Paul LePage, the Republican Governor of Maine and a Tea Party enthusiast, offered an exciting new idea last week: drug test applicants for welfare. Use drugs and no financial assistance. How cool is that, and this to be done randomly with little cost to the taxpayer. Why hasn’t anyone thought of that before, I asked my cousin Hal, visiting from Tallahassee. Somebody already has, he snorted, Why would you say something that ridiculous? Because, I explained, Paul LePage and his Tea Party friends are firm defenders of the Constitution, of individual liberties and of states rights. Like the colonials of the Boston tea party in 1773, who didn’t have representation in Parliament when the Tea Act was passed, these modern patriots didn’t have representation in Congress or in state legislatures when financial assistance programs were passed. Now they’ve taken a brave stand against taxation of all kinds and in any form, with or without representation. Isn’t that to be praised? You’re so naive, Hal countered. Republicans, led by the Tea Party, are pushing the very same ideas in every state in the union. They are pushing drug-testing just as they pushed the abolition of same day voter registration. Didn’t you notice that they had pulled that off in Maine and in a bunch of other states? I had not. They don’t care about individual states, he continued, and they don’t care about individual liberties; they push the same anti-democratic agenda everywhere. They hate unions. They hate government. They disapprove of state workers. They don’t want working people to vote. They don’t want tax money going to poor people. They make a mockery of the very Constitution they praise. That can’t be right, I protested, Governor LePage has proved himself a stalwart defender of Medicaid against blatant fraud by charlatans. Maine, you must have read, is peculiarly susceptible to Medicaid cheats. This was recently demonstrated by the camera work of James O’Keefe, a philosopher major at Rutgers and the founder of Project Veritas, whose videos are not only good, but foolproof. They either find criminality or vulnerability, every time, and nothing in between. Something is dreadfully wrong in the world each time O’Keefe shoots an image, even when the captured scene looks normal enough and even sweet. O’Keefe is a Andrew Brietbart associate. The two have overcome all of Plato’s doubts about the deceptiveness of images. They have proved that every evil plot written into a telescript comes true when filmed in the real world. How much more evidence do you need than that? They have found the mother lode truths of the field of Rhetoric: how to prove the rule by its exception; and, how to prove a general truth by a single example. LePage, like them, is surely an idealist, a virtual Don Quixote seeking restoration of the shining city on the hill. The Governor’s drug-testing task, I continued, is to stop spoiled poor people who would rather live freely on welfare in Maine than die in dignified poverty in New Hampshire. He doesn’t want them sneaking across the border to Kittery. The Governor’s trusted research arms, the Maine Hermitage Policy Center and Americans for Preposterousness-Maine, have discovered that people come to Maine to shop, first to Kittery, then to Freeport, and then to town halls for welfare benefits. As Governor LePage aptly pointed out, every truck driver has to be drug tested. If it works for them, wouldn’t it be a great way of getting services to poor drug addicts who are too shy to seek help on their own? Shoppers from the granite state, LePage insists, are not going to get their welfare in Maine. Hal, disgusted, called me uninformed. Didn’t I know that Rick Scott, Florida’s governor, and a fellow Tea Party devotee, had successfully passed the same bill in Florida earlier this year, and that it had already been judged unconstitutional? No, I didn’t know. I was aware that Governor LePage and his wife were practically Floridians themselves and were rumored to have a nice little place in Ormond Beach which had come with an instate tuition benefit to Florida State University for their daughter. But truth be told, Hal was right. A Florida law had been signed by Governor Scott in May and had been in operation since July. According to the New York Times, other states are proposing bills to do the same thing. Governor LePage, it seems, is not alone. He is either a friend of Rick’s or a fellow traveler deep into his tea cups. According to the Miami Times, the ACLU sued the state on behalf of Louis LeBron, “a thirty-five year old Navy Veteran and single father from Orlando who is completing his college degree.” While LeBron meets all the criteria for financial assistance, he refuses to take the drug test, which he would be required to pay for. Why should he pay for a drug test, he wanted to know, when there is no reason to think that he used drugs? Judge Mary Scriven, a federal judge in Orlando, agreed, and issued a temporary injunction against the state, finding that the law in all probability violated the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment ban against illegal search and seizure. I thanked Hal for bringing me up to date, and opined that Governor LePage probably didn’t know any of this, and would no doubt retract his proposal when he learned of Navy Veteran LeBron’s concerns and of Judge Scriven’s opinion. Want to bet on that? Hal retorted. I’ll bet you a fiver LePage not only goes after drug-testing for poor people, but also for new state employees. Rick Scott has already tried to do that in Florida, and failed. Plagiarists like LePage, Hal predicted, will not be far behind. Give him a year and he will propose all the recommended legislation in the Tea Party playbook. He suggested I take a look at Ohio. I took the bet and wished him well upon his return to Tallahassee. I heard from Hal again on November 9th, the day after the Election. He wanted to be the first to congratulate Maine voters on restoring same day voter registration. Hooray, Maine! How was I feeling? Cautiously optimistic. A big victory, but the Tea Party folks were already suggesting an identity card requirement as a substitute. The Republicans attributed their loss to the influence of outside money, not to the good sense and civic values of the electorate. Wow, they want to reinstate the poll tax! Don’t they know that the Poll Tax was ruled unconstitutional long ago? No, they don’t know, and they want the voter to pay the cost of the identification card. I know, Hal explained, the voter pay requirement is what makes it a poll tax. They’ll soon find out what states like Wisconsin and Georgia have done to beat the Poll Tax argument. What’s that? They require the state to give out free ID cards to registered voters, but they don’t advertise the service. That way, registered voters show up on election day without ID cards. Clever! You know, Hal says, this stuff is unpatriotic and undemocratic; you’d think the Tea Party Republicans hated America. I don’t think they do, I told him. We call our times an Age of Terrorism, and I guess it is, but it’s more fundamentally an age of out-of-control personal fear. Americans fear other Americans terribly. If you don’t look, think, and act like I do, you’re not a real American. The Tea Party doesn’t ask what they can do for their country. They tell the country what it must do to comfort them. What’s the result? You know what it is, national unity rent asunder. You make it sound like the Civil War hasn’t ended. And you make it sound like the Civil War is just starting. At least we can look forward to the next election. Yes, I agree. So work as hard as you can and make sure to vote. I surely will. I hope you do too. Will Callender November 20, 2011©
Welcome to my blog. I tend to take the world seriously, probably a fault, but a personal habit nonetheless. This seriousness includes the presumption that what passes in public as truth probably isn’t, and that the glances and sniffs one gets walking around are signs of and on a trail toward truth. I grant myself the fancy that I’m searching for truth when I write. Maybe you do too.
At the same time, I distrust words, as would any alert reader of José Saramago‘s novels, as I enthusiastically try to be. Words, as he has often noted, have a tendency to run away from us, taking us hostage with them, on and on, one after the other, until the worlds thereby created collapse into absurdity. Then too, words are all the writer has, and as those novels also prove, profound truths sometimes—and in Saramago‘s case often—coalesce, brood, brew and distill into what reads as essential wisdom, or as at least an arresting folk saying. We may seek to be profound, but we are most likely to end up in absurdity. Truth might be thought of as the top of a summit or a boundary region that can be approached, neared, verged upon, and converged around, but arrived at and dwelt in only momentarily and with difficulty. Profundity and absurdity are the Janus-faced aspects of hope and risk in the search for truth. Here are a few Saramago quotes to illustrate his attention to the prospects of words:
Life is like that, full of words that are not worth saying or that were worth saying once but not any more, each word that we utter will take up the space of a more deserving word, not deserving in its own right, but because of the possible consequences of saying it. Saramago (2002) The Cave, Harcourt (p. 28)
Words are like that, they deceive, they pile up, it seems they do not know where to go, and, suddenly, because of two or three or four that suddenly come out, simple in themselves, a personal pronoun, an adverb, a verb, an adjective, we have the excitement of seeing them come irresistibly to the surface through the skin and the eyes and upsetting the composure of our feelings, sometimes the nerves that cannot bear it any longer, they put up with a good deal, they put up with everything. Saramago (1997) Blindness, Harcourt (p. 281)
It had proved a difficult dialogue, with traps and false doors swinging open at every step, the slightest slip could have dragged him into a full and complete confession if his mind had not been attentive to the multiple meanings of the words he carefully pronounced, especially those that appeared to have only one meaning, those are the ones you have to be most careful with. Contrary to what is generally believed, meaning and sense were never the same thing, meaning shows itself at once, direct, literal, explicit, enclosed in itself, univocal, if you like, while sense cannot stay still, it seethes with second, third and fourth senses, radiating out in different directions that divide and subdivide into branches and branchlets, until they disappear from view, the sense of every word is like a star hurling spring tides out into space, cosmic winds, magnetic perturbations, afflictions. Saramago (1999) All the Names, Harcourt, (p. 114)
It is easy to forgo, embellish, exceed, or forsake truth. Most people, my cynic self tells me, do that. There are two familiar ways to miss or dismiss truth. The first is to turn terror, fear and angst into a need for enduring certainty. One says: the following is true, that’s my belief, now leave me alone to wear these acquired habits, never ask about that subject again. There seem to be people who are so certain of everything that they have settled the problems of life forever. They live in deadening habits.
The other way to dismiss truth is to need and love power. One says, I’m in charge, I hold the power, I’m the authority, what I say is certain, what I say is true, it should be good enough for you, if you don’t like it, leave.
Maybe these two sources of untruth are really one. Would power be needed if a person weren’t afraid? This confusion of mine about whether there are one or two or more roads to self deception is itself an example of the tendency to go beyond truth, to excess, by bypassing the issue under immediate discussion for attention to a related but different one. I don’t know how many reasons there are for giving up truth, or of all the sources of self-deception and lies. Who says lying is the only way to forsake truth. To retain humility, or if not that, to avoid embarrassment, or perhaps to lower the bar, I tell myself that my blog entries will be mostly awkward stabs at truth. It is dangerous to think that truth will be hit directly or often by one’s words. In an age of dead certainty, my stabs are likely to conspire and consort with the words of a legion of other murderers of truth. You know who you are! All right, then, you know who they are! Who cares, it’s up to the reader to decide.
Another digression suggests itself. Is humor a friend of truth or its abandonment? Satire and parody presume that humor and truth are friends. Like any digression, this question, any question, a question asked, sparks thought and words, and moves on and along with every stab at truth. As Kurt Vonnegut had a character say, “And so it goes.”
Anyhow, Welcome. I expect to post every other week. I look forward to your comments. Guest contributors are welcome.
November 14, 2011©