I take as my text for the week a commentary by the BBC's Justin Webb on the Terri Schiavo case. His three years covering Washington for his fellow Brits, Webb wrote, had pretty much convinced him that Americans were ignorant, lazy and "ruled to a dangerous extent by trashy television, superstition and religious bigotry, [while] lacking in respect for evidence-based knowledge." But then, to his amazement, we got Schiavo right.
We, the people, were "corralled" and "emotionally blackmailed" by Big Media and the Pols, Webb said. But we "rebelled" and thought for ourselves. He'd have bet any amount of money that it would go the other way, that the polls would find us unwilling to let her die in the face of Tom DeLay and Bill Frist's video diagnosis. "But it did not happen, and the reasons why ... go to the heart of this wonderfully surprising place. Americans do believe in God and they do believe in life, but they also believe in law, and rules, and the need for democracy to restrain, not satisfy, the wishes of politicians."
Well, ain't we swell. But I do agree that the Schiavo case is--potentially--a huge turning point in our politics. This was an issue that everyone understood, and no amount of Bush-brand bull could hide the fact that what the right-wingers were up to was absurd--and dangerous. The emperor's clothes, remember?
Anyway, it's spring, and while young Webb's doubtless under the influence of the cherry blossoms on the Potomac, this is absolutely the time of year when our hopes should be high, the glass is half-full, and the sunny side of the news our focus. In that vein, we choose to be optimistic about events closer to home:
A lottery is not inevitable. To the contrary, we think House Speaker Jim Black is killing it with kindness by letting its proponents loose on the projected $400 million bonanza (and not letting them duck behind a public referendum). By the time the pro-lottery folks are through whacking up the dough for their many "education" schemes, they'll only prove the opponents' point--that pretending the lottery can pay for school construction, college scholarships, pre-school education and the rest is just a way of avoiding the real work of enacting progressive tax measures that actually can pay the bills. Earmarking taxes, especially regressive ones, only makes sense if you aren't not willing to pay for the thing otherwise--are we really not going to build schools, or send needy kids to college, unless there's a lottery? On the other hand, we probably won't pay rich kids' tuitions without one. But nobody who's undecided (e.g., Joe Hackney? Deborah Ross?) is going to vote for a lottery to do that, are they?
A lottery, if passed, can pay for housing. Not directly, of course. No one's proposing that. But an amazing coalition has sprung up since December, when advocates first floated the idea that affordable housing in North Carolina is worth a $50 million annual appropriation each year, not just the chintzy $3 million usually spent. Sadly, Gov. Mike Easley didn't put any new housing money in his budget. But then, he didn't put in $400 million from the lottery either, so if that comes along to free up other revenues--voila!
Even in Durham, democracy is possible. It may not seem that way, with Floyd McKissick Jr. apparently the only candidate for Democratic party chair--we say apparently because the party's nominating committee refuses to name its slate before the county convention Saturday. But here come the Durham Greendogs with open candidate forums--and beer--"to show the Democratic party that it is a good thing to act democratically," as one put it. There will be contests for other party posts, we're told, and black and white progressives are working together behind the scenes to give the organization some purpose despite McKissick.
Even in Raleigh, democracy is possible. OK, Keith Karlsson is running unopposed for Democratic chair in Wake County. But that's a good thing a) because Karlsson's a solid progressive, and b) because he avoided a battle with young Deaniac Jeff Marsocci by making Marsocci his Raleigh vice chair. In a joint statement, both pledged "to reach out to grassroots activists and volunteers and to emerging groups throughout the county" and to "recruit strong candidates who support our core values contained in the [Wake Dems'] platform."
The developers don't run Raleigh. You snort? The good news is that all those little, illegal signs--the ones they put up every weekend all over town pointing you to every new subdivision they're selling--are gonna be history in just a few months. Yes, the City Council, after looking the other way for years while the signage proliferated, was fixing this week to adopt a new policy, as follows: We're enforcing our rules seven days a week! It's a start.
NPR's not just for Nice Polite Republicans. There is progressive programming available, and if WUNC won't run it, WNCU--90.7 on your FM dial, out of N.C. Central University--can and will, every weeknight from 6:30-7:30 p.m. "Democracy Now!" is "the legendary independent news program" featuring Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, as our friend Jerry Markatos, of Balance & Accuracy in Journalism, says. "Friends of honest media," he says, should tune in ("postpone those 7 o'clock meetings to 7:30") and also talk up the program to potential advertiser--sorry, "underwriters"--so it can stay on the air.
Liddy Dole has peaked. She won her Senate seat in '02 in a landslide. But now she's under fire from conservatives for a poor performance as chair of the National Republican Senate Campaign Committee, which is neither here nor there to us. But even her friends at The News & Observer were aghast when she showed up at Capitol Park in Raleigh last week for a nice photo op about how public housing can be rebuilt the Republican way--without much public housing, that is--only to be lambasted by new state Democratic chair Jerry Meek for supporting the new Bush budget that zeros out the program (Hope VI) that paid for it. She wouldn't even get out of the car! the N&O complained.