Bill Murchison

As Archie Bunker, in "All in the Family," used to affirm, "Nixon knows something I don't know." It was both a comical and a semilogical way of standing behind the President's much-berated Vietnam policies.

What about, in our own day, the state of Texas' seizure of 460-some-odd children in a polygamist bust, and their redistribution all over the state? Would the state's reasoning -- that the children, all of them, were in danger of abuse in their polygamous setting -- qualify for the same exemption from scrutiny that Archie accorded Nixon's war decisions?

Not according to the Texas appeals court that on May 22 pronounced the state's "protective" actions illegal, saying evidence of any threat the children faced was "legally and factually insufficient." In other words, the court thinks the state launched a preemptive strike for which it lacked authority. Children and mothers were rounded up for only the most generalized of purposes, and roughly dispersed without, perhaps, due cause.

The polygamist story has been all over the place, not excluding the front page of The New York Times and the networks. Numerous Archie Bunkers, I would guess, willing to give the state the benefit of the doubt in many things, are fast rethinking the matter. Maybe after all, in this case, the state went too far, good intentions notwithstanding.

Reflexive trust in the benevolence of the state's intentions (specifically those of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services) likely stems in part from the multifarious horror stories that have filled heads and minds in recent decades -- accounts of child abuse by adults, of the reduction of the innocent to objects of prey by the powerful. Priests, day-care center operators, youth workers and, yes, parents -- whom can you trust any more?

We seem to have overdosed on these stories -- some true but many constructed on flimsy evidence -- to the point that child-adult relationships now invite almost automatic suspicion. We appear to sometimes no longer trust adults in general to do right by children in general. The flip side of too much trust -- alas -- is too little, which could be where we are now.

Texas may have generalized too much, come down too soon, too hard, too fast without sorting out the facts. Or, maybe not. The point to notice is the overall discomfort the Texas experience causes. All these kids, these mothers -- does the hammer of government have to smash their lives without better evidence of pending danger and harm? We need to learn much, much more about "what Nixon knows."

Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
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