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July 06, 2009 - Image 5

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Publication:
Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 2009-07-06

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Monday, July 6, 2009
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

15

ROBERT SOAVE |VIEWPOINT
Viva la libertad

ELAINE MORTON

E-MAIL ELAINE AT EMORT@UMICH.EDU

It's appropriate that in the same
week our country celebrates the
anniversary of its independence,
there are several shining examples
of corrupt tyrants being expelled
from power all over the world.
Oneoftheseexamplesisremark-
ably close to home. Just one week
ago, Detroit City Council member
Monica Conyers resigned from
office and now faces a five-year jail
sentence for allegedly accepting
bribes in exchange for her vote.
Conyers's resignation comes just
a few months after Detroit Mayor
Kwame Kilpatrick plead guilty to
felonies and resigned from office.
The city of Detroit has suf-
fered for years under the regimes
of wickedly corrupt officials like
Conyers and Kilpatrick. But the
fact that these powerful politi-
cians were finally overthrown is a
testamenttotheenduringstrength
of the people of Detroit, as well as
the strength of the state's courts,
prosecutors and media.
And yet, Detroit's revolutionary
achievement is not the only one in
the news this week. On June 28, a
day before Conyers resigned from
office, the nation of Honduras
exiled its president, Manuel Zela-
ya, in what has been labeled as a
coup d'etat by the international
community.
A coup isn't usually thought of as
a good thing, Indeed, Latin America
has seen its fair share of right-wing
coups that replace one tyrant with
someone worse. But what happened
in Honduras on June 28 wasn't a
coup. Zelaya violated the Honduran
constitution by pushing for a ballot
referendum that called for the con-
stitution to be rewritten. His reason
for this referendum-is obvious -
Honduras's eonstitution prohibits
any president from servingmultiple
terms. In fact, it goes as far as to
prohibit the constitution from ever
being changed to allow a president
to serve a subsequent term.
As Octavio Sanchez, Hondu-
ras's former minister of culture,
explained in a July 2 article in The
Christian Science Monitor, the con-
stitution clearly states that "Who-
ever violates this law or proposes
its reform, as well as those that sup-
port such violation directly or indi-
rectly, will immediately cease in
their functions and will be unable
to hold any office for a period of 10
years" (A 'coup' in Honduras? Non-
sense., 07/02/2009). This means
that the supposed coup d'etat,
technically speaking - didn't take
place. According to Sanchez, "sol-
diers arrested a Honduran citizen
who, the day before, through his
own actions had stripped himself of

the presidency."
This view of Zelaya's actions
is widely agreed upon within the
Honduran government. As Alva-
ro Vargas Llosa, director for the
Center on Global Prosperity at the
Independent Institute, observed
in a July 1 article in The Wash-
ington Post, "Every legal body in
Honduras - the electoral tribu-
nal, the Supreme Court, the attor-
ney general, the human rights
ombudsman - declared the refer-
endum unconstitutional" (Hondu-
ras coup is President Zelaya's fault,
07/01/2009). Zelaya had defied
the Supreme Court by order-
ing the military to prepare for an
unconstitutional referendum. The
head of the military refused to
comply with Zelaya's orders, was
fired, and then reinstated by the
Supreme Court. Zelaya's abuse of
power was flagrant, maniacal and
unconstitutional.
And yet the world has reacted to
Zelaya's overthrow with universal
condemnation. President Barack
Obama said, "we believe that the
coup was not legal and that Presi-
dent Zelaya remains the demo-
cratically elected president there."
Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez
- who got rid of his country's term
limits via referendum last year -
has all but declared war on the new
president, Robert Micheletti.
The world needs to wake up to
the reality of the situation in Hon-
duras. Zelaya has no more right to
remain in power than Conyers. In a
June 27 editorial, The Detroit News
wrote that Conyers's corruption
"violates the public trust, breaks
her fiduciary duty to taxpayers and
is overwhelming grounds for her
removal from office" (Monica Cony-
ers should resign seat, 06/27/2009).
The same thing could have been
written about Zelaya. Just as the
workings of the legal system of
Michigan and Detroit eventually
defeated Conyers, so too has Hon-
duras's legal system triumphed
over Zelaya's attempt to grab more
power for himself. It should be cel-
ebrated - not condemned - that
Honduras, whose democratic tradi-
tion only extends back a quarter of a
century, can expel a corrupt tyrant
just as easily as the United States,
where democracy has largely flour-
ished for two hundred years.
Thomas Jefferson famously
said, "the tree of liberty must be
refreshed from time to time with
the blood of patriots and tyrants."
At least this Fourth of July week,
only the tyrants are hurting.
Robert Soave is the
summer managing editor.

Making a joke ofpoliti'cs

Al Franken is a funny guy.
He is also intelligent and
seems to understand the
needs of his
constituents.
And Franken
seems earnest
in his desire to
be a U.S. Sena-
tor. But despite
all this, he
should not have ED
run for the MCPHEE
position in the
first place.
Celebrity status like Franken's
clearly has an impact on an elec-
tion because it shrouds what's
most important - the issues. It
gives stars an unfair advantage
compared to other politicians
who don't have the same exposure
to the public eye. The star power
of celebrities is nearly impos-
sible to beat, especially when the
star is in public favor. Celebrities
need to stay out of political office
so that America can elect the best
people to serve in office - not the
most famous.
Franken is merely the latest in a
line of celebrities who have become
major politicians - a group that
includes Ronald Reagan, Sonny
Bono, Jesse Ventura, Jack Kemp
and Arnold Schwarzenegger. And
Franken is following in the foot-
steps of a set of civil servants who
have produced uninspired results.
This is not to nay Franken has
no shot at becoming a good - or
even great - senator. He's an
intelligent man. He graduated
cum laude from Harvard in 1973
with a degree in political science.
But talking and writing about pol-
itics is very different from holding
political office, and only time will
tell if he can be successful. And
he's goingto have to break a strong
trend of mediocrity that his celeb-

rity predecessors have created.
Unfortunately, the failures
of elected celebrities have yet
to turn off Americans to the
idea of electing them. Instead,
Americans have actually come
to embrace the idea of celebrities
in politics. Franken is the latest
proof of that, winning by the nar-
rowest of margins in last year's
Minnesota Senate race. Franken
isn't an A-lister like the Gov-
ernator or Sonny Bono, but his
notoriety as an author and come-
dian was doubtlessly a factor in
his win over incumbent senator
Norm Coleman.
Ironically, Norm Coleman was
no stranger to facing a celebrity
in an election. Coleman lost Min-
nesota's gubernatorial race to for-
mer professional wrestler Jesse
Ventura in 1998. Coleman then
defeated former vice president
and one-time Minnesota senator
Walter Mondale to win his Senate
seat in 2002.
In the Senate, many considered
Coleman a very capable politician.
He sat on important committees,
including the Committee on For-
-eign Relations. Coleman's term
was widely regarded as a success-
ful one, and his work on legislation
for renewable energy and rural
infrastructure helped serve the
needs of Minnesotans. The voters
hardly had reason to remove him
from office - but they did, and
they replaced him with a celebrity.
Something's wrong when Coleman
was able to defeat a former vice
president, but not a comedian.
The first celebrity governor,
Ronald Reagan, started this trend
for awful celebrity politicians back
in the 1960s. His star power even-
tually led him to run for president,
where America decided that it was
in fact a good idea to elect a red-
scare xenophobe. Reagan even-

tually launched a failed defense
program called "Star Wars" and
advocated an inherently flawed
economic system.
As expected, Ventura and
Schwarzenegger's reigns as gov-
ernors have not been without
controversy and criticism. The
media attacked Ventura at nearly
every turn for his absurd number
of vetoes and odd political view-
points. Their relentlesscriticism
is largely considered a reason
why he lasted only one term in
office. And Schwarzenegger's
performance has been inconsis-
tent at best, with his notable fail-
ure occurring when all four ballot
measures he sponsored in a 2005
special election were defeated.
It's a long way
from Hollywood
to Capitol Hill.
From Reagan to Schwarzeneg-
ger to Ventura, America has
given celebrities their chance to
try and positively impact govern-
ment. For the most part, they've
failed miserably. While Franken
provides another chance for a
celebrity to succeed, any success
of his willonly encourage anoth-
er knucklehead to become the
next celebrity politician - like
NBA Hall of Famer Charles Bar-
kley, who continuously declares
his desire to run for governor of
Alabama. The U.S. voters need to
stop falling for these gimmicks
and elect those who truly can
serve our nation.
- Ed McPhee can be reached
at emcphee@umich.edu.

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