Baby Bush and the ACLU

Don’t know about you, but I enjoyed what I could stomach of the George Walker Bush inaugural. Bill Clinton and Al Gore, sitting in leather armchairs in the rain, added just the right surrealistic touch. Sadly, the inaugural committee rejected my suggestion that the thoroughly senile Ronald Reagan be brought to the platform and sacrificed to the gods. I still think it would have been fitting.

The only false note was the music, especially when a now very seedy-looking William Rehnquist shuffled out to swear in the smiling boob whose presidency he had manufactured. They had a Gomer Pyleoid Marine belting out a medley.

What was needed was the theme from The Godfather.

Listening to the inaugural address was excruciating, in part because Bush, who is widely believed to be dyslexic, always sounds like those sadly dumb kids in fifth grade who are made to memorize poetry they don’t understand.

The speech itself was sort of a bland and pureed imitation of John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address. Imagine “Who Let the Dogs Out?” performed by the Johnny Mann Singers as elevator music, and you’ll get the general idea.

Some of the worst banalities did rise to the level of platitudes, but only H.L. Mencken, or perhaps Hunter S. Thompson, back when he had two brain cells to rub together, could do it justice, in collaboration with Lysergic A. Diethylamide.

“America’s faith in freedom and democracy was a rock in a raging sea. Now it is a seed upon the wind ... we have a long way yet to travel ... and an angel still rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm,” Bush said, with that prissy look he gets when he thinks he is being profound. I dug it, baby. Yet just as I found my bongos, it was over.

And it was followed by a bracingly cold dose of reality. We next saw the selected president scrawling his first decrees, with the horrifying image of a witless and grinning Strom Thurmond grasping the back of his armchair. He suspended some of the last executive orders signed by Clinton, such as one attempting to prevent runoff from animal feeding operations. He stopped some new Medicare regulations too.

Well, at least the Shrub didn’t try to tamper with Patty Hearst’s pardon. A few days before the festivities, I went to see someone whose job, I suspect, will be even more important now: Kary Moss, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the best friend the Bill of Rights ever had.

The ACLU owes a lot to the Bushes. The nonprofit organization got a terrific membership boost when Bush the Elder launched a demagogic attack on it during his 1988 campaign, making him the first major figure to do so since Joe McCarthy.

Nonprofit and nonpartisan, the ACLU never endorses candidates, and has won praise from decent Republicans in the past, such as President Eisenhower and Gov. Bill Milliken. But this is now, and the Shrub and his late pal GOP hatchet man Lee Atwater were heavily involved in Daddy’s dirty tricks in ‘88.

Moss, a Detroit native with a New York law degree, won’t criticize individuals.

But she does know that “we can’t take any of our rights for granted,” and knows that with a creature such as John Ashcroft about to be attorney general, this is a time to be vigilant.

Despite the smears of the elder Bush, the ACLU really is not “liberal” or “conservative.” Some of the militia types might be astonished how much they have in common with the ACLU, which is prepared to do battle in the courts to prevent government from planting chips in your computers, your butts or your phones.

“We believe our special contribution is to defend freedom — freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, of association, and the equal application of the laws,” Moss noted in a Martin Luther King Day speech earlier this month. If the past election had any silver lining, it was that we began to learn just how deeply flawed our voting system is. “In nearly all of Florida’s majority-black precincts, ballots were invalidated at higher rates.” That’s in addition to clear evidence of intimidation and the Palm Beach ballot.

Now too many of us think that couldn’t happen here, right? After all, Al Gore won Michigan, yes? Why, sure, and lots of us compassionate liberals here didn’t think we had racial problems, right up until July 1967.

“I’ve heard of several instances in Pontiac where poll watchers went up to African-Americans standing in line and asked them whether they were up-to-date on their child support and whether they had ever been convicted of a felony,” Moss told me.

Sweet. We now know, as Moss says, “our political machinery is completely inadequate for close elections.” The nation needs a huge “genuine national conversation about this,” she added. Conversation, hell. We need to fix it.

But who do you think will take the lead in pushing that? Our smirking pseudo-president? His brother Jeb, governor of Florida? Katherine “Scary Face” Harris? How about the race-baiter, Ashcroft? If there is any hope, it starts with the ACLU.

The Michigan ACLU is gearing up to move to its new home on Hancock, a stone’s throw from Wayne State University. Voting is far from its only issue; it is involved in things from the University of Michigan’s affirmative action suit to an effort to prevent the state from using the MEAP test to entirely decide kids’ futures.

There are only two organizations I would unhesitatingly recommend to every thinking citizen; Amnesty International is the other. Moss’ goal is to have membership touch 10,000 this year, and if you haven’t joined, pick up the phone. The number is 313-961-4662 ( Trust me: God wants you to do this.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for the Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]
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