20 May 2010


By Andy Weddington
Friday, 21 May 2010

"The time to read is any time: no apparatus, no appointment of time and place, is necessary. It is the only art which can be practiced at any hour of the day or night, whenever the time and inclination comes, that is your time for reading; in joy or sorrow, health or illness." George Holbrook Jackson (1874-1948)

Today, tongue-in-cheek, some downright sarcasm, some truth, and who knows--maybe more truth than we really know. So let's go--Big Fun!--reading with Dick and Jane. Hmm, make that Eric and Janet.

The exchange last week between a member of the House Judiciary Committee and our country's chief law enforcement officer went like this...

Congressman Ted Poe, (R, TX): "Have you read the Arizona law--Senate Bill 1070?"

Attorney General Eric Holder: "I have not had a chance to--I've glanced at it."

No kidding. As it turns out Mr. Holder, the Attorney General of these United States, admittedly formed his derogatory perspective and comments--expressed in public--from news reports, watching television and talking to Justice Department lawyers. And that being weeks after Governor Jan Brewer had signed the law. What was Mr. Holder waiting for?

Anyone else wondering if Congressman Poe may have been guilty of making a perfectly understandable but hasty assumption?

Now, imagine had the exchange between the Congressman and the Attorney General gone as follows...

Congressman: "Mr. Attorney General, we'll get to the Arizona law in a moment. My first question for you, can you read?"

Attorney General" "Excuse me, Congressman. What?"

Congressman: "You heard correctly, Mr. Attorney General. Can you read?"

Attorney General: "Yes, sir. I indeed can read."

Congressman: "Then would you please be so kind as to indulge us and read--aloud--the first two sections through sub-paragraph F. of Section 2 of the Arizona law my aide will now deliver to you? And, tell us, in your own words, what it means?"

Attorney General: "Congressman, your request hardly seems appropriate. In fact, it's insulting. May we please move on?"

Congressman: "Please, sir, humor us."

You think maybe there would have been a cry of outrage? 

The point being the Congressman made the assumption the Attorney General can read. Probably a safe assumption--but.

As incredible as it seems there are still many in these United States who cannot read. And the government continues to wage war against illiteracy sinking millions if not billions into reading programs. Programs like 'Reading is Fundamental,' 'Head Start,' and 'No Child Left Behind' are the more instantly recognized titles of literacy programs to tackle the problem (surely many reading today well remember Dick and Jane and Sally and Spot, and the Weekly Reader). And reading words is merely the first element of reading. The whole point of reading is understanding what you read. For without comprehension what's the point.

Let's be clear. Not being able to read is not a deficiency restricted to those considered amongst the least privileged. And there are sundry reasons why people, from all classes of society, walks of life, and IQ levels, either never learn to read or have difficulty reading. Dyslexia, a nondiscriminatory disability, is one of the more prevalent conditions that first comes to mind. Just a few among the more famous known to have suffered from learning disabilities and had trouble learning to read include: Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Walt Disney, and George Washington. All folks who managed to overcome their deficiency and do alright in life. The list is much longer.

Could Eric Holder (aka: "Stedman" as comic/commentator/radio host Dennis Miller light-heartedly refers to Oprah's beau body-double) be counted among them? These days and times it's perfectly understandable to say, "Impossible." But in reality it's not all that crazy of a thought. Not at all.

Some possible alibis that come to mind for the Attorney General of the United States showing up at the House hearing unprepared include: 1) he does not care--hard to believe considering his position and the issue; 2) his staff did not have time to brief and prepare him--possible but not likely considering a quite small 16-page document; 3) he didn't have time to read the law--his excuse, and a laughable one, too busy; 4) He can't read--it's possible; 5) he disagrees with the law--so what. "If you resist reading what you disagree with, how will you ever acquire deeper insights into what you believe? The things most worth reading are precisely those that challenge our convictions." Author Unknown

Having never met Mr. Holder I've no idea if he can read or not. So maintaining a position of objectivity is prudent, and within that stance it is absolutely reasonable to entertain the possibility he cannot.

Mr. Holder's defenders could certainly generate a list of other reasons for his dereliction which would all likely revolve around political gamesmanship and smelling of partisan politics--something the reigning regime vowed to overcome. Generally speaking (no pun intended), Mr. Holder is working for a friendly administration. His lack of preparedness was unprofessional. But can he read?

Crazy? Nuts? Absurd? Ridiculous? Inflammatory? Perhaps. But don't laugh.

In my youth I worked for a famous American-founded, now global, fast-food chain. Not a great paying job but it was fun and it reinforced solid lessons about responsibility and accountability, hard work, team work, the importance of education and the value of a dollar. The management was good but one day I inadvertently learned something interesting about the store manager I was not supposed to know. He could not read.

He was well into his 50s and for whatever reason had never learned to read. But he was bright enough to have bluffed his way through life without reading. He was a capable manager. My discovery came to light one day when I witnessed something not intended for my eyes--an Assistant Manager standing behind the seated store manager, who was holding a memo from corporate, reading the content aloud. It was obvious what was going on. I later asked the Assistant Manager about it. He confirmed what I suspected--the store manager could not read and said the assistants covered for him. I never revealed what I learned.

But "Mr. Smith's" secret eventually came out and he did later learn to read. Imagine the world that opened to him so late in life. And the relief--from the burden of pretending, fear of embarrassment if discovered, and the possibility of losing his job.

In some ways, Mr. Holder's conduct and testimony last week before the House Judiciary Committee reminded me of that experience from more than 35 years ago. A flashback of sorts. His behavior seemed so familiar. The first thought that crossed my mind, despite all of Mr. Holder's impressive academic achievements and record of public service, he can't read.

Were it true, Mr. Holder would not be the first person to bluff their way to success. Another remark during questioning caught my attention when he said something along the lines of, 'Those responsible for reading and reviewing the law have not briefed me yet.' Huh? What? It takes a team to read and brief the hottest law to hit the country in recent times? Sure the Attorney General is a busy man but no, no, no.

Yes, Mr. Holder earned a Bachelor of Arts from Columbia and a Juris Doctor from Columbia Law School. And it makes perfect sense to assume someone with those lofty academic credentials can read. But bright people find creative ways to camouflage flaws and then the guise becomes all about acting--the performance.

If Mr. Holder truly cannot read he has done an incredible job, at least until now, keeping his secret.

If he can read then there is no excuse for his lack of preparedness before the House Judiciary Committee.

Keep in mind that since the law was signed by Arizona's governor, Mr. Holder was publicly opining and criticizing it. He said the law was subject to abuse, could lead to racial profiling and suggested a federal law suit against SB1070 may be forthcoming. All offered, as already noted, having not read the law--merely repeating what he'd heard.

The Arizona law is short and written in simple, straightforward language. It is not difficult to read nor understand. It's a document one would think a well-trained, talented, seasoned lawyer could read, digest, analyze and form an intelligent opinion about in short order. And yet our Attorney General, without so much as reading it, takes to the airways bad-mouthing it. Unbelievable.

And then there's another possibility--framed by the following quote...

"If fools did not go to market, cracked pots and false wares would not be sold." Jean Le Malchanceux (12th century)

Ferdinand Demara, Elmyr de Hory, and Frank Abagnale share the spotlight in history--the three were great imposters of the twentieth century (1940s-1960s). Their respective areas of "expertise" quite different and interesting but not necessary for review here. The bottom line is these men "succeeded" because others saw what they wanted or expected to see. That is, their victims--even "subject matter experts"--saw what was presented to them not bothering, until they'd been had (and even then some did not or refused to), to really see what was right before their eyes all along. Though none of the three masqueraded as a politician or public servant, per se, there's no reason to believe they could not have pulled it off. Could Mr. Holder be guarding a secret, particularly in light of his lack of impressive performance since seated as Attorney General, and it now be unraveling? Anything is possible.

Monday afternoon respected commentator, television news journalist, and senior political analyst for Fox News, Brit Hume, remarked, when discussing Mr. Holder with Bill O'Reilly, he hated to think and say it but maybe Mr. Holder is not the sharpest tool in the shed. Hmm, maybe there's a reason for that observation. And one so obvious no one, not even the astute and always fair Mr. Hume, is seeing it.

If Mr. Holder can read perhaps the personal embarrassment last week was enough that that's the last time he will appear anywhere, informally or formally, unprepared. And, he learned an invaluable lesson about speaking, particularly before cameras, to that which he does not know.

If he can't read, well, it sure explains all his blunders and missteps (not just the Arizona law matter), and his shortcoming is not a secret any longer. Embarrassing? Sure. A crime? No.

Able to read or not, speaking publicly to that which he knew little about and showing up unprepared for the House hearing were inexcusable breaches of professionalism for a Cabinet member. This is not his first post in government service so to that he knows better.

Never mind that Mr. Holder would not have been appointed (nor confirmed) had anyone other than Mr. Obama been elected. Be that as it may, odds are pretty darn good he'll remain in office far longer than he should--despite the distracting attention he brings upon himself and the president.

Were anyone else sitting in the Oval Office, Mr. Holder would be graciously asked post haste to exit stage left and offered a cordial "Thank you" for his service. But don't look for his departure any time soon. For reading the law, and the Constitution, and abiding by both--to the letter and in the spirit, is proving to be not only an annoying inconvenience but not all that important these days.

Reading--it's fun-duh-mental. And fundamental, too. Right, Spot? Aaarf! Good boy.

Post Script

While crafting this Commentary our Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, likewise confessed, before a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing no less, to not reading the Arizona immigration law before going on television to publicly criticize it. So the same train of thought applies to her. Though, admittedly, it's absurd to think two members of the Cabinet are truly illiterate. What would be the odds? Most likely she is just a slow learner--picking up nothing from Mr. Holder's clownish stage time. How impressive that Mr. Obama's administration is so well read. Perhaps the president should launch an Oval Office advisory--a new slogan--to his staff using anagrams for a clever, memorable ditty for that which is imperative to their work and while representing him: DEAR, DARE to READ! Then, practice the preachin'--it's called readersh...make that...leadership!


betty said...

Very humerous Andy! So much funny script for you to choose from these days!!!!

Unknown said...

Add in several State Department spokesmen with same disability. Good one Andy.

Bruce said...

A simple fact I've learned through my life experience is that education in and of itself is no guarantor of intelligence and common sense. Some of the best and smartest street savvy cops I ever knew or worked with had either HS or GED diploma's. Likewise, some of the dumbest SOB's I ever knew in the NYPD were Summa or Magna Cum Laude graduates of good colleges or universities. Yes - it's a fact the NYPD has in fact a majority of college grads, with many with advanced degrees - Masters or Doctorates. Primarily, as one would expect, in management ranks. I myself earned 2 degrees before joining the force, but I was brought up to listen to people who had more experience than I in an area, and to not over-value a college education. I trust the Colonel has some experience with those sorts in the Marines. You just have to love and trust those First Sergeants. Experienced street cops who love the street more than their ego requires advancement is much the same.