The Governor of Louisiana called me last night. I was just about to doze off when the phone rang. And can you believe it? He wanted my advice on how to deal with his plummeting poll numbers and his growing list of governing and political problems. The conversation went something like this.
“Jim, Bobby Jindal here. You’ve been pretty rough on me in your weekly columns and on your syndicated radio show. You know I’m a regular reader and I listen to you all the time, at least when I’m in the state. You’ve really been on my case lately. So I’m calling and asking you, man to man, what advice you would give me? What should I do? It seems like every week, some new list is released showing Louisiana at the bottom. And my poll numbers are in the tank. Man, I could really use some guidance.”
I was, of course, flattered that the Governor wanted my advice. So I thought for a moment -- where to begin? He certainly has major problems to address. On virtually every list released in the past year, Louisiana is ranked either at, or close to the bottom for having a poor business climate, educational levels that lag far behind national averages, highest insurance rates, low rankings by the Center for Public Integrity, obstructing public access to information, and at the bottom of the barrel for overall health.
And here’s another slap in the face. Jindal just completed a term as Chairman of the National Governor’s Association. And how did Louisiana fare in the governors’ non-partisan sub group’s ranking for overall quality of life called the “Camelot Index?” Dead last!
So what would I recommend that the governor do right now -- something tangible, something that would yield immediate results? Something that would show the average guy that something is being done. After giving it some thought, I had one simple solution. “Governor, take the afternoon off and rent a video.”
“What? Voters are saying my state is under siege, and you tell me I should watch a movie? Come on, Jim!”
“That’s right, Bobby. Not just any movie. I want you to rent ‘City Hall,’ starring Al Pacino.”
“Never heard of it.” I wasn’t surprised.
“Trust me on this, Bobby. Pacino plays the part of the Mayor of New York, and the city faces a whole litany of problems, including a major crime wave. Al says enough is enough. He becomes a PVLF -- a positive, visible, local force. And he’s everywhere. No, he’s not criss-crossing the country speaking to political groups, Bobby. But he’s back home in his state. When a murder takes place, he’s on the crime scene. When innocent victims are involved, he is preaching at their funerals. He’s walking the streets, in coffee houses, in restaurants, being verbal and visual one on one, and visiting with small groups. Simply letting the people of his city know that he’s in charge, that he cares, that he empathizes with their concerns, and he’s trying to do everything in his power to solve one insurmountable problem after the other.”
“Of course, it’s not quite that simple. But it’s a beginning, Bobby. And get this. That’s exactly how New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who is, by the way, the leading Republican candidate for president in 2016, operates. He’s everywhere in New Jersey. Here’s what Christie says about governing: “You gotta show up -- regularly, consistently. And you gotta listen. You can’t always talk at people, you have to listen.”
If you are there and the folks you represent believe you are giving it your best effort, they are going to be much more willing to do their part. And these people you represent can be of tremendous help if you motivate them. You can build grass roots support for your legislative agenda, and you can encourage Louisianans to volunteer, and become involved in numerous community service programs. They’re volunteers for the state, but you can also turn them into volunteers for your own future. You will quickly find out that good government is also good politics.
“Bottom line, Bobby -- stay at home where you were elected. Your challenge is to rally the masses, let them know you are on the job continually and that you are giving your all to improve the state’s quality of life. You can do it, Bobby. You just have to make the commitment.”
“Boy, I really appreciate your advice, Jim. You’ve got me thinking, fired up, and ready to change direction. You’re right, Jim. I can make a difference. I’m their leader. You are going to be amazed at the new approach I’m going to take. Thanks, Jim. And I’ll be listening to on the weekends.”
I hung up the phone, and was satisfied that Bobby Jindal would take up my challenge. I really believe in the PVLF theory. Maybe, just maybe, I had gotten through to him. For a minute, I lay there with a smile of contentment on my face.
And then I woke up from my dream.
George Orwell’s novel 1984 paints a disturbing scenario where one can be accused of a crime, arrested and prosecuted for his or her thoughts.
“The thought police would get him just the same. He had committed… the essential crime that contained all others in itself. Thought crime they called it… sooner or later they were bound to get you.”
The Orwell scenario comes to mind when digesting a recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court upholding a federal law that allows the indefinite civil commitment of federal prisoners who have completed their sentences, but are deemed “sexually dangerous.” This travesty of justice is based on the thought that a crime might be committed in the future
Now if you think the only dissenters expressing concerns over such a draconian ruling are bleeding heart liberals, think again. Add to that number the likes of Rush Limbaugh, and the two most conservative members of the Supreme Court, Justices Scalia and Thomas. The majority of the court cited that congress could pass such laws because it has “enumerated powers,” then conveniently failed to list any such powers or constitutional authority. Hogwash, said Justice Thomas. He pointed out that offenses allowing indefinite jail time need not even be a sex crime. Someone serving time for mail fraud or tax evasion could be declared “dangerous” if a prosecutor feels he or she might have a “tendency” to commit further crimes, even if the sentence was not for a criminal conviction.
Sex crimes, violent crimes, property crimes, drug crimes – whatever the circumstances of the offense, one would think that when the sentence is done, it’s done. If there is a terrible crime involved, then the courts should hand out longer sentences. It should be noted that three of the five defendants appealing their sentences to the Supreme Court were convicted of possessing pornography, not physically endangering any child.
I share the view that people who deal in this type of smut are vile and loathsome. However, once a criminal sentence is completed, under our constitution, the criminal is “square with the house.” But if the “thought police” then move in with, “what if” scenarios, we begin a slippery slope that starts with child predators, then accused terrorists, then anyone accused of murder, and a whole litany of crimes that may be committed in the future. And the protections and liberties of the country become relinquished ideals and faded memories.
This decision that undermines our constitutional protections is not all that surprising considering the pervasive chipping away of our individual freedoms over the past decade. Americans have been losing the protection of law for years. The loss of constitutional protections accelerated under the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” where we were told that the job of the President is to keep us safe. Bush legal adviser John Yoo espoused a similar philosophy in a Wall Street Journal Op Ed article. Simply put, he argued that the president, in the name of public safety, could cut down all laws written for the express purpose of restraining the President, because all that Americans expect is to be kept safe. Under that logic, we revert to the Nixon philosophy that the president can do no wrong. And as Jack Bauer, star of the Fox series “24” would argue, the end always justifies the means.
We live in a brave new world today. Surveillance cameras monitor most areas of our lives. When the government chooses, it can listen in on our telephone calls and read our e-mails. Government intelligence agencies have sophisticated computer technology that sweeps the Internet and our website activity to determine what we are thinking and saying. The President can label anyone, including American citizens, “enemy combatants” and hold them indefinitely without access to family or an attorney.
As Rutherford Institute President John Whitehead recently wrote: “The lesson is this: once a free people allows the government inroads into their freedoms or uses those same freedoms as bargaining chips for security, it quickly becomes a slippery slope to outright tyranny. Nor does it seem to matter whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican at the helm anymore, because the bureaucratic mindset on both sides of the aisle now seems to embody the same philosophy of authoritarian government.”
Philosopher C.S. Lewis lectured at Cambridge in England when I was a student there in the mid 1960s. His collection of essays and speeches titled God in the Dock second-guesses the notion that government is only working for our good. He writes:
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
For years we’ve been hearing, and saying ourselves, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore! Not much came from this populist anger. But maybe there is a different wind in the air. Recent elections, including a congressional race here in the Louisianan 5th District, resulted in several successful candidates turning their backs on the two established parties. They ran campaigns on a premise that precepts of our constitution were birthed by the rabble of all walks of life that got fed up and did risky things because, as writer Naomi Wolf observed, “they were captivated by the breath of liberty, and not consumed by government protection at all costs.”
Maybe there is a bit of desire to rein in those who stifle liberty and freedom in the name of national security. We all need to hope so.
The 34th President of the United States was assassinated 50 years ago this week under controversial circumstances that leave a number of questions unanswered to this day. Republicans look to Ronald Reagan as their ideal. But John Kennedy captured the hearts of the American people like no other president, before or since. And from the first stirrings of his efforts to become president, to events that took place after his death, my home state of Louisiana has had a special place in the Kennedy legacy.
John Kennedy’s first foray in building Louisiana relationships began in 1956, during the then young Senator’s efforts to become the vice presidential candidate on the Adlai Stevenson ticket. Stevenson had promised the VP spot to Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver, but didn’t want to offend the Kennedy patriarch, Joseph Kennedy. So he threw the nomination open to the convention floor.
As luck would have it, the Louisiana delegation sat right beside the Massachusetts delegates. John Kennedy and his campaign manager and brother Bobby became fast convention friends with two senior Louisiana delegates, Judge Edmund Reggie of Crowley, and my mentor and friend, Camille Gravel from Alexandria. But the Louisiana delegation was controlled by Governor Earl Long, and he was firmly committed to Kefauver for the vice presidential nomination. Long left the convention early, having given strict instructions to Reggie and Gravel to support Kefauver.
Despite orders from Ole’ Uncle Earl, Reggie and Gravel led the whole Louisiana delegation in support of John Kennedy. Long was furious, since the rest of the southern states went with Kefauver, the southern candidate. But the efforts by Reggie and Gravel built a special bond between Louisiana and the Kennedys.
Four years later, when John Kennedy set his sights on the presidency, he knew his Catholicism would be a problem. There had never been a catholic president, and Kennedy wanted to build some initial political bridges in friendly territory. On October 16, 1959, he headed for Crowley, Louisiana, at the invitation of Judge Reggie and his wife Doris, to be the Grand Marshall of the International Rice Festival. (A sad side note. Judge Reggie passed away this week at the age of 87.) One Hundred and thirty thousand people packed the streets to show their support and affection. There are some marvelous photos taken at the Rice Festival of the future president, who never wore anything on his head in public, sporting a hat made from rice.
Following the Rice Festival, it was on to Baton Rouge, and then to the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans where Kennedy received similar accolades from the city’s large Catholic population. There was no doubt that Louisiana was in Kennedy’s corner. After he had become president, he reminisced that he felt his campaign had really taken off after his initial foray into the deepest of the deep southern states.
Under the Kennedy presidency, many Americans throughout the country felt a new wave of optimism, which they referred to as Camelot. But then came Dallas. An unstable 24-year-old man with a $21 rifle changed the world. Some historians have written that the Kennedy assassination caused America to loose its innocence. And sadly, Louisiana ties to Kennedy’s death emerged. Lee Harvey Oswald was born in New Orleans, and was active for years in the Crescent City as a pro-Castro Marxist.
New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison alleged a conspiracy involving a number of Louisianans, and even the CIA. Garrison exposed contradictions in the Warren Commission Report, but his witnesses turned out to be unsavory characters and he was too small a player to take on an alleged international conspiracy. And by the way, a key member of the Warren Commission was New Orleans Congressman and House Majority Leader Hale Boggs. The Louisiana Connections abound.
I knew “Big Jim” (he was 6’ 5”) well, and shared a locker right beside him at the New Orleans Athletic Club throughout the investigation and trial. He would often whisper that a new bombshell was about be revealed and he was certain that he would solve the case of the century. Jim, as it turned out, was both delusional and paranoid. The case consumed him and he died a few years later at 70.
So at the beginning of the Kennedy presidential quest, and at its end, Louisiana was in the mix of history. Both the highs and the lows of the Kennedy mystique were partially framed by those who loved him and by those who hated him in the Bayou State.
Fifty years later, President John F. Kennedy is remembered as one of Americana’s most inspiring and creative presidents. But his story would not be complete without an acknowledgement of the strong feelings of affection between this popular president and the people of the deepest of the deep southern states. Louisianans by the thousands were there for him on his path to the White House from the very beginning. And, tragically, at the end, as well.