Tuesday, October 1, 2013

State Of The (Dis)union

Your humble servant imagines what he would say to a joint session of Congress.

"Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, members of Congress, I thank you for this opportunity to speak to you on this day, in the midst of a national crisis. I further thank you for allowing me to do so wearing my Colonial regalia and my three-cornered hat. I love GOD, my country, and my heritage.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, here is the state of our union:  we are hurtling towards dictatorship and we deserve it.

"I'm not going to lecture you on the challenges of democracy or the so-called American Experiment. I am speaking to you candidly and directly, because that's the way men talk when they need to pound something through the walls of another man's cranium. If I couch it subtly, I have no guarantee you will refrain from reaching for your smartphones to get in a quick round of Candy Crush.

"I'll give you a quick history lesson. A little more than 200 years ago, President George Washington warned us about the problems of political parties behaving the way you do. You remember George, don't you? He's on those bills you toss around like Kleenex. Anyway, he said in his farewell address from the presidency: 'The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissention, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual: and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.

"Allow me to translate: keep pulling this garbage, guys, and people will wish they had a king again. Think I'm kidding? When saddled with a dysfunctional, bickering, over-partisan, anti-social Congress for long enough, they'd rather have an authoritarian who can act decisively.  People will run the risk of putting a despot in power because they're tired of the alternative. We're getting there faster than you'd like to admit. President Washington saw this coming, but y'all didn't listen. I get to say 'y'all,' having lived in Texas five years.

"I once read a blog post by an Arizona politician saying one of the most important skills of public office is knowing how to count. In last year's election, we counted 51 percent of the vote for President Obama and 47 percent for Governor Romney. We counted 231 seats in the House for Republicans and 201 for Democrats. We counted 53 seats in the Senate for Democrats and 45 for Republicans. Pretty close.

"The rational takeaway is this country is more purple than red or blue, and that our collective best interests lie in a coalition that is amenable to a country largely split down the middle. But no, this is Congress. The people in this chamber don't think rationally. Those who did got run out of here, or they saw the light, and they escaped with their hides intact.

"The raw numbers, the fact so many voted for you, and yet so many also voted against you doesn't inspire a lick of humility. From your warped perspective, you refuse to consider the possibility that your particular party may not be the glimmering beam of hope, and it may not be ruling by Divine Right -- or Left. So your rationalization becomes that the people who voted for the other guys must be ignorant, or the votes must be fraudulent. No way, no votin' way could these people actually know for whom they're casting a ballot. They're the hicks in the sticks, or the bums in the slums. They're LIV's - low-information voters. They're in flyover country, the left coast, the Bible Belt, or Hollyweird. And so you excuse yourself from considering the merits of what the voters are trying to tell you by dismissing the vote as tainted. This is despite your best efforts to rig the game through gerrymandering. In the old Soviet Union, people who didn't see Communism as the best thing since indoor plumbing got sent to the gulags. Be honest with yourself, Representatives and Senators. Aren't there people in your constituency you've dreamed of seeing locked up?

"It gets worse. After you've dehumanized your opposing constituents, it's not much of a stretch to dehumanize your opposing colleagues. Commanders do this in war to make it easier for soldiers to shoot the enemy. You've transformed politics into war, holy war. The greatest jihad threatening this republic comes not from Al-Qaida but from Al-Congress.

"You can tell me you took an oath to support and defend the Constitution, but let's get real. This present holy war has nothing to do with the Constitution, or freedom, or liberty, or the rights of the people, or any noble superlative you want to throw at me. This is about one thing: power.

"You crave power. You eat it up. You want seconds and thirds. You are not content to have a slice of the pie when you think you can own the bakery. And because of your warped perspective and thin margins of either victory or loss, you are convinced you can do it if you just crank it up another couple of notches.  The cooler heads that would've stopped you in the old days aren't around anymore. In every war, we have collateral damage, and you've managed to decimate the moderates. Their chief role now is to lament the mess while ducking for cover.

"So now we arrive at another startlingly sad conclusion: you really don't care about America. You say you do, but we all know actions and rhetoric exist on different planes. I'm sure of this because there are a few specific actions you could take to convince us you care more about this republic than your power, and yet you have not done any of these things.

"First, you refuse to junk the filibuster. It's a procedural dirty trick you can't part with because it gives you power when you're in the minority. Even when you complain about the other guy using it, you know there will come a time when you will use it. Both parties have griped about it, but none of you want to get rid of it. The irony is nobody has to do any actual filibustering.  The lack of 60 votes to end debate works better than anybody talking their face off.  And I hate to break this to y'all, but on those rare occasions when you pull an all-nighter, you're not Jimmy Stewart's noble Mr. Smith; you're some sore loser stalling for time.

"Second, you refuse to give the president the line-item veto. As thus, you protect your power to pork up budgets or hold them hostage. The president is powerless to carve out the waste.  Before you start worrying about that whole checks-and-balances thing, need I remind you the vetoed parts would get sent back to you for up-or-down votes to override. We'll see what's pork, and you'll be on the record for where you stand.

"Third, you find ways to exempt yourself from your own bills. You barely read your own bills, but I shall mercifully avoid ripping you on that one. Still, the net result is that you don't put yourself under the full weight of your own authority, thus protecting the power you crave.

"Mr. President, I'm not letting you of the hook, either. If it makes you feel any better, I'm not letting your predecessors off. All of you have had opportunities to be the adult in the room and push Congress to do the above three things. But you want to play the game, because you know you can run against Congress to your advantage.

"I know some people who remember when United States Senators used to be appointed, not elected. I bet a few of them wish that were still the case. Maybe, just maybe, by picking somebody of character, tact, and maturity, we could start cleaning this mess up. We can only dream.

"So let me boil this down for you: keep it up, and this government will collapse. Maybe not in your term, maybe not in the next term, maybe not in the next guy's term, but it will collapse, because that's the net result of congresspeople who love power above everything and hate their constituents. It they don't hate their own constituents, they hate they other guy's constituents, the ones who elected this guy or that guy, whom they also hate, and who won't let them have what they want.

"And finally, I have a word for the millions of American voters watching this. We've got to do better. I know we didn't create the deadlocks and the filibusters and the jihads now infecting this place like cancer, and I'm sorry that you have had to suffer for them, but we have a role to play in the solution. How many times have you gone into the voting booth and held your nose? You have looked at a long list of rotten choices and thought, 'Well, I gotta vote for somebody.' No, you don't. You'll notice each office up for election has a blank line for a write-in candidate. This is your opportunity to write in 'None Of The Above.' Your vote is your voice. You owe it to yourself and your nation to say what you're really thinking. If nobody is worthy of your vote, it's time to mark it down.

"Mr. and Ms. American Voter, don't let these guys in Washington try to talk you out of this by warning of dire consequences for our republic if you vote your honest mind. You can't do anything worse to this nation than what they're doing right now. And frankly, they dread looking up at the returns on Election Night and seeing more people voting for nobody than for the somebody they thought they were.

"I believe GOD has Blessed this nation. I believe HE will continue to Bless this nation if we let wisdom rule in place of ego. One day, I'm hoping Congress will once again overwhelmingly attract the best and the brightest who now avoid this cesspool for good reason. Negotiation and coalitions will once again rule. We'll say "The Distinguished Gentlemen" in the floor debates and mean it. We'll have showdowns, but we'll have boundaries. We'll be proud of our lawmakers for a change. We'll want our children to grow up to be Representatives and Senators.

"Until then, we can pray and we can work. But we can't shrug it off and say, 'These things happen in cycles,' because eventually we'll run out of time."

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