Senate candidate Frohnmayer speaks at SOU

Those essentials of democracy &

free speech, free press, open discussion, dissent and, above all, reading &

are in danger of going down the tubes in an atmosphere driven by fear, says U.S. Senate candidate John Frohnmayer.

The speech, in which Frohnmayer tried to stay shy of politics, was the keynote event of Jackson County Reads, put on by the Jackson County Library, Jackson County Library Foundation, and Hannon Library and Westwind Review.

In a speech at Southern Oregon University, Frohnmayer, who won notoriety as President George H.W. Bush's director of the National Endowment for the Arts, urged about 150 people to create some new habits &

promote liberal education, insist on the rule of law, protect the integrity of scientific research, stop asking for balance in news and on public bodies (when the balancing person is espousing clearly noncredible views) and support the right to dissent.

Frohnmayer savaged the Bush administration for violating the Republican Party's long traditions of fiscal responsibility, civil liberties and the rule of law, adding that any war should come with a declaration of war from Congress, not a blank check to wage an open-ended war against "terror."

"If society did it to itself, (lose free speech), would it be a violation of the First Amendment?" he asked the audience. Few could answer the question, so Frohnmayer noted, "No, it has to be a state action, telling you that you can't or must. But if you do it to yourself, you can forget the First Amendment. It doesn't apply."

Frohnmayer laid the blame for loss of freedoms at the feet of the people, noting that the traditional burst of hope, energy and creativity that starts off a century was damped by the Supreme Court deciding the 2000 election, then 9/11, the War on Terror, the War in Iraq, a big deficit, "rampant partisanship and now our economy in the toilet" &

all leading the public into a mindset that "We ought to be afraid and fear is what's keeping us immobile."

Frohnmayer drew laughter when he said "In the words of Sophocles, are we screwed?" He added, "I think not" but the populace has to take up the responsibilities of a democracy by learning to ask why, demanding that terms like liberal and conservative be defined, rather than used as weapons and "listen to the voices of wisdom, even if they come from those we despise."

The once-respected ethos of a liberal education must be brought back because it underlies some of America's deepest values, he said, including the value that "the good life is not necessarily to be confused with the easy life," that failure is a critical element of success and that honest interaction is vital to the social contract.

Frohnmayer brought down the house by singing a ditty of political satire from "Spin," his musical based on his book, "Leaving Town Alive," soon to debut at Oregon State University, where he teaches.

His biggest round of applause came when he faulted the Democratic Party for shying away from impeachment, when it took over Congress in 2006. The Constitution mentions impeachment six times and views it as the remedy for constitutional crisis, which Frohnmayer said has been created by the president's failure to "faithfully execute" the laws on many occasions.

"We have a constitutional crisis. We just aren't willing to deal with it. I would impeach if it was his last day in office."

Frohnmayer, in an interview, called dissent "the most noble of rites" in a democracy, but in today's political atmosphere, it's often considered treasonous.

"We don't have that kind of government where we can react. It's a steady diet of fear fed by Bush and it disables you. If you try to change things, they say 'be afraid' and 'we'll take care of you.'"

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