my pissant two cents

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

an open letter to sen. harry reid (d-nev)

dear senator reid,
congratulations on your new position as minority leader. it's a good gig, and i'm sure you'll do bang-up work. i do, however, have a couple of concerns i'd like to share with you.
first off, i kind of like the fact that you're a stand-up mormon guy from the tiny hamlet of searchlight, nevada. i've been through searchlight. probably the most thrilling seven minutes of my life. (aside-- can you do something about those speed limits? they seem a little pedestrian, no pun intended.)

however, i'm a little troubled that your faith seems to color so much of your political life. i'm all for faith. my great-grandfather was a baptist minister, so i'm hip to morals and what-have-you. and i'm not one of those folks who thinks of mormons as a wacky polygamous cult. some of my closest friends are mormons, and i'm just fine with that. in fact, all of the really hot girls at my high school were mormons. i don't know why. maybe just a coincidence. but i digress.... what troubles me is that you don't seem to have a problem legislating according to your morals. this is not healthy in a republic, i think.

to wit, your opposition to abortion in most cases. for the record, nobody is actually in favor of abortion, so far as my experience has taught me. what they are in favor of is the right of personal choice, and what they are opposed to is the government telling women that they have to incubators and subservient to their plumbing. whether a woman chooses to bear a child is a matter of the utmost privacy, to be dealt with in consultation with her doctor and her god, if any. and i, and millions of other americans, don't think the state has any business getting involved in that. there are a number of supreme court cases dealing with the fundamental rights of procreation and family choices-- that is to say, the constitution doesn't have to address them, because they are naturally, or divinely if you prefer, inherent in each of us.

our nation was founded by people of faith who chose to create a secular society. i don't know about you, but i think that's a pretty good idea to this day. there aren't a lot of yuks, and little progress of the social and scientific varieties, in theocracies.

furthermore, you've made your reputation as something of a social conservative who's sided frequently with republicans on these matters. i'm more than a bit bothered by your support of the flag burning amendment. i have, in fact, burned a flag. but it was a necessity: i had to replace a worn flag and looked into how one disposes of a used flag. i called the protocol officer at fort ord (now cal state university-monterey bay, much of which is off limits due to contamination by bombs and such) who informed me that the blue field is to be cut from the banner, then ignited with the remainder. but that's not what we're talking about...

what we're talking about is the right to protest against the government (redress of grievances-- see amendment 1 to the u.s. constitution) by doing harm to symbols of government (freedom of speech-- ibid). even justice anthony kennedy, who cast the deciding vote appointing the president, voted in favor of allowing such speech. in deciding texas v. johnson, he said that our constitution protects political speech, even speech we find distasteful, so that it also protects speech that we want to hear. i met justice kennedy once while i was in law school (pre bush v. gore), and was sincerely moved that a conservative would take a stand for speech as abhorrent to the majority of society as burning a flag.

let's not forget that the men and women who "fought and died for that flag," as amendment supporters like to say, did not do so for the piece of cloth, but for the republic for which it stands. and that republican was founded on the notion that the right of the people to hold their government's feet to the fire by any peaceful means is the most important right. i happen to be one of those who believes that the first amendment is first for a reason. so i am of the opinion that banning flag burning does a great disservice to our nation's martyrs and veterans.

something else i'd like to bring to your attention. you are known as a consensus builder. that's fine and good. however, consensus building in the minority frequently means going along to get along. this, we don't need. the president has expressed his desire to build bridges by working with people who agree with his policies. this demonstrates nothing quite so much as the president's lack of understanding of the nuances of bridge building. but then, he doesn't do nuance.

i don't think the near-half of the country who braved voter intimidation, harassment and a panoply of dirty tricks to vote against the current administration are interested in going along with its atavistic designs for the country. we are not interested in further degrading civil rights and civil liberties. we are not interested in unilateralist, short-sighted and dangerous foreign policy. we are not interested in domestic policy that favors the rich over the needy, that rewards corporations that loophole, pillage and pollute their way to prosperity at the expense of the working families who make this country run. we are, in sum, not interested in the bush administration's policies.

resisting this will require some fearless leadership, which the washington post says you have in spades. this heartens me some. you're not expected to filibuster everything into the ground, but i trust you have sense enough to know when giving in further is giving in too much. they own all three branches of government, but you know the saying about loss of a shoe costing a horse, which cost a soldier, which cost a battle, which cost the war. a few defeats here and there may curtail their juggernaut some, and that's your duty now.

what really needs to be done is a full-on assault on the administration's policies. you can't stop them, but you can shine a light on them. sunlight is the best disinfectant, i've heard. when they try to pass a bill called "sunshine and puppy dogs" that in fact puts asbestos back into elementary schools, maybe you should point out the real effect. this is not entirely hyperbolic. "clear skies" decreased regulation on polluters. the "healthy forests" initiative promotes clear-cutting. "leave no child behind" is an unfunded mandate that many schools have withdrawn from because they would spend more on compliance than the government provides to them. orwell couldn't make this up.

so let's sum up: don't let your faith control your agenda, don't let your social mores trump the constitution, and don't let the bastards get away with it.

good luck, senator. you're going to need it.

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