Inside the Capitol

Saturday, January 15, 2005

1-19 Here's What Others Think About Legislatures

SANTA FE – No man’s life, liberty or property is safe when the Legislature goes into session. The same can be said about Congress – and it has been.
Ever since legislative bodies were invented, observers, ranging from philosophers to comedians, have showered us with cynical assessments of these bodies.
Through the centuries, such observations have been coined, revised and misquoted to give us a rich treasury of political impressions and attitudes. To help you get ready to watch these legislatures in action, here are some of my favorite sayings, gleaned from books of quotations, many of which disagree on original sources.
One of the more cutting comments is, “Every once in awhile an innocent man is sent to the legislature.” That comes from Frank McKinney (Kin) Hubbard, a writer for the Indianapolis Star about a century ago.
The quote most often heard around the New Mexico Legislature is “People with weak stomachs should never watch laws or sausages being made.” That one can be used every day – many times. It has been attributed to many sources. I’ll give Prince Otto von Bismarck credit for it because he is the oldest of the sources I’ve seen and Germans are known for their sausage making.
Bismarck is also credited with saying “Politics is the art of the possible.” Absolutists, who feel they must get their total way, are not cut out for politics. An example might be former Gov. Gary Johnson’s veto of tax cuts because they weren’t big enough.
Members of Congress long have been the target of ribbing. Mark Twain and Will Rogers both liked to go after them. Since these two were such great humorists, many quotations are incorrectly attributed to them.
Quotes I’m reasonably sure they did make are Twain’s “It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class, except Congress.” And “Suppose you were an idiot; and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.” Then there was Rogers’ “There is good news from Washington today. Congress is deadlocked and can’t act.”
On the subject of congressional ethics, former U.S. Rep Charles Mathias contends, “Most of us are honest all the time, and all of us are honest most of the time.” Henry Kissinger countered, “Ninety percent of the politicians give the other ten percent a bad reputation.”
On the subject of lawmakers obeying their own laws, Sophocles said 25 centuries ago “Nobody has a more sacred obligation to obey the law than those who make the law.” Not long ago U.S. Rep Henry Hyde observed, “Congress would exempt itself from the laws of gravity if it could.”
But today, Donald M. Fraser notes, “Under current law, it is a crime for a private citizen to lie to a government official, but not for the government to lie to the people.” Then Yogi Berra notes, “The public must learn to obey the laws, just like everyone else.”
There isn’t much love lost between lawmakers and the Supreme Court. Former Justice Charles Evans Hughes charged Congress with being “the biggest law factory the world has ever known.” Defending a Nixon Supreme Court nomination, Sen. Roman Hruska maintained, “There are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers and they are entitled to a little representation.” And then George W. Norris observed, “The people can change Congress, but only God can change the Supreme Court.”
Senators often can be more exasperating than House members. Franklin Roosevelt liked to observe “The only way to get anything done in American government is to bypass the Senate.”
Former Sen. Bob Dole seemed to agree, saying, “If you’re hanging around with nothing to do and the zoo is closed, come over to the Senate. You’ll get the same kind of feeling and you won’t have to pay.”
And finally, over the years numerous sages have warned that the passage of too many laws seriously erodes our freedoms.


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