A tiny little tidbit of totalitarianism

Paul Jacob

12/4/2005 12:05:00 AM - Paul Jacob

Do you want to make politics illegal? Should our opponents be blocked from democratic participation? Must those who agitate for ideas that we disagree with be silenced?

Surely, most Americans are blurting out, "No! Of course not!"

Yet, that's the growing trend in today's politics: the totalitarian impulse. Quietly, behind the scenes, it's rearing its ugly head again, this time in Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma Education Association is not demanding its political opponents be thrown into gulags. The state's largest education labor union would do nothing that extreme. Don't be silly. The OEA just wants to silence citizens petitioning to place an initiative on the ballot.

This isn't rampant, chest-beating totalitarianism. There is nuance. Only a smidgen of despotism.

At issue is a measure called Stop Over Spending, which is similar to Colorado's Taxpayer Bill of Rights. A group of citizens filed the initiative and formed a campaign committee called Oklahomans in Action. The goal of the measure is simply to put the people in charge of state government spending.

The Stop Over Spending (SOS) initiative places a cap on how much politicians can increase government spending. From year to year, the increases cannot be greater than inflation plus population growth. No cuts in spending are mandated, but the increases are capped. That is, unless the people of Oklahoma vote to let their state government spend more money, which they can do. The SOS Amendment thus puts government on a citizen-controlled diet.

State Senator Randy Brogdon of Owasso calls the measure "a true friend of taxpayers, a fuel for the economy and the enemy of the bureaucrats and big spenders." He points out that state government spending is growing four times faster this year than the income of the average Oklahoma household.

But the education workers union and other government employee unions furiously oppose the measure. They don't want the people to place any limit whatsoever on what government spends. It may have something to do with wanting the government to have plenty of dough so as to better butter their bread. (Excuse the mixed metaphor.)

Yet, rather than convince fellow citizens that they shouldn't choose to sign the SOS petition — an action the union has every legal and political right to undertake — the OEA is asking its members to become the thought police at stores and malls in the state.

A recent email alert urges OEA members to, in effect, falsely report that they are being bothered by Stop Over Spending petitioners. The idea is to have the petitioners removed from stores and malls and anywhere they might be able to speak to their fellow Oklahoma voters. The message from Brenda Snider, the union's "membership accounts consultant," reads:

While you are shopping, going to the post office or sitting at a football game please be on the lookout for the petitioners. If you see a petitioner while shopping this weekend contact the malls at the numbers listed below and tell them that you are being bothered by their petitioning. Print a copy of the message and take it with you this weekend.

"Oklahoma's organized left is now officially panic-stricken," offered Brandon Dutcher, vice-president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, sizing-up the union's ringing call for an enforced political silence. And Dutcher added, "Well, I would suggest they're right to be concerned about a spending limitation. A statewide survey conducted two weeks ago by Cole Hargrave Snodgrass found the idea is ridiculously popular, at 74 percent to 17 percent."

OEA's call for harassment of petitioners is having an impact. Here's an interesting reply from Steve Hunt of Oklahoma City to an article about the spending cap initiative on the website for the OU Daily:

The other day I saw one of these people outside a store. I went into the store and told the manager that he cussed me and my mother out for not signing. He called the security people and they ran him off. Now, sure this isn't true . . . he didn't cuss me out. But the way they are subverting democracy is a heck of a lot worse than me dealing with them in a manner I did.

I guess it'd be a waste of time to explain to Mr. Hunt that the end doesn't justify the means. But he should think again about who's subverting democracy.

And there is that lingering odor of totalitarianism. Sure, I know that's too strong a word. It's just that squelching speech and strong-arming people to prevent the free exercise of individual rights are the hallmarks of totalitarianism.

On the other hand, the American way is to peacefully persuade people in open debate. Oklahomans should be free to decide for themselves if they want to Stop Over Spending.