Monday, January 29, 2007

More "Civility" Nonsense

Another column where I get to repurpose my Arizona political war stories for today's news!

My editor ran my column along the rail (the left side of the page) rather than its usual location as a block column, so I didn't have room for my description of libertarianism as the political philosophy favored by adolescents who never outgrew Ayn Rand novels or hoping that really hot women are attracted to nerds. If you don’t think that's funny, then go build yourself a bridge somewhere and don't let anybody else use it.

East Valley Tribune, Jan. 28, 2007

With friends like me, Tom Rawles doesn't need enemies, but if he wants to protest the war, he shouldn't have to do it so nobody notices.

Tom used to be both a (gasp!) moderate Republican and a law partner of my spouse. We even contributed to his first campaign, before he went totally over to the libertarian Dark Side.

Rawles also worked for the incumbent I defeated, and days after the election, I got called, at home, by a guy who claimed to receive radio transmissions through dental work the CIA did to him after his alien abduction. He demanded help from his congressman, and when he (finally!) paused for breath, I explained that I wasn't in office yet, and asked how he'd gotten my number. He said from Tom Rawles -- because I'd won the election, it now was my job to help him.

It only took another hour to end the call, and I immediately called Rawles. Tom explained the "joke" -- the guy was a well-known crank, and even had a telephone "budget," so he could call only designated staffers once a month; the guy kept finding new employees and giving them, at ever-increasing length, his entire delusional story.

I reminded Tom that I knew his home number, and that if the guy called my house again, I'd tell him that for the next two months while Tom was still on the government payroll, the guy could call Tom at his home.

Never say Tom Rawles couldn't make something happen if it was really important. The guy never called back, or maybe the CIA changed frequencies.

But for those of you not following the biggest East Valley story so far this year, Tom Rawles is now a member of the Mesa City Council, and at a recent Council meeting, he refused to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance to protest President Bush sending more troops to Iraq. Rawles says he originally supported the war as self-defense, but it' now a civil-war-and-nation-building effort that he considers beyond the proper role of our national government.

The reaction in the usual talk radio and letters-to-the-editor precincts is as you might expect -- reciting the Pledge is part of his official duties! He's dishonoring veterans! He's a bad example for The Children! (See -- 'wingers can trot out that trope, too.) He represents me, so he has to follow my beliefs! He's a commie!

The Tribune also decided that Rawles was wrong, but at least didn't claim that the Pledge isn't a voluntary statement that citizens are free to make, or decline, as they wish. Rather, the Tribune said he was wrong because he was elected to deal with municipal, not national, matters, and because his actions reflected "at least faintly" on his community and constituents.

Instead of showily remaining silently seated, the Tribune said Rawles should have stood silently or waited offstage, so he wouldn't offend anybody. Apparently, Rawles could protest -- but only so nobody noticed.

This strikes me as patently wrong. The whole point of protest is to get noticed. Sure, Rawles took advantage of a platform given him by the voters to make his protest louder. But he says expanding the Iraq war is wrong, so why shouldn't he use a nonviolent, widely-noticed, and no-expense-to-the-taxpayer forum for his protest?

Protest also is supposed to make people uncomfortable. If everybody found both the content and delivery acceptable, protest would be irrelevant. What people find "comfortable" is an ever-changing dynamic. People used to be quite comfortable with slavery, racial segregation, or denying women the vote. Protesters had to flout convention and repeatedly make people uncomfortable to change things.

It would have been more polite if Rawles had kept his disgust with Bush's policy to himself. It also would have meant that nobody would have noticed or learned that Rawles considers Bush's escalation "morally reprehensible." Well, he does -- and instead of lectures in decorum and ersatz patriotism, maybe we should debate the war instead. Isn't that what citizens in a democracy are supposed to do?

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