Our Honorable and Learned Congress

I must be getting old and ornery; in the past I was merely ornery. But more and more the actions of governments, ours as well as others, seem designed to annoy me–that is when they aren’t harmful.

I felt compelled to do something,which in my case means, writing something and send it to the paper. I sent this opinion to the Courier Times, where it will be published.

Sometimes I preface a statement with “in all honesty.” To me it has been a meaningless cliché, a way to start a sentence, until recently, when someone warned me that it is the sort of thing people say before they lie.

This led me to wonder about other phrases and terms I’ve thought devoid of meaning, merely the product of long established custom, such as the term “honorable,” as in the honorable so and so we use for our representatives.

All this rattled into my consciousness by the unexpected Senate gridlock on the anti-white slavery bill. For a brief period it was that rarest of things, a bi-partisan bill, a law to right a wrong. Unfortunately, the honorable Republicans failed to mention they had included an anti-abortion clause while the honorable Democrats claimed foul because they hadn’t read the bill. I am not sure how things work among the honorable Congress people, but down here, on earth, we read before we agree. And if it is written in the gobbledygook favored by the honorable people, we hire someone versed in the language to translate.

“That’s just politics,” a phrase that excuses all sorts of otherwise unacceptable behavior, seems to apply here. But why should it be acceptable? Why should a bill contain amendments and attachments and the like that have little to do with the intent of the bill? Why should bills be so long that members of Congress and their staffs will sign without reading them?

The US constitution was written using 4,400 words. The Bill of Rights with 492. The first amendment, establishing freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and to petition the government, is forty five words long. By comparison, this piece is about 550 words long.

We are either willing to accept that laws, written in confusing detail and language inaccessible to most of us, can be crammed with unrelated items that wouldn’t stand on their own or, we are impotent because our honorable representatives don’t represent our interests.

I propose that if our representatives want a law authorizing the building of some road or bridge or the approval of some ‘pork’ so they can bring it back to their constituents as a sample of the good they are doing for their community, let them do so in a stand alone proposal. And if our honorable representatives want to grant someone immunity, or the the right to sell property without paying taxes on the gains, or any of the myriad other ridiculous attachments hidden in all sort of laws, let them propose it, in the open. If they want to ban abortion, let them introduce it as a bill. That would be the honorable thing to do.

No doubt people will say that I am naïve, that what I suggest is unworkable, that no one would vote for those bills, that only by sneaking them in, only by obfuscating their intent can a law be passed. Isn’t that the point? Shouldn’t we expect clarity, transparency and honesty from our honorable servants?

By the way, members of Congress refer to each other not only as honorable but also as “learned.” Having listened to some of them—more than a few, I’m sorry to say—I have sadly concluded they are anything but.

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