Getting the Politically Correct ‘Holiday’ Politically Incorrect—and How to Fix It

The politically correct crowd is constantly worried about offending someone’s sensibilities by “including” all holidays. But what about those who recognize no holiday?

The politically correct crowd insists that it is somehow not correct to wish people a “Merry Christmas.” Instead, we are supposed to say, “Happy Holidays.” But something’s always troubled me about that. And now I’ve put my finger on it. I’ve put all my legal skills to bear on this complex problem, and perhaps there is another way.

I know that the problem with “Merry Christmas” is that those who extend that greeting are supposedly hoping people find merriment in a Christian religious observance. Of course, if you think that our culture, on the whole, really perceives Christmas as a religious observance, then you may be one of those who got up at 3 a.m. on Black Friday to go “worship” on the “advent” of the Christmas season.

I know that wasn’t very politically correct, but on to the business at hand—what greeting do you give people at this time of year? The politically correct crowd that is constantly worried about offending someone’s sensibilities suggests we say, “Happy Holidays,” to respect those who celebrate Kwanza or Hanukkah or maybe something else I’ve forgotten.

But what about those who recognize no holiday? For instance, Jehovah’s Witnesses? Are we not imposing on them our beliefs about the “religious” and “celebratory” nature of the season since they don’t celebrate Christmas or anything else this time of year (at least not to my knowledge)? So, why doesn’t the politically correct crowd suggest we just say something like, “Enjoy the Season?” After all, it is a season of the year for everyone.

Ah, but winter, with its cold, is not that enjoyable to a lot of people. Rather the cold makes them feel miserable. But I guess that’s a good reason to wish they would enjoy it, for wouldn’t we rather they enjoy it than be miserable all season?

But, wait. That creates another problem. Why would I want to try to tell people how they should feel? After all, my feelings are just that—my feelings. Why should someone else try to tell me how to feel? That’s not very sensitive. I should be affirmed in whatever feelings I have, and others should respect that.

Trying to be the most politically correct that I can (which you readers know is my life’s ambition), let me suggest the following to you who really want to avoid any offense. Maybe I should print it out on little cards and hand them out:

Please feel however you want to feel about whatever you might want to have any feelings about, or if you prefer, please do not feel like you have to any feelings at all about this time of year or feel like you have to have any feelings at or about any other time of year if you do not feel like feeling anything right now, and, of course, feel free not to feel anything at any time if that’s what you feel like, in which case I hope nothing or no one interferes with how you are feeling or not feeling at the time you choose to be feeling or not feeling something.

To all the rest of you willing to risk being offended, may I say, “Merry Christmas!”

Who Wins Isn’t the Issue

Tampering with a ballot box is not just “cheating” at the “game” of politics, as some might consider it. It is nothing short of a treasonous act because it is an attack on the very integrity of the fundamental component of our governmental process.

State Senator Charlotte Burks may be “feeling the pain” that state Senator Ophelia Ford felt a few years back when Senator Ford’s election was put in doubt and an official contest of her election was set in motion. Senator Burks, having barely won re-election, has now found herself embroiled in an official election contest because of some election-night shenanigans in her race. But something more important is at stake than who holds that Senate seat.

Senator Burks, wife of the late Senator Tommy Burks, was a likely safe seat for Democrats going into the 2012 election. But the tidal wave that took out 12 Democrats in the state House and former State Senator Doug Jackson (whose defeat even shocked his opponent) nearly took her out, too. She won over challenger Gary Steakley by a scant 183 votes out of over 53,000 votes cast.

However, on election night the seals on two ballot boxes were broken. Breaking the seals on ballot boxes before they have been accounted for by the election commission is a big no-no.

But it wasn’t just any two ballot boxes. They were ballot boxes in Monterey where Senator Burks lives. As a consequence, Mr. Steakley has filed with the state Senate an official contest, asking the Senate to prohibit her from serving and require a new election.

Now, I do not think Senator Burks was involved in any effort to tamper with the election. I know her and have served with her; she is as honorable as any person I’ve met. She is a gracious and kind woman. And a candidate cannot help or be responsible for what some supporter might do.

Nevertheless, the seals were broken. It may be that the seals were somehow broken accidently. And even if broken intentionally, that does not mean that the person involved knew the computer system well enough to manipulate the results. But manipulation was possible. Expert testimony has been submitted to the effect that the results could have been rather quickly tampered with if the person knew the technology well enough.

Overturning an election is not easy. It will not be enough for Mr. Steakley to show that there were errors made in the voting or even that fraud occurred. By law you have to show that the errors or tampering were so pervasive as to put the results of the election in doubt. For example, assume that only 10 votes were recorded in a ballot box that was tampered with. Assuming Mr. Steakley would have gotten all 10 votes, this would not have changed the outcome of the election.

Thus, Mr. Steakley will have to convince at least 17 of the Senate’s 33 members that the problems on election night were such as to put the election in doubt. Though the Senate Republican caucus now has 20 members, I’m not convinced that 17 of them will vote in favor of the contest. A number of them, along with yours truly, voted to unseat Ophelia Ford several years ago after an election in which the irregularities were pervasive throughout the district and the votes in question could have changed the outcome of the election. The result was we all got sued and the Senate’s vote was eventually overturned by a federal judge in Memphis. Having been through that experience, some in the Senate Republican caucus might not want to be defendants in another federal fruitless lawsuit.

But whatever happens to Senator Burks, the election commission and state authorities owe it to the people of Tennessee to find out what happened. And if there was an attempt to tamper with the ballots recorded in those two boxes, those involved should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and banned from ever working a polling precinct again.

The security of the ballot box is not a partisan issue. Tampering with a ballot box is not just “cheating” at the “game” of politics, as some might consider it. To me it is nothing short of a treasonous act because it is an attack on the very integrity of the fundamental component of our governmental process.

A strong investigation and swift, strong punishment can perhaps serve as a deterrent to this kind of activity anywhere in our state. Let’s hope our state officials understand that. And future election poll workers pay attention when they do.

How Not to Campaign and Win

With no money, political novice Jim Summerville’s best chance was not to do much and hope that the anti-incumbent, anti-Democrat mood was strong enough that folks would vote for him. It worked.

There are lots of training programs for political candidates to attend that will tell them how to win a campaign. But I’ve never heard of one that would have commended a campaign method that was just tried in Tennessee, namely, not trying. But it worked.

The Tennessee political world was shocked by the election results in November. No one could have predicted that state Republicans would pick up 14 seats in the state House, and earlier in the campaign season no one would have predicted that Congressman Lincoln Davis would get beat so soundly. But absolutely no one would have predicted that a political novice, Jim Summerville (R-Dickson County), with no money, would beat veteran state Senator Doug Jackson (D-Dickson).

Here’s what made this race particularly unusual: Senator-Elect Summerville didn’t really campaign. He didn’t have any money to campaign with in the first place. Didn’t even have a website. He spent less than $2,000 when no credible campaign for the state Senate today spends less than $100,000, easy.

But it appears that Senator Jackson didn’t spend any money campaigning. Not that he didn’t have money. He had money in his campaign account, $28,000, and could have raised plenty more. In fact, he could have made a significant personal contribution to his own campaign had he wanted to.

But when you are a well-established political name and your family’s name is well-established and the “other guy” isn’t doing anything, then it’s very easy to see why Senator Jackson didn’t go out knocking on doors, putting up signs, and buying television and radio time. After all, folks don’t normally vote for somebody they’ve never even heard of. Even Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey had not met Mr. Summerville until after the election.

My guess is (and it’s probably shared by others) that by not campaigning, Mr. Summerville gave himself the best chance of winning. Had he really tried to campaign—raise money, put out signs, etc.—Senator Jackson would have turned on the political machine and gotten busy. Mr. Summerville’s best chance, though no one could have predicted it, was not to do much and hope that the anti-incumbent, anti-Democrat mood was strong enough that folks would vote for him.

Turns out it worked. Some say this was like David and Goliath. But I disagree. This wasn’t really like David and Goliath. Unlike the biblical figure, the “David” in this story went out to fight without even his slingshot. And he still killed the giant.

A Christmas Reflection

If ever there was a person who moved into a “bad” neighborhood, beneath his means, it was Jesus.

I always chuckled when I heard the story of my former Senate colleague, John Ford, who did not live in the inner-city district he represented. His reason gave me reason to think of the significance of the Christmas story.

Senator Ford’s reported response to questions about why he didn’t live in his district was, “Who would want to live in my district?” I don’t know if the story is true, but it was told in his presence many times and he never objected. And he did live in a very nice home in a rather exclusive neighborhood in former Senator Curtis Person’s district.

The first thought, once you move past the initial sense of humor, is how arrogant to not want to live in the district you represent. But then I got to thinking. There are very few people, very few, who choose to live in a lesser neighborhood and house than they can afford. Our income goes up, and so does our housing. I don’t still live in a 700-square-foot apartment in a poorer neighborhood like I did in law school, though I could.

But then I thought of the Christmas story and was reminded of this verse:

Have this same attitude in yourselves which was in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:5-7)

If ever there was a person who moved into a “bad” neighborhood, beneath his means, it was Jesus. What an incredible thing—God choosing to move into our neighborhood so that we might know him.

If we think about it long enough, we may find ourselves responding like the angels who announced his birth: Glory to God in the highest!

Memphis Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity/Expression Ordinance Update

As most of you know, the Memphis City Council is currently considering an ordinance that would give special protections for sexual orientation (“SO”) and gender identity/gender identity expression ( “GI” which includes cross-dressers, and transvestites) in the city’s personnel manual. A similar ordinance sponsored by Janis Fullilove was recently pulled due to lack of support. The Tennessee Equality Project (“TEP,” the group advocating for the bill) has found a new person to sponsor their agenda in Councilman Shea Flinn.

On October 21st Councilman Flinn introduced the ordinance and a companion resolution to authorize a study regarding possible discrimination of all kinds in city government including SO and GI. The ordinance was heard by the Personnel Committee on October 26th. Jonathan Cole (of the TEP) and I both spoke at the committee meeting expressing the concerns of our respective constituencies. Unfortunately Mr. Cole used this opportunity to take what to this point has been a respectful debate and resort to name calling and personal attacks. In his comments he referred to those who disagreed with the ordinance as “religious bigots” and “bullies”. After a brief discussion the committee voted to send the ordinance and resolution to the full council for consideration. Councilman Flinn also asked that FACT and TEP be involved in overseeing how the study will be crafted and executed should it be approved by the full council.

Mr. Quintin Robinson, Director of Human Relations for The City of Memphis, has publicly stated that discrimination of any kind including SO or GI was already illegal in Memphis under current laws. He also stated that if any of this kind of discrimination is indeed happening at city hall, a new law would solve nothing because we have an enforcement issue not a law issue. I say “if” because there has not been one official complaint of discrimination because of SO/GI.

The first reading of the ordinance and resolution by the full Council was on Tuesday, November 9th. Prior to the hearing, FACT crafted and presented to each Council Member and the Mayor an extensive letter along with backup documentation addressing our concerns. Read a summary of the letter here. Briefly, the concerns we addressed are:

  1. The ordinance is not needed, nor will it solve any existing problems.
  2. The ordinance will result in significant expenditures by the City.
  3. The ordinance will result in expensive, hard to defend litigation.
  4. The ordinance will violate the rights of private citizens and City employees.

The private sector will eventually be implicated and negatively impacted.
We also recommended that to avoid all these pitfalls and make it abundantly clear that all forms of discrimination are illegal, the city add this language to its current personnel policy: “Decisions to employ, terminate, or promote persons will be based on their merits, qualifications, and job performance.” We also expressed several concerns about the credibility of the study itself and the study process.

I along with other FACT supporters voiced these concerns at the full council meeting last week. At that meeting I was struck by the contrast between the policy/fact-driven message we presented and the emotional/feelings-based approach by the supporters of the ordinance.

The ordinance passed on first reading with Councilmen Conrad and Boyd rightly voting against a second reading. The first reading of an ordinance is usually passed unanimously since the ordinance cannot become law until the third reading. I’m sure a note of thanks to Conrad and Boyd would be encouraging to them! The resolution to commission a study only needs one vote, however, and the study resolution passed with only Councilman Conrad voting against.

Councilman Flinn also restated his insistence that FACT and TEP be involved in the study and announced that the all-important third reading of the ordinance would be tabled until after the study. We have stated to the Council our concern that there will be little time for Council members, FACT, or the general public to review and debate the results of the Study before a quick vote is called for on third reading. We are currently seeking reassurances that a cheap trick like that will not be employed.

We are requesting that all of you that are concerned about this please make those concerns known to the Council and the Mayor. Both Conrad and Boyd have shown their allegiance, so writing them would be a waste of time as would contacting Fullilove. All the others need to hear our voice, especially councilpersons Ford, Halbert, Hedgpeth, Collins and Strickland. Please remember short/respectful letters and e-mails make the most impact. You may get all the contact information for Memphis city government officials here.

I promise to you that we at FACT will continue to lobby the council and inform you the citizenry of what’s happening on this all-important debate. As always we will aspire to do this in a respectful and civil way. Your prayers and support are always felt, appreciated and welcomed.