Stories from your government

In the land of the complex, the attorney general instructs us on the real danger

When she’s finished reading the storybook aloud, she tells the squirming kids, “I’m Catherine, and I’m your attorney general.” They blink, mostly, and wait.

We’re in an exercise room. With mirrors and exercise balls. Seven tiny kids were scraped up from around the Mesquite Recreational Center moments ago and plopped here to listen to a story about a rhinoceros with a rainbow-colored tusk. Seven kids, a couple of parents, two developmentally disabled people in electric wheelchairs, a guy who talks through the whole thing, one reporter, a smattering of officials from her office—it’s a sketchy audience for the state’s top law-enforcement officer, who is wearing a serious beige suit and a political bob and has two dozen years’ worth of legal experience. There was a point where I thought she might not actually go through with it—“Somewhere, far, far away, there lived a family of rhinoceros ...”—but she is, as top law enforcer, of course, fearless.

Before this stop on her rural tour, on a humid Friday morning, Catherine Cortez Masto gave a speech to about a hundred residents in a side room at the Mesquite City Hall. She started somewhat similarly: by explaining what the AG is. “The attorney general is the state’s top law-enforcement official.” She followed with a summary of what the office does, and what the state’s problems are. Nevada is riddled with crime. Meth? We got it bad. Domestic violence? It’s getting worse. Child abduction? Six thousand missing kids. Fraud? Just busted the Brake Masters auto team. Internet? Don’t give your numbers out. Telemarketers? Don’t even talk to them.

Amid all that, you could imagine the AG’s arrival in a small western town as The Law swinging open the saloon doors and stepping in, guns on hips, causing the place to go silent. But because these are overcomplicated times, even in small towns, instead of shooting the place up, she goes on and on about Medicare fraud and phishing. And no one truly understands. But everyone claps. And it seems like the AG is campaigning. And you wonder, is this crime fighting in 2008? Or is this politics? I ask Masto what the purpose of this edu-poli-tainment rural tour is, and she smiles. Genuinely. I think. And she says, “If I can help just one ...”

Back at the rec center: After their attorney general reads Rainbow Rhino to them, the miniature Nevadans meet a guy with a bear puppet named Toby. Nevada Child Advocate Vic Schulze is no more daunted than his leader by the small turnout in the face of the large task of educating everyone about seemingly everything. Vic, who wears a tie, and Toby, who wears fur and speaks in falsetto, teach these right-place-at-the-right time kids that they are “bosses of their own bodies.”

If only the same were true of the mind.

And I cannot help but notice that Toby is not the boss of his own body, he is a puppet filling his place in a script, and the metaphor seems to go on and on like a mirror facing itself: Who is the puppet in this affair of politics and law and an uninformed citizenry?

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