Sunday, December 26, 2010

Welcome to the "Inland Empire"

The "Inland Empire" is a vast stretch of land east of Los Angeles County inhabited mostly by cacti and Republicans, characterized over the years by brazen political corruption (the most recent former San Bernardino County assessor used the office as a political headquarters when he wasn't high on meth or participating in rehab) and the intellectual analysis of issues on a level of sophistication that would make any fifth grader proud.

The "West End" of this region -- roughly from the cities of Montclair on the west to San Bernardino on the east -- is served by a daily newspaper called the "Inland Valley Daily Bulletin," which is frequently used by local politicians as a convenient and apparently willing mouthpiece.

Thus, about two weeks after he was sworn in as the representative of the 63rd district to the California State Assembly, Republican Mike Morrell railed in a "Point of View" column (12/16/10) against increased taxes, "out-of-control spending, and looking to big government for solutions" (complete with sentence fragments and plural pronouns matched to singular antecedents). He claimed that "the people" always spend their money more wisely than government; that in the alleged dichotomy between people keeping their money or sending it to Sacramento, "it is our freedom that's at stake"; and that no less a luminary than Thomas Jefferson would certainly have agreed with him.

I would never argue that government is perfect. However, Mr. Morrell's "analysis" fails to mention even the most basic of services that state government is supposed to provide to its citizens -- including such things as public education and prisons (where the aforementioned former County assessor, along with a recently convicted former City Councilman from Rancho Cucamonga, will likely take up residence). One could read his article in vain for any reference whatsoever to any vital service for which any branch of government should accept responsibility. At least, then, he might (if he valued it) claim intellectual consistency; if he believes governments have no legitimate functions, then of course they have no need for any tax dollars. Of course, in order to do so, he would have to ignore the fact that that his alleged hero (other than Ronald Reagan, whom he cited repeatedly in a campaign event I attended) actually described several legitimate functions of government in his acclaimed Preamble to the Constitution.

The day after Morrell's diatribe against taxes and big government, another representative to the State Assembly, 60th District representative Curt Hagman, used an op-ed column (once again riddled with grammatical errors) in the "Daily Bulletin," to defend the e-mail he sent to constituents inviting them to a "Christmas Open House." Apparently he was upset by the fact that some of the residents in his district pointed out to him that he was using government money to pay for an event that was given an explicit religious label. In defending his action, he dug the hole even deeper: "The purpose of my Christmas party was to give people an opportunity to share their views with me on state issues in a casual setting."

I've been to events of this kind, and to the best of my knowledge, very little exchange of views takes place. People network with their friends, eat and drink (presumably at the expense of the government, which, remember, has no legitimate functions), and return to their offices the next bragging that they met an important public official (probably for about ten seconds). But even supposing that the event served as a venue for the casual exchange of views, does the Assemblyman only want the views of Christians?

Earlier this week -- I kid you not!! -- a letter to the editor appeared in said newspaper in response to this controversy, criticizing automobile companies for running a plethora of TV ads for their products in end-of-the-year sales campaigns (which they certainly did!) but failing to mention Christmas in their ads!

I strongly support the right of U.S. citizens to celebrate the religion of their choice (or no religion at all). But would it be too much to ask that they at least recognize the existence of a secular society apart from religion? Secularists are not a threat, as they are apparently perceived. The larger threat to American society is the failure of so many to see that our culture is diverse and can be "unbundled" (religion from non-sectarianism) without the slightest danger to either.

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