The Niemoller Conundrum Redux: Fear & Frustration in the Marketplace of Ideas

Date:  Sunday, January 9, 2011
Speaker:  David Irvine

David Irvine practices law in Salt Lake City and is a former Republican member of the Utah House of Representatives (1972-1979). He enlisted in the Army Reserve in 1962 and was commissioned as a strategic intelligence officer in 1967. He maintained a faculty position for 18 years with the Sixth United States Army Intelligence School and taught prisoner of war interrogation and military law. He retired in 2002 as a brigadier general. He serves on the executive committee of Utahns for Ethical Government and was one of the drafters of the legislative ethics petition.

First They Came . . . by Martin Niemoller

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a communist. Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews; and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me. And there was no one left to speak for me.

“The German people lost control of their government in the 1930’s and Dachau was the consequence. But the sensory deprivation, stress positions, temperature extremes, forced nudity, diet manipulation, withholding of medical treatment and physical beatings at Dachau were the very practices that the Central Intelligence Agency and the White House classified as “enhanced interrogation techniques” beginning in 2002. While we flatter ourselves that “We the People” are in charge of our government, the reality is that, in our time, average voters have also lost control.

In this country, it’s not only our privilege to question our leaders, it’s our responsibility. Our politicians not only owe us wisdom and courage, they owe us the means of holding them accountable when they fail to act wisely and courageously.

Here in Utah, our concentration of single-party districts means nomination equates to election, with selection of candidates turned over to about 3% of the population. The vast majority of voters are shut out at the point in the process where it counts the most. For example, the decision to deny the majority of voters a say in whether Bob Bennett should be re-elected was made by fewer than 1500 voters. With such a system, the election process is controlled by ideologues, not the people as a whole. In addition, more than 80% of the money that funds Utah state and legislative campaigns comes from special interests who want their proposals passed into law – and there are no limits on what they can give.

Forty former legislators, equally divided between Republicans and Democrats, have endorsed a Utah ethics reform initiative which will be on the ballot in 2012. It won’t solve all of our ethics challenges, but to hold those who lead accountable for their leadership is a meaningful start.”