Apr 212003

A larval town, Arcata, CA, pop. 16,000, puffs itself up like a banded newt, seeking not a mate but media attention, and lo! it succeeds. Arcata already has a foreign policy, like all self-respecting municipalities these days, including my dear old Manhattan, bless its grimy heart. Arcata is against the war. It is against global warming. And now it is against the Patriot Act.

When Arcata is against stuff it passes resolutions, and so Arcata “has become the first in the nation to pass an ordinance that outlaws voluntary compliance with the Patriot Act.” Outlaws voluntary compliance, mind you. “I call this a nonviolent, preemptive attack,” says David Meserve, the Arcata freshman City Council member and latter-day Jefferson Davis who drafted the ordinance, bravely sounding the call to nonviolent arms.

Arcata objects, in particular, to noxious provisions of the Patriot Act that allow the FBI to commandeer information from libraries and bookstores about the reading habits of their patrons. Earth to Meserve: law requires force, and in a showdown between the United States Army and the Arcata Municipal Police and Affiliated Busybodies Association, I know where I’m putting my money. You want to condemn the Patriot Act, fine; I’ll be there right beside you. You want to try to force people to refuse to comply with the Feds, on pain of…on pain of…on pain of, let’s see, a serious talking-to and being sent to bed without supper? Think it over, OK? I would call the whole affair sophomoric, but for the fact that Meserve is not yet a sophomore.

(Update: Floyd McWilliams has another little California town that could, and a bonus fun fact about Arcata and the VodkaPundit, Stephen Green. Sorry no, you’ll just have to follow the link.)

(Another: Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Juan Non-Volokh notes that in Printz v. United States, the Supreme Court ruled that the state and local officials could not be compelled to enforce a federal regulatory program — in that case, the Brady Act. So Meserve may actually have a legal case after all.)

  8 Responses to “Rebel Yell”

  1. But if you agree that certain provisions of the Patriot Act are noxious, why isnt it an act of good for Arcata to concoct a publicity stunt to draw national attention to said noxiousness?

  2. It is never good to expose your stupidity to the world. Here we have a legislator who does not understand in what legislation consists.

  3. Well, I agree with you that the resolution, on its face, is silly and perhaps illegal, and it may indeed not be good for Mr. Merserve that he has "exposed his stupidity to the world" (though the record is kind of mixed on that brand of politics, isn’t it?). But is it good for America? Here’s how these things go:

    1. Obscure town passes absurd law.
    2. National media make hay of absurd law.
    3. Millions of media-consuming citizens think about issues raised by absurd law.

    In this case, we may see millions of otherwise ignorant, apathetic Americans spend a minute or two thinking about some of the more "noxious" elements of the Patriot Act. If enough do, and enough towns follow suit, and enough editorialists start commenting (as a few hardy souls like Safire have been doing all along), then who knows what might happen?

    What is more important to the nation’s future — that Arcata not pass silly resolutions, or that American voters get exposed to some sort of debate about civil liberties in the wake of 9/11?

  4. Well Michael, you appear to be proposing that the best way to protest a bad law is to behave stupidly about it. History does not smile upon — as opposed to laughing at — this proposition. Or perhaps you think the stupid puppets did the anti-globalists some good. What we have here is the legal equivalent of a stupid puppet.

  5. "The best way to change a bad law is to enforce it strictly."
    –Abe Lincoln

  6. I know, I know…drug laws are still around.

  7. Actually, the stupid puppets did the anti-globalists a huge amount of good — they exposed their arguments to hundreds of millions of TV viewers worldwide. In their case, of course, they had nothing coherent to say, so not much has come of their protests. In this case, if Dan Rather does a two-minute story on Arcata, everyone who watches his newscast will sit in their living rooms thinking, "Gee, I didn’t know the federal government was ordering librarians to turn over book borrowing records to the FBI…"

  8. All publicity is not good publicity, no matter how the cliché has it. An enormous puppet does not become an argument, even after it appears on the evening news. Protests are covered even when they lack flashy visual aids, as the runup to the Iraq war surely demonstrates. You speak for "everyone" with far more confidence than I would, but I can safely say a great many people who watched the anti-globalist protests on TV thought, "Gee, look at those stupid puppets. What a bunch of fucking idiots."

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