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When good people are called bad names

By Daniel M. Ryan
web posted May 3, 2010

The new Arizona law proved to be an unexpected flashpoint. It was carefully crafted to be a mirror law, criminalizing the same activity that federal immigration law already criminalizes. Procedures were added to make sure it did not lead to police abuse; protections against racial profiling were implied. (More safeguards have been added in a follow-up bill.) It's almost as if the Arizonan legislature had made it a state crime to evade federal income taxes.

And yet, it's been called "tough," "draconian" and other names less polite. Arizona's became quite the whipping boy as a result. No-one seems to have asked the obvious question: since it mirrors federal legislation, how did a "tough" and "draconian" measure of that sort make it through Congress in 1986? At that time, the Speaker of the House was Democrat "Tip" O'Neill. That "tough" and "draconian" part of the 1986 law made it through a House with a Democrat majority.

It may seem odd for me to compare illegal immigrants to tax evaders, in part because most sympathizers towards one group tend to be unsympathetic to the other group. Both groups can be pegged as free riders, who make life harder for others. Both groups can be called people who make a mockery of their likesake who play it straight. Both groups can be described as turning the law-abiding into chumps – or as thinking it.

Both groups can also be described as outcasts, or as easy to victimize. Both can be portrayed as strapped souls who have to live life on the run and are cut off from a normal existence. Both can be described as poor souls who can be exploited mercilessly by merely threatening to call the authorities. Both can be described as hounded by enforcement agents that sometimes act brutishly. Both can be described as at the mercy of at-times unmerciful federal agents. And, of course, both groups overlap somewhat.  

The factor I abstracted from was the ethnic component – deliberately so. Special cases, and the underlying inconsistencies, are often revealing.

"You're Not A Threat To Him"

When I was a youth living in a somewhat vagabondish way, I was talking to another resident of a rooming house I had landed in. He was warning me about a third fellow, whom I had met before, and I replied that I didn't see anything off about that fellow. He replied to me, "You're not a threat to him."

Needless to say, it was an eye-opener – and it's quite transferable. Ever wonder why violent leftist or liberal protestors rate nary a chiding when demonstrably peaceful Tea Party protestors are cast as barbarians at the gate? It's simple, all right: the beneficiaries of this inconsistency are not a threat to the political class. The Tea Partyers are.

Similarly: California teetering on the edge of Graeco-bankruptcy, and moving towards nullifying the federal drug laws pertaining to marijuana, is not a threat to the federal politicals. Arizona now sporting a measure allowing Arizonan police to enforce a longstanding federal law is. States that nullified the REAL ID act are not a threat. A state that explicitly affirms a certain federal law is. Non-violent tax evaders are a threat to the federales. Possibly violent illegal immigrants are not.

A fairly good profile of the political class can be drawn up by watching for and noting such inconsistencies, with the above interpretation kept in mind.

Good People, Bad Names

There's always a way to tell good people who have been maligned, or even slandered, by the powers that be. They take very definite steps to show everyone they're nothing like what they were described as. The purest example of this phenomenon was the Falun Gong movement. Not only were they quietist, going out of their way to show they were no threat to the ChiCom rulers, but also their leadership specifically forbade any kind of political activism. That's lot more constraining than staying peaceably in the "Free Speech Zones," abjuring vandalism, treating law-enforcement officers with respect and due obedience, and not littering.

Putting constraints on one's conduct in order to live down a dubious but nevertheless credible malignment – or a false but credible slander – is a tactic that people grinding under the heels of moralizers always think they invented themselves. Often, it's begun innocently with the expectation that the moralizers are as morals-driven as their images show. A conservative who think that a liberal is a good-hearted but gullible idealist would be a good example of this apprehension. Walking on tenterhooks, in this phase, is intended to make the grandees realize that their criticisms were inaccurate. Sometimes, it's all that's needed.

Only when it becomes clear that the supposed moralists are really moralizers, does the goal change to sapping and draining their credibility. It's at this point that the gloves stay on, but implacability grows underneath the meekness. A conservative who thinks that liberals are irredeemably evil, but keeps that opinion to himself except under the cover of anonymity or sub rosa, makes for a good example of this stage. So, in a lesser way, does a conservative who treats as gospel the maxim "A liberal accuses you of what he is."

I can't say that the crafters of Arizona Bill SB 1070, who made sure that it mirrored already-existing federal law, did so because they wanted to deter maligning. For all I know, it was done so as to call attention to the lack of enforcement of the federal law – as a protest resolution with teeth. I can, however, note the confluence of that kind of square-off with the now well-known law-abidingness of the Tea Party protestors, and draw a connection.

Which may, of course, be wrong. Maybe the Tea Party protestors are acting as law-abiding as they are, simply out of pride. Maybe they're doing so simply to express their disdain for liberal and leftist protestors, who are sometimes prone to break the public's peace (not to mention windows, etc.) Maybe that's all there is in the Tea Partyers going out of their way to heed the laws of the land.

I'm sure of one thing, though: Were I a Washington insider, I'd certainly be hoping that pride is all there was to it. Just as I'd be hoping that all the things they say are just disguised complaints. ESR

Daniel M. Ryan is currently watching The Gold Bubble.






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