I’ve been preoccupied with other affairs lately, and haven’t been much inclined to write blog entries, as the date stamp will attest. However, sometimes events crop up in ways that just demand to be shared and commented upon.

Two news stories this week converged (at least in my mind) to compel the question:  just how do we allow so many deluded, deranged, venally twisted cretins to have power over us in public office? How do they get that way, and how can they stand to look at themselves in the mirror?

We’re not talking about policy disputes here where reasonable people can disagree reasonably, or even cobble up semi-plausible pretexts for their positions. This isn’t about matters like, say, whether health care reform needs a public insurance option (it does) or if a handful of regulatory changes paired with an individual mandate would be better than nothing (it wouldn’t)… or whether Afghanistan is a war of necessity (it isn’t) where a counter-insurgency strategy with more troops will win the day (it won’t). This isn’t merely about middle-of-the-road politicians being spineless (paging Harry Reid!) or self-serving (hello, Max Baucus!) or both.

No, this is about things so flat-out staggeringly wrong you can’t believe the people responsible are willing to show their faces in public.

First incident: a Justice of the Peace down in Louisiana, a fellow named Keith Bardwell, refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple. He claims this was out of concern for the potential children, who might not be fully accepted by society. “I think those children suffer,” he said.

Apparently Mr. Bardwell missed, oh, the entire twentieth century. Never mind that the social science research overwhelmingly rejects his notion that children of mixed-race parents are any worse off than others. (Yeah, the stigma is overwhelming. That glass ceiling doesn’t go any higher than President of the United States. Never mind Tiger Woods or Derek Jeter…) Never mind , moreover, that you obviously can have a marriage without children, and likewise you can have children without a marriage.

The main thing Bardwell seems to be overlooking is that his job is to carry out the law, and the Supreme Court decided forty-two years ago in the aptly-named Loving v. Virginia that it was unconstitutional to block interracial marriages.

Doesn’t matter to Bardwell. “The Attorney General’s office has told me I’m in violation of the law,” he says, “but … I don’t feel like I’ve done anything wrong.”

Bardwell goes on to dig himself even deeper:

“I’m not a racist,” [he says.] “I just don’t believe in mixing the races that way.”

Yes, you read that right. And of course,

“I have piles and piles of black friends. They come to my home, I marry them, they use my bathroom.”

See, how could he possibly be any more tolerant than that?

The real topper is that in the attempt to justify himself, Bardwell insists it’s about being unbiased. “I try to treat everyone equally,” he says. Because he’s rejected at least three other couples in the last 2-1/2 years, you see, and so it would be unfair to grant a license to this couple.

Which makes it truly remarkable that his behavior has taken this long to come to light. Fortunately, the couple at hand has remedied that. They went to the ACLU, and are filing a complaint. This guy has grossly abused his office, and deserves to be removed from that office as soon as possible.

(On the bright side, this story might help elicit a little sympathy for same-sex couples, who face this kind of prejudice every day without the law on their side. As in the current Texas case, where Republican state Attorney General Greg Abbott is fighting hard to prevent a gay couple from getting divorced. Because, you see, they were married in another state, but Texas passed a ballot initiative in 2005 banning same-sex marriage… so his position is that in order for the state to avoid recognizing same-sex marriage, this same-sex couple has to be forced to stay married. Because the alternative would devalue the institution of marriage. No, I’m not making this up.)

Second instance: back in 2005, a young woman working for Halliburton/KBR in Baghdad was gang-raped and severely injured by seven of her coworkers. And when she tried to report the attack, they locked her in a shipping container overnight.

This happened outside U.S. criminal jurisdiction, so she couldn’t bring a criminal complaint… and when she tried to sue, she discovered it was barred by her employment contract, which had a clause requiring all disputes (even sexual assault!) to be resolved by private arbitration, a process which (it should be needless to say) tends to favor the corporation. (This clause was a mandatory company-wide policy imposed back when the CEO was, guess who?, Dick Cheney.)

So. It’s now 2009, and new Senator Al Franken, in his first legislative initiative, pushes an amendment to the defense appropriation bill to stop the Pentagon from doing business with contractors that impose such clauses. Sounds like a sure-fire, everybody-on-board apple-pie issue, right? A simple proposition:  Let’s not turn a blind eye to contractors who countenance gang-raping their employees. And indeed it did win passage… by a vote of 68 to 30.

Wait, hold on. That’s right:  thirty sitting Senators voted against this amendment. Every one of them a Republican.

I was astonished to read this. But the inimitable Mark Morford summed it up far more poetically than I could hope to:

Look at them shuffle and sneer, hem and haw! Watch as they willingly eat their own souls with a ice pick and some turpentine, then step up to the media microphones and try to sound ennobled and magnanimous when in fact they only make everyone within earshot feel lost and fatalistic. …

It’s a story from the dark political underbelly that makes you question the entire setup, rethink humanity, and lean out your window and scream: what the hell is wrong with these people?

And Jon Stewart on The Daily Show put it even more succinctly:

If to protect Halliburton you have to side against rape victims, you might want to rethink your allegiances.

What do we find, if we seek the threads tying these stories together? Well, here’s one:  Tangipahoa Parish, LA, wherein presides Keith Bardwell, happens to be part of the Congressional district once served by far-right-wing, hooker-patronizing U.S. Senator David Vitter. And Vitter is one of the thirty who voted to protect Halliburton from letting its victimized employees have their day in court.

And moreover:  not only the Lousiana JP, not to mention the Texas AG, but also twenty of those thirty Senators voting against Franken’s amendment, all happen to be from states that were part of the old Confederacy.

Coincidence? Yeah, right.

I don’t know what exactly the causal factors are, but there’s something frankly poisonous about the cultural and political values of the South.

My heart goes out to reasonable, decent human beings (including the couple in the first story described) who are unfortunate enough to be stuck living in such places. Nevertheless, sometimes I can’t help thinking that American politics would be far better off today if we’d just never reincorporated any of those states into the Union.

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8 Responses to “Things that make your jaw drop”
  1. Ann says:

    Stellar work there eveyrone. I’ll keep on reading.

  2. “Cruel fanaticism or career death! Choose now! Choose insanity!”

    It’s as if they’ve been infected with some offshoot of the Anti-Life Equation.

  3. Vamberfield says:

    My jaw keeps dropping due to the insanity coming from the right wing this election season. New York’s 23rd district went Democratic for the first time since Reconstruction, thanks in no small part to ultra right wingers attempting to purge their party of the slightly less crazy type of conservatives. They seem to be thrilled with themselves. Do they think this is some kind of game?

  4. B.J. Shoemaker says:

    Check out this website: http://www.republicansforrape.org/legislators/
    It clearly calls out each of the 30 legislators who voted against the Franken amendment.

  5. Another question: how did such clauses ever get into these employment contracts in the first instance?

  6. Anita, just to be clear, I have nothing at all against you or any other particular individuals from the south. (Or from Texas in particular, which is in many ways almost a country unto itself. And has occasionally tried to be.) I’ll cheerfully acknowledge that there are good people and enclaves of civilization to be found there. So no offense intended on that front, and I’m glad none was taken.

    However, those people and places are regrettably outnumbered across vast swathes of the region. (And it’s not about mere corruption… as you point out, that can be found anywhere, and I’d be the last person to defend the state of Illinois in that regard.) What I’m talking about here are the political and cultural attitudes that are all too widespread, all too commonplace below the Mason-Dixon line… attitudes that frequently haven’t yet crawled out of the nineteenth century.

    Why? I honestly don’t know. There are historical and economic and religious and educational and all sorts of other factors at play; it’s an overdetermined phenomenon. Nor is it strictly limited to the south (e.g., consider Tom Frank’s What’s the Matter With Kansas, asking many of the same questions about his home state)… but if you look at a map of the “red states,” or those with the lowest educational attainment, or the any number of other unfortunate indicators, the south clearly stands out as dominating the trendlines.

    (And what’s worse, in a bitterly ironic sense, is that the reactionary throwbacks who are so overrepresented down there don’t hesitate at all to toss casual calumnies at the rest of the country. They’re constantly talking about “San Francisco liberals” or “East cost elites” or northerners/urbanites in general as if the very geographical references were intrinsically insulting… as if there were something unsavory about being associated with the parts of America that provide the decided majority of the country’s cultural and economic infrastructure, educational institutions, tax revenues and more. But I digress…)

    Anyway, as for the legal implications of the divorce case, I’m not quite as optimistic as you. I’d like to think that the “full faith and credit” clause would shoot down any state’s failure to recognize a same-sex marriage (or any other kind) from another state… but thus far the federal courts have declined to interpret it that way, for reasons that remain inscrutable. Look at it logically and DOMA should have forced this issue years ago, but the USSC has refused to accept cert on any case that would require it to rule on the matter… just as it’s refused to apply the equal protection clause in the way logic and precedent suggest. I think the main thing that’ll bring change on equal marriage is plain old shifting demographics (more young people, fewer old ones), long before the courts find the backbone to deal with it.

  7. Anita Burns says:

    Yeah Dwight, and I’m one of them! Everyplace has it flaws (Who was IL’s last governor? and the guy before that???) but it is unquestioningly unreasonable to lump half the country together like that. You know better, and I like the rest of your post, so this Houstonian won’t take offense at your well meant, but displaced, moral outrage. And FYI.. both those stories make me sick! That they happened at all makes me cringe, and it blows my mind to think they happened in the 21st century!

    As for the Texas divorce case, I’m really glad it’s happened. Maybe this will force the gay marriage issue before the Supreme Court. Even though this is a pretty conservative court, I think they have to allow equal rights to everyone. They can’t just throw this back on the states because if one state doesn’t recognize another’s license, then a whole heckuva lotta people are gonna be in trouble. Your thoughts on this?

  8. There are going to be people giving you arguments over that closing point, Chris.

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