Washington, Dec. 9: Before 2012 runs its course and the New Year dawns, there will be no lunatics in the US any more. At least, that is what this country’s politicians would like other Americans and the rest of the world to believe.
In deference to a legislative fatwa on Wednesday, President Barack Obama will any day now sign a bill passed by both Houses of the US Congress into law that forever consigns into the dustbin of history the word “lunatic” from this country’s legislative lexicon.
The bill prohibits any reference to “lunatic” in federal laws and mandates removal of the arguably stigmatising word from the US legal code. The legislation crossed a much higher threshold than required on Capitol Hill.
The measure by elected representatives and its scheduled endorsement by the President are in line with an obsession here with political correctness that sometimes borders on the weird.
Two years ago, the US Congress similarly voted to ban the words “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” from American national laws and replace these with “intellectual disability” and “individual with an intellectual disability”. There is no evidence to confirm that the legislative change has improved the condition of mentally challenged people in this country.
But it has certainly brought political dividends for some. In late October, a fortnight before Americans re-elected their incumbent President, Ann Coulter, a right-wing television pundit who frequently sends liberals up in smoke with her comments, called Obama a “retard” in a Twitter post.
Her description produced a backlash from many Americans who felt her slur was disrespectful of the institution of President. With friends like Coulter, Obama’s Republican rival Mitt Romney did not require the President to campaign so hard to be re-elected.
But Coulter was not alone. In Pennsylvania, a state Republican Party official told the following story during an election campaign meeting. “I was in this parking lot and there was a man looking for a space to park, and I found a space for him,” Jim Roddey fired up the party faithful in a spirited speech.
“And I said, ‘Sir, here is a place.’ And he said, ‘That is a handicapped space.’ So I said, ‘Oh I am so sorry, I saw that Obama sticker (on his car) and I thought you were mentally retarded.”
The backlash to Roddey’s anecdote in Pennsylvania was as bad as what Coulter got nationwide.
The Senate unanimously approved the latest legislative initiative to ban “lunatic”. The House of Representatives passed it with only one member voting against the measure.
If the measure may appear bizarre to the rest of the world — and to many Americans — the lone vote against the bill in the House was macabre. It was cast by Louie Gohmert, a Republican from Texas.
Gohmert grew beyond his Texan surroundings and won the attention of Americans nationwide some years ago as the author of his treatise on “terror babies”. It is a conspiracy theory he created arguing that terrorists send their pregnant women to America to deliver babies here. Once they are born as American citizens, these babies can be trained as terrorists when they grow up enabling them to enter the US to commit acts of terror without having to obtain visas.
Gohmert believes that Obama was not born in the US and that his birth certificate from Hawaii is a fake. The Congressman has alleged that South Asian Huma Abedin, deputy chief of staff to secretary of state Hillary Clinton, has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and called for a probe.
Dwelling on his vote against removing the seemingly inappropriate word from the laws, Gohmert told a Congressional publication that “lunatic” should be used more often to describe people in Washington: he did not identify them but the implication was that it applied to policymakers in the Obama administration.
“I don’t have a problem with ‘lunatic’ being used in the federal law,” he told The Hill. “That is why we shouldn’t eliminate the word ‘lunatic.’ It really has application around this town.”
It is an irony that the change was approved on Capitol Hill at a time gun violence by mentally unstable weapons owners has killed people in scores in recent months.
Wednesday’s passage of the bill in Congress is the latest example of bizarre laws and legal terminology on this country’s statute books. Some three years ago, there was an intense debate in Virginia’s state Senate on changing a law that prohibited its residents from drying their clothes on a rope or a line.
Clearly, the law was the result of lobbying by companies that produced washing machines and electrical clothes dryers, but proponents of change recognised that their amendment would not pass if it simply demanded that people should have the freedom to dry their washed laundry the way they chose.
Therefore, they legislated to use “wind energy devices”, a terminology that appealed to the environmental lobby and got their support. Simply put, such devices were merely clotheslines or drying racks.
Virginia similarly enacted a law that specified the length of shorts, not down to knee, by how high they should be worn on the waist.
But in this country it is not legislative choice of words alone that is weird. It is rare in America to see a store that sells used clothes. In reality, they are in plenty especially in these days of adversity and unemployment, but such stores are called “consignment shops” with no stigma attached of selling garments that someone else once wore and discarded.
One in six Americans now live with hunger looming in their kitchens, but the food stamps programme of the government here which puts food on their tables makes no mention of poverty or hunger. Instead, it is sugar-coated as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP for short.
Which prompted a stand-up comedian at a neighbourhood show here to remark once that a man or woman who has lost virginity would be described as “previously looked after” or less likely “experienced”.