Marbles for Mulshine: A Community Appeal
March 25, 2007
If you go shopping sometime this week, be sure to buy a nice big bag of marbles and send it to Star-Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine. I don’t know how many marbles he started with when he began his sinecure as Winger-in-Chief of the Ledger op-ed page, but on the basis of this genuinely freaky column he’s definitely running short.
The springboard for Mulshine’s musings is not, I’m relieved to say, something that happened in New Jersey, but could easily happen on the Turnpike or Parkway one of these days. Last month along an interstate highway in Michigan, 39- year-old Bernadette Houghton Headd found herself being tailgated by a lunkhead in a looming Dodge Ram pickup truck while on her way to work. Many of us have found ourselves in similar situations, and our reactions, depending on our nerviness and level of irritation, run the gamut from slowing down and frustrating the oaf to sending a salute up the one-finger flagpole. Ms. Headd chose a different course of action: She hauled out a 9 mm pistol and fired off a round at the road in front of the offending driver’s tire, or so she told police.
So far, so batshit. The other driver flagged down a patrol car and told the officer what had happened. Ms. Headd was quickly pulled over, arrested and clapped into the hoosegow, where she remains in lieu of $50,000 bail. A judge recently refused to reduce her bail, citing the threat she posed to society, which should stand as a rebuke to those who believe judges are too lenient. If you’ll check out this link, you’ll find a picture of Ms. Headd, whose facial expression certainly supports the defense’s contention that she’s been feeling a little stressed out lately. When she was arrested, incidentally, Ms. Headd told police “I’m tired of people tailgating me.” Fortunately, nobody was injured or killed in the incident, otherwise Ms. Headd’s statement would go into the record books alongside that of Brenda Ann Spencer, who shot up a San Diego schoolyard in 1979 and told police she did it because “I don’t like Mondays.”
However, the Star-Ledger’s star columnist doesn’t look at Ms. Headd’s picture and think “Bughouse J. Crazee.” He thinks of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. What’s more, he has company — James W. Ely Jr. of the Federalist Society, “a group of legal experts with a great fondness for the spirit of liberty embraced by the founding fathers.” As the two of them share their thoughts about those wonderful days before police started spoiling everybody’s fun, you can almost smell the Thorazine brewing:
“[In the early days of the republic] all you had was a night watch system that was inherited from English common law,” said Ely. “Their duties were mainly to watch for fires and apprehend people in the middle of breaking into houses.”
Other than that, people mainly took care of their own interests.
“If you were in the middle of a holdup, you didn’t have a phone to call the sheriff,” he said. “It was fairly common for people to go armed. You certainly would have had incidents where people thought they were acting in self-defense.”
So imagine a male driving a horse and carriage who tried to run a woman’s carriage off the road. And imagine she fired a warning shot at him. What would have been the legal implications?
“Probably nothing would have happened because it wouldn’t have been reported,” said Ely. “The man might have found some sense of shame in having been fired on by a woman.”
That’s not the case anymore. The people who buy these trucks like to think of themselves as tough guys — until someone throws a little lead their way. Then they go running to the cops like little boys running to their mommies after picking a fight and losing it.
In the good old days, the sheriff wouldn’t have been so sympathetic, said Ely. If the man had filed charges against the woman, she could have hit back with charges of her own. A grand jury would have sorted it out.
I read this column several times, hoping that Mulshine was actually writing in the Mencken-Lite contrarian style he sometimes uses when making fun of cigarette smokers and SUV pigs.
But no, I’m sorry to say — Mulshine is exhibiting the classic tendency among conservatives to break out the powdered wigs whenever one of their own gets caught commiting a felony. In its most extreme form, it gives us Ronald Reagan calling the Contras “the moral equivalent of the Founding Fathers,” a comparison that would only make sense if it turned out that George Washington and his men had sailed to England and spent their time running drugs, raping and murdering the locals, and high-tailing it for the woods every time the Redcoats showed up. Come to think of it, Paul Mulshine has spoken very highly of Reagan’s policies in Latin America, so I guess this column is of a piece with that thinking. He also tries to inflate the other driver’s obnoxiousness into a mortal threat by citing Ms. Headd’s relatives, who claim he was trying to drive her off the road.
Packing heat in the glove compartment and squeezing off a couple of shots whenever somebody gives you a dirty look during the morning commute may seem like a prescription for social order to Paul Mulshine. He often writes about his love for surfing, and head injuries from tumbling surfboards during wipeouts are not uncommon.
On the other hand, what are we to make of this:
These days, the cops take sides. They don’t enforce the laws against tailgating, but let a little lady even the odds a bit, and all of a sudden the cops pull out the cuffs.
Call me old-fashioned, call me a traditionalist, but I long for the old days. You come at me with a Ram, I come back at you with a Colt.
That is the spirit of liberty, and if it were still alive in the land today, Bernadette Houghton Headd would be a free woman.
Actually, Paul Mulshine need only walk a few blocks from the Newark headquarters of the Star-Ledger to find this vision of conservative heaven in action. Unfortunately, its practitioners aren’t called founding fathers — they’re called Crips and Bloods, and the law-abiding victims of their spirit of liberty pray every day for help from the police. Maybe instead of praying they should just ask the Federalist Society to hold a fundraiser and send them a truckload of AK-47s.
Meanwhile, if you go to that toy store, buy two bags of marbles. Big ones. Because I know a Star-Ledger columnist who definitely needs them.