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"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." - John 8:32
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Author:  Mike Bates
Bio: Mike Bates
Date:  May 18, 2007
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Tommy Thompson tries some bathroom humor

If you donít know who Tommy Thompson is, donít feel uninformed. He doesnít rate the media coverage of really important people like Paris Hilton.

If you donít know who Tommy Thompson is, donít feel uninformed. He doesnít rate the media coverage of really important people like Paris Hilton.

Like many others, Mr. Thompson is running for president. His background is not unimpressive. He served as Wisconsinís governor for an unprecedented four terms. He also ran, with a budget of over half a trillion dollars, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Gov. Thompsonís race for the Republican nomination hasnít caught fire. Fundraising is a problem. Still, in a season where even unannounced candidates qualify as first-tier, his candidacy, theoretically at least, could yet gain traction.

The odds of that have diminished in recent days. It all began with the Republican presidential candidatesí debate aired earlier this month on MSNBC. Itís true that at this stage the only folks watching these events are hardcore political junkies. Itís also true, though, that candidates in them can step on a landmine from which they may never recover.

Gov. Thompson was asked this question: ďIf a private employer finds homosexuality immoral, should he be allowed to fire a gay worker?Ē

Mr. Thompsonís reply was, ďI think that is left up to the individual business. I really sincerely believe that that is an issue that business people have got to make their own determination as to whether or not they should be.Ē

Double checking, the moderator said, ďOK. So the answerís yes.Ē The governor replied affirmatively.

It didnít take long for his handlers to realize this was not the most prudent thing to say in todayís PC world. The governor retracted his statement in the ďspin alleyĒ after the debate.

The following morning, he called into CNN from OíHare Airport to admit, ďI made a mistake. I misinterpreted the question. I thought that I answered it yes when I should have answered it no. I didnít hear, I didnít hear the question properly and I apologize. Itís not my position. There should be no discrimination in the workplace and I have never believed that. And, in fact, Wisconsin has one of the first laws, which I supported.Ē

By then, Tommy was in full damage control mode. He was retreating faster than the French army.

A few days later, he campaigned in Iowa. Mr. Thompson now claimed he gave the wrong answer because his hearing aid pooped out during the debate, causing him to misunderstand the question.

A hearing aid malfunction was his story and he was still sticking to it last weekend. But then he introduced a new wrinkle. An Associated Press story quoted him: ďIíve been very sick. . . I was very sick the day of the debate. I had all of the problems with the flu and bronchitis that you have, including running to the bathroom. I was just hanging on. I could not wait until the debate got off so I could go to the bathroom.Ē

What I find ironic is that Thompson is running away from a completely defensible position. There are few legitimate reasons to deny business owners the right of free association and the right to operate their businesses as they see fit. Yes, some people will discriminate. Thatís one of the prices of liberty.

If a business owner chooses to discriminate against gays or blacks or women or Irishmen, he may pay a price by having fewer skilled employees. He may pay a price by developing a reputation as a bigot. He may lose customers and ultimately his company.

Regardless of what happens, the paramount issue is one of property rights. Barring extraordinary circumstances, free people have a right to use their property as they see fit. It might offend our sensibilities. It might seem crude and uncaring, even immoral. It might cause us to disassociate ourselves from them.

Think how much better it would be if lawmakers, bureaucrats and judges simply stayed out of property owner decisions. If a bar owner wants to allow smoking, customers can decide if they want to patronize the place. Thatís also true if a coffee shop owner doesnít want women to breastfeed their infants in his establishment. Or if a restaurant owner chooses to include foie gras on the menu.

We donít need the heavy hand of government dictating how businesses are run. Free enterprise, based on private property rights, can do a more equitable and efficient job and Thompson was right to say so.

This incident is reminiscent of Mitt Romneyís tar baby embarrassment last year. Using the term, as it typically is, to describe a situation from which itís virtually impossible to disentangle oneself, Mitt was jumped on by PC policepersons who make a career of being offended.

He apologized when no apology was in order. I donít like Republican candidates crawling on glass to placate the professionally annoyed. And Thompsonís pathetic I had to go to the bathroom explanation sounds like something Bill Clinton could have contrived.

Tommy Thompson had it right the first time. If only he had the vision Ė and guts Ė to say so.

Mike Bates

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Notes:  This appeared in the May 18, 2007 Reporter Newspapers.

Biography - Mike Bates

Mike Bates wrote a weekly column of opinion - or nonsense, depending on your viewpoint - for over 20 years. Additionally, his articles have appeared in the Congressional Record, the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Mensa Journal. He has been a guest on Milt Rosenberg's program on WGN Radio Chicago, the Bruce Elliott show on Baltimore's WBAL, the Jim Sumpter show on the USA Radio Network and the New Media Journal's Blog Radio. As a lad, Mike distributed Goldwater campaign literature and since then has steadily moved further to the Right. He is the author of "Right Angles and Other Obstinate Truths." In 2007, he won an Illinois Press Association award for Original Column


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