Monday, July 10, 2006


(News-Herald, July 6) On the national level, election year politics have brought us a massive parade of pointless posturing. The nation is embroiled in a difficult and costly war. We face growing challenges with energy supplies and prices. And as a people we are struggling through another bout of distrust and cynicism with our leaders.
So, of course, faced with a variety of difficult and challenging issues, our leaders decide to tackle flag burning and gay marriage. Not only are these ridiculous side shows, but they are old, tired sideshows.
A flag burning amendment has been raised before, and every single official who raised it this time already knew what the outcome would be.
The gay marriage debate is even more cynical. Regardless of how you feel about the issue, conservatives already campaigned on their promise to do something about it. And then, once they were swept into office with the support of the Religious Right, they did absolutely nothing.
“Elect us and give us the power to do something about this,” they say. But it’s a promise they have made before and then reneged on. One wonders how many times they think they can get away with calling the religious right for a pre-election booty call. “Honest, honey. This time I really will call you the next day!”
But even more discouraging are the cheeseballs in Harrisburg. I sometimes watch the commonwealth congress on the PCN cable channel. It doesn’t make me feel better about what the folks at the state capital are up to.
Take for instance the recent debate about raising the minimum wage. Now, this is a fairly complicated subject. The growing ranks of the working poor create both philosophical and practical problems. Philosophically, it’s tough that someone can be able-bodied and willing to work and yet they still can’t get by. Practically, there are financial costs to all of us as the government gets into the business of picking up the slack for the working poor.
But at the same time, when you raise the minimum wage, businesses cannot suddenly go pick money off a magic bush with which to cover their increasing payroll costs. It’s a difficult issue to settle, but you’d never guess that from watching the debate in Harrisburg.
Now, in all fairness, it may be that there was some very wise and thoughtful discussion occurred when I wasn’t watching. When I was watching, nothing wise or thoughtful was going on.
A representative from Berks County took the floor to explain that no minimum wage law was necessary at all, because if people just worked really hard, their employers would pay them really well. After all, his sons have always worked really hard and they always make more than minimum wage.
While his point is not completely ridiculous, I think there’s a fair amount of labor history that suggests that business owners don’t always take care of workers out of the kindness of their corporate hearts.
Besides demonstrations that some legislators do not live on Planet Earth, there were displays of political horsepucky that suggests the legislature’s collective age is about ten.
There were attempts to bury the minimum wage bill by attaching it to irrelevant amendments, accompanied by the kind of arguments familiar to anyone who hangs around elementary school playgrounds.
You may remember this sort of thing. Billy calls Bobby a mean name. Bobby punches Billy in the arm. Billy says indignantly, “Why did you punch me in the arm?” Bobby replies in equal indignation, “What? I did not punch you in the arm!”
Legislators pull procedural tricks to mess with a bill, and the pretend that they were doing no such thing. Opponents respond with passive-aggressive balogna.
At one point, one of the parties refused to cast votes on an item, presumably because a six-year-old style tantrum seemed to be the best way to address the issue. The opposing party asked the chair to call a technician since apparently some of the voting buttons were not working, because pretending not to see the tantrum was a great way to stage a larger sulk.
How can these alleged grown-ups not realize how stupid they look? But then, Harrisburg seems to be unaware of any audience. Perhaps the most telling aspect of the great midnight money grab is not that nobody in the legislature seems to have said “This is wrong,” but that apparently nobody said, “You know, rewriting the rules to give ourselves a raise in the dead of night will look really bad.” It’s not that we need any great system for accountability in H-burg. We just need our representatives to act as if their bosses were watching.

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