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Life as Performance Art

    Where is Will Rogers when we need him?  He’s been gone for the better part of 90 years, ever since he died in a plane crash on a visit to Alaska.  We could use him for his gentle way of poking a bit of humor at our politicians.  Once, when someone asked him if he knew any new jokes, he scratched his head and said, “Nope. No I don’t have any.  They all got themselves elected to Congress.”  That is a one-liner that would still work today.
    Like many of you, I watched the House of Representatives for the past three plus weeks as they tried to select a new Speaker.  It was a bit like watching Billy Murray’s film, Groundhog Day, all day, every day. Between the two, the film was better and funnier.  What the House was doing came across as a clown act that ran into a horror show.  What the House was doing, or not doing, hurt the nation at a time when the world is teetering on the abyss.    They did not do much for their own reputation with all their posturing, prattling and dithering.
      I cannot understand the delay.  From what I have seen, the Speaker is the Grand High Poo-bah Gavel Pounder in Chief, telling the other members to settle down, or wake them up from their naps, call for a vote and announce the outcome, or say that it is time for lunch.  I am sure there is more to the job than just that; it’s just that whenever they turn up on television the Speaker is standing in front of the big chair with their wooden hammer in hand.
    There have been several Representatives who want the job, and I can understand why they feel that they are entitled to it.  They get to sit in the big chair that is front and center and have an office bigger than any of the other members. They are third in line to the really big office at the White House, which would alone, to my way of thinking, be a strong motivator to turn down being Speaker.
       I am not certain if there are gavel-pounding auditions for the candidates.  I am not certain if they get extra money for their proficiency in gavel pounding.  I am not certain if there are try-outs for the best dictator, because he or she has to assign work to the other members, tell them what to do, and send things off to committee where some other representative presides and pounds his or her gavel, albeit a smaller one.
     Meanwhile, nothing got done until they elect a Gavel Pounder in Chief.  All of the legislative bills piled up and other work was postponed until they elected one and could not officially get back to work.  I am still not impressed with the delay, especially the debt problem. I take that personally because if they fool around it is going to impact my retirement fun. Add to that the tensions with Russia, China, the southern border, and maybe all of those lumber jacks and hockey players coming across from the north.
      You and I are the ones who pay their salaries.  That makes them our employees, and frankly, these boys and girls needed to get back to work and earn their keep.  Otherwise, we just might decide to fire most of them a year from now.  At the very least, I wish we could dock their pay while they played hooky.
    I heard someone comment that it was all a bit childish.  You think?  It comes across as a bunch of children all wanting to sit in the big chair and play with the wooden hammer.  Yeah, that ranks as being really childish.
     And like selfish children, there is a lot of personal ego invested in this misadventure.  Of course, there is.  People without an over inflated ego rarely get elected to anything.  Then, once they get elected, they start taking themselves too seriously and hunker down until they can earn the title of Big Shot. After a month of this silliness, when you come right down to it, it was in the childish ego stage that got in the way of governing the country.  Meanwhile, the other tenants in the House acted like petulant children who have missed their nap time.
    It was not always this way.  Not too long ago we had wise men and women at the Capitol. They squabbled, did not always get along, and sometimes delayed things.  Back in the era when Sam Rayburn was the Speaker of the House, he could see that some of the Representatives were not getting along.  He’d call them into his private office, unofficially known as the Board of Education,  sit them down,  fill a few glasses with  adult beverages to pass around, and tell them to smarten up.  They did.
     He also had some difficulties with a few Senators at the other end of the building. “Mr. Sam,” as he was known would invite Dirksen, Humphrey, Johnson, and perhaps a couple of Representatives to drop by his private office.  He made sure his drinks cabinet was well stocked, this time with some good sipping bourbon, invite them to sit down and have a drink.  They would make small talk for a while and then got down to business.  It was not too long before everyone agreed to compromise a little for the good of the country.  Things got done.  Just as importantly, these elected officials deservedly had the respect of the voters.
     Other times, we had elected officials who were willing to risk their career for what was in the best interests of the country. One such man was Senator Norris from Nebraska who stood up for what he believed about water rights, won the battle, but lost the war.  At the next election, the voters made it clear that his career was over.
    Another was President Ford when he pardoned former President Nixon.  We know the sordid saga of Watergate and how Nixon was forced to resign for the good of a very divided country. It saved us from a lengthy and divisive debacle.  President Ford put a stop to the divisiveness, but when he pardoned Nixon he went from being a ‘nice guy’ into a real schnook.  He sacrificed his career for the good of the country.  Then we got President Jimmy Carter who, at least in my opinion, makes a far better former President than he did when he was in office and running things.
    We do not see that happening very much today. The idea of self-sacrifice or even compromise is just not done.  That is true for both parties, and especially the more radical wing in each of them.  They try organizing their own group, and in doing so polarize the nation.  Listen to the experts?  Do the right thing?  Not when there is ideology to be upheld and defended at all costs.
     The whole idea of campaigning for office should be about public service, not who gets to play with a wooden hammer.  Billy Shakespeare, in one of his plays,  had a character warn, “Beware of lean men with thin lips,”  because they were hungry for power.  I looked at some of the fellows wanting to wrap their paws around the hammer.  Sure enough, they all have thin lips and that predatory look.
      Of course, it is not right to pick on just the House. The Senate has some real characters, real ding-a-lings, too.  One of them is a fellow from the south who is holding up advancing our men and women in uniform up the ranks.  He’s sitting on the growing stack of commissions because he is worried about non-straight personnel serving in the military. He reached an all-time low when he said he was worried because submariners might start reading poetry to each other.
     I doubt he is worried about limericks, especially the ones that begin, “There was a girl from Nantucket.”  Nor would he be climbing the walls over most of James Whitcomb Riley.  Certainly, he’d have nothing about Robert Service and his lines about the Murder of Sam McGee.  He’s just letting the world know that he has a big ego which gives him the idea he can run things his way.
    They finally got around to electing a Speaker.  He’s a fellow named Mike Johnson, but I have no idea about him except for his name.  As far as I am concerned, they picked the wrong Mike Johnson because there is just one Mike Johnson from here in Saugatuck.  He gets along with everyone, and to my way of thinking, personality and congeniality is far more important than knowing how to play with a wooden hammer.

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