You, Too, Can Be a McCarthyite!
I was very pleased with how this morning’s interview went with Charlie Brennan. I hope you’ll give it a listen.
It has been brought to my attention, however, that at least one person in a position of relative influence in the city of St. Louis was not pleased with what I had to say. He claimed that Mr. Brennan and I were both “McCarthyites,” attempting to scare citizens with false claims about imagined evils. I’ll explain the critic’s displeasure as best I can, and I hope that our readers will offer their own perspectives in the comment section.
The central point I wanted to make in the interview was that I see in Missouri an unsettling pattern of powerful people working to prevent citizens from having their say on matters of public importance. Mr. Brennan and I discussed several examples of such behavior — most of which were noted in yesterday’s blog post. My critic felt that we were unfairly assigning blame to government officials. He also claimed that the examples we cited in no way constituted a “pattern” of bad behavior.
My critic’s first argument was that I was leveling baseless charges against government officials. Specifically, he said that I had accused a particular elected official of ordering Gustavo Rendon’s arrest. In fact, if you listen to the interview, it is clear that I did not do so, and I continued to refrain from doing so even as this critic was trying to goad me into it. As I tried to communicate in the interview, it may well be a coincidence that Mr. Rendon’s arrest took place outside of the church attended by a city official who champions the plan that Mr. Rendon’s flyers criticized. But, regardless of what the facts eventually show about whether this official actually played a part in Mr. Rendon’s arrest, the circumstances allow for a reasonable inference that this was the case because of previous (and ongoing) situations in which powerful people have tried to squelch the voices of those who oppose them. My conversation with Charlie Brennan simply laid out part of the reason why I am concerned that it may not, in fact, have been a coincidence — but it is up to everyone else to draw their own conclusions.
As for those other situations, my critic acknowledged that the Northeast Ambulance and Fire District is a concrete example of powerful people attempting to intimidate and silence opposition (although he wrote off those officials as “a bunch of crooks”). But he took issue with the rest of my examples. In regard to the governmental effort to eliminate Jim Roos’ “End Eminent Domain Abuse” sign, he first tried to say that matter was settled years ago (I reminded him that, in fact, it is still being litigated), then he tried to say that the sign was “an eyesore” that is bad for the community. I responded that one man’s eyesore is another’s call to action, and pointed out that the Constitution does not generally permit aesthetic considerations to trump a citizen’s right to express a political opinion. My critic was (apparently) unpersuaded by that point.
When I pointed out how, at a meeting in which Paul McKee addressed residents about the proposed NorthSide Regeneration Project, public officials sent staff members to prevent a resident from filming the meeting, my critic argued that because I could not at the moment recall whether the meeting was held at a public facility (it was) and whether the meeting was open to all interested citizens (again, it was), my concern was not valid. As for the Missouri Municipal League’s efforts to prevent Missourians from voting on a constitutional amendment that would restrict eminent domain abuse, I don’t recall any specific objection by my critic, just a return to the claim that these were (in his words) unsubstantiated claims about isolated incidents, and that no fair-minded person could draw from these my conclusion that they represented a pattern of powerful people trying to prevent citizens from having their say on issues of public importance. He demanded that I offer more examples.
Now, I don’t believe this critic will ever really be satisfied — but my call to you, gentle readers, is to think of further examples (from anywhere in the state) that also seem to fit this pattern, then please post them in the comments. I’d love to start keeping a running tally.