An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come
Victor Hugo, Histoire d'un Crime
As one astute writer observed in a letter to the Daily Camera, the law recognizes something known as an "excited utterance." That is a statement which, because of the circumstances in which it is uttered, is considered in law to be an accurate representation of the feelings of its proponent. It was relevant during the week of Feb. 22 because of what was said by Education Secretary Rodney Paige.
In addressing governors at the White House, Mr. Paige said that the National Education Association was like "a terrorist organization" because of the way it reacted to President Bush's school improvement law. Lest there be any misunderstanding as to what he said, Susan Aspey, his spokeswoman, said he was responding to a question: "He said he considered the NEA to be a terrorist organization."
We should all be grateful to her to making clear what he said. It was especially useful to those who, before he spoke, worried that because of their beliefs they might be considered terrorists by the Bush administration. Mr. Paige later apologized, but his unguarded remark was revealing. Apparently those who had worried that the failure to worship at the feet of George W. Bush, John Ashcroft and Dick Cheney might cause them to be labeled terrorists were not paranoid. They were blessed with a healthy dose of realism.
Since the NEA has 2.7 million members, readers are understandably anxious to know what it is that makes them terrorists. The thought that there are 2.7 million terrorists wandering around contemplating doing what terrorists are normally thought to contemplate doing is enough to frighten even a liberal Democrat. Fortunately, members of the NEA are not suicide bomber types. They simply disagree with the administration and such disagreement, as many of us feared, is all it takes to be called "terrorist." Specifically the NEA is not supportive of many of the provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act of which Mr. Bush is uncommonly proud. With that information parents can rest easy that their children are safe when placed in the hands of a teacher who belongs to the NEA. Its terrorist propensities, if such they be, do not involve violence. Of even greater comfort is the knowledge that in its opposition to the act, the NEA is not alone.
The Virginia House of Delegates, which is overwhelmingly Republican, passed a resolution by a vote of 98-1 in mid-January saying that the act "represents the most sweeping intrusion into state and local control of education in the history of the United States." The House Education Committee Chairman went so far as to say that "the damn law is ludicrous." (That seems a touch inflammatory and it may be that Mr. Paige would not have recanted so quickly had he been describing the chairman.) Ohio discovered that complying with the act would cost it $1.5 billion annually and the government contributed only $44 million in 2003. It is not a terrorist state and it joined Utah, Vermont, North Dakota and Indiana in commissioning studies to see whether it was feasible to comply with the act. It is important to emphasize that Mr. Paige has not suggested that the states considering whether or not to participate in the act are "terrorist states."
The NEA was not the only group involved in matters of the mind that came under attack from an administration ever vigilant against the threat posed by ideas. On Feb. 28 it was announced that the Treasury Department has come up with tough new sanctions it is prepared to impose on book publishers. It has not called the publishers terrorists. However, it has said there will be dire consequences if the publishers edit manuscripts from Iran and other disfavored nations. Those nations presumably include Cuba, Libya, North Korea and other countries with which trade is prohibited. Here are some of the things publishers may not do. They may not insert commas or periods in text. They may not reorder sentences or create paragraphs. They may not correct syntax or grammar. They may not replace "inappropriate words." Translation of a foreign text is prohibited. Any publisher who ignores the injunction will be considered to be trading with the enemy. The consequences are worse than for those opposing the No Child Left Behind Act. The offenders can be given jail terms of up to 10 years and fines of up to $500,000.
Ideas, like terrorists, are dangerous. Thanks to an ever-vigilant administration we have nothing to fear from them. Mr. Bush will protect us.
Christopher Brauchli is a Boulder lawyer and and writes a weekly column for the Knight Ridder news service. He can be reached at email@example.com
Copyright 2004, The Daily Camera