Originally published on May 5, 2009 at Yo Mama For Obama
At times, the omission of a law, practice or control can have a devastating effect. The irony — of the current Supreme Court proceedings regarding the Voting Rights Act- Section 5, the past deregulation of our banks and financial institutions, and the reaction to the swine flu — is tangible because we already have rules in place to prevent the chance of potential chaos.
Our highest Court is hearing arguments from two states to repeal Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. For some background history and current perspective on that legislation, here are a few links you can read:
I am not getting into the points of law here; my comments have more to do with the principles involved.
My concern is that, despite some sharp legal minds pointing out that our present conditions in this country really do not warrant a continuation of this Act, once this law is taken away, the door to electoral abuse is once again wide open. Surely affirmative action was necessary to try to right the wrongs of over a hundred years of discrimination, as was this Voting Rights Act of 1965. Yes, we have come a long way in erasing prejudice and we even have an African-American president. However, these factors DO NOT guarantee fairness in the future. If there is any room for abuse, for even a loophole to be taken advantage of, be assured that someone or some interest group WILL take the reins and run with it. Do you remember the electoral abuses in Florida during the 2000 presidential election? In precincts that had a large number of minorities, polls were closed early, not opened at all, and the voters were told that their polling places had been moved elsewhere (they had not).
To me, the question we SHOULD be asking is: why take this section of the Voting Rights Act off the books if it is not harming anyone? It is more beneficial to have this protection in place than to, quite possibly, remove it and see voting abuses grow and spread. If this situation should result, it will then take many years to get a new law back on the books. The omission of this law would be potentially more damaging than just leaving this safeguard in place.
Democracy is not a stagnant concept or reality. It is fluid in its ideology and practice. Our democratic principles have needed tweaks, nudges and downright shoves at certain times in our history. The outlawing of slavery a full hundred years after our Constitution was written comes to mind first and foremost. Circumstances change, and thus, our perspectives must also change to reflect the signs and needs of the times.
The meltdown of our financial institutions was directly related to the banishing of regulatory rules and oversight. Yes, while this was a ploy, on the part of money men, to maximize their own personal worth and power, it was also a political shot by our lawmakers to let capitalism run its "unfettered, natural" course. Many abuses have come to the forefront, and in retrospect, we have learned that rules are needed to rein in the selfish and greedy aims most people and institutions embody. It is just a fact of human nature. This is no different from raising a child with values and guidelines for a correct, legal and moral life. While laissez-faire politicians believed that the former regulations held back our economy, they did not realistically consider or foresee what the consequences would be if most of those regulations were erased. So they just decided to omit the rules.
Another example of the sin of omission is the response to the swine flu outbreak. No one can predict the future, but certainly we can use past history to better anticipate what may lie ahead of us. Just like the flu epidemic of 1918, which first showed itself with mild cases in the spring and then returned in the cooler fall season with a lethal vengeance, we need to prepare for the possibility of a more severe outbreak later on this year. It seems the current strain has been no worse than the seasonal flu and is now on the wane. We were very lucky. Nevertheless, we need to continue to stockpile the medicines on a state-by-state basis, take precautions in our personal hygiene rituals and provide funds for major epidemic planning. To do anything else would be to turn a blind eye on a very real contingency. Once again, this sin of omission could have dire effects. Why not just hope for the best but prepare for the worst?
Overall, though each specific case must be weighed on its own merits, I firmly believe that it is necessary to have the safety net of perhaps too many rules of law than too few. Human beings and whatever form of government they live under, must have these strictures in place in order to prevent chaos and anarchy. Without some constraints on the books, temptation and personal interest can easily supersede reason and concern for the greater good.
Better to retain valuable, time-honored precautions than to fall prey to the sin of omission.
Looky what I just found in the New York Times today: