Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Louisiana's biggest deficit crisis

Deficits are killing Louisiana, which happens to be where I was born, raised and educated (but don't tell anybody).

You have your revenue deficit in these hard times, which has devastated the state budget and lots of things that hardly could stand more devastation -- like education, public-health and social services.

You have your infrastructure deficit, which leaves Louisiana with an above-average amount of crumbling roads, schools, sewers, jails and public facilities.

You have your peace-and-quiet deficit, which manifests itself in astronomical rates of violent crime and murder.

You have your knowledge deficit, which leaves the Gret Stet with a spectacularly underskilled workforce, an abysmal high-school graduation rate and a corresponding lack of residents with college educations.

And, of course, you have your wealth deficit in a state that, ironically, is incredibly rich in natural resources and economic potential. (See DEFICIT, PEACE-AND-QUIET and DEFICIT, KNOWLEDGE above.)

BUT THE DEFICIT Louisiana perhaps is best known for -- and which, in its own way, directly impacts each of the above deficit categories -- is its integrity deficit. This manifests itself in a certain Pelican State disdain for bourgeois American standards for a functioning civic society . . . and reasonably honest, functional self-government.

Unfortunately, the state has had many opportunities to showcase its glaring integrity deficit over the years, but perhaps none ultimately will prove any more glaring than the sad, racist soap opera playing itself out in Tangipahoa Parish. That's where the morally and judicially pornographic Justice of the Peace Keith Bardwell has been refusing to marry interracial couples for 34 years now . . . and getting away with it.

Of course, if all you had to go on was the superficial coverage in the national and local press, you'd hardly know this. You would know a lot about this or that outraged advocacy group, and you'd know that Bardwell is defending his indefensible bigotry to the last white sheet, and you'd know that Gov. Bobby Jindal and U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (but not U.S. Sen. David Vitter) have issued pro-forma denunciations of this throwback to Jim Crow, as well as demands for resignation, removal, etc., and so on.

What you wouldn't know -- at least not without a lot of reading between the lines -- is that lots of people (and elected officials) knew about Bardwell's official racism for a long time yet did nothing.

They didn't even complain -- at least not in any way that got anybody's attention.

IT'S THE EVERYDAY, ongoing integrity deficits that set the stage for the really spectacular ones Louisiana occasionally stages to grab the world's attention. (See Edwards, Gov. Edwin and Duke, David. Oh . . . and let's not forget Jefferson, U.S. Rep. William of cold-cash fame.)

What's unusual about the Bardwell case is that this long-term, ordinary travesty of justice and pedestrian (remember, this is the old segregated South we're talking about) offense against common decency somehow morphed into an Edwin Edwards-sized scumbag spectacular. And that the reason for that was how very, very ordinary Bardwell's Jim Crow show was in that corner of Louisiana.

Thirty-four-years-and-running ordinary.

An unrepentant racist being returned to public office unopposed all those years ordinary.

Nobody lifting a finger in favor of Christian decency, fairness and the U.S. Constitution ordinary.

"Hey! Why so upset? What's the big deal, anyway?" ordinary.

THE REST of America, oddly enough, finds it quite extraordinary. Much of the Western world finds it extraordinary, too. We find it extraordinary that virtually no one in the entire state of Louisiana, during this man's decades-long reign of error, ever tried to "do the right thing."


We Americans historically have taken a lot of pride in our foundational notion that no man is above the law. And we find it extraordinary that a piss-ant jurist in a piss-ant Louisiana burg somehow got his knickers in a twist about race-mixing, decided that longstanding constitutional law (and the teaching of every major Christian denomination) was full of crap, then set about putting one man's errant opinion above the law.

Call me an N-word lover -- and, trust me, someone in Louisiana will -- but I find that highly offensive, both as a Christian and as an American.

AND THE PREVAILING MEME in Louisiana . . . that is, apart from pro-forma political hand-wringing and the "Booboisie for Bardwell" knuckle-draggers? It's this: You'll have a difficult time getting rid of a backwoods judicial bigot in the Gret Stet.

That integrity deficit is a real killer. You get too far in the integrity hole and you start finding it amazingly easy to dismiss "no man is above the law" as just another quaint Yankee notion.

You start to find all kinds of reasons that Bubba not only should be above the law, but should be able to make it up himself -- especially when it's only black folk and (Negro)-lovers who get screwed over in the process.

And that's the point at which you transcend mere Louisiana Hayride graft and skulduggery and begin to plumb the full depths to which a sociopolitical freak show such as the Gret Stet can sink.

If you have the stomach for it, it's going to be a hell of a show. Literally.

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