Maybe To Kill a Mockingbird is one of those books Sarah Palin would ban
September 22, 2008 4 Comments
Almost a month after she made her national debut in Ohio, three weeks after her dazzling debut speech at the Republican convention and only two interviews later (though it is difficult to call the Hannity suck-job an interview by any quantifiable news standard), there are still bits of vice-presidential contender Sarah Palin’s introductory speech causing serious shivers down the spines of many Americans.
This past Sunday for example, a writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer got hung up on that line about reading terror suspects their rights:
“Al-Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America,” said Palin, and then, referring to Barack Obama, quipped: “He’s worried that someone won’t read them their rights.”
Quite apart from the cheap distortion of Obama’s position, typical of most campaign rhetoric, this is a classic lynch-mob line. It is the taunt of the drunken lout in the cowboy movie who confronts a sheriff barring the prison door – He wants to give ‘im a trial?
It is the precise sentiment that Atticus Finch so memorably sets himself against in Harper Lee’s masterpiece To Kill a Mockingbird, when he agrees to defend a supposedly indefensible black man charged with rape (falsely, as it turns out).
In all the talk about her LIES and half truths over the Bridge to Nowhere, the state jet/eBay fiasco, the community organizer bullshit, the Jerry Springer-style family baggage and the blatant distortions about her time as mayor (when she ran up a nearly $20 million debt, hired a lobbyist to request nearly $27 million in federal earmarks for her town and asked about banning books at the Wasilla library (having previously supported censorship as a member of the city council)) and governor (when she requested $453 million for her state including the Bridge to Nowhere (and including $197 million in requests for 2009), while having to make no hard budgeting decisions because of Alaska’s oil wealth), this “He’s worried that someone won’t read them their rights” line further shits on everything this country stands for and has gotten a bit of a pass.
As Mark Bowden points out, the line is a reference to this summer’s Supreme Court decision in which the Court ruled that the government can’t just imprison someone without any evidence:
The court ruled that our government cannot just call someone a terrorist, arrest him, and hold him indefinitely without showing some reasonable cause. McCain has called this “one of the worst decisions in the history of this country.” Obama has praised it.
The decision itself, Boumediene v Bush, was a 5-4 decision that split essentially along party lines with Justices Roberts, Alito, Thomas, and Scalia dissenting. Essentially, the “conservative constructionist” justices disagree with the Constitution’s assertion that the government can’t just go around accusing people of a crime without evidence.
Ironic, ain’t it?
But then again, it really is the conservatives who have shit all over the Constitution during this long, so-far seven-year vacation for the American Way, ignoring the fourth amendment when it behooves them, ignoring Congress when it behooves them, and circling the wagons around an imperial presidency.
Burning the village in order to save it.
Apparently, “innocent until proven guilty” means nothing to McCain and Palin, as Bowden so succinctly points out:
Palin’s applause line applied the lynch-mob standard: Because a man has been arrested, he is guilty. End of story.
The basic idea is “Fuck them. The Constitution only applies to American citizens.”
But that entirely ignores the idea that the rights the Constitution was designed to protect are the same one the Declaration of Independence describes as “unalienable,” and it is the belief that all men have those rights that separates this nation from the rest of the world.
But McCain, who knows better than most what it means to have those rights taken away, and Sarah Palin, who has never met a Republican Talking Point Bandwagon she can’t jump on at any cost (truth and/or history be damned!), don’t seem to give a shit. Fuck their rights. If we say they did it, they did. Now shut up.
But, having fought a revolution to protect themselves from exactly that sort of “what-I-say-goes-because-I-am-the-king” rule, the Founding Fathers were quite particular about making sure Americans could not be hauled off to jail simply because the guy in charge says so.
Or, as Alexander Hamilton put it in Federalist Paper No. 84:
…the practice of arbitrary imprisonments have been in all ages the favourite and most formidable instruments of tyranny.
The great irony of using Federalist No. 84 is that the piece was written as an argument against the Constitution needing a Bill of Rights. Hamilton argued that the rights listed already, which included habeas corpus, were sufficient because “the people surrender nothing, and as they retain every thing, they have no need of particular reservations.” In other words, it is the government’s rights that are supposed to be hemmed in by the Constitution, not the people’s.
He goes on to say “They would contain various exceptions to powers which are not granted; and on this very account, would afford a colourable [sic] pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? Why for instance, should it be said, that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed? I will not contend that such a provision would confer a regulating power; but it is evident that it would furnish, to men disposed to usurp, a plausible pretence [sic] for claiming that power.”
In other words, Hamilton worried that outlining specific, individual rights in the Constitution could give future leaders an argument that the government retains all the rights not explicitly protected by the Constitution. Hamilton was concerned that the fundamental tenet of the Constitution – that the people retain all the rights that they do not give to the government – could be subverted by an attempt to assign the government far more power than ever intended by the framers of the Constitution.
Beyond that, he worried that any right that was specifically listed would be subject to regulation from the government.
Which is exactly what happened in the case of the press and is exactly what the Bush Administration tried to do with habeas corpus.
But the rule of law, which the Republicans claim to love as long it does not apply to them, is what separates us from the rest of the world and what makes the Evildoers evil. Or, as Bowden so eloquently puts it:
We are at war against forces who seek a permanent state of fear, for whom violence is an end in itself. Our side of the fight defends government by consent, and the rule of law. It is why we fight, and what makes our use of violence against our enemies morally defensible. This is why it is critical that we respect individual rights and act lawfully.
Damn right. We ARE better than them and that is exactly why.
Palin may not see that, of course, because like them (and the president), she is a Fundamentalist who wishes to force her world view on everyone through legal means, but such is the danger is electing religious whackjobs who believe they know and/or are fulfilling God’s plan.
I will bet $20 that Sarah Palin cannot tell me what the right of habeas corpus is or why it is important, though I’d be willing to bet that if she was arrested for being a terrorist (her husband was a member of a party that has an avowed hatred for the US government and wants Alaska to secede from the country, a party that while governor she told to “keep up the good work.” That sounds like enough to haul her in as an evildoer to me…) you can bet she’d scream bloody murder and demand her unalienable right of habeas corpus.
But I know this, because my America has proof before it arrests someone and my America treats everyone with dignity.
I don’t know about your America, but I do know that in John McCain and Sarah Palin’s America, such ideas as truth, justice and liberty don’t mean shit.
And I know it is dangerous to give the keys of government to people who want to tear apart the very fabric on which it was built.