The Outstater

November 2, 2022

Democracy Unclothed

THE 911 CALL from the home of Paul and Nancy Pelosi got me thinking — no, not in the way you might imagine. It has to do with journalistic method.

My first breaking news story was a citywide, Keystone Cops-style chase involving a dozen suspects and victims in an early morning robbery and kidnapping at an all-night business. I was proud of how I was able to put together the myriad details and still make a tight deadline. Just drawing a map of the chase path was a heroic feat.

The self-congratulation ended when a radio station broke the real story. I had failed to ask the sheriff one thing. The “business” was more than it seemed and everyone but the officers was naked. It was a detail that added front-page color to an otherwise back-page account. Clothes matter.

Since then I have made it a point to ask my journalistic subjects — figuratively, mind you — whether everyone was fully clothed.

Beyond the police beat, the question evolved over the years. By “fully clothed” I now want to know whether the subject’s political or social positions, however profound, respect the tenets of Western Civilization. It is a standard some of us insist on applying, a constitutional wardrobe if you will.

In this formulation, Gov. Eric Holcomb stood naked as he announced Indiana would welcome hundreds of random Afghans who had jumped on a military evacuation flight at the last minute. The governor seemed to think he was embracing Selma freedom marchers or Vietnamese anti-communists — a case of serious historical dissonance.

Most recently, I have been asking the question of political candidates, both Democrat and Republican, who stand at a podium asserting that the other side would destroy “democracy.”  Their exposition contains no understanding that the democratic process alone cannot protect liberty. A free and informed press was supposed to help with that.

A reference point is Stalin’s 1936 constitution — an inspiring document, guaranteeing direct election for public office, universal suffrage and every other civic freedom imaginable including prohibitions against racial and sexual bias. There was not a word about forced labor camps, shows trials, censorship bureaus or who was going to count the votes.

In all, it is sad to realize that for some taking elected office can mean nothing more than donning new clothes, invisible ones as it often turns out. “And so he held himself a little higher, and the chamberlains held on tighter than ever, and carried the train which did not exist at all,” concludes Hans Christian Anderson’s tale of the emperor’s fine suit.

Which, staying with our nude theme, contrasts nicely with one of the cleverest stunts ever on late-night television: Louie Nye, at the very beginning of the streaking craze, on the Tonight Show, running through a nudist colony fully clothed.

I feel a lot like Louie Nye these days. — tcl


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