07 February 2010

Sarah's Mad Tea Party, or A law professor is exactly what we need

Horrible Sarah Palin spoke to the Tea Party nutjobs this past weekend, in her classic nutjob style. I suppose the basis of the Tea Party movement is ignorance - oddly, it seems ruled by emotions not rational thought or anything approaching rational thought. (Which, to be very backwards and antifeminist, makes it the ideal site for a woman leader; and the genteel name Tea Party adds even more nineteenth-century femininity to the whole mess).

Palin, who may well be a nice enough person, is not anyone's idea of the sharpest knife in the drawer. She simply doesn't know enough to be out there doing what she's doing. Being the mayor of some pukey town in Alaska is one thing; even governor of Alaska is manageable - though of course, she quit that a few yards from the finish line.

This is the problem with this hyper-emotional reactionary conservatism - it's incredibly ill-informed, and incredibly ahistorical (except when it comes to quoting that old phony Ronald Reagan). I can cope with - even respect and be calm about - conservatives or anyone else with an ideology very different to my own when I can see that they have thought about it, know the facts and historical context, have though about both long and short-term consequences of their belief systems.

But these Tea Party yokels haven't done this, and neither has old Sarah Palin.

She said - this is the quote that irked me into blithering here:
They know we're at war, and to win that war we need a commander in chief and not a professor of law standing at the lectern.
And this is where she exposes her incredible lack of historicity. It is precisely when we are at war that we need professors of law at the lectern, or even at the helm of the ship of state (a fabulously hokey metaphor, that one). When things go to crisis situations, when there's war or civil unrest or natural disaster or any other kind of chaos, that is exactly the time when laws matter most. I'm not sure I mean the incredibly petty rules - for example, everyone gets a pass on taking food from shops to feed themselves during natural disasters, when food is otherwise unavailable. Jean Valjean can have his loaf of bread.

But big things, like how to prosecute alleged criminals, whether or not to torture detained suspects, what powers the police have, all those great Geneva Conventiony things - those need to stay in place. You simply cannot change up all the rules in times of war. There is something to be said for continuity and stability, and that is what a regular legal system provides.

Way back in my constitutional thought class days, we addressed Lincoln's decision to suspend habeas corpus during the Civil War (cf., Ex-parte Merryman, Ex-parte Milligan). After spending weeks reading Supreme Court cases about civil rights and civil liberties, I was appalled at Lincoln. I still am appalled at Lincoln. It's because of this suspension of habeas corpus, and Lincoln's decision to impose martial law all over the place, that I cannot get on board with the reverence normally accorded to Lincoln. I felt then, and feel now, really, really uncomfortable with those decisions.

There's case law, there are Supreme Court decisions, there are historians arguing in the background, all saying it's not a good idea to play fast and loose with the Constitution during wartimes. And yes, there's the argument that "foreign combatants" aren't citizens, and thus do not have any of the rights the Constitution secures. But isn't there - shouldn't there be - a moral argument that we ought to treat even our prisoners and enemies as best we can? Or at least abide by the Geneva Conventions?

But no. No, not for the Tea Partiers, not for Palin, not for any of the loud-mouthed morons shouting from the radio and FoxNews.

Every single one of them should be forced to take extensive classes in American history and constitutional law. And then they should all be required to pass a rigorous exam on the material. Only then should any of them be allowed in positions of any kind of power.


And as a corrective to the angst and dismay Sarah Palin evokes in me, here is one of the more fabulous bits of advertising for the best television show ever: RuPaul's Drag Race, now at the start of its second season.

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