He was the kind of a phony that have to give themselves room when they answer somebody’s question. He stepped back, and stepped right on the lady’s foot behind him. He probably broke every toe in her body
—J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
So you may have been watching the Senate of the state where a few us live wondering what we have been complaining about. Senators stated their opinions, for and against the bill, then they voted. It passed. The Governor signed it into law a few hours later. We would love to have a national legislature such as that instead of this mess where a minority party can block everything in one house and other one has nothing but crazy people in charge.
You will have to just accept the fact that what was telecast last night was the Pretend Senate and not the actual one. Debates on the floor of either house of the New York Legislature happen about as often as their basketball teams win championships. Virtually every issue is decided by what we call “three men in the room”, the Governor, the Speaker and Senate Majority Leader.
This time around, the Senate Majority Leader was threatened if he even allowed the bill recognizing same sex marriages even to come to the floor. So he did what any courageous leader would do under the circumstances: He demanded that his entire “conference” (that’s Albany talk for a caucus of one party’s members of a house of the legislature) vote on whether to bring the bill to the entire Senate for a vote. Sort of reminds you of Medal of Honor recipient, Sgt. Sal Giunta, doesn’t it?
Your faithful blogger is not gay, and somewhat obliquely has confessed to sins about the issue, belatedly recognizing that things that are deeply upsetting to other people are no less significant just because they have no direct bearing on one’s own life. What happened last night was what should have happened. And it is a great thing; a wonderful achievement accomplished despite some of the most vile “debates” in and outside our state capitol. (Orthodox Jews claiming to be the exclusive authority as to who is, or is not, a Jew based on whether one agrees with them fall into a subcategory of vile which only a few of us see, though vile it is.)
As it happens, a refugee from the gross affront to representative democracy known as the New York Legislature, a very decent, and quite intelligent man named Dan Feldman who earnestness and seriousness meant very little in such a place, and finally left when it became clear that he could accomplish little more there, has written a book largely defending the place, while pointing to its deficiencies. There is much to quibble about in its pages, just as some of his political positions can be the subject of legitimate disagreement, but more often than not he hits the spots right on.
The scariest parts of his observations of a legislative process that descended into the mud well before the federal Congress followed suit come toward the very end of his book when talks about things which happen which simply put people in abject fear
When a spate of such incidents comes to the attention of the public, government must respond in some official way in order to avoid jeopardizing its legitimacy.
A page or so later, he observes that
Participants in a representative democracy need hope to continue to feel bound to the political institutions of their country. They do not have to win every time, or even most of the time. But they do need to see that government can and will act. This keeps them engaged
And that is what this is all about, isn’t it? Yet, in the face of massive unemployment, our national legislature can conjure about no solution, and, in the face of almost universal academic agreement that the government must put as much money as possible into the economy, demands, instead, massive cuts.
And the very same people who lectured us about loyalty requiring that we support a president who believes that we need to go to war, now tell us that this President has to be resisted and that he cannot take the country to war, only Congress can. No kidding.
Afghanistan, these posts have argued, presents no simple answers and certainly not one to be decided by chowderheads voting on the issue: the same people who thought that a war in Iraq was the same as a war against Al Qaeda, who thought it important to re-elect President G.W. Bush to protect the country during a war he began by massive lying to the nation and the world.
And quoting Dan Feldman one more time,
It’s not that voters are stupid. Rather, they cannot be expected to follow the issues, or the candidates’ credentials, with the care and attention that political professionals devote to them. Further, they respond emotionally, as humans must. They want reassurance, inspiration, pride, confidence, and maybe a little entertainment. Supplying those needs must be a higher priority for a successful electoral politician—most of the time, anyway—than presenting an accurate portrayal of the complexity of the issues of the day.
True enough, but invective, and irresponsibility, while entertaining, does nothing to even make a dent in the problems we face. Polls show unhappiness with the President and even support for Republican control of Congress, even while Republicans see it useful to allow the federal government to default on its debts. Doesn’t seem reassuring or inspirational, does it?