful what you say to white folks."
·Sessions called the National Council of Churches and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, "un-American."
After those remarks came to light, Sessions’ nomination to the Federal bench was defeated. One might think that such revelations would be the end of Mr. Sessions’ career in public service. With regard to the modern Republican Party, one would be greatly mistaken.
Sessions continued as a U.S. Attorney under President Reagan and under President George Herbert Walker Bush. After Clinton was elected in 1992, Sessions left that post to become Attorney General of Alabama. In 1996, the Alabama Republican Party saw fit to nominate him for the position of United States Senator. He won and in 2002, Sessions won reelection to the Senate.
Mr. Sessions typifies the tolerance of the GOP. Both Presidents Reagan and Bush were willing to tolerate Mr. Sessions’ views on race in the position as U.S. Attorney. Although that position required Sessions to enforce the Civil Rights laws throughout Southern Alabama, neither Mr. Reagan nor Mr. Bush saw his racism as disqualifying.
The Republican Party of Alabama was willing to tolerate his racist views when selecting a nominee for the United States Senate. The voters of Alabama were willing to tolerate his racism in electing him to the Senate twice.
The evidence also shows that Senator Sessions has limits to his tolerance. He was quite willing to tolerate the KKK with its history of cross burning, intimidation and lynching. When he discovered that some KKK members smoked pot, however, they crossed his line for tolerance.
Mr. Sessions could tolerate having a black Assistant U.S. Attorney as long as the asisstant “watched how he talked to white people.” Sessions could not tolerate, however, a white lawyer actually seeking to enforce legal protections to permit black folks to vote and thereby being a “traitor to his race.”
William Rehnquist was not always the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In the mid-1950’s, he was a law clerk for the Justice Robert Jackson. The civil rights cases including Brown vs. Board of Education were before the Court.
Brown involved the desegregation of the public schools. To hold segregation of the public schools unconstitutional, the Court would have to overturn the precedent of
Plessy v. Ferguson. Plessy was the post civil war case that had enabled the Jim Crow laws by holding the doctrine of “separate but equal” to be constitutional.
As the law clerk for Justice Jackson, Rehnquist wrote a legal memorandum about the upcoming case. In that memorandum, entitled A Random Thought on the Segregation Cases, Rehnquist wrote:
I realize that it is an unpopular and unhumanitarian position for which I have been excoriated by ‘liberal’ colleagues, but I think Plessy v Ferguson was right and should be reaffirmed.
In a different memorandum to Jackson, concerning a different case (Terry v. Adams), Rehnquist wrote:
it’s about time the Supreme Court faced the fact that the white people of the South don’t like the colored people.
After clerking for Justice Jackson, Mr. Rehnquist moved to Arizona. While in Arizona, he participated in “Operation Eagle Eye” for the Republican Party. A newspaper column described Mr. Rehnquist’s activities:
Lito Pena is sure of his memory. Thirty-six years ago he, then a Democratic Party poll watcher, got into a shoving match with a Republican who had spent the opening hours of the 1964 election doing his damnedest to keep people from voting in south Phoenix.
Apparently, writing pro-segregation legal memoranda and suppressing the right to vote was a ticket to higher office. Bill Rehnquist became an Assistant Attorney General in the Nixon White House Counsel’s office. While there, according to The American Prospect, he “proposed a constitutional amendment designed to limit and disrupt implementation of the Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation decision of 1954.”
Mr. Nixon had the opportunity to appoint a number of Supreme Court Justices. Nixon was adamant that he wanted “strict constructionist” judges. What exactly was a strict constructionist? Mr. Rehnquist wrote a memo to Attorney General John Mitchell in which Rehnquist said that:
A judge who is a 'strict constructionist' in constitutional matters will generally not be favorably inclined toward claims of either criminal defendants or civil rights plaintiffs.
Rehnquist certainly qualified at least in regard to civil rights. Mr. Nixon appointed him to the Court. Despite his record, Rehnquist later was appointed to be Chief Justice, a position he holds today.
Is tolerance a vice or a virtue? It is neither. Tolerance is a content free empty vessel until filled with ideas. Only by examining the attitudes, beliefs and actions to which tolerance is applied can it be either a virtue or a vice.
The Republican Party tolerates the longing for segregation as personified by Trent Lott. It tolerates the causal insensitivity and bigotry of Conrad Burns. The GOP tolerates the retrograde, overt racism of Jeff Sessions. It tolerates and promotes the nineteenth century “separate but equal” doctrine as well as the determined denial of the right to vote as exemplified by Chief Justice William Rehnquist.
When the empty vessel of tolerance is filled by bigotry and racism, tolerance is a vice not a virtue. The GOP exhibits tolerance for ideas and attitudes that represent some of the worst in our nation's history. That sort of tolerance, is, in a word, intolerable.
Monday, December 23, 2002
Under Cover of Darkness
The thimerosal provision was inserted into the Homeland Security legislation under cover of darkness. No hearings were held on the proposed measure. No one, apparently, was in charge of making sure that the legislative language would work as intended.
Dr. Manhattan points out that the provision, as actually enacted, prevents the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program from providing any compensation to any child who acquired autism as a result of thimerosal.
One of Doctor Manhattan’s readers points to an article in Tax Notes and comments as follows:
But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. Our lawmakers forgot a lot of law. Without amending the Internal Revenue Code, it is not possible for the vaccine-injury amendments to tap revenues from the fund to serve their intended purposes. Internal Revenue Code section 9510 establishes and provides the rules for operation of the Vaccine Injury Compensation Trust Fund. Sections 4131 and 4132 describe the 75-cents-per-dose excise tax that feeds the fund.
Mark Kleiman has a great post discussing the issue. He writes that:
This is exactly the reason that complicated legislation shouldn't be pushed through without hearings. And these two mistakes suggest that Dr. Frist, the sponsor of the original amendment, Dick Armey, who has sorta-kinda acknowledged that he was responsible for pasting it into the Homeland Security bill, and the still-anonymous-but-widely-believed-to-be-Mitch-Daniels White House gnome who passed the word to Armey, all failed to perform due diligence. (Unless, that is, it was their intention to deprive the families of the right to sue and "accidentally" leave them with no recourse whatever.) If you're going to short-cut the process, you ought to be certain you've got the substance right.
In describing the failure to properly implement the legislation, Dr. Manhattan’s comment is “ooops.” Kleiman “imagine(s) that the families might use somewhat stronger language.”
Mark is correct.