THE BLOG
08/10/2012 04:14 pm ET Updated Oct 10, 2012

Keystone Cops

As a transplanted Pennsylvanian now safely within earshot of the Pacific Ocean I can only gaze with sheer horror on the utterly detestable state of affairs unfolding in my former home state. While some might argue you could take your pick of travesties, whether it be the Penn State imbroglio, the fracking tragedy unfolding statewide, or the absurdity of taxpayer subsidies for one of the most profitable multinational corporations on the planet (Shell) to build an environmentally dangerous ethane cracker plant while rationalizing the need for unconscionable social services cuts that adversely impact the poorest of the poor, I would argue that the the most fundamentally egregious course outlined by the legislature and governor with respect to voter suppression cuts to the very core of a mean-spiritedness that has no place in our society.

In the 1987 movie Good Morning, Vietnam there is a scene that has always struck me as devastatingly simplistic but poignant because it calls attention to the importance of maintaining one's integrity without resorting to treachery. In the scene, Sergeant Major Dickerson informs popular disc jockey Cronauer (played by Robin Williams) with dripping distain and obvious satisfaction that he is being relieved of his duties. Listening to the conversation around the corner is his commanding officer, a crusty Brigadier General Taylor whose only concern is keeping morale high amongst the troops, and with single-minded professionalism realizes he too needs to arrest a potentially explosive situation.

The General pulls the Sergeant aside and informs him that he has decided to relieve him of his duties and transfer him to an outpost in Alaska. When the Sergeant balks the General lays this gem on him, "Dick, I've covered for you a lot of times because I thought you were(sic) a little crazy. But you're not crazy. You're mean. And this is just radio." One decision was governed by meanness, a first cousin of jealousy, the other was dictated by duty, a direct descendent of honor.

We are taught early in life not to be mean, but through the socialization process meanness is often trivialized and in some instances even given the imprimatur of being tough, in many instances necessary. This perversion of values may rank second to "greed is good" as an indication of just how far off course we have drifted from the ideas and ideals enunciated by the Founding Fathers in their construction of this republican form of government. Meanness is personal, a vindictiveness that can lead to counterproductive outcomes that punish far more individuals than originally intended. The recently passed voter identification law in Pennsylvania, a punishment in search of a crime, defies logic, common sense, and is antithetical to sound public policy.

Meanness is a fatal character flaw that becomes toxic and contagious when inserted into public policies that are meant to benefit the whole of society, those who vote for you and vote against you. As public policy makers you have a responsibility to all the citizens, not just those who support you. Where, and who is the General is this real-life tragic drama? It certainly is not the governor, nor any member of the Republican controlled State Legislative leadership. In point of fact, a prominent member of that leadership has been shown repeatedly gloating over how voter suppression legislation will ultimately succeed in what is really important; namely, a Republican victory in November. With great relish he publicly checks it off of his legislative to-do list.

Someone needs to tell the State House Majority Leader he is not crazy but mean, this is just politics, and relieve him of his duties. He has lost all perspective, or has he? Remember U.S. Senate Minority Leader McConnell proudly proclaiming that the most important thing his party can accomplish is to see the president fail. So maybe there is a concerted effort to imbue the people's business with a foreboding sense of meanness on the part of the Republican Party? I hope that is not the case, but someone or something must put an end to this destructive nonsense. They are not crazy, just mean.

I mean, I mean! Civility and comity are the touchstones of a functional political discourse. At this point, our system is verging on dysfunction. You can fight hard, and should for your core values and beliefs, but at the end of the day the battles must draw to a close and the people's business must be paramount in the course of action that is taken. This cowardly charade should be denounced by responsible elements in the Republican Party, but where is the outrage? One might be left to draw the conclusion that the price to be paid for such statesmanship is far too great in political terms than is worth it. If that is the case the state of our political system is indeed dire.

Maybe there will be a reprieve from the courts; maybe even those people who are allowed to vote will demand a cessation to such pettiness. Being mean is not being tough, it is the epitome of intolerance, and intolerance breeds indifference. And therein begins the slippery slope towards alienation, cynicism, frustration, anger and withdrawal. It is a slope that will have us slide backwards to a time when the erection of barriers was more important than their obliteration, and a place where exclusion trumped inclusion. This is not an ideal to strive for, but rather an outcome that should enjoy widespread bipartisan rejection.

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