Sunday, May 31, 2009

Senator Taft's Lesson For Us All

Readers Note: You'll see the post below was first published on Saturday, April 8, 2006.

That week began on Sunday, April 2, with the Raleigh N&O's publication of the VIGILANTE poster photo and prof. Tim Tyson's hateful screed telling readers what he and the N&O certainly knew was a lie: that the "law of the lynch mob" ruled at the lacrosse team party.

On that same Sunday, the dean of Duke Chapel, the Reverend Canon Dr. Sam Wells, delivered what he called "reflections" from the steps of the Chapel's alter.

Whatever Wells' actual intentions
, his reflections comforted the vicious frame-up attempters and their enablers while afflicting innocent Duke students whose care was his charge.

What is worse, Wells knew by then the students were at grave risk of physical harm.

All that was just some of what was going on Sunday, April 2, 2006 here in Durham.

as the week progressed things got much, much worse for common sense and justice at Duke and in Durham.

I'm republishing the post now as one effort to explain myself to those people I respect who've criticized me for saying in "KC Johnson Now" things I posted as early as Dec. 2007; and for speaking up for fair treatment of Duke professor Wahneema Lubiano.

No one should doubt I deplore Lubiano's conduct in the Duke lacrosse case.

To say her role in the case was and remains mendacious and pernicious is, IMO, to greatly understate what she did and continues to do to enable the ongoing cover-up of the Duke-Durham frame-up attempt.

I also deplore her educational philosophy, not least because it would destroy the constitutional principles for which Senator Robert A. Taft stood.

I'll say more tomorrow.


Saturday, April 08, 2006

Rape allegation, Duke lacrosse players and "Profiles in Courage"

At News & Observer news columnist Ruth Sheehan’s blog a reader made a comment that began:

The book "Profiles in Courage" doesn't include a chapter about men refusing to speak out about behavior that is unfit for a university student, an NCAA athlete, and a honorable person in general.
The person is right. There’s no such chapter in then Senator John F. Kennedy’s book, a tribute to U. S. Senators who’d shown extraordinary political courage by facing public wrath in order to uphold vital principles.

But there is in Kennedy's book Chapter 9, which begins:
The late Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio was never President of the United States. Therein lies his personal tragedy. And therein lies his national greatness.

For the Presidency was a goal that Bob Taft pursued throughout his career in the Senate, an ambition that this son of a former President always dreamed of realizing.

As the leading exponent of the Republican philosophy for more than a decade, "Mr. Republican" was bitterly disappointed by his failure on three different occasions even to receive the nomination.

But Robert A. Taft was also a man who stuck fast to the basic principles in which he believed--and when fundamental principles were at issue, not even the lure of the White House, or the possibilities of injuring his candidacy, could deter him from speaking out.

He was an able politician, but on more than one occasion chose to speak out in defense of a position no politician with like ambitions would have endorsed.
Kennedy went on to tell readers Taft was a warm, friendly man whose word was his bond. He cited many instances of Taft’s political courage before coming to the one he said:
“did not change history (but) as a piece of sheer candor in a period when candor was out of favor, as a bold plea for justice in a time of intolerance and hostility,(is) worth remembering here.”
The future President was talking about an event in October 1946 when, with congressional elections just weeks away and hoping to win his party’s 1948 presidential nomination, Taft took the hugely unpopular step of speaking out against the Nuremberg war crimes trials of Nazi leaders and the impending trials of Japanese leaders.

To help his readers understand why Taft did that, Kennedy first quoted a Supreme Court justice, and then explained what the Constitution meant to Taft:
"No matter how many books are written or briefs filed," Supreme Court justice William 0. Douglas has recently written, "no matter how finely the lawyers analyzed it, the crime for which the Nazis were tried had never been formalized as a crime with the definiteness required by our legal standards, nor outlawed with a death penalty by the international community. By our standards that crime arose under an ex post facto law. Goering et al. deserved severe punishment. But their guilt did not justify us in substituting power for principle."…

The Constitution of the United States was the gospel which guided the policy decisions of the Senator from Ohio. It was his source, his weapon and his salvation. And when the Constitution commanded no "ex post facto laws," Bob Taft accepted this precept as permanently wise and universally applicable.

The Constitution was not a collection of loosely given political promises subject to broad interpretation. It was not a list of pleasing platitudes to be set lightly aside when expediency required it. It was the foundation of the American system of law and justice.
Taft favored exiling the Axis war leaders as was done with Napoleon.

Kennedy reminded his readers that in 1942 Taft was the only Senator to speak out against the internment Japanese citizens and Americans of Japanese descent. Taft insisted they were entitled to presumption of innocence and due process.

There are many people here in Durham who will tell you they believe in presumption of innocence and due process, but they also want to know why Duke lacrosse players aren’t “sitting in jail right now.”

What’s more, they say by exercising their right to remain silent, the players are “telling us they’re guilty or know who are.”

A attorney friend calls such people “occasional constitutionalists.”

Senator Taft was never one of them. Neither was President Kennedy.

Remember all those times when anger and violence flared during the civil rights struggles?

President Kennedy told us the Constitution was meant to guard us all and that could best happen if we let the law take its course.

Profiles in Courage is available in many book stores, most libraries and online.


Anonymous said...

The courage of Senator Taft is one of which all need reminding. It is very easy to go along with the crowd - it is quite another thing to be a person of consistent principles. That Taft was. What has always been the most disturbing in the Duke case was been the willingness of so many to cast the very principles that they purport to believe in to the wind when politically expedient. This, unfortunately, is not something that is the purview of one political party or group of people - rather, it is something that one sees increasingly in this society. That has been one of the great tragedies (though there are many) of this case. What one can hope is that each and every person thinks each day in their actions and words whether they want tocave to the expedient and popular, or be principled people in thought, word, and action.