Thursday, September 17, 2009


Walt Whitman described his poetic musings as a “barbaric yawp.” The phrase more accurately describes the character of collective democratic discourse.

When three thousand citizens come together to demonstrate their unhappiness—as happened at Oceanside’s amphitheater on Thursday before Labor Day weekend—you can bet that the ideas expressed won’t be nuanced. Detailed arguments don’t fit on a poster.

“Don’t Tread On Me” was typical of democracy’s revolutionary voice. At Oceanside, “Give Me Liberty, Not Debt” was the prevalent theme amid a group energized to oppose what they see as an unprecedented and dangerous expansion of government power.

In any sizeable group some comments will test the boundaries of respectability. But the idea that the word “socialism” somehow crosses that boundary is risible. After all, those European parties most in tune with the Democrats now in power in Washington explicitly call themselves “socialist.” (Nuance alert: Socialism and communism are not exactly the same thing.)

Words such as “traitor” and “psycho” weren’t prevalent at the rally, but they were present—and, of course, they were picked up by media cameras eager to focus on what was most provocative among people who have been slimed as brown-shirts by no less than the Democrat Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.

Indeed, a major reason for the collective yawp that took place at Oceanside a few weeks ago (and more impressively at the huge, underreported rally in Washington D.C. nine days later) is the double standard that mainstream media regularly apply to gatherings of this sort. The vile and hate-filled epithets regularly hurled at former President George W. Bush, for example, were seldom, if ever, reported as signs of left-wing derangement or neo-fascist thuggery.

Even when some agitators suggested that a Bush assassination would be nice, the mainstream media response was essentially “ho-hum.” The protests, they implied, only highlighted flaws in the President and his policies. How things change when the presidential shoe is on the other foot and protestors themselves become problems to be vilified as racists or (as with Cindy Sheehan at Martha’s Vineyard) ignored.

By most group standards, tea-party demonstrations have been rather civil—as one might expect from a largely conservative group. The protestors decry a government that appears intent on using last year’s financial crisis as a pretext for socializing as much of the economy as possible. They are frightened at the prospect of trillion dollar deficits as far as the eye can see. They are dumbfounded that a nut-job racist like Van Jones (who believed 9/11 might be a Bush-inspired plot) could be made a Presidential Czar—and could resign without significant comment by the mainstream media.

They are upset that news reports uncritically parrot the preposterous administration claim that a “stimulus” package (that’s hardly been spent) has “saved or created” a million jobs.

Then they see President Obama siding with Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro against the democratic nation of Honduras and know something is desperately wrong.

Therefore, yawp!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


Was it an imbroglio, a kerfuffle, or an assault? And if the latter, who was assaulted? Was the hostess of Francine Busby’s Encinitas rally assaulted by a rogue policeman or was the officer assaulted by a gaggle of Busby supporters who were mightily offended at having standard police procedures applied to their better-than-thou coastal selves?

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis decided that discretion was the better part of law enforcement in this case and declined to prosecute anyone. Nevertheless, the D.A.’s statement isn’t exactly an exercise in agnosticism. Indeed, Dumanis observed that a “review of the evidence indicates there has been a misdemeanor violation of the law by both Ms. Barman and Ms. Morgan” who “delayed and obstructed the officer while he was performing his duties.”

The decision not to prosecute, in other words, was based on the prudential calculation that “conflicting accounts” made a conviction doubtful. I’m sure the desire to have a relatively minor but politically-charged case in the rear view mirror also weighed heavily on Dumanis’s decision.

If I had to make a bet on what actually happened that night, my money would go with the testimony of the mental health professional who was on a ride-along with Deputy Abbott and was, according to Dumanis’s report, “shoved, elbowed and kicked” during the incident.

Another bet is that Busby’s upscale supporters possess a similar view of law- enforcement-applied-to-them as was on display in the recent case of Professor Henry Gates. The Harvard Prof apparently went ballistic when he was interrogated by Cambridge police officer James Crowley about a possible break-in at his own residence. A telling line in the police report has Gates indignantly yelling, “You don’t know who you’re messing with.”

A couple of years ago San Diego Congressman Bob Filner exhibited this same entitlement mentality when he disregarded airport regulations and dissed a “lowly” airport baggage worker at Dulles Airport in Washington. The one nice thing about the Filner fracas was that the very important Congressman eventually pled “sort of guilty” (via a “no contest” Alford Plea) to the reduced trespassing charges that were brought against him.

More importantly, and as part of the terms of his plea, Filner issued this apology in a written statement released after his hearing: “I want to say that I’m sorry. In particular, I would like to apologize to people at the baggage counter. I overreacted, I behaved discourteously and I shouldn’t have.”

Based on available evidence, I suspect the officer at Busby’s rally regrets reaching out to take the arm of an uncooperative hostess. Whether that action was prudent or justified, under the circumstances, is under departmental review.

What clearly seems in order, however, is a Filner-like letter of apology directed to Officer Abbott by those Busby supporters who felt entitled to diss and assault him. That letter, absent a court order, is as unlikely as a mea culpa from the Harvard Prof who treated a distinguished Cambridge police officer like dirt.