Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns are satire and parody based on current events and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell which is which.
How far may an elective body go in limiting the actions of an elected member?
The question is not abstract in California, where people who style themselves liberal regularly display a thirst for control over the thoughts and actions of others.
A Mountain View City Council member, for example, was censured for interacting with city staff. Apparently, freedom of association is waived when one takes the oath of office.
The latest example (as far as we know – it has been a few days now) comes from the city of Palo Alto, home of Stanford University and of thousands who so desire a world without offense they don’t care what principles they trample to attain it.
Call it “Brave New World meets the City Council,” though Aldous Huxley thought this sort of thing wouldn’t dominate for a few more centuries.
At issue is a set of protocols advanced by Palo Alto City Council member Amy Handleman.
The protocols – 44 of them – cover everything from being properly prepared to discuss agenda issues to the prohibition of “nonverbal expressions,” such as eye-rolling. And remember, this is in a region that voted overwhelmingly for Al Gore.
If the recommendations are adopted, council members will be forbidden to show “disagreement or disgust” by frowning, shaking their heads, sneering, rolling their eyes, sticking out their tongues, flapping their arms like chickens or throwing food.
The latter, according to Handleman, was what really provided the impetus for the proposed action.
“All that other stuff – the eye rolling, head shaking and the like – those things are just throw-ins. We figure we can bargain them away to get at the big question,” she said. “Certain council members – and they know who they are – have gotten totally out of bounds.
“Not that we have minded an occasional outburst, particularly in good humor, but some council members lack both a sense of timing and a sense of diet. Really! Fettuccine alfredo vs. frijoles refritos! It’s too much. Too much!”
It may be too much for the council member, but civil libertarians are aghast.
Howard Bashford, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, notes that John Locke was mindful of the impulse to fling food when he wrote that “most men are, in many points, by passion or interest, under temptation to it.”
“You probably remember Voltaire’s famous declaration on this matter,” said Bashford, “that he disapproved, but would ‘defend to the death’ your right to toss the occasional escargot at your tablemates.
“Oscar Wilde, already in trouble for engaging in conduct that we now regard as a human right, thinly disguised the same topic in his famous epistle from prison, “De Profundis.”
“Why, even John Adams, in his diaries, mentions such behavior as a welcome injection of levity at the Constitutional Convention, when Jefferson launched a spoonful of bread pudding at Alexander Hamilton, who volleyed back with some trifle.
“In our lifetime, there are documented instances of food fights between Dick Nixon and Jack Kennedy [in the Senate dining room, not the White House] and we know of several contests involving the entire House Ways and Means Committee.
“It’s a great, American tradition, and the ACLU isn’t going to stand by and let the likes of Ms. Handleman stifle it.”
Another Palo Alto City Council member, unamused by the would-be behavior police, agreed to talk about the issue, though “not for attribution.”
“I thought when I was elected that I answered to the electorate,” said the council member. (Note how we cleverly use a gender-neutral term, so you can’t tell if the speaker was a man or woman. We protect our sources.)
“Now I find out I have to give up this freedom of expression, like it’s something shameful that should be confined to the cafeterias and frat houses,” the council member continued. “When we take this up in May, I’ll express my opinion more strongly – with sausage and sauerkraut.”
Informed of the threat, Handleman would only mutter, “This is getting just too ridiculous.”
We can’t but agree. Let us all roll our eyes.