By William Fisher
So there I was, sitting in my living room, laptop perched on knees, I-Pod across the room belting out tunes from my collection of jazz, blues and gospel. It was September 28, 2010, the sun was trying to peek out, and I was looking forward to a lovely day.
And just to seal that deal, my I-Pod was playing an old favorite of mine:
America, America, God Shed His Grace on Thee,
And Crowned Thy Good With Brotherhood
From Sea to Shining Sea…
…wailed Ray Charles.
For the first time in a long time, I actually heard the words: And crowned thy good with brotherhood…
Must have been a portent because my next mouse click brought up a story by IPS, the news service I work for. The headline read Iran's "Blogfather" Gets 20-Year Prison Sentence.” The story ran:
SAN FRANCISCO, California, Sep 28, 2010 (IPS) - A week after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told heads of state gathered for the U.N. General Assembly in New York that his government does not jail its citizens for expressing their opinions, Iran's Revolutionary Court sentenced Hossein Derakhshan, an internationally known Iranian-Canadian blogger, to 19 and a half years in prison.
For a lovely day, that’s a killer. What to do? I assess my situation:
Here I am, blessed with that rare breed of editor, who figures I know better than she knows what’s going down in my particular area of interest today. So she rarely assigns me anything to write; apparently used to living on the edge, each day she lets me write what I want to write. Then she edits it to keep me from looking like a fool.
Most of what I write is critical of the President, his Cabinet, or other government officials. The policy doesn’t make sense. Or the policy’s OK, but some particular agency doesn’t have the resources to execute the policy. A member of the Administration is behaving in a way that discredits his team. Members of Congress who’d rather retain campaign talking points by letting critical issues fester rather than by fixing them. A judicial decision I may find particularly shameful because it ruins someone’s career based on the decision of a judge who thinks furthering his ideological agenda is more precious than using the rule of law to further the Republic. The litany is endless. And angry-making.
Yet, I like to think my comments are constructively critical. “What’s gone wrong, why, and does anyone know how to make it better?” are the questions I ask myself as I sit down to write.
But today was to be different. I am not generally a flag-waving hand-on-heart type of guy; my patriotism is quieter, just about silent and always most undemonstrative. Maybe it was my mother, who admonished me: No Public Displays of Affection. Or it’s a British thing I learned during 20 summers in London; the Brits are understated in this way (and just about every other way) except when they find themselves at a football match.
But my hesitancy came before I read the words of Mr. Ahmadinejad, tried to digest his world-class hypocrisy and tried to comprehend how the impact of any blog could be so cataclysmic as to justify taking away 20 years of a young man’s life.
And that’s when the light went on. Sure, the NSA could be monitoring my blog but they can’t just throw me in jail and forget the key. And we do –- collectively. Those who really believe in our Constitution regularly go to court to demonstrate that our Bill of Rights may be suffering from some acute maladies, but reports of its demise are vastly exaggerated.
It is ironic, but the people who insisted that the Constitution contain a Bill of Rights were not afraid of journalists (or Tea Parties) ranting about Big Government encroaching on their freedoms. They were afraid of Big Government grabbing more and more power so as to seriously erode those freedoms.
And it still is. Not much has changed. But one of the things that has are the objectives of the anti-government protesters. These days its examples of “Government Grabbing Too Much Power” are such initiatives as health care, financial re-regulation, and gun control. Half of our country thinks these are the crowning achievements of our First Black President; the other half thinks such accrual of power is putting our country on the slippery slope to Socialism.
But whichever half they inhabit, the rule of law seems to be so deeply embedded in our political DNA that, no matter how bad things get, lawyers will always make a living.
Some of my Republican friends are deeply troubled about the lawyers. They would dearly like to enact legislation resulting in what they call “tort reform ” – which one way or another would limit who lawyers can sue and how much money they can collect if they win.
I think that’s a terrible idea, because the number of court cases lawyers bring each year has become for me something like a barometer of political strength. Yes, there are far too many ridiculous - - frivolous, they’re called -- lawsuits filed. Yes, there is prosecutorial misconduct we’ll probably never hear about. Yes, there is a deeply unjust set of sentencing rules that puts a hugely disproportionate number of African-Americans behind bars. And, yes, there are rallies in many streets by faux Colonials, whose participants are inspired by the know-nothings of the world, the Glenn Becks and the Sarah Palins – and nourished by the big money of giant corporations, the newest ventriloquists for “small business.”
What? You’d prefer riots in the streets? I don’t think so. Or agents of the “security services” swooping down on you and your wife and kids as they sleep and carting your whole family off to neverland, which means you will never be heard from again.
We’ve already seen – and we keep seeing – evidence that such outrages are in fact happening now, that they began to happen with some regularity after 9/11. That they are not happening on a far more toxic scale is attributable to one of the great and unique attributes of the United States of America.
The rule of law.
It is that glorious attribute that most conspicuously distinguishes America from Iran – and from all those countries to which we sell arms but who care not a jot about the people of their own country.
Try working this into a riff about Mr. Ahmadinejad :
Iran, Iran, God Shed His Grace on Thee,
And Crowned Thy Good With Brotherhood
From Sea to Shining Sea…