April 1, 2010

The FUD factor

Our neighbor Lorraine Collins always has an interesting perspective on a wide range of topics. Here's another that should catch your interest -- and perhaps spur a comment or two. Her commentaries appear regularly in the Black Hills Pioneer, and this one is entitled "The FUD Factor and unintended consequences." Our thanks to Lorraine for allowing us to include her work on Black Hills Monitor.


It was the last week of the State Legislature and I stayed up late enough to watch the Statehouse report on South Dakota Public Television. I was sleepily nodding through a long discussion about regulating the sale of goat milk when things suddenly got interesting. There was a brief, pungent discussion of HB 1135, a Bill to rescind all previous applications by the Legislature to call for a Constitutional Convention. What was that all about?

I sat up straighter as I heard Sen. Craig Tieszen of Rapid City say he was opposed to the Bill because "I think we are very close to needing to rein in an out of control federal government." He said a lot of things were going wrong in Washington and that we may need the states to hold a Constitutional Convention to fix things. But one of the Bill's sponsors explained that over the last 30 or 40 years 32 states, including South Dakota, had called for a Constitutional Convention for various reasons. If a total of 34 states said they wanted a Constitutional Convention, Congress would be forced to call one. And who knew what would happen then?

By a vote of 33 to 2, the State Senate approved the Bill to rescind all previous requests for what's familiarly known as a "Con-Con." Until that moment, I had been unaware of any serious move to call for a Constitutional Convention or any controversy about who wanted one and why. From Sen. Tieszen's remarks, I assumed that conservative, anti-federal government people were in favor of a Con-Con and liberals were not. However, as soon as I looked on the Internet for more information, I came across a website that insisted that President Obama was trying to get a Constitutional Convention so he could change the Constitution to suit himself. Good heavens! Who knew?

Several right wing websites, including that of the John Birch Society, warn against calling for a Con-Con because such a convention could not be limited to, for instance, passing a balanced budget amendment. The delegates to the convention could do pretty much whatever they pleased in terms of changing our cherished Bill of Rights or any Article of the Constitution. Such changes would become law when ratified by Legislatures in three fourths of the states or by "Conventions in three fourths thereof."

Article V of the Constitution doesn't specify how delegates to the Constitutional Convention would be chosen and I imagine that the selection process itself would be pretty wild and controversial. On the whole, I think it was a good idea for the South Dakota Legislature to draw us back from the brink. Now only 31 states are currently on record as wanting a Constitutional Convention and I imagine other states will be rescinding their applications for one when the possible unintended consequences of such a Convention become more widely recognized.

I had been totally oblivious to the controversy raging on the Internet about whether to call for a Constitutional Convention, but I'm not surprised by it. We seem to have become so suspicious of government and our political leaders that we are willing to believe any conspiracy theory that comes along. This is the result of what's called "The FUD Factor," the spreading of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. Those opposed to current issues, whether health care reform, energy policy, or trying to regulate Wall Street, have long been trying to instill fear of government, uncertainty about our safety, and doubt about the integrity of our leaders.

The FUD Factor can undermine our confidence in government and make us cynical and mistrustful of all of our political leaders, no matter what party they belong to. The trouble is that those who foment such anxiety and unrest may become victims of it themselves. Those who believe that the way to political power is to inspire fear, uncertainty and doubt about government may discover some day that they have created an angry mob they cannot control. Anarchy, anyone? How's that for an unintended consequence?

Lorraine Collins is a writer who lives in Spearfish. She can be contacted at collins1@rushmore.com.

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