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Gary Horton: Freeway signs are good but aren’t functioning democracy

Posted: August 21, 2013 9:47 a.m.
Updated: August 21, 2013 9:47 a.m.

As Carrie and I passed over the McBean-I-5 bridge heading to a scrumptious lunch at In-N-Out, (by the way, get your fries well-done for a real treat), we passed a smattering of folks engaged in a grass-roots protest on the bridge above to the drivers below.

Three or four adults accompanied by three or four little kids perched themselves on the sidewalk facing the northbound traffic. For reasons not fully known, they had an large inverted brightly colored umbrella and waved signs reading, “Impeach Obama!” and “Obama Lied” and “What about Bengasi?” — and all the other usual tea-partyish, birth-certificaty blather I failed to notice as a hungry tummy propelled wife and myself toward hamburger bliss.

I didn’t see any tin-foil hats, but there’s a chance the inverted umbrella is an improvement over tin foil, working like a satellite dish for reception of brain fodder from the planet FOX.

I’m glad to see their kiddies were out hanging over traffic in the 100-degree freeway heat for good, old-fashioned kiddie indoctrination.

It won’t be long before those kids are carrying their own inverted umbrellas, and, should none be handy, they’ll reach for their own tin-foil hats as a whole new generation of True Believers Of The Absurd.

On the plus side, these umbrella-ites were indeed out there protesting. One thing I did not see was L.A. County’s finest yanking the inverted umbrella cult protestors off the freeway bridge into the pokey.

These Americans remained free to exercise their right to free speech and public demonstration — and by golly, they did it right there over the freeway for all those headed off to Castaic and Bakersfield to see.

You won’t get that in Singapore without a caning, you can’t get it in Egypt without taking a bullet, and you likely can’t get it in Russia without ending up in one of those jail-like cages inside their kangaroo courts.

You can get it in every other western democratic country in the world, but Americans pat ourselves on the backs as though we’re the only ones that can wave crazy signs without being disappeared by some guy with a trench coat and a hidden badge.

Last week, past U.S. President Jimmy Carter commented that the U.S. is no longer a functioning democracy.

Carter intimated that the voice of the people has been corrupted ... drum roll ... by corruption in government.

Like a knee jerk, the hard right recoiled over his critique because “to question is unpatriotic.” But ignoring that usual manipulative faux-patriotism, Carter has been around; has been a sitting U.S. president; is internationally influential, and does make one hell of a point we all know to be true in our quiet moments.

Still, we ask, “With inverted umbrella guys free to rant nonsense, doesn’t that make us a democracy?”

No. That means government tolerates certain levels of free speech. This column here, and all the others like it, are another example. And there are tons of examples, all helping make America a great country.

But free speech alone doesn’t make a well-functioning democracy anymore than shouting, “fake birth certificate!” indeed makes Obama a Kenyan.

America’s inverted umbrella-types might be much more benefited questioning the impact of lobbyists on Congress’s loyalty to America’s citizenry. If we’re really worried about our country and the path upon which we’re headed, we should take our umbrellas and ask questions more like those Jimmy Carter raised.

“Why has America been at war more or less continuously for as long as any of us can remember? No other country sees such militancy. Why so much war with not much to show for it but ... oil?

“Why, when we have so many decaying bridges, water systems, highways, airports and other infrastructure needs, do we continue spending 20 percent of our budget on nation-bombing, nation-building, nation-occupying, and the killing devices to power the militant program?

“Why, in our ‘free market’ economy, do we pay the highest drug costs in the western world because our own government forbids competitive negotiation for the drugs it buys for Medicare? Why can’t ‘free market America’ negotiate with drug companies like every other sane country?

“And why do we have a criminal justice system that is so punitive that our prison population has grown 400 percent in 30 years, with private prison corporations and guard unions profiting from the millions behind bars?”
We could ask these questions forever;

So, ultimately: “Why, when we know moneyed lobbyists control agendas in Congress, do we allow ourselves to be distracted by fake scandal silliness? Why have we tolerated a near-total corporate takeover of our democracy?

“What’s going on in America, when so many would prefer peace over war, affordable medicine over ripoffs, and roads over foreign nation-building, do we allow ourselves to keep getting more of the same — without these kinds of signs coming out over the freeways?”

It’s time to take our inverted umbrellas and shout, “Why lobbyists?” That’s the real problem behind what we think are our problems — and that’s the pressure point Jimmy Carter so painfully pushed.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident? “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.




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