Thursday, June 4, 2015

Flappers: The Political Class Of Which We Do Not Speak

     My attention was turned in this direction by a brief piece at Crusader Rabbit:

     ‘Rubio, Graham Refuse to Answer Whether They Read Obamatrade Before Voting on It’

     ....Somebody tell me again what is the point of voting?

     Keith has the right of it; at least, I can’t disagree with his obvious anger. However, the headline above isn’t a major revelation of a previously closely-held secret. It’s an open matter, and has been for some time, that Congressmen and Senators never read legislation. That includes legislation they have submitted to the floor.

     They have flappers for that.

     For those who have never read Gulliver’s Travels:

     At last we entered the palace, and proceeded into the chamber of presence, where I saw the king seated upon his throne, attended on each side by persons of prime quality. Before the throne, was a large table filled with globes and spheres, and mathematical instruments of all kinds. His majesty took not the least notice of us, although our entrance was not without sufficient noise, by the concourse of all persons belonging to the court. But he was then deep in a problem, and we attended at least an hour before he could solve it. There stood by him on each side a young page with flaps in their hands, and when they saw he was at leisure, one of them gently struck his mouth, and the other his right ear; at which he startled like one awaked on the sudden, and looking towards me and the company I was in, recollected the occasion of our coming, whereof he had been informed before. He spoke some words, whereupon a young man with a flap immediately came up to my side, and flapped me gently on the right ear; but I made signs, as well as I could, that I had no occasion for such an instrument; which, as I afterwards found, gave his majesty and the whole court a very mean opinion of my understanding. [Part III, Chapter II]

     Here we see the Laputan institution of the “flapper:” a servant whose function is to “flap” the ears of his master when, in the opinion of the servant, it is desirable for the master to hear what is being said. Plainly, the “servant” exercises considerable power over the “master”...a condition substantially replicated by the arrangements in the two Houses of Congress.

     Congressmen and Senators all possess large staffs. Those staffs have internal hierarchies resembling the sort you’d find in any business office. The staff members are aware of their boss’s overall political orientation, his priorities, and his positions on the issues of most importance to him. When legislation reaches the floor of his house, staffers portion it up among themselves, read it as closely as possible, decide whether the boss should speak or act on it, and note where he would be likely to take exception to it.

     Legislation is crafted in a similar fashion: the legislator gives general orders to his chief of staff, who then sets the others to work composing a bill to that end. Parkinson’s Law kicks in at this point. A staff of twenty or thirty is inherently incapable of writing a short bill. Among other things, each staffer wants the final product to have his fingerprints on it, to prove his importance to his coworkers and to the legislator. The consequence is invariably a bill that runs to dozens if not hundreds of pages, reads as if it had been assembled from a congeries of legal treatises, obsolete encyclopedias, and phone books, and contains almost as many internal contradictions and ambiguities as there are words in it.

     No, the legislator doesn’t read the bill. He has a chief of staff to assure him that the final product expresses his intentions suitably for the purpose. Really, what other function, aside from bossing the rest of the crew around, would such a head factotum serve? (Whether the chief of staff himself reads the bill is undetermined at this time.)

     That’s what you’re paying $175,000 per federal legislator per year, plus many millions in staff salaries, office expenses, travel expenses, franking privileges, and miscellaneous perquisites, to do.

     The power and importance of legislators’ staffs becomes even more visible when we address the pernicious mess called constituent service. No legislator is ever the first person to hear from an aggrieved constituent. Whether that “front man” deems the constituent deserving of the legislator’s “service” will determine whether he gets it, to what extent, and for what reciprocal price...and the “front man” will have opinions, preferences, and biases of his own. Few are the constituents who automatically receive the benison of a legislator’s immediate and undivided attention; it typically takes an eight or nine digit bank balance to enter that highly desirable class.

     There’s one good thing about Congressional staffs that cannot be said of the rest of the federal apparatus: they’re not protected by the civil service laws. They can be fired, or disciplined in other ways, at the discretion of their legislator...if, that is, he can be made interested in and disturbed by what they’ve been doing in his name. Yet their power, as “flappers” who can direct or withhold the attention of their employer, is undeniable. They constitute an unelected layer of government arguably more important than the legislatures themselves.

     So it comes as no surprise that two Senators, both of whom have thrown their hats into the Presidential ring, should decline to say whether they’d read the ObamaTrade bill before voting on it. It’s a poisoned inquiry; the truth would harm them politically while a lie would be far too easy to detect and disclose. The questioners know this and use the question in an attempt to weaken politicians they dislike, even though every federal legislator, if compelled to speak the truth, would answer the same way.

     This is the reality of extra-Constitutional government in the year of Our Lord 2015. Don’t care for it? Either overthrow it or find a suitable asteroid. There are no other options.

1 comment:

neal said...

Talking heads. Traumatized innocents. Spies. Hackers. Secret guilds.
Cathedrals, with monsters designed in. And they say the old dynamic does not apply.

Who knew Dune was an instruction manual?

The worm turns.