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Reply to Dr. Agrella

Ouch! Dr. Agrella. But don't you think you're protesting just a bit too much given the facts of the case and the unanswered questions? And isn't it a bit possible you're engaging in just another one of your famous vendettas? This new statement of yours does nothing to explain your complicity in blowing this issue wildly out of proportion. Why did you involve the media? Just when are you going to take responsibility for your role in the creation of this farce? Given the number of scandals Dr. Robert Agrella has foisted upon the SRJC community over the years, I'm hardly going to take much criticism from him to heart. "Shamed and embarrassed" is he for the school? Lordy, how hypocritical could one man be?

Secondly, to the Secret Service: If the concern here is the physical safety of the President and that tracking the words "kill the president" somehow makes this possible, isn't this the worst way to achieve this goal? Or is it just another example of “blow back” that our intelligence services have been experiencing of late. They made a big deal of it. Now there’s a reaction and “kill the president” is all over the place. Didn't they just make their job more difficult?

And as for President Bush, the man...well I'm no fan of his, but I have been impressed at the speed at which this whole episode has unfolded. He should sleep well at night. And maybe while he's busy scapegoating the intelligence services and other secret services for his own blunders in the Middle East, he should reflect back on the hair-trigger performance of those same forces covering his back in such dangerous locations as bucolic Sonoma County. No Osama, no Saddam, no WMDs, but we can certainly find and scare the bejesus out of some political science students in northern California. Now don’t you all feel safe?

Nope, the fact that Dr. Agrella notified the media, the timing, the presence of the Secret Service and the FBI, and the involvement of all my students point to the conclusion that this is meant for public consumption. They could have just limited this to the three people involved. Why didn't they? Why all the fuss? And how does this compare with the College and the FBI's own very un-hypothetical object lesson?

My class exercise was just a provocative phrase on a computer or a piece of paper to bring out people's fear of government surveillance. I’ve used this exercise for a long time and have never had a problem. So I suppose the question is “Why now?” It’s been a couple of years since 9/11, so that doesn’t explain it? Do you think it’s because we’re whipping ourselves up into a state of frenzy? And who's responsible for that? As I tell my students "You can't have a National Security State without a National Insecurity state".

People are sick and tired of the constant alerts and alarms. In the face of this growing stress and tension caused in the main by the media and forces within our own government, I think one student fed into the fear and the other acted defiantly.

But now we come to the more interesting question: what is it about the words "kill the president" that upset people so?

For the media, it's the sensation of the phrase and it's marketability. The Press Democrat who self-righteously opined that my assignment was a “melodramatic stunt that demonstrates nothing” nevertheless gave it prominence on their front page.

Now throw in a pinch of anti-Californian bias (those crazy Californians!!!), anti-Bay area bias (those even crazier Homos, former hippies, radical peace protesters!!!), and a pinch of anti-Academia bias and cook it at 350 Fahrenheit until we move on to the next piece of sensation.

Well, something happened the other day that explains a lot: I got a note from an anonymous source with a name "Michael - kill the president - Ballou" written in Arabic. Connect the dots and you'll understand that people are afraid...very, very afraid. And here something comes along that attacks our team captain (or at least the notion of a team captain). This author apparently also feels that we are at war with Arabic-speaking people. Ergo, I am now a traitor to the team and to the cause.

In this spin, the President is not just the head of the executive branch that according to our Constitution is subordinate to Congress in nearly all ways, but actually a sort of “personality cult”. The civic "sin" I've committed (more like stumbled into) is to expose and question the validity of one or more unspoken rules of his mystique.

Most Americans would be shocked to learn that outside of the conduct of war, presidents are meant to be very boring administrators, facilitators and bureaucrats. He is most emphatically not our “fearless” leader or Captain of the Football Team or Leader of the Free World. That’s why presidents of every political persuasion like war so much.

Secondly, whether it is an extremely intelligent man like Bill Clinton or George W., a “legacy” student with C grades from Yale, he gets excoriated by the system. No one can fulfill the requirements of the job. Like the pace of media, or our growing fears and paranoia, the demands of the Presidency have spun out of control and are crashing. That’s how Ritalin works, by the way; it speeds you up to slow you down.

Also, let’s face it – we’ve been at war with someone someplace for the better part of a century. Our institutions are built around it. It’s going to take some time to change the face of those institutions and what informed people call their “raison d’etre”. What we can change today, however, is our personal attitude toward those institutions.

In short, we put too much into our Presidents.

So I say, instead of “kill the president”, let’s kill the Presidency….in our hearts and in our minds. No more team captains, or “Sun Kings” or celebrity culture. Putting this man as the apex of our society is a projection of our own elitist attitudes anyway which wouldn’t happen in a truly democratic society. It’s clear to me now that boring presidents who don’t appear on the evening news very often is probably a good indicator of the degree of democracy in a society.

So there you have it. What may superficially appear to be a puff piece or a silly farce is likely another battle between those who would engineer a culture of elitism and those who favor democracy.

Finally, let me address the issue of crazy Californians. As I type this I am three miles away from the Bohemian Grove where the male members of our ruling elite will have a summer camp this weekend. They will have their alleged "satanic" rituals, their drag shows, urine will flow freely along the trails and byways. Down the road, protests will take place and a "Fat Cat" parade will prove that progressives really do have more fun while they endeavor to make the world a better place. Another ten miles away, there will be an ultra-realistic Civil War re-enactment. Up the road, the Occidental Fire Dept will hold it's event. Another seven miles or so away, "Lazy Bear Weekend" for super-sized, hairy gay men (and their admirers) will dominate Guerneville. I'd say we're crazy and isn't it grand?! I've fallen in love with the place all over again. The rest of the country has reason to be jealous.....and nervous.

Best to all,

Michael H. Ballou

Political Science Professor
Santa Rosa Junior College

P.S. On a personal note...I am teaching summer term. I get home from the Petaluma Campus sometimes as late as 12:00 midnight. WHY does the media run its story before I have a chance to respond? This is just more managed content from the Press Democrat. Besides out-of-context quotes and sound bites, I have been limited to 200 words in the "letters to the editor" section (which, by the way, I submitted for four days before the Press Democrat finally printed it). Well, as they say "You have freedom of the press when you own one." Thank God for the internet and talk radio or I would be completely locked out. Dr. Agrella had all day long at taxpayer expense to compose his thoughts. I, on the other hand, was doing my job teaching my classes. I only had an hour or so to whip something together tonight and I'm beat. Check back to this website for further details as I have more time to collect my thoughts. One more week of class and I can give this matter my full attention. More content to come.

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