Tuesday, March 23, 2010

We keep forgetting importance of Rule of Law--for everyone!

In an email exchange at a writer's group discussing (sigh) the health-care bill, this exchange:

"[m]any Republicans decried the last minute tactics practiced by Pelosi, Reid and Obama to pull the off vote, but I applaud them. I want to see our leaders pull out all the stops for something that can help tens of millions of Americans. I want to see them threaten, cajole, bargain, terrify, and bully lawmakers into submission."

Another writer asked if this is really, really what the previous writer wants.

I think the more pointed question is what you want the rules to be, moving forward. If this is your idea of proper conduct in this situation, are you willing to accept that at some future time, your ideological opponents can use these same tactics, but against you and what you believe in? That they, perversely, may think they are saving or helping millions by stopping you, or forcing you to pay for things you hate? 

Rule of Law doesn't mean rule only by people who agree with me, against people who don't agree with me and who are therefore wrong. It means a set of rules that is used by everybody, good and bad. These aren't rules for The Right People. They are the rules for everyone. And that should make you afraid.

Yes, I know, you probably think your opponents have been using such tactics all along and it's nice that somebody on your side is using them for a change. But that moves you in the direction of accepting such tactics as appropriate.

I keep remembering that when Carter was President, there were rules of behavior and laws passed that were The Right Thing to Do. Then the idiot electorate went and voted some rightwing knucklehead named Ronald Reagan into office, and *he* promptly went and used all those same rules, intended for Right-Thinking Rulers, for his own ends. To do what *he* thought was Right. Because, oddly, he thought of *himself* and those who agreed with him as Right-Thinking People. No accounting for life, huh?

So be very careful about applauding the use of theats, terror, and bullying when it's done by your side; because you can't confine it to use by your side and by those who agree with you. And when it's done by the other side against what you believe in, you will no longer, *in principle*, have any grounds on which to object.

But that would require rulers who have principles, wouldn't it? And the impatient always prefer the use of power to achieve their ends.

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