2004-10-22 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach


At the worst, politicians lie. At the best, they “spin” an issue to make it look like their opponents did something that they did not, in fact do.

The race for President has provided more than enough examples on both sides of the aisle to prove that fact.

Now comes a local example to prove that politicians do not always tell the entire truth when discussing their opponents.

In last week’s Wave, Jerry Cronin, the pro-life, Republican, Conservative candidate who is running for the House of Representatives against Anthony Weiner, ran a two-page ad.

The crux of the ad was that Weiner has a problem with the words “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, and, in fact, voted against “The Pledge Protection Act (HR 2028).”

Cronin’s ad said, in large print, “The Pledge Protection Act was voted upon on September 23, 2004. The goal was to protect the words ‘under God’ from being removed. The act passed [247-173]. Congressman Weiner voted ‘no.’”

Late on Wednesday of last week, Weiner, perhaps responding to earlier comment from Cronin, issued a press release that said that he voted to “preserve the words ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance.”

Over the weekend, I hit the computer, trying to figure out who was telling the truth.

It turns out that both Weiner and Cronin were telling their own version of the truth.

Weiner’s truth had more validity that Cronin’s truth, and here’s why.

First of all, have a look at House Rules (HR) 2028, a bill that would amend Chapter 99 of title 28, United States Code, by adding the following words:

No court created by Act of Congress shall have any jurisdiction and the Supreme Court shall have no appellate jurisdiction, to hear or decide any question pertaining to the interpretation of, or the validity under the Constitution of, the Pledge of Allegiance, as defined in section 4 of title 4, or its recitation.”

What does that mean? That one paragraph of legalese takes the Supreme Court out of the game.

Ever since Marbury vs. Madison, the Supreme Court has had the right to review laws made by Congress. That is part of our system of “Checks and Balances,” which insures that no one branch of government can ride roughshod over the other two or over the citizens of the United States.

Our Founding Fathers [the men who conceptualized and wrote the Constitution in 1787] set up three branches of government – legislative, judicial and executive – as a buffer against the absolute power wielded by King George and Parliament prior to the Revolutionary War.

There is no way that HR 2028 would be found Constitutional by the Supreme Court should its Senate companion ever pass muster, although I have no doubt that President George Bush would sign it, unconstitutional or not.

I have to believe that HR 2028 was a “straw man,” a bill set up by the Republicans even though they knew that it could never survive review just so that they could say that their Democratic opponents voted against keeping the words “under God” in the Pledge.

Which is exactly what Cronin did.

A total of 213 Republicans voted for the resolution, 6 voted against it and 8 did not vote. On the other side of the aisle, 34 Democrats (almost entirely from the “Bible Belt”) voted for the resolution, 166 voted against and 5 did not vote.

Both Anthony Weiner and Gregory Meeks voted against the resolution, as well they should since it was never meant to be passed and signed into law, unless the Republican majority and the President really want to challenge the Supreme Court to a shouting match, and I do not think they had that in mind at all, because Congress cannot win that one.

The Republicans who are running for reelection, or those who are challenging Democratic incumbents with little chance of success (such as Cronin), wanted an issue that they could use to attack their opponent’s credibility and patriotism.

Was Cronin telling the truth? That depends on what you mean by the word “truth.”

HR 2028 was called the “Pledge Protection Act of 2004” and Weiner voted against it.

By voting “no” on HR 2028, however, neither Weiner nor Meeks voted against the words “under God” in the pledge. They voted against taking appellate jurisdiction away from the Supreme Court – something that would have been unconstitutional in any case.

There are lies and there are damned lies.

It has come to pass in recent elections that many people expect politicians and their minions to lie, to “spin” the truth. Witness the “Spin Room” after each of the recent debates, where reporters went to get sound bites and quotes from a variety of political professionals tasked with providing a different view on what the candidates had just said.

Some people actually believe what those people have to say. Oh, well, you all know what P.T. Barnum said about the American public.

Actually, fewer than fifty percent of the people who are registered to vote will do so and many of those eligible to vote do not even register.

Some are too busy to bother. Others refuse to vote because the south lost the Civil War. Still others refuse to vote because they do not like either of the candidates.

In Australia, however, more than 90 percent of those who are eligible to vote actually do so.

Are Australians better citizens than Americans?

Probably not. More people vote in Australia because there is a fine if you do not vote.

If you do not show up to vote, you have to provide a reason to the election board. If you do not, or if your excuse is not accepted, there is a fine that comes out to about $50. Talk about incentive to vote.

Of course, the Australians do not have the Electoral College to worry about. There, the winner takes all.

The Electoral College, which was build into the Constitution and the electoral process at the insistance of the small states, became an issue in the last election, when George Bush won the election by having more electoral votes than Gore, while having less popular votes. While many continue to believe that Bush “stole” the election from Gore, the fact is the electoral college makes sense if you are a resident of a small state and want your vote to count in the election.

That, however, is a topic for another column. The pros and cons of the electoral college may once again become an issue in this election.

Everybody should vote. Little “d” democracy demands it.

And, everybody should be careful about listening to politicians and what they say. Their truth is not always THE truth.

It is, as in all things, “Buyer Beware.”

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