Friday, April 19, 2013

Lessons from a crazy week

There had been too much news this week, much of it bad, showing how events are so often far beyond what one person or one community can do.

I'm not just talking about the attack in Boston or the plant explosion in Texas. Some of the week's lesser stories, normally blaring headlines but now at least partially buried, show all too clearly how the rest of the nation, even the rest of the state, are so unlike our little island of liberalism on the prairie.

State Senator Dennis Guth not only didn't apologize for Wednesday's homophobic rant -- he doubled down on his archaic rhetoric:
The question is asked: how does a same-sex relationship hurt you? The implication within this question is that one worries he will be hurt physically or emotionally. Of course that won’t happen literally, so one is left to feel foolish and shameful. This is not honest communication. Rather, it is a way of jamming the mental circuits so that we do not think of the consequences of a lifestyle that is outside the committed bonds of a one-man, one-woman marriage.”
There wasn't even a debate going on over marriage equality or bullying -- Guth just wanted to stand up and get this off his chest. This guy won two competitive elections, against a former Republican state senator and a solid credible Democratic candidate.

This, friends, is what our for the most part progressive local legislative delegation is up against every week of the legislative session. Not all of them are as foolish as Guth. But a lot of them are almost as bad and are just enough smarter to keep their mouth shut.

So you want our officials to "do something" about drug law or mandatory sentencing or mental health funding or poverty or racism, before you're willing to give those officials more resources to work with. It's people like Dennis Guth, and the people who vote for people like Dennis, that they have to persuade, or more likely outvote. And in the meantime they have to do the best job they can in the framework they have.

On the national level we face the same challenge on guns, the classic issue where a motivated minority can out-muscle an overwhelming majority. Politico articulated a theory that I had half-formed:
One administration official told POLITICO the White House was especially disappointed with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D), the only dissenting Democrat not up for re-election next year, who refused to go along with the bill even after White House chief of staff Denis McDonough visited her office to make Obama’s case on Tuesday.

Moderates and conservatives in the upper chamber said they simply couldn’t deal with a flurry of progressive issues at once — from gay marriage to immigration to guns.

The other three Democratic “no” votes — Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska — were never really in play, sources familiar with the situation told POLITICO.

One senator told a White House official that it was “Guns, gays and immigration - it’s too much. I can be with you on one or two of them, but not all three.””
So progress on some fronts but stasis on guns. Heitkamp, who just flipped on marriage, sounds a lot like that "One senator told a White House official."

I think for Democrats that calculus is wrong. For Republicans, especially in the house, the self-preservation instinct may be the right one. It's not the NRA itself that's the problem -- it's the whole dynamic of NRA/Club For Growth/Tea Party that's dominated Republican primaries the past three cycles. No one wants to be the next Dick Lugar or Bob Bennett or Mike Castle.

Thus, we get a public policy debate aimed at a Republican primary electorate, which is why an assault weapons ban was never, pardon the pun, a live round, and why even background checks failed.

Guns are also part of what to me is the most disturbing story of the week:
Former Justice of the Peace Eric Williams was charged Thursday with capital murder in what authorities have described as a revenge plot to kill the Kaufman County district attorney, his wife and a top assistant.

Authorities say Williams, 46, gunned down Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse as he walked to the courthouse on Jan. 31, and killed District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, in their home over the Easter weekend.
A disgruntled former elected official, removed from office, murders the attorneys who prosecuted him for stealing office property.

"Safety" is one of the bullet-points for us justice center supporters. And while these incidents didn't happen IN a courthouse, they underscore the risks. Prosecutors put bad people  in jail. Eventually some of them get out. Some of those people are still mad.

Extrapolate that to custody and child support fights, stalkers or abusive spouses seeking revenge, or contentious civil cases. Expand that circle of risk outward to the jurors and the victims and the witnesses and even to the accused, and throw in a good chunk of the population with the attitude that a gun is your absolute right no matter how crazy you are.

No, "safety" isn't just some buzzword.

So this week has taught us a lot about our limits and our legitimate fears. Stuff to think about when you're voting.

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