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Loud wind and thick fog
March 22, 2010
by Ivan Raconteur

A conversation on Facebook regarding a recent early-season thunderstorm included a description that piqued my interest.

An old friend who lives in another city posted a comment indicating that current conditions where he was included loud wind and thick fog. He characterized this combination as an odd harmony.

Something about this seemed very familiar.

I continued to puzzle on this vivid description of loud wind and thick fog, and wondered where I had encountered this image before.

In the morning, it came to me.

“Eureka!” I exclaimed to myself, or words to that effect. I realized that the peculiar expression that had been troubling me was a perfect description of congress.

That venerable institution is made up of people who are wandering around in a thick mental fog. They are operating in a cloud of oblivion, and are out of touch with their constituents.

Others, like a loud wind, make a lot of noise, but lack substance. Rather than listening and working with others, they stubbornly try to get their way by sticking to their party line and talking louder than anyone else.

Not unlike the recent weather conditions, many of the distinguished members combine the two elements in a strange sort of harmony.

Now, I am not suggesting that this describes all of the members of congress. I merely suggest that having these qualities seems to increase one’s odds of winning a membership.

To give them the benefit of the doubt, I make an effort to listen to our elected officials express their views in their own words whenever possible.

Shows such as “Your Legislators,” a weekly discussion featuring members of the Minnesota legislature which airs and is archived on Pioneer Public Television (www.pioneer.org/yourlegislators.php), are invaluable tools for learning about senators and representatives, and listening to them answer questions and discuss current issues.

I suspect that some of our elected representatives at the state level, and possibly even a few at the national level, somewhere deep down in their reptilian brains, actually do care about the needs of their constituents.

The bad news is that even in those rare instances when politicians want to do the right thing, the system seems to work against it.

Part of the problem is due to a peculiar sort of memory deficiency to which politicians seem unusually susceptible.

It is not surprising that our elected officials cannot agree on a course for the future. They can’t even agree on what happened in the past.

It reminds one of that old game show, “The Newlywed Game,” in which married couples were temporarily separated and asked a variety of questions. The humor of the show hinged on the fact that quite often, their answers were very different.

The same is true with senators and representatives of different parties. No doubt they love and respect each other, but they don’t always agree on the facts of a given situation.

This makes it difficult for them to find common ground, despite their best intentions.

Another problem is that many politicians seem far more committed to their party and their own self-interest than they are to their constituents.

No matter how good an idea is, and no matter how much it would help taxpayers, some politicians will never vote for it unless it was their idea (or one introduced by their own party).

I have actually heard congressmen acknowledge that an idea was good, and would have helped to solve a problem, but they didn’t have enough votes to pass it, so they had to add all sorts of bad things to the legislation in order to get the other side to vote for it.

By the time they are done, a good bill that might have improved our lives and saved us money often turns into a bad bill that will cost us money.

I used to think that compromise meant each side giving up a little bit to reach an agreement for the common good.

I have observed, however, that in Washington, and, indeed in St. Paul, compromise is not as much about each side giving up a little bit as it is about each side adding on a bit – or a lot.

Going back to the newlywed example, imagine a situation in which the happy man and woman, when confronted with a large bill, each accused the other of throwing too many luxury items in the shopping cart while they did their weekly shopping. On inspection of the sales receipt, an objective observer might find that each of the lovers had committed a share of the infractions.

Pointing fingers and bickering would not help our newlyweds, and neither does it help our distinguished elected representatives.

Both groups would benefit from some straightforward discussion about what the budget will allow, and what really needs to be in the communal shopping cart.

There is a difference, though. While a married couple might be excused for agreeing to add the occasional luxury item to the cart, our representatives cannot be. Politicians are shopping with our money, not their own.

Awareness of reality and willingness to work together are critical in relationships and in government.

What we need in Washington and in St. Paul is less loud wind and thick fog, and a lot more substance and clear thinking.

One regrets that neither of these appears to be in the forecast.