Political Hay

Congress’s Finest Fiasco

Instead of small government we get small-minded government.

By 4.5.05

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George Burns used to tell the story of his father, who was asked to serve as a cantor for Yom Kippur services in a synagogue on the Lower East Side of New York, except that the community was too poor to pay. So he volunteered. After the holiday, while the mother prepared a meal to break the fast, Dad was playing with the kids in unusually good spirits. "What are you so happy about?" Mom asked. "They're not paying for your work." Dad smiled and said, "No, but they did ask me back for next year."

And so it seems to be with our Republican Congress. They can't actually accomplish anything, and that's the bad news, but the good news is that they keep on winning. Like they tell you to do if the airplane falls into the sea, the Republicans have become adept at holding on to their seats. They are the champions of Musical Chairs, despite the tragic passing of Sonny Bono. Beyond that, a cacophony of inefficiency. Can it be true what they say, that Hastert makes waste?

We were forced to sit Schiavo recently for our faith in their effectiveness. They came in the night to rescue her, did our intrepid heroes, they moved heaven and earth. They extricated themselves from other commitments, they expedited the legislative process, and in honor of Easter they laid an egg. They took their political capital up to the Capitol, they counted capita, and they produced a bill that was promptly decapitated.

The judiciary is coming in for the brunt of the criticism for derailing the good intentions of our duly elected representatives, and rightly so. Much clamor is directed at these appointed judges, although in my view they are well appointed in black robes befitting deliverers of death. Let's not give the Republican Congress a pass; these judicial appointments are the worst, but the legislative disappointments are a close second. Is it that complicated when you're writing a law to save a person, to write a law that will save the person?

Not to mention the cruel hoax that was visited on the family. It must have been exciting for one little anonymous middle-class family to find their daughter being championed by the great movers of our government. To have a tree house built especially for them on the legislative and executive branches. A beautiful, touching message to the little guy in this country, testimony to the value of each individual life. Then it turns out that rather than being nestled in the branches they were out on a limb.

It recalls the story that Benjamin Franklin tells in his autobiography about the Governor who agreed to give him a job when he was down and out; after Ben packed his bags and moved to the state capital, not only was there no job, he could never get another meeting with the Governor. The following is close to verbatim: "I wondered how a Governor could be so heartless as to mislead a young man and cause him so much grief. After pondering the matter, I concluded that his desire was to give, but as he had nothing substantial to give, he gave expectations."

Fixing this will require backbone. There was supposed to be a point to electing these people. We didn't pull the lever to get a chamber full of crumbs. We want to see laws that are sufficiently explicit so even the most imprudent jurist cannot say, "De novo? That's rich." At the very least, we expect to see a solution to the Senate filibuster on judicial appointments. Use the nuclear option or the Smith and Wesson option or the King David Slingshot option, but GET IT DONE. Failure is not an option.

Small government was their battle cry, and that is well and good. Only not small-minded government. It's a small step from there to heartless, soulless, gutless, and spineless, as Terri's Law has dramatized. They waited until the eleventh hour, voted at 12:01, the man from Crawford signed on, and it all ended just like Midnight Cowboy -- with one battered person lying dead in Florida.

It's a scandal. All sizzle and no steak, even with lives at stake. Then the sizzle turns to fizzle. Mr. Smith had a jones to get to Washington but now he's caught like a doe in the headlights. If we have to name this scandal, I suppose it is Mitty Gate, for all these ineffectual Walter Mittys who dreamt of making a difference: an unmitigated disaster. Those are not laurels they're wearing, those are wreaths. They did not come to praise and seize her, they came to bury her.

I don't know what it will take to rouse these folks from their torpor. Probably an Act of Congress.

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About the Author

Jay D. Homnick, commentator and humorist, is a frequent contributor to The American Spectator.