In America, debating ideas is a good thing

Edward Achorn
Opinion Columnist
The Providence Journal
Tuesday, December 29, 2009

One of America’s greatest journalists, the crusty H.L. Mencken of The Baltimore Sun, often drew complaints that he was too negative.

“It is inaccurate to say that I hate everything,” he replied. “I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty, and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible for public office.”

Sheldon Whitehouse was four months old when Mencken passed from this vale of tears. But even the Sage of Baltimore would have been struck by the tone of a speech that our Rhode Island solon delivered from the floor of the Senate this month.

Mr. Whitehouse grabbed national attention with his contention that opposition to the Senate’s health-care bill has been driven by those who “are desperate to break this president. They have ardent supporters who are nearly hysterical at the very election of President Barack Obama. The birthers, the fanatics, the people running around in right-wing militia and Aryan support groups, it is unbearable to them that President Barack Obama should exist.”

Mr. Whitehouse surely knows that such a contention is pure demagoguery…

…It is not an act of Aryan supremacy to wonder what part of the Constitution empowers Congress to compel people by threat of jail or fines to buy very expensive products — in this case, health insurance — produced by private companies with influential Washington lobbyists.

It does not make one a “birther” to question how the struggling middle class will afford all this — the vast new government entitlement in the teeth of massive deficits, the huge tax hikes to pay for some of it, and the mandates for expensive insurance.

One need not be a member of a right-wing militia to feel suspicious when a law that will affect every American is crafted behind closed doors, larded up with bribes to politicians, and rushed through the Senate in a series of votes in the dead of night, capped by one on Christmas Eve, when any reasonably sane citizen is distracted from guarding the national cookie jar.

However wrongheaded one might think these voters are, they are raising concerns worth addressing and debating.

Mencken believed we should not expect any better from our elected officials. “Looking for an honest politician is like looking for an ethical burglar,” he observed.

I still cling to the notion that the public should hold politicians to some standards…

The complete editorial is here.

Comments are closed.