When Toothless is Dangerous

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Texas legislature has gotten a step closer to passing an inane bill that is being held out as a way to "tone down" the behavior of cheerleaders in Texas public schools. As I have already lamented here:

I keep lamenting the fact that there has been no movement towards privatization of education even though we have a Republican majority. With fiscal conservatives fading and the religionists gaining the upper hand by default, this should come as no surprise. Why privatize the schools when the religionists can use the apparatus of the state to enforce the teaching of their ideas and mores?
According to the Houston Chronicle:
By a 65-56 vote, the House gave preliminary approval to a bill sponsored by Rep. Al Edwards, D-Houston, curbing "sexually suggestive" routines by cheerleaders, drill teams or other public school performance groups.

The bill doesn't define the behavior it is trying to prevent or specify punishment
[italics mine].

Edwards, who in past sessions has battled raunchy pop lyrics and advocated cutting off drug dealers' fingers, pledged that Tuesday's vote was just the opening volley in his effort to curb gyrating teenage booty-shakers.
This is much more alarming than one might expect from an article that begins with the lighthearted warning that, "Texas cheerleaders [could be] shakin' a little less booty next year." How the hell will anyone know beforehand -- unless the cheerleaders wear burqas and pray -- whether a given routine will violate the law. (Heck, burqas might turn on someone like Al Edwards....)

"But Gus, it's just a law to clean up cheerleading," I can almost hear you saying, "lighten up." This law is a trial balloon for someone like Edwards. He wants to see what he can get away with, because he is serious about using the apparatus of the state to enforce Christian mores. Cheerleading is just part of the picture for this guy. (And now that I think of it, the facetious burqa quip isn't too far off for Edwards. Note above that he'd cut off the fingers of drug dealers in much the same way a Moslem would amputate the hand of a thief.) I'll let Edwards speak for himself here.

Edwards likened the perceived salaciousness of cheerleading routines to risqué television programs and Internet pornography sites. He also suggested that inappropriate cheerleading routines contribute to a social atmosphere that encourages teen pregnancy, poor scholastic performance, criminality and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

"Why allow young girls 12, 13, 18 to be exploited like that?" he said.

Edwards' bill initially called for curtailing funding to offending schools. The punitive aspect of the bill later was dropped in exchange for a milder provision that school district officials take "appropriate action" in such situations.

Note first that the original penalty was a withholding of funds from schools. Is imposing his morality on everyone else's children more important than their education? Yes. Twice yes. He is (1) certainly not attempting to privatize education, which would lead to better schools and (2) threatening to reduce revenue to the public ones we have -- unless they enforce his idea of morality.

Recall that Edwards's brothers-in-spirit at the federal level want to start regulating even cable television. And recall also what a slippery slope vague regulations that purport to "protect children" can be. If you read the article referenced here and then go to the last link, you will note that vagueness gives the government much more power than it should have.

According to the news story, "Critics of the measure maintain that it has no teeth, no sanctions and no effect." Wrong. It has all three. Worse, the vagueness makes it a ratchet that can only further reduce freedom. Here's how it will work. Cheerleading coaches with any sense will be afraid to have their squads do anything "provocative." The more daring coaches whose squads generate complaints work for principals facing a similar dilemma: "What punishment is harsh enough to be 'appropriate'?" Eventually, some school principal will side with one of these offending coaches (or not punish one "appropriately" enough), raising the ire of his Bible-thumping school board. Some such conflict will no doubt lead for further calls by the likes of Edwards to get the state even more intimately involved in the lives of our children.

This is cheerleading, but if Edwards gets away with this, you can bet your shakin' booty he (or someone like him) will attempt to impose similar regulations on some other area of our personal life that offends their medieval sensibilities.

The rest of the article focuses on nonessentials, such as rules for cheerleading contests and where, exactly, in relation to the navel, certain tops for cheerleading uniforms are. I have often complained here of reporters failing to consider the implications of the facts that they are reporting, but here, the failure is worse than usual: In focusing on such things, the reporters play right into Edwards's hands. The important issue here is not what rules govern a cheerleading competition or how much of an adolescent's midriff is visible. (That is, how much "lewdness" there is, as if the government should do something if there is "too much.") The central issue is: How free are parents to raise their own children?

On that subject, I will juxtapose two revealing quotes that really should have gone together in the article. First:
[Terri] Jaggers, [a cheerleading coach and] mother to five adopted children and almost two dozen foster children, suggested the problem arises from commercially or college-trained coaches who teach provocative routines to adolescent girls. "MTV and music video are a huge attraction in dance for young people," she said. "The days of ballet and tap are over."
Second, there's this.
"I've seen it with my own eyes," Edwards said. "I've had people talk to me about it at football games. There was just a feeling that people were waiting for something to be done about it."
MTV? Aren't parents supposed to exert some control over what their children see on television? Are they not able to take some kind of proactive role in what goes on at their children's schools? (By the way, the latter would be much easier in private schools, another advantage of privatizing that part of the economy.)

If parents won't assume some responsibility for their own children, people like Edwards will be more than happy to take the reins themselves. Freedom is nothing more than the ability to do what you think best unfettered by the initiation of force from others. If you do not exercise your rational judgement, you will lose that freedom. This is happening in Texas now with a bill -- ostensibly about a subject as unserious as cheerleading -- that is being scoffed at as "toothless" and "ridiculous" as it wends its way through the legislature. There is no senate sponsor for this bill so far. But with lazy parents like Jaggers and the ones who "feel" Edwards should "do something" about racy cheerleading, it's only a matter of time before the ratchet starts tightening. If this bill fails, similar proposals will arise.

When people do not value their freedom, they can very easily fall prey to the "toothless" and the "ridiculous."

-- CAV

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