By Jefferson Flanders

To echo that legendary newspaper columnist Jimmy Cannon, nobody asked me, but…

SOCIALITE PARIS HILTON topped Google’s list of most-searched-for terms on the search engine’s news site in 2006. Perhaps that should be “newz” site. The late historian Daniel Boorstin would have recognized Paris Hilton as a modern master of the celebrity “pseudo-event.” (Or as Gertrude Stein would have it: “There is no there there.”)

IT’S WELL PAST TIME FOR A FEDERAL SHIELD LAW to protect journalists’ confidential sources from aggressive government prosecutors. Congress should act in 2007 on legislation advanced by two Indiana Republicans, Sen. Richard Lugar and Congressman Mike Pence. Pence, who calls himself a “cheerful right-winger” told the Wall Street Journal: “I really do believe that the framers of the Constitution put a free and independent press in the First Amendment to protect the public’s right to know, and the only way you do that is protect reporters’ ability to keep certain sources confidential.”

ARE GAY MARRIAGE SUPPORTERS hypocrites when they selectively embrace Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rulings? Hard to avoid that conclusion. If you accept the high court’s 2003 legalization of same-sex unions as valid, then (it seems to me) you should also encourage state legislators to vote on a proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and woman, a vote that the Court ruled this week they are duty-bound to make.

Those state legislators who want to keep gay marriage legal in Massachusetts have, until now, avoided an up-or-down vote on the initiative; if at least one-quarter of the Legislature approves an amendment in two consecutive sessions then it goes on the ballot. Same-sex marriage advocates fear that, given the chance to choose, Massachusetts voters will ban gay marriage (which currently exists only in the Bay State).

But a constitutional democracy won’t work if citizens decide they can ignore any law or court ruling they don’t like, or if legislators use procedural maneuvers to evade their statutory responsibilities.

Some have argued that basic civil rights should never be put up for a vote—and yet, any political system founded on the “consent of the governed” does exactly that, establishing civil rights through some sort of vote. Look no further than the Bill of Rights, the 19th Amendment (granting women the vote), or the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as examples of democratically established civil rights. Look no further than the Congressional prohibition of polygamy (a response to Mormon practice in Utah) as an example of how the democratic process works in establishing social norms.

Supporters of same-sex marriage should not shy from the public debate. Arizona voters defeated an amendment to their state constitution banning gay marriage and I wouldn’t bet against Massachusetts, the bluest of states, following suit. (And there’s always the civil union alternative.)

COUNT ON CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS TO OFFER THE CONTRARIAN VIEW, as he does in his Slate piece on the death of Gerald Ford: “Our Short National Nightmare: How President Ford managed to go soft on Iraqi Baathists, Indonesian fascists, Soviet Communists, and the shah … in just two years.” No worry about Hitchens ever pulling his punches.

SO MUCH FOR THE WONDERLIC INTELLIGENCE TEST IN PREDICTING professional football success. Tennessee Titans rookie quarterback Vince Young, who allegedly performed poorly on the test, is shaping up as a superior NFL signal-caller.

THE LAST WORD this week comes from Robert S. Fitzgerald, a marvelous poet and translator (and a generous teacher): “Poetry is at least an elegance and at most a revelation.”

Reprinted from Neither Red nor Blue

Copyright © 2006 Jefferson Flanders All rights reserved

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