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Government, Politics & Issues

Commentary: Wise Latinas, foolish gringos and the decline of American civilization

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 6, 2009 - It is tempting to argue that the  quote — "No man's life, liberty or property is safe while the Legislature is in session," Gideon J. Tucker, originally penned in 1866 — was actually made in anticipation of the current session of Congress. It seems that our elected representatives have been unusually busy of late, causing freedom-loving people everywhere to tremble in dread apprehension.

The 111th Congress began July with an ambitious agenda: confirm a life-time appointment to the Supreme Court, solve global warming and extend universal health care to, well, the universe without increasing the budget deficit, then break for summer recess.

Predictably, by month’s end, it had become apparent that aside from the slam-dunk confirmation, the only objective to be attained on schedule would be vacation. Action on less pressing matters was sagely deferred to the Fall semester.

Sotomayor 

The Senate opened its largely ceremonial hearings into the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for a sinecure on the nation’s highest court by convening a session of the Judiciary Committee in which everybody got a chance to speak except for the person who was there to be interviewed.

She sat there for the first day exuding genial stoicism while one after another of her would-be interrogators offered rambling pontifications about the urgent need for a truly independent judiciary that could be relied upon to rule in line with their particular political preferences. Well, I suppose “you gotta pay your dues if you’re gonna sing the blues” — especially if you’re going to sing them as a member of the Supremes…

In fact, given the Democrats’ 60-vote majority in the Senate, the only way Judge Sotomayor could have avoided the committee’s ultimate endorsement would have been to break down and confess to being a satanic priestess, a practicing nudist or both. Nothing quite that dramatic transpired and her nomination subsequently moved to the full Senate for further bloviation before final approval.

Republicans made much of Sotomayor’s out-of-court comments to the effect that a “wise Latina” would likely render better judicial decisions than her white male counterparts. In light of the judge’s 17-year left-of-center but well within the mainstream judicial record, I’m inclined to accept her explanation that these remarks were a bit of rhetorical flourish intended to inspire audiences of minority females. Besides, she’s replacing a liberal justice so her appointment will not change the ideological complexion of the court.

Taken at face value, however, the judge’s words pose an interesting case against her confirmation. The job of a Supreme Court justice is to interpret the Constitution and apply its provisions to specific cases. The Constitution was written exclusively by white males. If ethnicity in fact trumps intellect, how can we expect a Latina — even a wise one — to fully understand and appreciate a document written by a bunch of gringos? Oddly, that argument failed to carry the day and the vote on her nomination is scheduled for the afternoon of Aug. 6.

Because members of the House were constitutionally precluded from joining in the televised Sotomayor circus, they decided to solve global warming while the upper chamber basked in the klieg lights.

Cap & Trade 

The final draft of the Waxman-Markley Cap & Trade bill was 1,200+ pages long. That was before one of its sponsors -- Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif, who readers of a certain age often confuse with the Bucky Beaver character in the old Ipana toothpaste ads — added a 300-page amendment in the wee hours of the morning before the vote.

After due deliberation, the House narrowly passed a bill nobody had read. For all they know, its proponents may have voted to change the national language to Swedish. We won’t find out for a while because by the time the bill got to the Senate, the president, who being nothing if not ambitious in his agenda, had changed the topic to health care.

Health Care 

The vexing problem of how to provide all Americans with some form of health insurance admits to no facile solution. The issue has been considered periodically since the Truman administration and has yet to be resolved. Mr. Obama challenged Congress to have a bill on his desk by Aug. 7. That deadline will not be met.

A fundamental difficulty is that most of us — including the denizens of Capitol Hill — simply don’t have a firm grasp of the relevant facts. We are told, for instance, that 47 million people in this country are uninsured. Does that number include the 20 million or so illegal aliens who are thought to be here?

If it does not, that means we actually have 67 million people racking up hospital bills they’ll never pay for; the cost of which will be passed along to the rest of us in the form of higher premiums and ever-escalating medical costs.

On the other hand, if the 47 million figure does include the illegals, we could reduce the problem by 42.6 percent without spending an additional dime simply by deporting the people who didn’t belong here in the first place.

Which number is correct? I don’t know and I suspect you don’t either, But since the variance here is some 40 million people, it might be a good idea to find out before we attempt to craft a remedy.

In either case, the Census Bureau estimates the nation’s current population at 304 million. Postulating that 47 million are uninsured, that means that 257 million (84.5 percent) have some form of health coverage, most of which provided through employers.

One way that has been suggested to pay for health care reform is to tax the money employers pay for health care as employee income. That’s a uniquely bad idea in that it would result in most working people receiving a significant pay cut just when the economy is starting to show the first fragile signs of recovery.

The problem is both urgent and complex. Congress studied it and then went on vacation. Perhaps the rest of us should follow their lead.

M.W. Guzy is a retired St. Louis cop who currently works for the city Sheriff's Department. His column appears weekly in the Beacon. 

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