Vi­o­lence yet an­other rea­son pub­lic ser­vice de­mands best of us

The Sun Herald (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY CHAR­LIE MITCHELL

We should have seen it com­ing in 2001. That’s when Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush se­lected U.S. District Judge Charles Pick­er­ing of Lau­rel for pro­mo­tion to the 5th U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals. Pick­er­ing was met with a ver­bal as­sas­si­na­tion, and it has only be­come worse.

As vot­ing nears for Mis­sis­sip­pi­ans and na­tion­wide, the Pick­er­ing fi­asco il­lus­trates a ques­tion worth pon­der­ing: Why on Earth would any sane per­son seek to serve in pub­lic of­fice?

Se­ri­ously.

Pol­i­tics has al­ways in­volved wheel­ing and deal­ing, but it has dis­in­te­grated into a blood sport.

Any­thing goes.

Pick­er­ing was well­known in Mis­sis­sippi, hav­ing served in the state Se­nate, hav­ing been a can­di­date for var­i­ous state and fed­eral of­fices, hav­ing served as state chair­man of the Repub­li­can Party and hav­ing served as pres­i­dent of the Mis­sis­sippi Bap­tist Con­ven­tion.

Clean guy — but he was pro-life and didn’t equiv­o­cate about it.

When the ap­peals court va­cancy arose, Pick­er­ing had al­ready served 11 years on the fed­eral bench, hav­ing first been ap­pointed by Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush.

He was tar­geted im­me­di­ately. “Sus­pi­cious facts” were dis­cov­ered. In ad­di­tion to be­ing pro-life, as a promis­ing young at­tor­ney in the 1950s he was re­cruited to a promi­nent firm headed by Car­roll Gartin, who served mul­ti­ple terms as lieu­tenant gov­er­nor and was a seg­re­ga­tion­ist. Also, in 2004 Pick­er­ing had sen­tenced one of three cross-burn­ers (the other two pleaded guilty) to less than the max­i­mum.

On this ev­i­dence, the de­ci­sion was made to dodge the abor­tion is­sue and la­bel him a racist. It worked.

Never mind that Bill Clin­ton’s Jus­tice De­part­ment agreed that he got the sen­tence right. Never mind that he had been a KKK­buster while a pros­e­cu­tor in the 1960s and tes­ti­fied against the no­to­ri­ous Sam Bow­ers when Bow­ers was tried for the mur­der of civil rights pi­o­neer Ver­non Dah­mer. Tes­ti­mony from Lau­rel peo­ple — black and white — that Pick­er­ing was fair-minded was ig­nored. Na­tional civil rights groups shouted their ou­trage, although, to its credit, the Mis­sis­sippi NAACP de­clined to join the cha­rade.

Pick­er­ing was shamed, and although he did serve a re­cess ap­point­ment to the ap­peals court, a fil­i­buster later killed his nom­i­na­tion for good.

To­day, truth, which had been danc­ing around the exit sign, has now left the build­ing and in­creas­ingly, although not yet in Mis­sis­sippi, par­ti­sans have be­come vi­o­lent.

Per­haps it’s the sat­u­ra­tion me­dia cov­er­age, per­haps it’s the pro­lif­er­a­tion of mind­less “de­bate” on so­cial me­dia — but some­thing has caused a larger seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion to lose per­spec­tive and fall prey to ma­nip­u­la­tion.

This could be seen in­side and out­side the au­di­to­rium where Hil­lary Clin­ton was to have made her vic­tory speech in 2016. The faith­ful were sob­bing, apoplec­tic (as were many got-it-wrong jour­nal­ists) at the out­come.

It could be seen in 2017 when James Hodgkin­son drove from Illi­nois to Vir­ginia and opened fire at a softball field, wound­ing four peo­ple, in­clud­ing a mem­ber of Congress.

It could be seen last month when mem­bers of the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee had armed es­corts ev­ery­where they went.

And it could be seen last week when bombs were in­ter­cepted af­ter be­ing mailed to Barack Obama, Clin­ton and Ge­orge Soros, who funds left­ist causes, and other “en­e­mies of the peo­ple.”

Democ­racy re­quires an in­formed, at­ten­tive pub­lic. Cit­i­zen­ship comes with du­ties in­clud­ing be­ing aware of lo­cal, state and na­tional is­sues as well as vot­ing. Our qual­ity of life and the qual­ity of life for gen­er­a­tions to come de­pends on an in­formed pub­lic, guid­ing elected lead­ers to rea­son­able and ra­tio­nal out­comes — and re­plac­ing them if they don’t.

Yet in­creas­ing num­bers of peo­ple have be­come con­vinced all — all — is lost un­less their guy is elected or their party is in power. And that’s just not true. In my line of work, I have met, ob­served, talked with and writ­ten about dozens upon dozens of lo­cal, state and na­tional of­fi­cials.

Some have been ban­dits, thieves des­tined for scan­dal and prison. Some have been ego­tists who thought they were smarter than the av­er­age bear and rel­ished the per­ceived adu­la­tion that comes with be­ing called “mayor” or “gov­er­nor” or “rep­re­sen­ta­tive” or “se­na­tor” or “judge.” Some — and this is bru­tal — have de­faulted into pub­lic ca­reers af­ter fail­ing to pros­per in the pri­vate sec­tor. Most — by far the largest group — have been what was for­merly known as “pa­tri­ots.” They cared about their com­mu­nity, state or na­tion and were will­ing to be part of try­ing to de­vise so­lu­tions.

And that takes us back to the ini­tial ques­tion. Why would a calm, ra­tio­nal, thought­ful per­son — which is what we need in pub­lic ser­vice — even con­sider be­com­ing part of the vis­ceral, ly­ing land­scape that is pol­i­tics to­day?

Char­lie Mitchell is a Mis­sis­sippi jour­nal­ist.

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