Election Diversity: We’ve Come a Long Way … or Have We?

With the four leading candidates in this year’s presidential contest having been an African-American, a female, a Mormon, and a 72 year-old, the diversity envelope was certainly stretched this year. A USA Today/Gallup poll reported last year on the willingness of present-day Americans to select a non-traditional candidate for the presidency compared to responses to a similar survey 40 years ago. The results indicated that the percentage willing to vote for a black or a woman had increased signficantly in the last 40 years, moving from 53% to 94% for a black candidate and moving from 57% to 88% for a female candidate. Given that an African-American candidate and a female candidate were the top Democratic contenders this year, it would seem that we’ve come a long way.

The poll also delved into questions relevant to the Republican ticket, asking voters about their willingness to support a Mormon or a 72 year-old for president. The survey results indicated that the Republican front-runners also faced significant demographic obstacles, with only 72% of the respondents indicating willingness to vote for a Mormon and 57% indicating willingness to vote for a 72 year-old. Gallup reported that the sentiment about electing a Mormon was “essentially unchanged” in 40 years, which seems to indicate that maybe we haven’t come such a long way after all. Add to that the way the topics of race and sex played out during the primary campaigns and it would appear that even the poll numbers from the Democratic primary mask some uncomfortable realities.

Let’s look at some presidential trivia for starters. How many Americans know the middle name of any of the four front-runners, other than Senator Obama? (The other middle names are Diane, Sidney, and Mitt). How many Americans can name the former pastor of more than one of these presidential contenders? Or how many Americans can name any biographical facts about any candidate’s great-grandfather other than Mitt Romney?

Or, if you want even more ridiculous trivia that hopefully fewer Americans can actually answer, what brand of men’s underwear did one journalist claim had been spotted in Mitt Romney’s master bathroom? And, if that seems a bit too ridiculous to believe, a Washington Post staff writer treated us to a discussion of Senator Clinton’s cleavage, and an MSNBC anchor speculated that McCain would be comfortable switching from a discussion of the economy to a discussion about “buying more Depends.”

While we’re on the topic of age, how many Americans can correctly answer the question “Who was the oldest major-party presidential candidate?” If you go to WikiAnswers, you might think it was McCain, though it was actually Ronald Reagan. Or, how many Americans could name the last election in which the president who was elected died before reaching his 80s? (That would be 40 years ago, when LBJ was elected: Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and G.H.W Bush all lived long enough to reach 80, though in fairness, the jury is still out on whether Bill Clinton and George W. will live into their 80s).

Of course, we have debates to help keep candidates focused on substantive issues, right? The only problem is that our debates are a bit different from the old-fashioned variety. One hundred fifty years ago we had politicians such as Lincoln and Douglas who, in their famous Senatorial debates, gave lengthy speeches on the pressing topics of the day – including slavery and its relationship to both the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, states’ rights, the Dred Scott decision, and racial equality. Lincoln collected these debates into a book of more than 250 pages which was published in advance of the presidential election of 1860. Today, by contrast, we allow for sound-bite answers in response to questions chosen by moderators or audience members. Questions this year have included ones such as the question posed to the Republican candidates regarding whether they believe every word of the Bible, even though one would think it might be more appropriate to ask a presidential candidate whether they believe every word of the Constitution or, even more simply, whether they would defend all the rights guaranteed in the Constitution. I think Clinton had it right when she proposed switching from moderated debates to a format more reminiscent of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. We can only hope that McCain and Obama adopt that idea during the general election.

A snippet from a John Quincy Adams campaign song shows the venom that played a part in historical elections:

Little know ye who’s coming if John Quincy not be comin’ … fears are comin’, tears are comin’, plague and pestilence are comin’, hatin’s comin’, Satan’s comin’ if John Quincy not be coming.

So, how far have we come? If the Voting for Satan website is used as a yardstick, it seems we haven’t entirely outgrown the type of political venom in the John Quincy Adams campaign. Admittedly, that website was not an officially endorsed website. However, through the miracle of modern technology, that website probably had more hits than the John Quincy song had listeners. But perhaps there has been some progress after all: our modern electronic media do allow far more people to be reached by debates and written content. Now, if we can only figure out how to spend more time on the Constitution, civil rights, and the economy than we spend on briefs, Depends, and cleavage.

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CPS Advisory Committee Member Said Service Plans Abuse Parents

State of Texas 49, King George 28

49. An Advisory Committee Memory appointed by Governor Perry to advise the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services said the approach outlined in the service plans represents an abuse of the FLDS parents.

KXAN reported that advisory committee member Tim Lambert said:

They say, “OK, we’ve got the kids for a year. Now, you gotta do what we tell you to do. We don’t know what that is, and that might change as we go along.” Now, I would submit to you that is abuse. That is parental abuse by CPS.

I’ve previously docmented instances in which CPS actions caused FLDS children to suffer (FLDS child dehydrated and manourished; FLDS kids ate poorly and slept poorly; FLDS kid with 104 degree fever not allowed to be with mom; FLDS kid cyring himself to sleep). Now we can observe that CPS actions also unnecessarily caused suffering of the FLDS parents. CPS being let loose on the FLDS community is looking more and more akin to a bull being let loose in a china shop.

FLDS Child Dehydrated and Malnourished while in State Care

State of Texas 48, King George 28

48. A two-year old FLDS girl became dehydrated and malnourished while in state custody.

As reported by the New York Times, Ruth Fischer faced a distressing sight when she visited her daughter in a hospital:

Hannah looked like a little orphan sitting on the couch. Her hair was stringy and she was in a diaper, a pair of dirty socks and a hospital gown.

Similar to what happened in the case of two other children (see previous post), in addition to suffering physical health problems, her daughter also became withdrawn.

It seems that CPS was quite efficient at abusing the FLDS children in the short length of time that they had custody of the children…

Service Plans Capable of Breaking up FLDS Church

State of Texas 47, King George 28

47. The service plans for the FLDS families were capable of breaking apart the FLDS Church in Texas.

The service plans allege that (link to example plan):

The adults have chosen to be members of a community that appears to support systemic [sic] abuse of children…. Sexual abuse has been confirmed for some children which poses risk of abuse to all children.

And the cover letter states:

If the judge is not satisfied that you can provide a safe place for your child where they are free from abuse, the judge may decide to … permanently take away all of your rights as a parent of the child.

It doesn’t require an excessive amount of reading between the lines to draw the conclusion that if FLDS parents want to keep their children they should leave Eldorado. The service plan even helps this conclusion along by assigning DFPS (Texas Department of Family and Protective Services) the task to:

Assist the parent with finding community and other resources to sustain independent living arrangements.

The service plan praises the FLDS community’s system of mutual financial support:

They have a community financial support structure within the YFZ ranch. They are resourceful by gardening, making clothing and utilizing home-making skills and strong construction skills. The mothers have support from other adult women and adolescent girls who assist with child care responsibilities. The family refrains from drug and alcohol abuse.

However, the plan makes it pretty clear that the parents are expected to remove themselves from that financially supportive environment. One of the tasks assigned to the parents in the service plan is to:

Participate in educational/vocational testing for yourself, and work on educational or vocational training as needed to be able to financially support your child.

Another task assigned to the parents involved budgeting skills. The service plan appears to be saying, “You have a nice financial support structure in your community: now please get out of it.”

A law professor and expert on juvenile law quoted by the Dallas Observer summed up the service plans well:

My understanding of the plans is that they may have to be willing to separate from the larger community and become more of a nuclear family, and maybe even be willing to live outside of the compound. As I understand it, one of the goals is not to punish the parents, but to liberate them from this community and conditions, in which other women have said it is very difficult to leave.

After reading through one of the service plans, the main thing I find myself asking is the following: why is there so much mention of budgeting, vocational training, and housing and no mention of not permitting children to marry before the age of consent. Wasn’t that supposed to be the problem the state was trying to address?

Young FLDS Kids Who Suffered in State Care

State of Texas 46, King George 28

46. CPS employees admitted in court that Rulon and Amber Jessop fared poorly while in state protective custody.

The Deseret News reported that – according to CPS workers – Amber Jessop (age 3) and her younger brother Rulon (age 2) slept poorly, ate poorly, and became withdrawn while in foster care.

Looking at the case of the Jessop children as well as cases I’ve mentioned in earlier posts (FLDS kid with 104 degree fever not allowed to be with mom; FLDS kid cyring himself to sleep), it appears that CPS did a poor job of risk-reward analysis in determining whether children would be at greater risk remaining in the FLDS community or being moved to foster care.

Virtual FLDS Petition (Part II)

Here are some additional links for the Virtual Petition I assembled in a previous post. None of the below was actually written as a petition (except for the petition of writ of habeus corpus), but all of the below authors expressed significant concerns about the manner in which the FLDS case was handled by Texas, even though some of the below also express distinct reservations about the FLDS.

Please let me know if you have found editorials from other states, to help round out this collection from across the country.

1. Texas Supreme Court Majority Opinion (required reading)
2. Petition for writ of habeus corpus (required reading)
3. Arizona – East Valley Tribune (Phoenix) – This editorial – coming from an editorial board that initially supported the raid – concludes that the raid “appears to have turned into an assault on religious beliefs unpopular with mainstream society.”
4. California – Los Angeles Times – Though not very sympathetic to the FLDS, this editorial still raises concerns about painting all FLDS with the same brush.
5. Colorado – The Gazette (Colorado Springs) – This editorial draws the unsettling conclusion that, in the child protective services universe, parents are guilty until proven innocent.
6. Delaware – The News Journal (Wilmington) – And this editorial concludes that “good intentions aren’t enough.”
7. Florida – St. Petersburg Times – This editorial opines that “a more measured response would have allowed the state to protect the girls who are in danger” and complains about the cruelty of removing all the children from their families.
8. Georgia – Augusta Times – Proclaiming that “This is still America. And the government’s power to … remove children from their homes must necessarily be strictly contained,” this editorial proceeds to a cleverly-stated conclusion.
9. Maine – Kennebec Journal – This editorial argues that “We live in a country of laws. And no matter how distasteful … the practices alleged to take place at the polygamist sect’s ranch in Texas may be, the law protects even the most despicable among us.”
10. New York – The Jewish Daily Forward – This editorial addresses the concern that the religion was being punished, stating, “In America, we punish conduct, not belief systems.”
11. Oregon – Statesman Journal (Mid-Willamette Valley) – This editorial asks, “What protections do we have when the state can enter our homes en masse and break up our families based upon false allegations of abuse by an imposter?”
12. Texas – Times Record News (Wichita Falls) – This editorial concludes that “much heartache and expense could have been avoided” if the state had exercised more caution from the start.
13. Utah – The Salt Lake Tribune – Another editorial with a great punchline at the end.
14. Washington – The Columbian (Vancouver) – An editorial with a harsh condemnation of the FLDS but which still weighs in on the side of investigating before intervening.
15. Washington, D.C. – Washington Post – In spite of significant concerns about the FLDS, this editorial concludes that officials initially overreacted.

It seems that you don’t have to be a fan of the FLDS to conclude that the FLDS were not treated lawfully.

“We’re Not Going to Violate Their Civil Rights until We Get an Outcry”

State of Texas 45, King George 28

45. In what has to be one of the most notable quotes of the Eldorado fiasco, the Schleicher County Sheriff said, “This is the United States…. We’re not going to violate their civil rights until we get an outcry.”

Here’s a little more context for the quote, as reported by the Tucson Citizen:

I have no regrets because we never received any outcry, a complaint. There was no evidence of illegal activity nor an offense in plain view. You can always suspect something, but until you get something that puts you on that property, there’s not a whole lot you can do…. But there again, this is the United States. We are going to respect them. We’re not going to violate their civil rights until we get an outcry.

If he had said, “We’re not going to move against the FLDS until we have evidence” or “We’re not going to ask for a search warrant until we have a credible complaint,” I would have been right with him. Or even if he had said, “You cannot go in and bust in someone’s house if there’s not probable cause to do so,” as the Texas attorney general said, I can still see the imprint of the constitution in such a statement. But, if you take the Sheriff’s quote literally, he’s essentially saying that after there’s an outcry or a complaint, it’s OK to violate civil rights. I can only hope that comment didn’t come out the way he intended.

The sheriff’s statement, even in the form it came out, is not as scary as some of the comments about his statement. I have found multiple posts on the internet by people complaining that the sheriff felt constrained to wait for an outcry. These sentiments remind me of Lincoln’s great speech at the Young Men’s Lyceum in which he addressed the subject of “the perpetuation of our political institutions”.

When men take it in their heads today to hang gamblers or burn murderers, they should recollect that in the confusion usually attending such transactions they will be as likely to hang or burn someone who is neither a gambler nor a murderer as one who is, and that, acting upon the example they set, the mob of tomorrow may, and probably will, hang or burn some of them by the very same mistake. And not only so; the innocent, those who have ever set their faces against violations of law in every shape, alike with the guilty fall victims to the ravages of mob law; and thus it goes up, step by step, till all the walls erected for the defense of the persons and property of individuals are trodden down and disregarded.

But all this, even, is not the full extent of the evil. By such examples, by instances of the perpetrators of such acts going unpunished, the lawless in spirit are encouraged to become lawless in practice; and having been used to no restraint but dread of punishment, they thus become absolutely unrestrained. Having ever regarded government as their deadliest bane, they make a jubilee of the suspension of its operations, and pray for nothing so much as its total annihilation.

While, on the other hand, good men, men who love tranquility, who desire to abide by the laws and enjoy their benefits, who would gladly spill their blood in the defense of their country, seeing their property destroyed, their families insulted, and their lives endangered, their persons injured, and seeing nothing in prospect that forebodes a change for the better, become tired of and disgusted with a government that offers them no protection, and are not much averse to a change in which they imagine they have nothing to lose. Thus, then, by the operation of this mobocratic spirit which all must admit is now abroad in the land, the strongest bulwark of any government, and particularly of those constituted like ours, may effectually be broken down and destroyed-I mean the attachment of the people….

I know the American people are much attached to their government; I know they would suffer much for its sake; I know they would endure evils long and patiently before they would ever think of exchanging it for another-yet, notwithstanding all this, if the laws be continually despised and disregarded, if their rights to be secure in their persons and property are held by no better tenure than the caprice of a mob, the alienation of their affections from the government is the natural consequence; and to that, sooner or later, it must come.

Yes, those who don’t want the government to wait for an outcry are justified in expecting that the FLDS honor the laws, but we must also insist that the government honor its own laws. Otherwise, if it becomes popular for the government to move against unpopular groups without being restrained by law or constitution, we will be reduced to government-sponsored mobocracy, which – as Lincoln reminded us – in only a step away from anarchy.