“The thing about my jokes is that they don’t hurt anybody. You can say they’re not funny or they’re terrible or they’re good or whatever it is, but they don’t do no harm. But with Congress — every time they make a joke it’s a law. And every time they make a law it’s a joke.”
— Will Rogers
Stipulate that, unless we start selecting lawmakers the way we populate jury pools, no Legislature will even be made up of modest, deferential people.
It just takes a certain amount of, face it, arrogance, to run for any office. Even people who can quite honestly say that they were recruited by a political party, encouraged by friends and neighbors, suggested by a retiring officeholder, has to be able to look other people — and themselves — in the eye and believe they are able to make sometimes crucial decisions that affect the lives of thousands or millions of other people.
A long time ago, in a state not that far away, a very patient governor expressed some frustration with a Legislature that was occupying itself with message bills and dumb ideas and proposals that came out of far right field instead of getting down to business balancing the budget and paying for schools and highways.
But, he allowed, there should be no surprise in that. Every member of that Legislature then, and of the Utah Legislature now, got there by being, or becoming, a big deal in their community. The didn’t walk in parades and knock on doors and solicit money and ask for votes on a pledge to go to the state Capitol and do nothing.
The level of arrogance and condescension and willful ignorance and deliberate cluelessness we are seeing in the current assemblage of the Utah Legislature seems extreme, even by those standards.
A representative democracy functions on the theory that people like us, only maybe a little smarter, will take the time we don’t have (or won’t give) to study and listen and debate and split differences and make decisions — by consensus when possible, by narrow margins when necessary.
But for lawmakers to actively go out of their way to frustrate the popular will, to block and sabotage and undo measures and policies and directions that are clearly in the public interest and that have broad public support isn’t representative. And it sure as blazes isn’t democracy.
On issues from school funding to medical marijuana to health care, Utah’s ruling class seems to take great pride in telling the people they supposedly work for that what they want is wrong and they can’t have it.
There are bills in the Utah Legislature this year to pre-empt the Our Schools Now initiative on raising taxes for schools, and to pretend to offer medical marijuana to the sick, when it would really only allow it for the dying. Lawmakers also keep futzing around with plans to expand Medicaid a bit here or a bit there, when polls show 62 percent of us favor the real deal.
One of the more cringe-worthy statements of legislative arrogance came from Rep. Curt Webb, a Logan Republican who was all creeped out by a bill that would clarify the state law about breast-feeding in Utah, the law that says it is legal anywhere.
“This seems to say you don’t have to cover up at all,” Webb complained Thursday. “I’m not comfortable with that, I’m just not. It’s really in your face.”
No. It’s in the baby’s face. Which is where it is supposed to be.
Only a legislator — OK, only a male legislator — would think such policy should be made based on what he is comfortable with. This is about mothers taking care of babies in the way nature intended in this supposedly super-family-friendly state. Not about grown men with the minds of 15-year-olds who can’t handle the truth.
Maybe — like the former colleague who is credibly accused of spending some quality time with a prostitute in a hotel room paid for by Utah taxpayers — Webb does not fully, er, grasp just what some bits of the female anatomy are really for.
There are signs of progress. A bill that would have made it a crime to secretly record a conversation, a measure that was clearly focused on sparing important people in civil and religious spheres from embarrassment, was shouted down. A measure to effectively end surrogate parenting for infertile couples — on the grounds that those icky gay people were using it, too — also seems likely to lose.
In the long run, it is going to take an end to the extremist-friendly caucus and convention system and a stronger Democratic Party to balance government and make its practitioners just a teensy bit less arrogant. Which is probably all we can hope for.
George Pyle, The Tribune’s editorial page editor, is egotistical enough to think that people will want to follow him on Twitter, @debatestate . firstname.lastname@example.org