Flunking History

Spring seems to have brought with it an outbreak of a new type of allergy: allergic historicus . Unlike allergic rhinitis or hay fever, allergic historicus is not characterized by sinus problems or itchy eyes.  The symptoms, rather, are using historical examples that illustrate one’s ignorance and thus exposing the victim to easy ridicule.  An interesting pathology of the condition is that some people in proximity of an allergic historicus suffer may develop a related condition, historicus fatuus, or even worse historicus dementis.

For example, Dick Armey recently proclaimed the Jamestown Colony as "socialist venture" that left "everybody dead and dying in the snow."  Let’s see:  Jamestown was founded as a for-profit venture by the London Company, a joint stock company in 1607, or about two hundred years before French thinker Saint-Simon first wrote about socialism.  Perhaps Armey confused Capitan John Smith, soldier of fortune and tireless promoter of North America as a place to get rich, with Karl Marx. After all, both men had beards.

Legislative Minorities & Majorities & the Perils of Saying No Continuously

The fallout from the passage of health care reform will be many, varied and often surprising. For example, how many imagined that the Republican strategy of “just say no but say it continually” would have resulted in the resurrection of candidate Obama and the disappearance of the insider of policy wonk Obama? Another possible if unanticipated consequence of GOP parliamentary tactics may be a Churchill-like pushback by the majority Democrats.

Senator Harry Reid will not discover oratory. But he may remember that we are approaching the centenary of Winston Churchill’s triumph over another “just say no but say it continually” strategy.
In 1906 the Liberal Party won one of the largest parliamentary majorities in British history. The Conservative Party went from controlling nearly 60% of the House of Common to a bit over 20%. Yet Arthur Balfour, head of the Conservative Party, announced that his Party was the true voice of the Great Britain Nation and would use its majority in the unelected House of Lords to block Liberal legislation. For the next four years Winston Churchill (who years later would switch parties and join the Conservatives), David Lloyd George and other Liberal Party leaders tried to reach reasonable compromises. With a few exceptions, however, the Conservative Lords defiantly and continually said no. The situation continued even after the election of 1910 again returned a Liberal majority.

Corretion: Public Service or Public Disdain?

Please note: the original version of my article, Public Service or Public Disdain, referred to actions of sisters-in-law and fathers that could disqualify a person from service on the Citizens Redistricting Commission. However, administrative regulations adopted by the State Auditor have defined the term “immediate family” as used in Proposition 11, to include only those family members who have lived with an applicant for at least thirty days in the previous year or with whom the applicant has a shared ownership or financial relationship worth $1,000 or more. Consequently, two paragraphs have been rewritten to remove references that could cause confusion.

Public Service or Public Disdain?

When did being appointed to a local board or commission become socially unacceptable? Why should be elected to a school board make a person politically unacceptable? According to some recent initiatives, these actions of civic engagement are enough to turn someone into a pariah, unfit for redistricting commissions or constitutional conventions. But this disdain toward anyone whose sense of community service leads them into an official position, is wrong, arrogant and ultimately undemocratic.

Examples of this antagonism are common. Proposition 11, approved last November, created a much-needed independent redistricting commission. But the proponents went over-board in their efforts to keep the commission safe from anyone with actual political experience. Not many would argue against excluding current or former legislators but was it really necessary to exclude someone because their father, who now lives with them,  gave $2,000 to the Schwarzenegger campaign in 2003 or because they once served on the State Arts Commission?

The sorry fact is that Proposition 11 regards many ordinary and traditionally esteemed civic activities as unacceptable “conflicts of interest”. Indeed, these activities were deemed so heinous that the protective cocoon of Prop 11 extends ten years back.