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The Thickness of a Politician's Skin
March 6, 2002
By punpirate

Okay, time for a review, students. Dissent is bad for democracy. Well, that's the message we've been getting for about five months, isn't it?

That may be the message, but that's not the reality. Too many politicians of all stripes have been telling us dissent is bad. It might harm them in their efforts to protect the country from foreign attack. First, our legislators passed, without reading the bill, the USA PATRIOT Act. Then, the President and his cabinet member, John Ashcroft, began to take a few liberties that the Act didn't exactly explicitly state, such as military tribunals, which more or less told countless hapless violators of minor immigration laws that their collective ass is grass, etc., ad infinitum.

Gee, maybe the feelings of legislators and the President and his administrators is at issue here. Nope. Let's back up a minute. To run for public office these days, one has to have a skin at least as thick as a rhinoceros. Criticism rolls off a politician like water from a duck's back. Just ask Henry Hyde.

So, it's not about protecting the feelings of the legislative elite. It's about getting them re-elected. Each and every one wants to be re-elected. Most of them don't deserve to be, but they're going to do whatever they can to be, including telling all of you to be patriotic in time of war.

Okay, next question. What war? The war against terrorism you say. Oh, the one which, in limited fashion, Congress authorized Bush to wage against members of bin Laden's Al-Qaeda and the country which harbored him? Oh, that one. Isn't it over? Nope. Still going on. Now, our forces are bombing the hell out of any target a half-assed warlord says harbors the enemy. Huh? Did Congress tell Mr. Bush it was okay for him to do that? Nope, but what the hell does Congress have to do with anything, once they cheered Dubya on?

Truth is, not one whit. Administration officials are now planning to make a TV series out of the war on terrorism, and we all know that television hates repetition. New wars mean better ratings (and let's not forget that Michael Powell has a lot to say about TV and patriotism these days). On to Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Somalia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Pakistan (when they stop being our buds), India, Colombia, Peru, Chile and parts unknown, as long as the military and TV carries the momentum through the 2004 elections.

More seriously, maybe it's time for most Americans to ask if they are getting from the current administration exactly what they expected. The anti-abortion folks can say, "yes," but did you also want, as a package, mass slaughter around the globe, denial of basic human rights, a badly-concocted refutation of the Geneva Convention, and a parade of business whores from Enron and Arthur Andersen before Congress, doing bad imitations of Sgt. Schulz, saying, "I know nothing!" Those of you on the fringes of the far right are saying, "yea, amen!" The rest of us are puzzled.

Most of us won't benefit from the endless war on terrorism. Some of us will lose sons and daughters to that cause. Some of us will lose friends and family and work associates in future terrorist attacks, because we're led by an administration that thinks the best way to fight the problem is to piss everyone off, at home and abroad, abrogate rights arbitrarily, and bomb the hell out of anyone who disagrees. Afghanistan now, Berkeley later....

In the meantime, hey, if you didn't notice, that park you really liked, back to nature and all that, is going to fill up with nuclear power plants and oil wells. The administration says they really like the idea of renewable and alternative energy sources, but, hey, their friends in the oil, coal and nuclear industries don't own much of that, so... the Federal budget for other energy research gets slashed in half.

It's time for the America public to listen to what a long-time Bush watcher like Molly Ivins says about Dubya: "don't listen to what he says. Watch what he does."

That pretty much says it all. Want a theocratic government in which the greatest virtue is profit? We're well on the way, in a rocket-powered handbasket. And, to make this an equal-opportunity diatribe, Democrats who take money from corporations and help with Dubya's efforts, instead of steadfastly supporting the people get a raspberry, too. I haven't forgotten that the vote in the Senate on the changes to bankruptcy legislation was 85-15. A lot of politicians, that day, for instance, as with the USA PATRIOT Act, told the people, we know better than you. Most of them didn't read that legislation, either. If our legislators won't take the time to read the legislation on which they vote, we're all screwed. If that's what you all wanted and voted for, fine--I'll hopefully find a decent job and life in another country. I don't think it is, though. At least, I hope not.

If you don't agree with what's happening to this country, at the behest of elected politicians on your purported behalf, then get a bad case of the bejeesus and tell them so, and tell them to fix it. The only way to get back at a politician is not to attack them (remember, skin like a rhinoceros), but, rather, to vote them out of office.

Tell your state parties that lack of open primaries are essentially undemocratic, and tell your elected officials you won't support them if they don't support full campaign reform and don't support open primaries. Tell them that if they're the best candidates for the job, then they have nothing to fear by supporting such reforms. And, tell them that if they don't think of the ordinary guy before they think of who gave them money to get re-elected, they're gonna be out on their ass sooner or later.

Cheers, all. Don't forget to write.


punpirate is a writer and curmudgeon living in New Mexico.

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