Thank God the majority of the Tennessee Legislature are small government right wingers .

We’d hate to see what they’d do if they weren’t.

If the suburban rush to judgment on its own school districts wasn’t enough to remind us of the anti-Memphis venom always lurking below the surface there, it also fuels the anti-Memphis legislation regularly proposed in Nashville, propelled by the cocky confidence that the suburban minority in Nashville can veto decisions by the urban majority in Memphis.

As usual, the first victims in this suburban dysfunction are the facts, but another victim follows quickly: the right of democratic self-determination.

Force-fed Politics

In today’s highly partisan, highly vindictive politics, suburban politicians polish their veneer of statesmanship while acting on the belief that God has anointed them to force their narrow view of the world on the rest of us.

After years of complaining that the federal government was injecting itself into family life and interfering in our personal lives, that the reach of government should be markedly reduced, and that government social engineering was a threat to American values, the extremists on the right are now engaging in all of the behaviors they exhorted for so long.

These days, it’s hard to find a decision so personal or private that they aren’t willing to inject themselves into: women making decisions on their reproductive rights, families of gay children worried about bullying, and families who see their homes and places of worship as the places to teach religious beliefs.

Then there are teachers who want to teach science fact about the age of the earth and human biology rather than religious fictions, people of faith who believe their religion demands care for the poor rather than cuts in vital services, taxpayers who want fairness for middle class families in the state tax system, and parents who want their children to understand and appreciate the full diversity of the world they will live in.

There are Tennesseans who believe that the best government is the one closes to them.  It’s local government that should decide if its parks, parking lots, and restaurants can be gun-free, that people working for government should earn living wages, that all people working in local government are protected against harassment, that local officials decide where and how it spends tax dollars, and that its citizens should not encounter bias when buying houses.

The War on Reason

It seems obvious that the place where we need anti-bullying laws is in the Tennessee Legislature itself.

There are few minorities that the reactionary politicians aren’t willing to beat up for their own political gain.  They are willing to beat up welfare recipients with stereotypes and prejudice in proposing drug testing.  They are willing to beat up gays even if they are children on the playground or same-sex adults seeking to signify their lasting commitment to each other with a wedding vow.  They are willing to beat up (figuratively and literally) transgendered people who don’t know their place.

Conservatives are quick to say there is no war on women, and they are right.  The war is on women,  gays, poor people, urban areas, public transit, science, and _____________  (fill in the blank – there are plenty of options).

Maybe it’s time for the American Psychological Association to consider a new disorder: legislative clinical psychology.  It’s the condition that occurs when average people become part of partisan group and the groupthink that emerges leads them to force their opinions on others rather than focus on the prime responsibilities for which they were elected.

Minority Rule

As we have seen, it is a condition in which they are unable to see boundaries or exercise fair play.  It’s seen in the barrage of bills that interfere with local decision-making by right-wing legislators who know they can’t win through the local ballot box so they continually try to mandate decisions for majority African-American Shelby County.

It is patently undemocratic – not to mention autocratic – in that it negates majority rule at the local level.  It’s seen when a handful of local state legislators veto decisions by Memphis City Council and Shelby County Board of Commissioners.

Some apologists say it’s simply politics.  It isn’t.  It’s an unprecedented level of interference by state government.  It’s also an unprecedented number of mandates on local government.

As we’ve seen on the issue of unified school district, legislators are always for the process until they are against it.  There’s no question that at any time, there is always a state legislator willing to put his thumb on the scales if he doesn’t like a decisions in the local process, such as getting the towns to pay a fair price for schools in their city.

Last Gasps

We live in strange times, and the hopeful view is that the burst of extremism that we are witnessing these days is the last gasp of people who are on the wrong side of history, and in the face of change, they cling to the notion of a nation that hasn’t existed since Ozzie and Harriet was on television.

These days, Barry Goldwater – who once shook up American politics with his statement that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice while running for President in 1965 and who was the father of the conservative resurgence – would likely be a pariah in today’s American conservatism.

After all, he also said:  “I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C’” and ‘D.’ Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me?
“And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of ‘conservatism.’”

If only he were around today to say that to the majority in the Tennessee Legislature.