Monday, February 19, 2007

Losing Faith in Democracy

One of the perks of living in the United States is having the right to mock your own government. In an age of multiple C-SPAN channels, You Tube, and a host of political bloggers devoted to pointing out the missteps of our elected leaders, lampooning the powers that be is easier and more popular than ever.

Of course, everyone does and says stupid things; public officials have the misfortune of having many of their words and actions taped and transcribed. Still, even allowing for the occasional embarrassing comment, the words and behaviors of some elected leaders lead me to ask whether these officials are fit to represent thousands of citizens in the halls of government.

Much has been made of Tennessee state Rep. Stacey Campfield's recent introduction of a bill that would require that death certificates be given to aborted fetuses/babies. I personally think this bill is flawed—in part because I favor efforts to reduce the number of abortions in our state and country and feel that this bill would only serve to villainize women who have abortions without providing viable alternatives to abortion. What bothers me possibly more than the content of the bill is Rep. Campfield's reaction to his critics on his blog. (Also disturbing is this correspondance between Campfield and a constituent.) I appreciate that Camp keeps a blog to keep his constituents abreast of what he's up to and what's happening on the hill; but Campfield doesn't seem nearly as interested in public service as he does in drawing attention to himself. (Witness his attempt to join Tennessee's Congressional Black Caucus back in 2005.) Much has also been made of the numerous grammar and spelling errors in the representative's writing. One should not judge Campfield's policies through the lens of his writing ability, but he owes it to the people he represents to proofread public statements before publishing them.

Stacey Campfield is by no means the only state legislator who has trouble presenting himself with elegance and humility. Recently, Massachusetts State Senator Scott Brown took on some of his teenage critics by showing up at a school convocation and embarrassing them in front of their peers:

WRENTHAM, Mass. --A state senator and father of a former American Idol finalist read profanity-laced criticism posted online about him and his family in a talk to high school students in his district about his opposition to gay marriage.

Sen. Scott Brown, R-Wrentham, defended his use of foul language during an assembly at King Philip Regional High School on Thursday by saying he was only repeating what had been written about him. The comments were posted on a page dedicated to a pro-gay rights history teacher at the school. . . .

Witnesses said Brown read the comments verbatim in front of about 80 sophomores, even naming the students who wrote them in some cases.

I understand that some of the students' online rants were defamatory and offensive. Their parents should probably ground them from the Internet for a while. But, as a state senator, Brown really should have acted as an adult in this situation instead of being more brash and immature than the young people who had attacked him.

I can understand how a state legislator could let pride get the best of him now and then; I don't at all understand this memo, which lawmakers from several states have been circulating. The memo, crafed by the Fair Education Foundation (a group that is apparently well connected), not only challenges teaching evolution, but also challenges teaching that the earth revolves around the sun. Moreover, the memo asserts that the wide acceptance of evolution and a moving earth is the result of a Jewish conspiracy. Many lawmakers whose names have been tied to the memo have come forward to denounce them. Still, I'm bothered that this organization (with a Time Cube-esque website that seeks to discredit Newton and Einstein as well as Copernicus and Darwin) can so easily get its message through to people in power.

At the national level, Rep. Virgil Goode (R-Virginia) is at it again. Goode gave a passionate speech on the house floor warning of an imminent Islamic takeover of the United States if we do not send more troops to Iraq. He predicts that pulling out of Iraq would result in our money bearing the slogan "In Muhammad We Trust," which probably isn't true. If anything, when we're living under the green flag of Islam, our money will read "In Allah We Trust." But since Allah is just the Arabic word for God, our new leaders will probably stick with "In God We Trust" until they force all of us to speak and read Arabic.

All this is to say that I think that we, as a people, need to put more thought into who represents us. We need leaders who can think critically, communicate clearly and graciously, and listen intently, and who can make sure they know what they're talking about. We need representatives who serve their constituents and not a party, ideology, or small group of donors and influencers.


Post a Comment

<< Home