Sunday, May 1, 2005

Sunday Reading

  • Frank Rich on the painful spectacle of conservatives trying to be cool.

    Conservatives can’t stop whining about Hollywood, but the embarrassing reality is that they want to be hip, too. It’s not easy. In the showbiz wrangling sweepstakes of 2004, liberals had Leonardo DiCaprio, the Dixie Chicks and the Boss. The right had Bo Derek, Pat Boone and Jessica Simpson, who, upon meeting the secretary of the interior, Gale Norton, congratulated her for doing “a nice job decorating the White House.” Ms. Simpson may be the last performer in America who can make Whoopi Goldberg seem like the soul of wit.

    What to do? Now that Arnold Schwarzenegger’s poll numbers have sunk, the right’s latest effort to grab a piece of the showbiz action is a new and fast-selling book published by Regnery, home to the Swift Boat Veterans, and promoted in lock step by the right-wing media elite of Fox News, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page and The New York Post. “South Park Conservatives: The Revolt Against Liberal Media Bias,” by Brian C. Anderson of the conservative think tank the Manhattan Institute, gives a wet kiss to one of the funniest and most foul-mouthed series on television. The book has even been endorsed by the grim theologian Michael Novak, who presumably forgot to TiVo the “South Park” episode that holds the record for the largest number of bleeped-out repetitions (162) of a single four-letter expletive in a single television half-hour. Then again, The Weekly Standard has informed us that William Bennett, egged on by his children, has given the show a tentative thumbs up.


    But a funny thing happened on the way to the publication of “South Park Conservatives”: Emboldened by the supposed “moral values” landslide on Election Day, the faith-based right became the new left. Just as Mr. Anderson’s book reached stores in early April, Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone, true to their butt-out libertarianism, aimed their fire at self-righteous, big-government conservatives who have become every bit as high-handed and meddlesome as any Prius-pushing movie star. Such is this role reversal that the same TV show celebrated by Mr. Anderson and his cohort as the leading edge of a potential conservative victory in the culture wars now looks like a harbinger of an anti-conservative backlash instead.


    The same arrogance that sent Republicans into Terri Schiavo’s hospice room has also led them to try to police the culture of sex more rabidly than the left did the culture of sexism. No wonder another recent poll, from the Pew Research Center, finds that for all the real American displeasure with coarse entertainment, a plurality of 48 percent believes that “the government’s imposing undue restrictions” on pop culture is “a greater danger” to the country than the entertainment industry itself. Who could have imagined that the public would fear Focus on the Family’s James Dobson more than 50 Cent?


    On the first page of “South Park Conservatives,” its author declares that “CBS’s cancellation in late 2003 of its planned four-hour miniseries ‘The Reagans’ marked a watershed in America’s culture wars.” It did, in the sense that the right’s successful effort to stifle what it regarded as an un-P.C. (i.e., somewhat critical) treatment of Ronald Reagan sped the censorious jihad that’s now threatening everything from “The Sopranos” on HBO to lesbian moms on PBS. Of course “South Park” is also on this hit list: the Parents Television Council, the take-no-prisoners e-mail mill leading the anti-indecency charge, has condemned the show on its Web site as a “curdled, malodorous black hole of Comedy Central vomit.” Should such theocratic conservatives prevail, “South Park” conservatives will be hipper than they ever could have imagined – terminally hip, you might say.

  • Carl Hiaasen on Florida’s medieval Department of Children and Families.

    Forcing babies to have babies is now the official policy of Florida’s child-welfare agency.

    The sadists running the Department of Children & Families are trying to stop a 13-year-old girl under foster care from getting an abortion.

    They say that she’s too immature to decide whether or not she should have the baby.

    The logic is diabolically cockeyed. If the girl isn’t mature enough to make a sensible choice about her pregnancy, how can she possibly be mature enough to care for a newborn infant?

    An even better question for the extremists at DCF is this: How can any 13-year-old child, from any background, be ready for motherhood?

    The girl is publicly known only as L.G., and her life so far hasn’t been a picnic. According to records, her parents lost custody of her years ago, and she has been raised under state care.

    The girl was residing in a group home in St. Petersburg when she became pregnant 14 weeks ago. She got the news during a medical examination.

    Her attorneys say L.G. immediately told her DCF caseworker “that she wished to terminate the pregnancy.”

    The procedure had been scheduled for last Tuesday, but then the morality police from Tallahassee arrived. That very morning, DCF lawyers filed an emergency motion with Palm Beach Circuit Judge Ronald Alvarez.

    He signed a temporary order blocking the abortion and ordered a competency examination for L.G.

    She is represented by lawyers from Palm Beach Legal Aid and the American Civil Liberties Union. They say that L.G. has never been found to be incompetent, or institutionalized for mental problems.

    They say she should be allowed to make up her own mind about the pregnancy. The Florida Supreme Court has ruled that the state constitution offers a shield of privacy in such cases.

    DCF insists that it’s forbidden by law to let any person under its supervision undergo an abortion or sterilization procedure. Apparently this is to ensure that the agency will never run out of clients.

    Forcing children in state custody to have babies against their will guarantees that there will be a whole new generation of abused, abandoned and neglected kids for taxpayers to support. It’s quite a clever plan.

    Unfortunately, DCF can’t keep up with the thousands of cases that it’s already got — cases such as L.G.’s.

    In a way, she’s one of the lucky ones; she only got pregnant. Others in state care have been tortured, raped, killed or, in the case of Rilya Wilson, vaporized into thin air.

    With nightmare stories leaking out every few weeks, one would think that DCF had its hands full. Wrong.

    The zealots picked by Gov. Jeb Bush to run the agency are never too busy to play politics with somebody’s private agony. The Terri Schiavo case was the most recent debacle, but there have been others.

    Two years ago, DCF fought to block a severely retarded Orlando woman from having an abortion. In that case, the agency litigated for so many months that the operation could not be safely performed. The woman gave birth, and the infant was put up for adoption.

    Such ruthless intrusion into the most private matters is a trademark of the new Republican right, which seldom wastes an opportunity to whip the pro-life crowd into a tizzy. It will likely happen again with L.G’s case.

    With the governor’s political image in mind, DCF carefully tries to mask its meddling as the act of a caring and concerned overseer. In fact the driving but unspoken philosophy behind most of the new abortion restrictions is punitive.

    You got knocked up, kid. That’s what you get for fooling around.

    Now everybody but you gets to decide your future.

    That’s basically what the state of Florida is telling L.G.

    We know what’s best for you, kid. You’re going to carry this baby for the next six months, and we don’t care whether you want it or not. We don’t care whether you’re old enough, responsible enough, sober enough, stable enough or financially secure enough.

    You can give it up for adoption, or you can keep it. If you turn out to be a lousy mom, we’ll simply take it away and stick it in a foster home, just like we did to you.

    A spokeswoman for DCF Secretary Luci Hadi said the agency is doing ”what we believe is in the best interest of the child.” Sure. If you happen to believe that unplanned pregnancy is a real character-builder for teenage girls.

    Don’t be surprised if DCF uses the same cold-blooded tactics against L.G. as it did against the retarded woman in Orlando — dragging the case out in court until it’s too late for a safe abortion.

    If someone put your 13-year-old daughter through that kind of cruelty, you’d know exactly what to call it:

    Child abuse.

  • The Miami Herald editorializes on judicial nominations.

    For a brief moment last week it seemed that a compromise might be possible in the U.S. Senate to avert a nasty fight over the use of filibusters to block a vote on judicial candidates. It’s been a custom in the Senate for nearly 200 years for the minority party to invoke filibusters and other anti-majority tactics, particularly when the other party controlled both the Senate and the presidency, which is the situation today. Although these practices commonly frustrate the majority, they have generally served the nation well as part of the system of checks and balances designed to protect the minority and promote compromise and consultation.

    It was disappointing, therefore, to hear Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., turn down the offer of Democrats to allow a confirmation vote on four of seven stalled judicial nominations in return for doing away with the threat of changing the rules in order to quash filibusters. This brings the fight over judicial nominations to the brink of a partisan confrontation that is simply unnecessary.


    It is particularly unbecoming for Sen. Frist to say he does not support filibusters against judicial candidates. In 1999, he was part of a failed effort to block a vote on Richard Paez, a Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals nominee who finally was approved by the Senate four years after he was nominated. What kept Judge Paez from being blocked altogether was not the obedience to a principle against filibusters by his opponents but rather the fact that Sen. Frist and his colleagues didn’t have the votes to make a filibuster effective.


    Based on polls following the approval of the Terri Schiavo law in Congress, it seems clear that most Americans understand that it’s not for the Congress — or the president — to tell the courts how to decide cases. They understand that the rights of the political minority in the Senate, regardless of party, shouldn’t be trampled in order to gain a temporary advantage. The best way to get things done in Congress is through consultation and compromise. Institutionalizing silence isn’t.

  • David Brooks notes that Senator Frist blew it when he let the compromise offer drop.

    Bill Frist should have taken the deal.

    Last week, the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid, made an offer to head off a nuclear exchange over judicial nominations. Reid offered to allow votes on a few of the judges stuck in limbo if the Republicans would withdraw a few of the others.

    But there was another part of the offer that hasn’t been publicized. I’ve been reliably informed that Reid also vowed to prevent a filibuster on the next Supreme Court nominee. Reid said that if liberals tried to filibuster President Bush’s pick, he’d come up with five or six Democratic votes to help Republicans close off debate. In other words, barring a scandal or some other exceptional circumstance, Reid would enable Bush’s nominee to get a vote and probably be confirmed.

    Reid couldn’t put this offer in writing because it would outrage liberal interest groups. Frist said he’d think about it, but so far he’s let it drop – even though clearing the way for a Supreme Court pick is one of the G.O.P. goals in this dispute.

    Speculation about why Frist has let it drop goes in different directions. Perhaps he didn’t know if he could trust Reid to make good on his promise. Perhaps he didn’t think he could sell this agreement to his own base without publicizing this private part of the deal. Perhaps he wants to keep this conflict going to solidify his support among social conservatives for his presidential run. Perhaps he believes as a matter of principle the judicial filibuster must be destroyed.

    At any rate, it’s now more likely that Republicans will go ahead and change the filibuster rules, and Democrats will begin their partial shutdown of the Senate.

    But Frist should have grabbed Reid’s offer. He should have done it, first, because while the air is thick with confident predictions about what will happen if the nuclear trigger is pulled, nobody really knows. There is a very good chance that as the battle escalates, passions will surge, the tattered fabric of professionalism will dissolve, and public revulsion for both parties will explode.

    If you are leading one of the greatest democratic institutions in history, it’s irresponsible to lead it into this bloody unknown if a deal on the table will give you much of what you want. As one senator who supports changing the filibuster rules says, “Is this what you want on your obit?”

    It’s a perfect day for a sunrise drive with friends in the car club to Key Biscayne for cafe con leche and tosados.