I Should Have Flunked US Government in High School

I should have flunked US Government in high school. I didn’t. I got an A, because I learned facts that I could regurgitate quite successfully without a clear understanding of their implications.

I did learn the substance of government in this class. I knew that there were three branches of the Federal Government, which in my mind were Congress (Senators and members of the House), the President, and the Judges. I knew that Congress made laws and I knew judges, well, judged. What is the Executive Branch was, to me, simply the President. He was the leader of the country, like an king elected for four years at a time. I knew that “checks and balances” was an important concept. I probably learned, and spewed out on a test, that the Executive Branch enforced the laws, but I didn’t realize that all of those Department of (fill in the blank) reported to the President. I just thought of one branch as “the President,” alone and lonely.

With my rudimentary understanding of government, I reached adulthood as someone fairly apolitical. I used to listen to arguments—loud arguments—among my father and my older brothers, sometimes lasting until 2 in the morning. I didn’t really hear what was said, only the loudness. One brother grew up to be a card carrying Democrat, and about as left as you can get. The other at one point was a card carrying Republican, but he married someone who converted him to Nader and his ilk. My Dad was an independent.

For my own part, I always felt like balance was good. Everything is good in moderation, right? I used to believe that the best situation was where Congress was controlled by one party, and the President was from the other. That way, you stayed pretty much down the middle. I always voted in national elections, but it was based more on the candidate him or herself. I did not watch the news much. I figured that the looneys from both extremes would never get voted into power, so that with or without me, things were fairly safe and constant.

Then Bill Clinton came into our lives. The first time I heard about him was on a news report before the primaries.  I was on a business trip watching news in a hotel room when the newscaster was proposing who might be put up as the Democratic nominee for President. In my mind, the way they were portrayed, the guy from Arkansas stood out among the four.

I might have forgotten him, but he did get the nomination, and I said to myself, “That’s that guy from Arkansas!” He began to be on the news more and more. With that amount of exposure, I saw him rather than just hearing about him. He came across as a snake oil salesman to me. He was just too smooth, too glib, but I figured that he was pretty harmless.

When first elected, he seemed to not make decisions very much, preferring to manage other people who made the decisions. I got a really rude awakening when he betrayed America by degrading the Office of the President. He did things that made Supreme Court cases between Branches of Government. He did things that a CEO of any business would get fired for. He perjured himself after swearing to uphold the Constitution. He destroyed people (women) whom he had sexually encounters with, willingly or unwillingly on their part. He did things that would have put a lot of people in jail.

Damn him! I had to pay attention to politics—how did this jerk get in? It was painful: it mattered who was elected to the office of the Presidency.

However, my education was not over. My gradual introduction into the nasty world of politics and the importance of the Executive branch has been unfolding since then. I became reintroduced to the idea that the Executive Branch enforces the laws—each branch has something to do with the laws, because we are a nation of laws. I became vaguely aware that means that the Executive Branch can decide when to prosecute, and when not to prosecute. The Branch is a whole lot of people, for example, all of those Departments of (fill in the blank), as well as law enforcement like the FBI and the CIA.

This week, I think I reached the full understanding. Last fall there were three guys that were outside of a polling place in Philadelphia in military-style uniforms, black berets, combat boots, battle-dress pants, and black jackets with military-style insignias. One of them was brandishing a billy club. They were all making threatening or disparaging remarks to some of the voters going in. They were members of the New Black Panther Party.

This was seen by a lot of people, one of whom was Bartle Bull. He had worked as a civil rights lawyer in the south in the 1960’s and is a former campaign manager for Robert Kennedy. Even after what he dealt with in that racially charged era, he said that the Philidelphia situation was the most blatant form of voter intimidation he had ever seen. In his affidavit given when charges were being investigated, Mr. Bull wrote “I watched the two uniformed men confront voters and attempt to intimidate voters. They were positioned in a location that forced every voter to pass in close proximity to them. The weapon was openly displayed and brandished in plain sight of voters.”

Mr. Bull also said they tried to “interfere with the work of other poll observers … whom the uniformed men apparently believed did not share their preferences politically,” noting that one of the panthers turned toward the white poll observers and said “you are about to be ruled by the black man, cracker.”

A case was filed for voter intimidation against the three Black Panthers in January by the Department of Justice (part of the Executive Branch) just before the power handover in the White house.

Hold in there, it’s going to get painful. The three men didn’t answer and didn’t show up. They basically ignored the charges.

Let’s say that you are accused of a crime and don’t show up in court. What happens? The prosecution says, “Find him guilty.” And the judge says, “You win the case.” It is called a default judgment. No one can simply ignore a charge and not even give some kind of excuse about why, to try to reschedule if that is the problem.

In this case a default judgment was not requested. The voters’ lawyer—our lawyer—the Department of Justice, said, “Let’s give them until May 15.” The judge said, “OK.”

By May 15, the defendants were still ignoring the court. Instead of going back and getting a default judgment this time, the Department of Justice simply dismissed the case against two of the defendants. Our lawyer, the Department of Justice, did ask for and receive a default judgment against the one guy with the billy club. The only consequence of his action: he can’t stand in front of a polling place with a billy club. He can still come with the scary clothes, words, and attitude. Needless to say this minimal restriction is highly irregular in a lenient way for a situation like this.

You can read one news account of this at : http://thebulletin.us/articles/2009/05/29/top_stories/doc4a1f42b32c161287079901.txt For a national network account, you can go to FOXnews.com, but don’t look for it at CBS, NBC, ABC, MSNBC, CNN, or NPR unless you want to waste a lot of time looking for something that’s not there or hidden so deep that you can’t find it in two hours, or you want to find out a lot about some sports team in Florida that is named the Panthers.

You can see one of the videos taken at the polling place in November at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzBVxP5wzCY

As President Obama promised, the politics of fear are gone. I feel so safe and hopeful in this changed America. And now, after decades, I deserve my A in Government class: I understand.

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