Jewish World Review March 9, 2004/ 16 Adar, 5764
Saving the streets from Martha Stewart
We'll all sleep better now, feeling safe and secure in our beds (with or without flowered sheets). The feds are finally getting Martha Stewart off the streets.
Her expensively coiffed scalp will look nice on the wall behind the desk of the U.S. district attorney who led the prosecution. Martha, who insists on things being done right, will help him choose the appropriate presentation for her scalp. A mahogany frame against a deep red matte ought to set off Martha's blonde locks in an elegant and fetching way.
Some of the reporters and pundits who are offended most by Martha's advocacy of grown-up clothes and neat hair, orderly digs, and flowers and dishes arranged for a king's most demanding subjects haven't had so much fun since the feds hounded Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker into prison and oblivion for overbooking their hotel.
The first juror who spoke up after the verdict called throwing Miss Stewart into the slammer a victory for "the average guy." You could hear in his voice the triumphant note of revenge done well.
"Maybe it's a victory for the little guy who loses money in the markets because of these types of transactions, the people who lose money in 401(k) plans," said Chappell Hartridge, 47, a computer programmer who talks too much. "Maybe it might give the average guy a little more confident feeling that can invest in the market and everything will be on the up and up."
Well, maybe. But making Martha Stewart an example for a seminar on prudent investing is a bizarre use of a federal criminal trial, particularly since the feds' bill of particulars was thin soup to begin with and made more so when the judge threw out the charge of insider trading, the only blob of genuine bone and fat in the pot. Juror Hartridge and his prejudices, it now seems clear, was exactly what the feds were counting on to save them from the humiliation of a collapsing railroad job.
Miss Stewart, by all accounts, is not very nice: Arrogance, haughtiness, self-importance and a condescending manner are no more attractive in a Connecticut maven of gracious living than in, for example, a presidential candidate from Massachusetts. A nice Polish girl from New Jersey got into trouble in the first place by hanging out with the wrong crowd, the swells and belles of the Upper East Side who summer on Long Island Sound. She should have listened to her mama, who knew that hanging out with the wrong crowd is guaranteed to get a girl into trouble, and not necessarily the kind of trouble a girl can get into between flowered sheets.
One of the cable-TV talking heads, a woman who was once a federal prosecutor, called Miss Stewart the prototypical "rich bitch," showing up in court in her furs, jewels and designer dresses. Indeed, her expensive lawyers should have taken her back to New Jersey to find a Wal-Mart to deck her out in a peasant frock. They could have returned to Lower Manhattan to warn some of her celebrity friends, such as Rosie O'Donnell and Bill Cosby, to stay away from the courthouse if they really wanted to help.
"If anything," the voluble Juror Hartridge said of the parade of Martha's rich and famous friends, "we may have taken it a little as an insult. Is that supposed to sway our opinion?"
In a word, yes. That's the way lawyers play the game. This time, the defense trick worked instead for the prosecution. Miss Stewart may be entitled to a rebate from her lawyers.
But Martha Stewart was not indicted on the charge of bitchery, witchery or even slickery. She was indicted on charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and making false statements to federal agents, who are themselves enabled by the law to lie. The government even suggested that she was guilty of "lying" simply for saying that she was innocent of wrongdoing. This is pretty rich from the side that gets to mark the cards.
We've always taken a certain pride in the proposition that in America, class doesn't count, that we look out for the poor but don't begrudge the rich their wealth. We look to them as an example of how to make it to a million-dollar mansion on Coffee Pot Lane. Recent decades of class warfare, abetted by the rich, the pampered and the celebrated who play at populism, have changed that. Greed has replaced religion as the national religion, and with greed comes envy.
Martha Stewart's transgressions were more sins than crimes, and learning a little humility is never a bad thing. But when the government commits vendetta, the sin becomes a crime. The government ought to be ashamed of its bullying self.
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