"... when you are in politics you are in a wasp's nest with a short-shirt, as the saying is." - Mark Twain
It usually happens just before something serious is about to occur. When elections get near, Susan Henderson invariably prints up one of her "everybody shut up!" editorials. And then there is the one that usually comes before the 4th of July, which is odd because this is normally a holiday when freedom of speech and all that is given a lot of the kind of phony baloney lip service that Susan specializes in. And, best of all, there are those times when serious issues are about to come to a head. We got multiple "shut ups!" around the time the dishonest water rate hike was going down, and this new one could additionally have something to do with Mayor Moran and his cronies trying to steal our Measure V vote. Something being done to benefit those very people who advertise in Susan's paper.
And I'm sure the remaining dotty old dears who still read the Looney Views News and Susan's oft repeated "everybody shut up!" messages heartily concur with her suggestion. After all, if it isn't about tatting doilies, the Police blotter, cooking the very best chocolate chip cookies in town or how long you've lived in Sierra Madre, what is the point of even discussing it? Beyond that they really don't care to know. Just as long as everyone is nice, and appreciates them for all that they do for the community.
Over the years, of course, Susan has committed more scathing and at times absurdly untrue attacks in her paper than there are glass figurines at the Womans Club. Which, I have been told, there are quite a few of them. I know that I personally have been accused by Susan of things like going through peoples' garbage cans, and on more than one occasion. Decidedly outre' behavior that was allegedly reported to the police. Upon further examination, and an interesting conversation with the SMPD, this turned out to be as bizarrely untrue as Susan's claims of possessing a law degree from UC Berkeley. A fib that, as most know, got her booted from the 2nd highest position in the California State Democratic Party (click here) for resume' padding. So there is that tang of audacious hypocrisy to her words as well.
The irony here being that the people in town who talk the most about civility and "everyone working together," are invariably among those who practice these virtues the least. They often turn out to be a lot less Rodney King and a whole lot more Vlad the Impaler.
Susan's column this 4th of July is entitled "236 Years Later And ...," and it appears that she is not very happy about how things are in America. Actually she seems unhappy about the whole 236 years. The reason being that, in her opinion, people have never respected each other as much as they should in this country.
I know what I wanted to say today, but I followed my habits and looked at the last six July 4th columns I had written. One of them, written just last year, really was disconcerting. It starts out, "Well, it's America's Birthday and hopefully we are getting old and wiser as we get older, right? I don't think so. Right now this country is in a mess."
Those words still hold true today and that is not good. Then, and now, I was not speaking of the economy which is actually better than it was last year, but rather speaking of our "inability to stop acting so sophomorically when it comes to everything else in our society."
Every day we seem to become less civilized in our dealings with each other, especially when it comes to our idealogical (sic) differences. I have watched with great dismay the level of respect that we have for those who think differently than we do deteriorate rapidly. However, isn't that supposed to be one of the premises that we will be celebrating on "Independence Day"?
Those "idealogical" differences aside, I am not certain that Susan is correct here. While I do not claim to be a Constitutional scholar by any means, I cannot recall anywhere in the United States Constitution any clause or edict, or even a polite suggestion, saying that politically correct behavior or imposed civility was to be a cornerstone for what became the most powerful and greatest nation on Earth, the United States of America.
Quite the contrary, what the Founding Fathers did guarantee was freedom of speech and the freedom of the press to say whatever it is they might wish to say. No matter what that might be, or who it may offend. And rather than being this nation's mighty avenging behavior nanny, the Constitution of the United States has been defined time and again by the United States Supreme Court as being the protector of just the kinds of speech Susan claims that it was written to oppose. Which is fortunate as the free press in America ranks among the world's most vital and respected. In part because there are no legally empowered Susan Hendersons around to tell folks what they can and cannot say.
Despite Susan's poor-mouthing of this country, somehow we did rise to become the envy of the world. And we did this despite the fact that people here are allowed to communicate pretty much whatever they wish, and about anything or anyone they so desire. It is one of our Constituionally guaranteed, and greatest, freedoms.
Of course, Susan isn't talking about all speech in this town, only that which contradicts what she wants to hear. There is nothing in this week's edition about Mayor Josh Moran's completely over-the-top attacks on a fellow Councilmember on Gene Goss's "Village Intersection" radio show. To my recollection the first of its kind ever committed by someone sitting in Sierra Madre's highest political perch. Nor was there ever anything about the nasty whispering campaign against MaryAnn MacGillivray during the last election. A smear campaign that many suspect Susan herself played a big role in helping to spread around town.
During the last Sierra Madre council race, I interviewed one of the candidates and asked why, when given the opportunity to publicly, and peacefully, stop an unnecessary attack on himself, he failed to address the issue. It would have been a perfect opportunity to set a good example to others. His answer was, "Well, I guess I didn't think about it." And therein lies one of the problems that we are letting destroy this country. As individuals, when given the opportunity to change the tone of the discourse, we just don't think about it. That's a problem that will destroy the country faster that (sic) a falling stock market.
Any candidate that doesn't reply to attacks during a campaign could very be something of a knucklehead and not deserve anyone's vote in the first place. Candidates who turn the other cheek usually end up with a very sore cheek and no office. Despite what Susan said earlier in her screed.
Somehow the United States, now 236 years old, the oldest and greatest democracy to ever rise in this troubled old world, did so without Susan Henderson telling everyone what they can and cannot say. And what we truly celebrate on the 4th of July are our freedoms here, freedoms that include the right to speak one's mind on whatever topic one chooses. To say, as Susan does both this week and year after year, that free speech is somehow destroying this country, is just flat-out crazy talk.
Of course, what Susan is actually saying here is that those who do not share her opinions, or choice in candidates, are uncivil and should be constrained from speaking. And that by "working together to solve our problems," she means that everyone should be doing things her way. Which makes her very much like some of those she grouses about in her opinion pieces. Her partisanship being no less rancorous than some of those mysterious figures she largely invented to complain about. And while it is certainly her right to say such things, it is also anyone's right to call her out on it. That's how it works.
In his Politics Daily (click here) article entitled "Mark Twain Has Been Gone 100 Years, But His Political Wisdom Endures," political correspondent Robert Schmuhl has this to say:
In his posthumously published "Autobiography," a comment on how people form their opinions sounds like a perception more pertinent to our time of continuous, multimedia political chatter: "In religion and politics peoples' beliefs are convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them are not worth a brass farthing."
And what about excessive partisanship? Mark Twain couldn't abide it over a century ago, fulminating in the same work: "Look at the tyranny of party -- at what is called party allegiance, loyalty party -- a snare invented by designing men for selfish purposes - and which turns voters into chattels, slaves, rabbits, and all the while their maters, and they themselves are shouting rubbish about liberty, independence, freedom of opinion, freedom of speech, honestly unconscious of the fantastic contradiction; and forgetting or ignoring that their fathers and the churches shouted the same blasphemies a generation earlier when they were closing their doors against the hunted slave, beating his handful of humane defenders with Bible texts and billies, and pocketing the insults and licking the shoes of his Southern master."
I wonder, would Susan Henderson, our noted local purveyor of second-hand and unexamined opinion, have informed Mark Twain that he should shut up as well? After all, many self-appointed arbiters of proper decorum did so when he still walked the earth. And, except as examples of perfect fools, who remembers them now?