The Better Rhetor

Tuesday, December 24, 2002
Blessings On Ye All

Pax and Happy Holidays to All Ye Who Enter Here. Back in a few days.

Monday, December 23, 2002
What Is the Threshold?

In The American Prospect, Sean Wilentz discusses the White House debt to the neo-Conservative movement and the race-baiting pasts of John Ashcroft and Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist.

On Ashcroft:

Ashcroft had just lost a Senate race in Missouri after deciding not to run against Bush in the 2000 Republican presidential primaries. As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has observed, Ashcroft -- as attorney general, governor of Missouri and a U.S. Senator -- "built a career out of opposing school desegregation in St. Louis and opposing African-Americans for public office." During the St. Louis integration crisis and after, Ashcroft maintained intimate links to the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), the successor organization to the segregationist White Citizens Councils, which has its headquarters in St. Louis. Ashcroft even intervened at the behest of CCC leader Gordon Baum in a strange case involving a prominent CCC member accused of plotting the murder of an FBI agent. In his Southern Partisan interview, arranged by Hines, Ashcroft commended the magazine for helping to "set the record straight" and for "defending Southern patriots like [Robert E.] Lee, [Thomas "Stonewall"] Jackson, and [Jefferson] Davis." As George W. Bush's attorney general, Ashcroft has used the Department of Justice to support Republican efforts at voter suppression, many of them aimed at black voters.

On Rehnquist:

Early in his career, as clerk to Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, Rehnquist strongly endorsed upholding the Court's keystone pro-segregation decision of 1896 in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, and favored a Texas law permitting white-only primary elections. "It is about time the Court faced the fact that the white people of the south don't like the colored people," Rehnquist wrote. In 1964, according to sworn testimony, Rehnquist led efforts to harass minority voters in Arizona on behalf of the Barry Goldwater campaign. That same year, he publicly opposed the adoption of an anti-discrimination ordinance covering public accommodations in Phoenix. In 1970, as Richard Nixon's assistant attorney general, Rehnquist proposed a constitutional amendment designed to limit and disrupt implementation of the Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation decision of 1954. Since being named to the Supreme Court, Rehnquist has consistently advanced his regressive views on race, as in his lonely dissent favoring the granting of federal tax-exempt status to Bob Jones University.

[end quote]


So what is the threshold at which a person becomes unfit for public office? Is there point at which we say, "No, no. This is too repellent. These beliefs and tactics exclude you from a position of civic leadership?" Apparently there is, as Trent Lott found out. But if you do these things quietly and away from the public eye, does that mean they are acceptable? Is there a good reason why Lott was forced out but Ashcroft is able to continue in his post as Attorney General? Shouldn't he be subject to the same scrutiny and outrage as Lott? Shouldn't Rehnquist?

And what of a U.S. President uses these kinds of people and tactics to put himself in office, even while preaching "inclusion" and "compassionate conservatism"? At what point does the hypocrisy become too much to bear?

Civic deed for the day: Write your senators and congressional representatives and ask them if, given the public rejection of Trent Lott, they plan to hold hearings on John Ashcroft's neo-Confederate ties. Tell them you'd like them to hold hearings on whether a man with such a record is fit to serve in public office. Ask them to define for you the threshold at which someone is considered unfit to serve. Is it murder? Incest? Lying about sex with an intern? Interviews praising the work of White Supremicist magazines?

Send your letters here, and I will post them on The Better Rhetor. I will also post whatever responses you may receive.

Sunday, December 22, 2002
People vs. Pundits

Has it struck you that political pundits are way behind the people they are supposed to be enlightening?

The conventional narrative these days tells us that progressive politics in America are dead. In this story, the Republican right is triumphant, drunk and engorged on its own power, while Democrats scurry timorously towards the center, trying not to get crushed. Progressive politics, such as those represented by the late Paul Wellstone, are said to have all the relevance of an antique brooch in a curio shop.

This, at any rate, is the story told on the Sunday morning political talk shows, in the major weeklies Time and Newsweek, and in the op-ed pages of many major newspapers. And it is true that if you listen long enough to, say, Cokie Roberts soliciting George Will’s views on why the Democrats got skunked in the last election, or subject yourself to an hour of what passes for analysis on FOX TV, you are likely to conclude that the struggle is really, truly over and the other side really, truly won.

There’s just one problem with this narrative. It’s wrong. More precisely, it ignores all those Americans who aren’t cowering before the GOP behemoth and don’t want to see Democrats slinking toward the center.

The conventional narrative does not account for the many Americans who object to the coming war in Iraq, reject the corporate trashing of the environment, refuse the idea that the rich need another tax break, and denounce all forms of discrimination against African-Americans, Gays, and other minorities.

But in a climate dominated by the corporate media it’s sometimes hard for that message to be heard. Most of us don’t own newspapers, radio stations, or television networks—which is to say we are human beings, not corporations—and people who question Official Truth are often ignored by the pundit classes.

One place where you can still find progressive discourse, however, is the Letters to Editor section of most daily newspapers. Letters to the editor are a great American tradition, a space where it is still possible to protest—in a small space on a daily basis—the narrative that the right wing reigns triumphant and the rest of us are just along for the ride. Every day in American newspapers it is possible to find acts of dissent, refusal, and courage in the writings of American people.

Recognizing this, the Better Rhetor begins today a semi-regular feature called "People vs. Pundits." In this feature, we re-print letters published in newspapers from around the country, letters that demonstrate the intelligence, conviction, and courage of Americans who are refusing to go along, and who are ahead of the pundits who are supposed to be enlightening the rest of us.

Letters are chosen at random and with bias. Topics are diverse and include, in today’s edition, war in Iraq, American justice, missile defense, and Christian ethics. In all cases, the writers may be considered Better Rhetors.

For the full names and hometowns of writers, go to the links provided.

From the Seattle Post Intelligencer

We'll sacrifice much to keep Bush buddies wealthy

Well, isn't this convenient? The Bush administration claims that Iraq has not been completely forthcoming in its 12,000-page report to the United Nations.
Of course, the full version has been censored and no one in the administration has mentioned anything specific that might or might not actually be missing. Are we expected to take an administration full of liars, thieves and warmongers at its word?

According to Die Tageszeitung newspaper of Berlin, which got hold of hundreds of the deleted pages, the most interesting revelations involve the details of 24 major U.S. corporations, 55 U.S. subsidiaries of European corporations and four U.S. government agencies that illegally armed Iraq.

Are there really people who are so naive as to believe anything the Bush administration says? I guess there must be; some of them seem to be writing news reports carried in this and other papers.

The absurdity of all this would be laughable if it were not for the coming mass murder of thousands and thousands of innocent people and the theft of a nation's natural resources to enrich the president's buddies in the oil industry.

Richard C.

From the Los Angeles Times

Dirty Tricks at INS Affront Our Democracy

Jailing suspected Al Qaeda members captured in Afghanistan at Guantanamo Bay is one thing, but taking American immigrants who voluntarily report to INS offices and giving them a surprise trip to the slammer is quite another ("Hundreds Are Detained After Visits to INS," Dec. 19). Not only is the latest government action scary, it's also stupid. No other immigrant group will ever report voluntarily to INS offices again, now that the feds have done this.

Jeff V.

From the New York Times

A True Defense for the Nation

With a virtually unlimited number of methods with which to create terror, how can it possibly be sound military strategy to spend tens of billions of dollars defending against a single type of attack; indeed, one our enemy is poorly positioned to use?

America must be defended, and Americans desperately want to feel safe again. But true security can come only when we stop importing oil and doing business with corrupt dictatorships in the Middle East.

If the Bush administration really wanted a defense initiative — not a campaign initiative — it would establish an Energy Independence Project to perfect the fuel-cell-powered automobile and convert this nation to a hydrogen-based economy with zero oil imports by the end of the decade.


From the Des Moines Register

A Great Divide

I am writing with respect to the recent critics of the story about Jonathan Wilson ("Clergy Urged: Do More For Gays," Dec. 2). Why do Christian groups feel so threatened by the gay community?

Why is it that Christians are so adept at spoiling their faith with hatred? Christian faith follows the teachings of Jesus, which can be summed up in one word: love. Discrimination and hate of any kind do not follow the way of Jesus. The strength of true Christianity is to treat all people with dignity, humility and generosity.

Perpetuating a myth that God hates someone is contrary to these teachings and wrong. No Christians should denounce anyone and still feel they have done a worldly good. Ignorance and prejudice do not justify campaigns to destroy any person. That is Nazism, not Christianity.

Christianity views God as a loving being. Where in the loving God could one find hate? If one quotes Leviticus with respect to sexual relations, realize that Leviticus declares many things, like eating pork, to be "unlawful." Are the people who raise or eat pork condemned by God? Since many rules in Leviticus are not observed today, what determines which ones are observed?

Understand that Jesus reversed many Scriptures of the Old Testament. The Scripture "eye for an eye" was overturned by Jesus when he said to "offer the other cheek."

In the midst of all the violence portrayed by various media, what is so difficult with encouraging love? What is the logical reason for condemning love within any couple?

Tony H.


Feel free to recommend letters or newspapers that think you should be included in this feature the future. In the meantime, we will continue scanning the daily newspapers for more examples of the Good Person, Well Spoken.