Monday, April 22, 2002
Government tyranny ruled Traficant trial
As I watched the spectacle called "Traficant on Trial," I was reminded of the Salem Witch trials. Women accused of witchcraft were thrown into vats of water. If they drowned, they were innocent. If they survived, they were guilty and burned at the stake.
The witnesses aligned against Mr. Traficant were offered a similar fate. They could testify against Mr. Traficant (truthfully or not), or be bankrupted by a federal indictment (innocent or not). A Faustian dilemma at best. Governmental tyranny at worst.
As is often the case, the bigger picture is obscured by the moment and the man. The RICO law that snared Mr. Traficant was designed to deprive drug kingpins of their illicit gains. It is now used to confiscate the property of middle-class Americans for minor legal transgressions. The U.S. Constitution once protected the accused from double jeopardy. Defendants are now routinely tried for the same crime several times. We are told that this is OK because the federal courts are different from state courts which are different from the civil courts -- one government, many courts.
Again, the public yawns. These defendants are criminals. They deserve what they get. But each day, each law and each new regulation creeps nearer to you. A minor infraction or a slight transgression can throw you into a court system designed to make lawyers rich, the government omnipotent and the accused impotent. Mr. Traficant understood this. He chose to defend himself. Not because he is a great orator or legal mind, but because to choose otherwise would have bankrupted his family and gained him nothing. The odds were stacked against him.
Until this last election, I never voted for Jim Traficant. To me he was at best a bellicose symptom of the misguided anger and frustration that epitomizes this area. He was an embarrassment. He was crude and rude. But he was and is right -- "People should not fear their government." But we do. And those that don't are naive.
Mr. Traficant may be guilty as charged. But he is no more guilty than Tom Foley with his IPOs or Hillary Clinton with her commodity trades or various other government officials with their backroom deals and speaking fees. The difference is that Mr. Traficant was not as slick. He was the ghetto gangster stealing $30 from the local Seven Eleven compared to their $100,000 YUPPIE ripoffs. They say "Oops!" and pay it back. Jim will go to jail. It's hard to just yawn in the face of that kind of selective justice.
Go beyond party labelin selecting candidates
The distinction between Republicans and Democrats in local and even in national politics is vague. Defiant conservatives are conspicuous in both parties but the Republicans have the edge. Liberals are mostly Democrats or a splinter group. There are progressive and moderates who reside in both of the major parties.
The Democratic Party is dominant locally because it has the unreserved support of working men and labor unions. The Republicans have the unreserved support of business and the religious right wing.
Both parties are hopelessly entangled in historic baggage, and both lack the wisdom to appreciate progressives and moderates who are the only ones who can provide the ideas which can take the district into a more promising future.
So the way to improve politics and politicians is to require candidates to define their personal views and well thought out proposals for their proposed office in advance of elections. Then try to eliminate inherited party lines, which produce nothing but the same old, same old.
WILLIAM B. ROORBACK
A letter in support of Congressman Traficant appearing in the April 18 editions identified the writer, Mary Lou Jurina, as being of Warren. She lives in Youngstown. The error was made by an editor and is regretted.