Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Newtonian Laws of Legislative Bodies

A type of Newtonian law governs the actions and inactions of legislative bodies, such as the Wisconsin legislature and Congress. It is not Newtonian in the physics and gravity sense, although some of those laws about motion and force seem to apply, too. Instead, think of them as Michaelsen’s Laws of Motions.

During the course of a long career in higher education and government, I have observed some phenomena that fit proverbs often coined by others. Many are also true of organizations in the private sector.

1. Success has many parents but failure is an orphan

This is as true now as it always was and is independent of issues because in state and federal legislative bodies, coalitions rise and fall around issues. The corollary is there is nothing we can not accomplish if we do not care who gets credit.

2. Nothing focuses attention like a deadline

Don’t believe it? Consider state and federal budgets. The legislative branch of government will have long public hearings at which many people speak or read verbatim from prepared remarks and in which elected officials engage in long soliloquies. However, the budget has to pass before the fiscal year begins to avoid government shutdowns, payless government worker paydays and interruption of services to those who receive assistance. There is also a flurry of activity near the end of a legislative session. In the private sector, approaching deadlines often mean all-nighters or racing to meet express delivery deadlines.

3. Even a clock that doesn’t work is right twice per day

We all know people with whom we disagree most of the time or who never seem to do anything of value. Once in a while, those people are right.

Because we disagree with them and they have cried “Wolf” so often, we tend not to believe them when there is a wolf approaching. The corollary is that even a blind squirrel finds a nut occasionally, so even a nut is right sometimes.

4. You dance with the one who brought you

We are shocked, shocked when the organizations that helped elect legislators and members of Congress influence the type of legislation they sponsor or shape their positions on bills and amendments.

In the private sector, this means that the client base and the person who hired someone might influence his or her job performance. We take that for granted. Elected officials are no different in this respect.

5. We can disagree without being disagreeable

This is not a generational issue, as many think, nor is it necessarily going along to get along. Some Wisconsin legislators and members of Congress, associations, lobbyists and their ilk disagree vehemently on fundamental issues. There are members of the Wisconsin legislature who could not disagree more that are personal friends. Some agree on ends and disagree on means. Former House Speaker Tip O'Neill and President Ronald Reagan could not disagree more on means but they were great friends. Lobbyists that oppose each other are often friends, too.

It is nothing new that liberals and conservatives are at the throat of each other. Disagree with one of the less amiable members and they will label you stupid, a tool of the most evil opposition they can name and a waste of oxygen. Mean-spirited rhetoric is unfortunately nothing new in the public arena. Compromise is not in the lexicon of the self-righteous regardless of party label.

Contrast that with the private sector. People who are direct competitors have so much in common that they are great friends. They do not wish that their competitor’s spouse and children leave them, their house burns down and their pet dies.

1 comment:

Paul Johnson said...

I have to respectfully AGREE - my sentiments exactly. Some of these points are the reason why, as I age, I find politics more and more intellectually unchallenging. What this article points out was probably true before I was born, and will be true long after my departure...

Another good article my Stickness!