Supercommittees.. Then and Now

“A Horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!”   (King Richard)  William Shakespeare

AHH, the “Supercommittee”.  Rewind the clock six months, back to last summer, and you can watch most of our Congressmen and Senators climbing all over each other to get appointed to the Supercommittee that would be charged with finding ways to reduce our national deficit by $1.3 trillion.  That’s trillion with a “T”.  There are three truly astounding aspects of this process.  The first is that 1.3 TRILLION dollars is only a drop in the bucket compared to what we spend in this country.  The second is that everyone knows that if you want something to be left undone – appoint a committee to do it.  And third is that we could even dream of allowing the same people that are responsible for the mess in the first place to try to fix it.  It’s really mind-boggling (and I don’t mean the amount of money).  If they fail to reach any agreement then the consequences are disastrous for the ecnomy - but there are absolutely NO consequences of failure for the individual members of the committee.  No wonder every lawmaker wanted in, it’s a classic no-lose situation for them.  At the end of the scrum, twelve of the nations “finest” lawmakers were seated at this most prestigious table. As we can see, each had their own individual agenda and their own party agenda.

john kerry

Will anyone remember who this man is in 20 years?

But none of them had anything remotely resembling a national agenda – nothing, nada,  zippo.  How do I know this?  Because their game has ended.  The final buzzer has sounded on their game.  And the score is……Wait, not telling yet.  Humor me.

Rewind your clocks again – this time go back 224 years to the summer of 1787.  Take your time, I’ll wait, it’s a long rewind.  Follow me back to Philadelphia, in the sweltering heat.  The economies of the 13 individual free states (we weren’t really the United States of America yet) are on the brink of disaster.  The war had devastating effects and the states were all near bankruptcy.  So fifty guys get appointed to the second Continental Congress – 1787′s version of a Supercommittee.  They are charged with fixing things.  Things in the economy and things between the states.  Sound familiar?  Seems we’ve been here before (remember, one eye forward and one eye back).  That’s where the similarities end though.  These 50 committee members work throughout the summer, without air conditioning or running water.  They know the consequences if they are to fail.  It’s likely that the newborn country will die in its infancy.  They also know the consequences if they are to succeed.  It’s likely that each of them will have to give up some of their personal power and influence.  BUT – These 50 guys are STATESMEN!  So they wrangle and haggle, give and take, sweat and argue –  and they get it done.  They don’t just fix the problems with the economy, they create the Constitution and they create the United States of America in the process.  The results are even greater than the original task that we charged them with.  For many of them it signalled the end of their political power, because they created a republic that took away their power and invested it in the citizens.  They knew it was a possibility, but they also knew that the state they were saving was ultimately more important than their personal gain.  For others, they went home knowing that they didn’t achieve every goal for their individual state, but they also knew that their state would be the beneficiary of being part of a bigger country.

Does anyone need to be reminded who this man is? Can you tell the difference between a Statesman and a Politician?

This was their big game.  You might call it the very first national championship.  And when the final buzzer sounded in Philadelphia the score was Country 100 – Personal Ideology – 0.  A romp.  They crushed ‘em.

Now, to the future again, all the way back to November 2011, back where we started.  When we left it last, we were looking for the final score of our game.  We gave our 12 guys through the end of November to come up with some answers to avert an economic disaster.  The result:  Nothing.  No progress, no plan.  None of them – not even one – could put their country in front of their personal agenda.  Think of it this way, on a committee with those other weak players if even 1 guy had any strength or statemanship in him, he could have carried the team.  But we employ 535 unskilled lawmakers between the House and Senate.  They have walked away from what may be the greatest responsibility of their lifetimes, without so much as an apology to us.  They have failed us and they fully expect that they will suffer no ill effects from doing so.  These guys will come to you looking to extend their overpriced contracts next year.  Underachievers, all of them.  So when they do come to you for votes, remember this:  no runs, no hits, no score.  Nobody even got on base.  Final Score Country 0 – Personal Ideology – 100.  We got crushed this time!

 

James Madison on liberty and the GPS

We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties.

James Madison 1780s

The author of that quote was, perhaps one of the most statesman-like and forward thinking of the group of men that we call the ‘Founding Fathers’.  I believe this to be self-evident when you assess his herculean efforts at crafting our Constitution.  And still more so when you take into account his authorship of most of the Federalist Papers, which was his effort to garner grass-roots support to get the Constitution ratified by the individual states.  I assume that everyone in the country has already read the constitution (right?) but I’m not suggesting that anyone rush out a grab a paperback copy of the Federalist Papers. Believe me, that book is a difficult read.  The ‘Papers’ were largely written as a sort of “pre-rebuttal” in anticipation of the volleys that would inevitably be hurled by the anti-federalists. Pressed into this role of deflecting arguments before they were argued, he was forced to look into all the dark alleys of our Constitution and seal them off from criticism even before they could be criticized.

The result – a man that became as forward thinking as any man has ever been.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I can state with some degree of certainty that the author of that quote never owned a car, or a cell phone, a laptop, or a GPS, not even a lightbulb! He never sent an email, saved his documents in the cloud, flew to London in 4 hours, or learned how to program his DVR.  I can also state with some certainty that he knew in some ways that future generations of Americans would be different than him, would want different things, would need different things, and would face new challenges.  And one thing for sure – they would not wear those god-awful tight knee pants.  But here’s where it gets interesting.  Instead of crafting a document that said, flat out, NO to this list and YES to that, he crafted a document that allowed for the future.  Allowed for the “future” – during a time when no one was quite sure that America would even make it into the following year, let alone centuries to come.  Remember that all of the European powers were perched on the beach, mouths open, waiting for America to go dashing towards the ocean like newborn baby turtles!

By now you must be asking what’s up with the quote.  And why that quote, which doesn’t even make it into the list of top 10 Madison quotes.  Here’s why;

This week the superior court overturned the conviction of a big-time drug dealer.  He got collared with about 80 lbs of drugs and around $850,000 in cash.  This, I assume, equates to a serious stash – certainly enough to bring a conviction.  Enough cash to make the Federal Government jealous too.  Initially the police had a hard time getting enough evidence to arrest this guy, until they put a GPS tracking device on his car. And then Whammo.  Evidence, Stash, Conviction.  The citizens of Gotham City were safe once again from this evildoer.  There was, however, one little glitch. The superior court overturned the conviction because the police hadn’t gotten a warrant to place the GPS device on his car. But wait, you say, that’s a travesty, do they even need a warrant to do that?  Well, no one knows.  Being the staunch ConservoLiberCentrist that I am, my first reaction was to side with the people that say the police don’t need a warrant.  Their argument goes something like this – if you are walking down the street in plain view, and a policeman could see you commit a crime like stealing a pocketbook, then they don’t need a warrant to arrest you and take that lady’s pocketbook back to her. Ok, sounds reasonable enough, my car is in plain view when I’m driving it (except for that one time when the lady crashed into me and said that she didn’t see me). So I’m going to side with the “no warrant necessary” crowd.

Then suddenly the other side of my CLC leanings kicks in.  Hey you just hold on one small minute – they couldn’t search my basement or harddrive or the trunk of my car without a warrant. So maybe putting that GPS device under the fender is similar to that?  Now I’m starting to think like a real card-carrying ConservoLiberCentrist, eh!  Just a while ago I said that nobody knows whether the police need a warrant or not.  And nobody does know – except for one person – James Madison.  He absolutely knows!  This is the big tie-in to the quote. He knew then, and we should know by now, that Liberty isn’t usually erased in one giant gulp, but gets gradually eroded. No one will complain too much about some criminal’s rights – because he’s a criminal right?  So off go some of our Liberties (his and yours and mine) in tiny, unnoticeable, painless pieces.  Madison is telling us in his well crafted style that we should be alarmed when pieces of our liberties get “experimented” with.   So, the guy that never even saw a lightbulb, knows that a GPS on a criminal’s car can easily lead to a GPS on my car, and then a GPS on Grandma’s car.  Just a little at a time, and it even seems like a good reason today.   This all adds up to me coming down on the side of “needing a warrant”, because even if it means a couple of extra bad guys don’t go to jail, it also means that a couple of million good guys don’t go either!  Let’s all pitch in a buy James Madison an MP3 player.