Excerpt: 'My Turn at the Bully Pulpit'

I also have a right to disagree with Daschle, and here is where I do: Daschle was wrong to say, as he did on my show, that nobody has a right to claim victory in the war on terror. Says who? You may not agree, and you may have facts that point to the contrary, but of course you can say there is victory in the war on terrorism. The president or any other government offcial has a right to say we're winning the war on terror. For political reasons they had better be right or else they'll get pummeled in the next election. Since when do we tell each other what we can and cannot say? We are not talking the classic "fire in a crowded theater" standard here. These are opinions. We have a right to disagree, and Daschle shouldn't complain that the president doesn't have a right to say just about anything he wants to say. This is what I was referring to earlier when I sang the praises of our open society.

The whole tone of these silly exchanges is a perfect example of the kind of thing that cheapens all of us. I don't think Americans can afford right now to attack other Americans for questioning or probing public policy. The stakes are just too high.

I'd like to finish with a brief discussion again about my father, the guy who taught me about right and wrong, and about justice; who taught me to debate but not hate; who showed me how to accept mistakes and strive to become better; and who made me want to be a lawyer because he loved the law so much.

My father procrastinated. He was a procrastinator. I don't think he ever signed my report card on time. The nuns used to get surly at me when my report card was always — and I mean always — late getting back, but it was because of my father's procrastination. That's just the way he was. The nuns blamed me, but my father had his own clock.

Filing his state tax returns was no different from signing my report card. He was always late. But he always paid his state taxes, and he always paid the interest and late penalties that he owed — and there were plenty. You know how interest and penalties can pile up on money owed the state!

In 1983 my father was convicted of three misdemeanors (not felonies) for failing to pay his state income taxes on time. At the time he told me this had been his practice since 1939. My father argued to the state: "For many years I've been filing my state income taxes late, and because I am a state employee, you have all my withholding." He also pointed out that the state had his pension from many years of state service. He added that because he always paid the fines and penalties, the taxpayers of the state of Wisconsin, who paid his salary as a judge, had not lost a dime. Unfortunately, while it was indeed true that the state was not out any money from my father, the law did have a deadline for filing the returns even if money was not owed and penalties were paid. His late filing was a problem because he was a judge.

After a long fight, the Wisconsin State Supreme Court, as part of its role of exercising supervision over judges, gave him a two-year suspension from the bench for his late filing. That action in 1986 effectively removed him permanently from the bench, because within that two-year period he reached the state mandatory retirement age of seventy.

Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...