FOLLOWING ITS usual Saturday pattern of honoring some obscure lefty icon or idea, the Houston Chronicle today tipped the old fedora to . . .
. . . the "late Robert Sherrill, a longtime political writer."
Mr. Sherrill was to political writers as the Chronicle is to editorial writers -- an uninspiring example.
He was a political writer for, among other loutposts of the left, the Nation, a magazine that famously and publicly struggled with the proposition that Joseph Stalin was a bad guy.
Mr. Sherrill was the sort of hysterical writer who would describe perfectly ordinary political meetings by conservatives as "secret meetings to seize control" of this, that, or the other thing.
Well, yes. That's what politics is about. And you can be certain that candidate Barack Obama had scores, perhaps hundreds of secret meetings on his way to seizing control of America.
Mr. Sherrill, the "longtime political writer," was little more than a gifted propagandist for his causes.
Saturday, however, the Chronicle dug up the late Mr. Sherrill and used him as a handy puppet for the sort of anti-Texas slur that once was almost daily fare at the Chronicle.
Overt Texas-bashing by the editors is less common today, but -- to shift metaphors -- it survives like a nasty virus, manifesting itself in, say, anti-Texas quotations by heroic longtime political writers like, say, Robert Sherrill on, say, the newspaper's regularly scheduled radical Saturdays.
As you savor the nasty spirit of this paragraph, consider also the quality of the writing. Mr. Sherrill was not only late; he also died.
The late Robert Sherrill, a longtime political writer who died in 2007, never met state Rep. Drew Springer, a freshman Republican. Someone like the young man from Muenster, however, could have been on Sherrill's mind some years ago when he gazed at the majestic state Capitol and observed, "Built for giants, inhabited by pygmies." (Editorial, "Legislative busybody bills," Houston Chronicle, March 9, 2013)
(Part of that last sentence is plagiarized. Check the last item below.)
Bashing politicians is, of course, perfectly American. It's one way citizens protect ourselves from them, by laughing at their frailties and pomposities. They're human, after all. And like all humans, including us, easy targets.
The Chronicle's purpose, however, is larger -- to mock the institutions and processes of Texas, which so far have failed or refused to follow sufficiently the newspaper's demands for more spending, more taxes, and more regulations.
The crack about pygmies is a semi-clever way of belittling the democratic enterprise. At the same time it feeds the writers' self-reverential fantasies about their being on the side of giants.
In a sense, they're right, except that it's one giant: Leviathan.
* * *
Which brings us to busybody.
A busybody, says Merriam-Webster's, is "an officious or inquisitive person." An online definition correctly expands the definition: "A person who meddles or pries into the affairs of others." Lawyers, who rarely speak English, say "officious intermeddler."
The Chronicle applies this definition to the aforesaid Rep. Springer for, among other sins, sponsoring
a bill to prevent Texas cities from approving ordinances designed to wean businesses from giving customers single-use plastic or paper bags. He's irked at Austin, although Brownsville, South Padre Island and Fort Stockton have similar rules.
Point one is a bill to regulate what cities do is not itself the act of a busybody, at least in the sense meant by the Chronicle. Cities are creatures of the state, subject to its regulation. The state legislature gets to say what cities can and cannot do. That is and always has been the law in Texas.
More importantly, cities are not people. Mr. Spinger is not busying himself with stopping you or me or any other human being from doing something. He's busying himself with stopping government agencies from doing something.
His bill may be good policy or bad policy, but either way, it is not the act of a busybody, as the Chronicle defines the term.
Point two is that the Houston Chronicle itself is a busybody of the first order, always willing to meddle in my affairs and yours by calling for ever more taxes, laws, and regulations. The mantra of the left is always the same: "Give us your money and do as we say." Institutionally, the modern political left is a busybody on steriods.
Take plastic bags, just to pull an issue from thin air. My and your interest in personal freedom and in free markets requires that plastic bags be available for use between willing buyers and willing sellers. Those who object are equally free to bring their appliqued Nieman-Marcus canvas shopping bags with them.
But that's not the end of the discussion. Maybe the people of South Padre Island, acting collectively through an appropriate agency of government, should have the power to vindicate their interest in not having plastic bags littering their beaches.
That too is a good. Choosing wisely between our general interest in the freedom to use plastic bags and our specific interest in keeping beaches clean is a matter of balance, typically mediated through politics -- the realm of secret meetings and seizing control, to borrow Mr. Sherrill's perfervid prose.
But that does not change my point. It just allows that some governmental busybodyism is arguably good busybodyism.
Regardless, the Houston Chronicle almost always sides with the real busybodies -- governments -- and almost always opposes those who would constrain the power of those busybodies.
For the newspaper to apply busybody to one who would constrain the true busybodies is to get the word busybody exactly backwards.
* * *
Look back at the paragraph quoted at the top of this post. The last sentence and its conceit are lifted from an item at mtv.com. Check for yourself. Here's the link.
(Mtv.com? I'm not kidding.)
Oh, and back in May of last year, Patricia Kilday Hart used the same old giant-pygmy chestnut to roast someone she disliked, though she credited the saying to another lib hero, Rep. Robert Eckhardt, who, by the way, is also late and dead.
She, in turn -- writers of the left are nothing if not furious recyclers -- may have borrowed it from the remarks of Rep. Lloyd Doggett (who is neither late nor dead, but is certainly a hero of the left and the Chronicle).
But reusing the old saying -- lame though it may be -- is not the problem. The problem is lifting mtv.com's words and ideas without credit.
The opinion directors at the Chonicle need to do a little post-facto fact-checking.