Sometimes, knowledge of history is a curse, not a blessing. This is one of those times.
On Tuesday last, as the Colorado House worked to close its session, Speaker Frank McNulty used parliamentary tactics to run out the clock on a controversial "civil unions" bill. This perfectly legal maneuver created a wave of odium among gays and their allies, who apparently do not recognize their hypocrisy in decrying such sharp practice when it affects a small but vocal and well-heeled minority, but falling silent when larger issues and populations are involved - the chicanery over Colorado's redistricting, for example.
Today's point, however, is not about hypocrisy. It is about methods of pushing change, and the messages they send.
There was no reason this issue should have been handled as it was. The late hour, the political tomfoolery used to bring it to the floor, the highly charged content - all were designed to inflame emotions. Why was it not proposed as a referendum instead? We know why, as do those who howl for it: No similar measure has ever passed when submitted to a statewide vote - the only poll that really counts.
When it became apparent that this latest move toward legalization of gay marriage in Colorado would fail, the House gallery erupted in boos, chants of "shame," epithets and threats. The most audible of those directed at the Speaker was "I hope you (expletive) die!" The bill's failure was followed by a torrent of abuse from the usual suspects, including well-known media outlets. In this, the partisans of "civil unions" followed what might be termed the Wisconsin plan: Protest loudly; pack the capitol building; threaten and demean. We've been here before.
On March 23, 1933, partisans of new political leadership packed the Legislature and the surrounding neighborhood. They shouted their support for a proposed law, filled the hallways, jostled the people's representatives and in general, tried to be as intimidating as possible. As voting began, they chanted "Full powers - or else! We want the bill - or fire and murder!" The "Law for Removing the Distress of the People and the Reich" passed easily, 441 to 84. Perhaps the clever title helped. The rest is history, and dreadful it is.
No, those pushing for gay marriage - or decrying the loss of fully-paid health care for Wisconsin's public employees - are not today's version of the pre-1934 "Sturmabteilung." But their tactics are similar enough.
In addition to direct intimidation, the mob has been incited to attack those one might term "Enemies of the People" - think "Occupy" and groups of similar ilk. Political opponents are smeared and demeaned by willing accomplices in the mass media: We've recently been treated to a story about allegations of possible bullying by Mitt Romney when he was 18 - but no one's asking why much of Barack Obama's past is still hidden from public view. MSNBC's inclination to do the White House's bidding is only one example of the corruption infecting America's fourth estate.
There is the White House "enemies list," an eerie replay of Richard Nixon's paranoiac obsessions. It was wrong for Charles Colson to target investigative journalist Jack Anderson for "special attention" by government agencies in the early 1970s, and it is wrong for the President to do so today - but he does. Ask Paul Schorr, or Sam or Jeffrey Fox; they all contributed to Mitt Romney's campaign and shortly thereafter were condemned personally and publicly by the president for "outsourcing jobs."
These men are private citizens who have done nothing but exercise their right to support the candidate of their choice. Now they find themselves facing possible action by the Justice Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the IRS. This is an effort to intimidate and silence the oppostion, plain and simple. "Tricky Dick" would have been proud, but we should not be.
The free exchange of ideas is the very life and breath of republican government. Without it, and without the respect for the diversity of opinion under girding it, there can be no negotiation, no meeting of the minds, no compromise - only capitulation to those in power, or who control the mob.
We've seen this all too often. And while this sort of writ might be heady to the hyper-partisan types controlling the White House and Senate, before celebrating overmuch they might consider other lessons of history.
First, demagoguery is unpredictable. Demonizing one's enemies might confer temporary advantage but it ends in a government of the unholy, whatever their politics. Second, revolutions usually eat their young. Third and most important: nothing lasts forever.
Rules to remember and to use as we move forward in this ugliest of election seasons.
Summit County resident Morgan Liddick pens a Tuesday column. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.