Don Corrigan

Mark and Pat McCloskey made their first appearance in St. Louis court this week after being charged with brandishing a Model 38 handgun and an AR-15  at demonstrators who passed  the couple’s Portland Place mansion in June.

The McCloskeys have made St. Louis famous around the world. Their actions have been covered by the BBC. Other global media outlets have covered their duet at President Trump’s Republican National Convention last week.

The Central West Enders were able to share the media spotlight with some of our state’s dignitaries. Missouri officials have received attention for unusual actions in this very preliminary case that is still undergoing fact-finding, argumentation and a grand jury decision on possible indictment.

Attorney General Eric Schmitt let it be known early on that he would make every effort to have charges dismissed. Gov. Parson went further. Parson said he would simply grant a pardon if the arm-wielding couple was convicted.

Don’t prudent leaders wait for a case to be adjudicated before a pardon is granted?

I recall the outrage when another “law and order” politician named Nixon tried to decide a case before it was tried — it was over a guy named Charlie. Politicians just can’t help themselves at election time.

I recall when Eric Schmitt was a pretty reasonable state legislator and a rational guy to talk with about politics. The Glendale representative used to meet me at the Train Wreck Saloon in Rock Hill  for lunch and for a review of the statehouse and the political scene. This was before he became a FOX News Expert on issues like Missouri suing China for pandemic costs or for advocating on behalf of the McCloskeys. This was back before he became one of Rupert Murdoch and Sean Hannity’s golden boys.

Back then, Schmitt used to talk about balanced budgets, jobs, job retraining economic development and funding for school kids. As a state senator, he could sometimes seem like a progressive.

Following the unrest in Ferguson, Schmitt saw too many cities relying on fines to fund their budgets. He led  efforts to bar cities, counties and law-enforcement from setting traffic-ticket quotas and doing taxation by citation.

When I used to ask Schmitt about radical proposals in the statehouse to kill gun restrictions, to stop all access to abortion and to block expansion of health care through Medicaid, he used to grow a little uneasy. Extreme positions on these issues will play fine in the vast expanse of rural Missouri, but they don’t play so well in the moderate St. Louis County suburbs.

Schmitt echoed what I have often heard from GOP politicians representing our area: “That’s not my issue.

Of course, once these politicians go for statewide office, radical positions do become “their issues.” And if you want to run for national office in these nasty partisan times, you may seek out the kind of radical, true-believer positions that will get you on FOX News.

Actually, “true believers” in radical excess and conspiracy thinking are not  the worst problem in America these days. It’s politicians who cave to them or who cynically cater to extremism in order to achieve power and position.

Actually, I kind of admire the true believers more than cynical politicians. I used to be one in grade school. This boy campaigned for Barry Goldwater for president in 1964. I shouted “better dead than red” at  campaign events and carried John Birch Society literature.

There’s comfort and moral certitude in being a true believer. It’s certainly more genuine than being a calculating politician. I lived by Barry Goldwater’s patriotic axiom: “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice.”

But I outgrew all of that — give me some moderation these days. I now find Barry’s axiom for America dangerous. Especially now when extremism can mean a kid, 17, toting and firing an AR-15 on an American street as a vigilante. Especially now when liberty can mean yelling at a county meeting or at Walmart employees, because you don’t want to wear a mask in a pandemic.