Political And Other Miscellany From A Stout Democrat In Dallas Texas.
"Politics is the only game for adults." --from Robert A. Heinlein's Double Star

Monday, April 18, 2005


Garbage is being left on people's doors in one Dallas City Council race. The anonymously copied trash isn't really about the candidates in that district. It is one more richochet in a long local feud between two groups who use the same word to mean two very different things. The word they are fighting over is "dignity".

Here's how one side feels about the term, from an old history of England, quoted in Victor Hugo's "The Man Who Laughs":
The Commons, who are the people, when ordered to the bar of the Lords, humbly present themselves bareheaded before the peers, who remain covered. The Commons send up their bills by forty members, who present the bill with three low bows. The Lords send their bills to the Commons by a mere clerk. In case of disagreement, the two Houses confer in the Painted Chamber, the Peers seated and covered, the Commons standing and bareheaded.

Peers go to parliament in their coaches in file; the Commons do not. Some peers go to Westminster in open four-wheeled chariots. The use of these and of coaches emblazoned with coats of arms and coronets is allowed only to peers, and forms a portion of their dignity.
No, America does not have an inherited nobility (unless you count trust funds and legacy admissions). Those here in Dallas who see themselves as deserving that kind of "dignity" don't actually insist on being bowed to in the streets. They do demand to be treated with "respect" just as fiercely as do Mafia dons, and for much the same reason. If you work for them and want a raise or better conditions, they want you to come around and beg humbly, hat in hand, much like Oliver Twist with his bowl asking "Please, sir, may I have some more?"

They have the same elitist attitude in politics, and they used to get away with it. Forty years ago all the Dallas City Council members were elected at large. A tiny group of big business leaders kept control of this huge district by dribbling out contributions and publicity to a selected few that came around and "kissed the ring" of the heads of the two big banks (both now absorbed into bigger firms), the publishers of the two big papers (one has now bought out the other), the top men at the big utilities (now part of bigger conglomerates), and so on. Now the end of poll taxes, and the adoption of single member districts, voting rights acts and campaign finance laws have broken up the power of that clique. Some of their heirs still miss it.

A vital member of this group of local would-be rulers was the Dallas Morning News. It has long enjoyed a reputation as one of the most right-wing big city newspapers in the country. The days are gone when they could advocate slavery or segregation, and they stopped calling themselves a "conservative Democratic" paper about the same time the old Southern reactionaries began deserting to the Republicans. Today it is truly extraordinary for them to endorse any Democrat.

Though their party affiliation has changed, they continue their agenda of supporting big business and denouncing anyone challenging the local establishment. Welfare for the rich, like a taxpayer-funded baseball park, is a civic good to them, but anything for the poor or working class (especially minorities) is no more than grudgingly tolerated, if that. Disagree with them and you become a rabble-rousing radical demagogue in their eyes, and in their editorials. To have to listen to the little people speak out is an affront to their "dignity".

Fortunately, there have always been lots of Americans who hold a different view of that word. Many of their ancestors came here from other countries just so that they wouldn't have to kowtow to the powerful. Rather than knuckle under to self-important bullies, they would just move on to new territory. When the frontier closed and increasing productivity left no room for all of them on the farms, they began working in city jobs. When the Great Depression hit, there was no place left to run. The ones on the assembly lines, treated like serfs, rebelled and demanded their rights. They wanted not just money, but something more important: to be seen as human beings, not expendable tools of production. They wanted to be treated with "dignity".

This was a new, grass-roots, bottom-up use of the word. Backed by Democratic officials elected by voters disgusted over the Republican economic disaster, they demanded and got recognition for their unions as bargaining agents, and began building the working class prosperity that reduced economic polarization in this country to its lowest point in history. This scared to death the tycoons who wanted to see themselves as "better" than their employees, as benevolent monarchs of their companies who would magnanimously grant favors to their subjects, if politely importuned. In Texas the newly flourishing unions were condemned by the moneyed elite as communist subversives trying to destroy the country. They were harassed and persecuted and beaten and killed.

Some of the most vicious attacks on labor and anyone supporting it came from the state's newspapers. These rose to an even more strident pitch when organizers dared to try to bring the workers in the newspaper press rooms into the union. It was only partly the money, though a strong union could get higher wages, slightly reducing those sacred profits. Mostly the publishers resented the insulting way those lefty agitators told the subservient employees that they could stand up on their own two feet and demand to be dealt with as equals, not supplicants. To the media magnates, not to be looked up to and begged for favors was downright un-American. That's what they called it in print, repeatedly and angrily. One of the worst offenders was the Dallas Morning News. They marked union organizers as enemies for life, and condemned them at every opportunity.

The News is now part and parcel of the Republican media machine. One of the ideas that party and its willing message carriers keep touting is that minorities steal elections. If this was a new theme since the questionable counts by Republican-owned election software companies in Florida and Ohio and Georgia in recent years, one might think it was just "projection" of their own crimes onto a scapegoat. But this isn't new. William Rehnquist was trying to intimidate minority voters in Arizona in the 1950s, and the party's efforts are even more widespread today.

Every few years the News cranks out the same old campaign, telling scary tales of alleged massive voting fraud by Democrats, and warning that poll watchers and prosecutors will catch and punish all those villains. They do this at the same time the Republicans mount major drives to question and disqualify every minority voter they can. The purpose is clear: to intimidate Democratic voters and keep them away from the polls, or failing that, to ignore their votes on trumped-up grounds. The Chief Justice is not the only sitting federal judge who was involved in these efforts.

Once in recent decades they accused a slew of minority Democratic election judges of trivial technical violations of the law. They were mounting a major campaign against them until someone looked and found the same practices were equally widespread in rich, white, Republican-judged precincts in north Dallas and wealthy suburbs, and then they dropped that like a hot potato. Another time they managed to pressure a Republican D.A. to file similarly obscure indictments against several Democrats. Except for one election judge who ignored legal advice and pled no contest, all the accused got the silly charges thrown out.

One Republican Commissioner staged a crusade to convict one Democratic Precinct Chair not of cheating in an election, but of living in a different precinct. Normally that would be grounds for removing someone, not convicting them of anything, but he pushed on. It took the Democrat many months and lots of lawyer's time to quash this persecution. The News keeps throwing its mud despite no results in court, because the real target is not wrong-doers but wrong-voters, namely those who don't pull the Republican lever. Besides, in one of those frenzied crusades, they got a two-for-one deal, venting spleen not only against the usual minority Democrats, but also against one of their old enemies.

Back in the days when commie-baiting of unions was running strongest in Texas, one of the heroes of the labor movement was a man from Dallas. He went around the country helping organize the exploited, even working with that terrible devil Cesar Chavez to aid farmworkers -- a sure sign he was a monster. To add insult to outcry, he was with Lyndon Johnson in Dallas when the future President and his wife were physically attacked by right-wing nutcases, embarassing the city establishment by showing the violent haters who were only barely under their rock. Above all, this man was a former boxer who couldn't have looked like he was cowering or afraid even if he had to. This was dangerously inspiring to the beaten-down hopeless workers he spoke to. That made him a real threat to the peace of mind in the top offices at the News. What if this subversive standing up for your rights spread?

The man was Pancho Medrano. In forthcoming years, the only major daily paper we've still got here vented their wrath against, not him, but his children. Once Dallas got single-member districts, one of Pancho's sons was elected to the school board, and another served on the City Council. Invariably, they were attacked in the News. None of it stuck, and they followed the lessons they had learned from their father and stood up for the ordinary working people, the poor, and minorities in the city. That didn't follow the News agenda. Stewing in frustration because those inner city voters weren't listening to the voice of the patrĂ³n, the paper kept slugging. One of those times when they were fruitlessly tossing trash at Democratic election judges they found that one of their targets was Pancho's daughter Pauline Medrano. Their mud slid off her back just as it did from everyone else's.

But newspaper archives are forever. Anyone can copy old accusations and pass them out, without mentioning that nothing ever came from them, or the rabid political context they were hurled in. That is just what someone is doing now in Dallas City Council District 2, where Pauline Medrano is running.

She has served for years in government at the city, school, and state level; she has worked in her community doing things like starting a neighborhood Crime Watch; she has more experience and training for the job than her two opponents combined.

None of that matters to the News. They know whose daughter and whose sister she is, and they know who she'll be representing. They endorsed one of her opponents despite being at least a nominal Democrat, with a personal background that must gag them when they look in the mirror. That endorsement will have trivial or no effect in the district, as usual, which no doubt irks them even more.

What some anonymous person is putting on people's doors now is not the editorial, but copies of the old, cold, unproven mud slung from that paper about election laws. The nameless cowards hope that warming it up again will make it work this time. The opposition of the News is no news. Trying to revive this empty shell they tossed long ago is disgusting and pathetic. This filth is even being waved around at Democrats, trying to scare people who should know better than to ever trust anything the News says, especially about this family. I have no proof who put this out, but they should be ashamed to hold their head up among the voters they are trying to mislead.

As for Pauline Medrano, she follows her late father's definition of "dignity", not the one dreamed of by the publishers and their friends at the country club. She'll be upholding the rights, and fighting for the individual and collective worth, of the ordinary people of Dallas, despite all the anti-Democratic rants of that newspaper. She'll make not only her father, but all of us, very very proud.


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