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Playing chicken with the state
June 20, 2011
by Ivan Raconteur

Guys, left to their own devices, do some pretty stupid things.

One might think that putting two or more guys together would make them smarter, but through some twist of nature, this only seems to multiply the stupid factor. Instead of being twice as smart as one guy, two guys are twice as stupid.

The bigger the group gets, the dumber it becomes. By the time it gets to gang or mob size, the group loses touch with common sense altogether.

One of the things that sometimes happens when two guys get together is they have to prove how tough or brave they are. I guess this is a throwback to our caveman days. Since most of us no longer face life or death situations every day, some guys feel the need to create their own danger to find excitement.

One of the ways they do this is to play chicken.

There are a variety of ways of playing chicken. These variations were probably improvised using whatever instruments of mayhem happened to be handy. The scope of options is limited only by imagination and the volume of adult beverages that the participants have at their disposal.

Generally, the term chicken refers to any contest in which participants risk personal safety in order to see which will give up first.

One of the more common forms is for two guys to find a long, straight stretch of road, and drive toward one another in cars. The first guy to swerve is considered a chicken, albeit a live chicken.

In the worst-case scenario, neither driver swerves and they are both brave heroes, although they may be dead or horribly disfigured heroes.

The key to the whole game is to doggedly stay the course as long as possible, defying instinct and common sense and, at all costs, to avoid being the first to flinch.

The members of the Minnesota Legislature in St. Paul seem to be playing a game of chicken lately on a grand scale. They have become entrenched in their partisan positions, and neither side seems willing to flinch or swerve.

Unfortunately, it is not just their own fortunes they are gambling with, but the fortunes and futures of all Minnesotans.

It has been extremely frustrating to witness the inability of our elected officials to work together and compromise to find the best solutions for all state residents.

They seem to spend all of their time blaming others for the impasse. In the meantime, the basic business of state is not getting done.

Recently, it appears that they aren’t even arguing about balancing the budget anymore; now they are arguing about the terms of the impending governmental shutdown. There seems to be no limit to the scope of subjects upon which the two major parties can disagree.

The state was in financial trouble before this shutdown talk started. If we were to add up the hours of staff time and heaven-knows-how-much money the governmental shutdown will cost us (even before it begins), one can’t help thinking we are never going to be able to make up what has been lost.

On top of that, and perhaps even more absurd, is at the end of the day, we will still be in the same boat, and both sides will still have to come together to balance the budget and approve agreements that will work. So, what in the Sam Hill are they waiting for?

Sadly, one is not overly surprised by the actions of our legislators. It seems that every year the climate at the capitol becomes more partisan and more divisive. What does surprise me is the role that women are playing, or rather, not playing.

When guys do stupid things (like playing chicken, for example), it is usually the women in their lives who tell them to knock it off and act sensibly.

Women, for a variety of reasons, exert a calming and civilizing influence upon us. Whether it is by threatening to withhold favors or threatening to make our lives miserable (and they know just how to do it), women tend to keep us, more or less, on the straight and narrow.

One is a bit disappointed that our women legislators have failed to exert this kind of influence in the House and Senate.

It is true that women are in the minority, but one would think they are present in sufficient numbers to make their voices heard.

Twenty-one of our 67 state senators (31 percent) and 44 of our 134 state representatives (33 percent) are women. Surely, that is enough to gain the attention of the men in the group and steer them in a better direction.

The women may be our last hope.

One finds very little in the partisan rhetoric to suggest that compromise is imminent. If the women don’t stand up and take charge, it is difficult to see who will.

One thing seems clear. If someone doesn’t convince our legislators to wake up and start doing the job they were elected to do, we could all soon crash and burn – and there will be no heroes in that story.


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