The Difference Between Writing and Legislating Is …

2014 05 23 18 15 05

Copyright: Rebecca Hamilton. All rights reserved.

The difference between writing and legislating is, to put it in Okie parlance, writing don’t matter.

I’ve heard the old canard “The pen is mightier than the sword” all my life. Sounds great, doesn’t it? After all, Marx and Hitler both wrote books that laid waste much of the 20th century and whose insidious damage not only lingers, but is still active, like occult cancer cells in the social bloodstream that just won’t die.

It appears that some people are willing to kill just about anybody and everybody based on what they think is written in the Koran. And other people are willing to die for what is written in the Bible, and still other people (get ready for this) are ready to tear down the structure of society based on what is written by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, et al.

The pen, is, or a least it can be, mighty. But I can tell you as a former sword holder that there’s nothing like brandishing the bludgeon of law around to scare the you-know-what out of people, including yourself.

The difference between writing as I do it and legislating as I did it is that writing don’t matter.

I can write a different blog post after I finish this one commanding everyone who reads it to go find a bridge and jump off of it. But, it won’t matter if I do.

In the first place, nobody has to read what I write. There’s zero penalty for just taking a pass on reading my words. In the second place, such a command, coming in a blog post, is far more likely to inspire laughter than obedience, because nobody — and I mean nobody — has to do what it says. In the third place, anything I write, whether its drivel or genius, will be forgotten in about 36 hours, max.

Writers are a lot more sensitive and emotional than legislators, and I include myself in that category. I’ve done a couple of things as a writer that I would not have dreamed of doing as a legislator. The reason?

It don’t matter.

The anger of a writer is more like a child, throwing their toys around in a pique. When a lawmaker gets angry, people get scared. Because the anger of a lawmaker can have huge consequences. By the same token, and appearances aside, lawmakers don’t take off after each other in public all the time, again for one simple reason. Such behavior can have consequences.

I know that sounds untrue, given the verbal fisticuffs that lawmakers engage in 24/7, but believe me, there are rules; things you don’t say, things you don’t do and confidences you don’t violate. The consequences are too high.

I went through a long period where I was hated and despised by my colleagues because of the fact that I would run right over them if I had to in order to pass pro life laws. The weakness in all their nasty that they heaped on my head was that I might have been hated and despised, but I was also Representative Hated and Despised. They could — and did — break my heart. But they had to be careful about taking it past the capitol doors, because there could be — would be — consequences.

There’s a saying in politics: Forgive and remember.

Nobody wants to get on the business end of that saying. It’s just stupid to put yourself there.

And it is also what I love most about not being a legislator. I can write whatever I want as a blogger and not get all in a snit about it because It. Don’t. Matter.

Lawmakers can kill people by putting a comma in the wrong place. Not only that, but bad laws don’t go away. They have a shelf life that runs into generations. Make a mistake with a law, and you can ruin people’s lives, even end people’s lives, for decades into the future.

Not only that, but lawmaking is always an exercise in who to hurt. Just about every vote I cast in my 18 years in office was at some level a decision as to who to hurt.

The pressures, the responsibility and the inevitability of making mistakes that will do harm were like living in a pressure cooker with the heat cranked up. Add to that the responsibility for thousands of constituents, and you’ve got a whole mountain on top you.

Nobody calls a blogger at three in the morning because their son was just murdered in the jail. When it rains, I don’t worry if Brock Creek will flood and drown people. The other day when I was taking Mama to the doc, I saw a cloud of smoke in the general area of my district. I looked at it, said a prayer for those involved, and felt grateful with the gratitude of someone who does not have to deal with it and try to make it right.

If a tornado wipes out your neighborhood, you’ve got to rebuild, but you don’t have to put on your boots and hard hat and go out, walking from one smashed home to another, making a list of things that people are needing that you have to figure out how to get for them. Of course, helping them is the good part. Having them cling to you like wounded children is what humbles and drains you to the depths.

I no longer have to convince gangs to stop killing people and work to keep the police and the people on the same congenial page. I look at things like Ferguson and I know that somewhere in all this there were lawmakers who weren’t doing their jobs, who didn’t get these things worked out and taken care of before they got to this pass.

Because legislating isn’t all or even mostly lawmaking. It’s taking care of thousands upon thousands of people. It’s protecting and building community. It’s loving and caring and using yourself up in the service of others.

Writing a blog, on the other hand, is mostly a kind of thinking out loud. A blog has a wide, wide sweep. It gets into the thinking of almost limitless numbers of people all over the globe. It can engage them and give them an opportunity to express their own thoughts and feelings. It can, at its best, help them to develop those thoughts and think things through.

Blogging is a form of teaching and a kind of entertainment.

But it does not — ever — reach the point where it really matters all that much.

Because if I made a law telling people to jump off a bridge, they would have to do it or pay fines, go to prison or find the scratch and spit to take on the government in court. But if I write a blog post telling people to jump off a bridge, they can — and will — laugh at me and turn the page.

On the other hand, if I write a blog post that gets people all worked up and wanting to lynch me, I can shut down the computer and go to a movie. They can’t do anything more than hiss and spit and disagree.

Blogging is fun precisely because It. Don’t. Matter.

It’s taken me a while to “get” that. In fact, I’m working on it still. I have to learn and know and believe what I’m saying to you here does not have the gravitas and will never be as deadly as law. The only consequence it has is what you, of your own free will, chose to give it.

I can help you think. I can provoke you to take ideas and noodle with them, disagree with them, support them, or dissect them. But I can do this only if you chose to do it. The contract between you and me, writer to reader, is our mutual freedom.

That’s the essence of what I’m trying to learn about my new life. I am slowly coming to grips with the sudden and as yet incomprehensible degree of freedom that is mine. I’ve traded a straightjacket for wings. I’ve cashed in my blazer with the target on it for a computer that turns off and an office door that shuts.

Because, in the final analysis and at the end of the day when the rubber meets the road and we get to the bottom line all in a collision of cliches and final thoughts, It. Don’t. Matter.

Ladies and gentlemen, put on your reading glasses, fasten your seatbelts and get ready to roll.

I am free.

The Crazy People File

 

Note: I published this post a few years’ back. It seemed apt to republish it today. 

 

“Crazy People”

The folder with this name sits on my hard drive.

Whenever I get an email that merits the title, I drag it into the “Crazy People” file. After 16 years in public office, the file has swollen to gigs of nutty emails that most likely would embarrass their senders if they read them today.

I have a theory that people don’t know how they sound in the emails they send to elected officials. They forget that other people are on the opposite end of these nasty diatribes; that they read them, react to them and file them away.

Several years ago, members of the Oklahoma House were spending what seemed like an endless day on the House floor. We were hearing one bill after another. Since it was close to the end of session, we’d voted on all these bills many times before; in committee, in the full House the first time, then again in the full House when they came back from the Senate, and now, in the full House again after they came out of conference committee.

We spend a lot of time together in the House of Representatives, kind of like people locked on a ship that’s adrift at sea. We’d heard each other’s speeches on these bills until we could all recite them together.

On that day, we were tired, over-stimulated and stressed; all combined with an almost numbing boredom. It gets like that late in every legislative session.

Mainly due to the boredom, we started talking about the emails we get. Now there are certain people who evidently get up every morning and fire off a nasty email to all the members of the legislature before breakfast, kind of like some people go to daily mass and others run on their treadmill. Their names and the names they call us become familiar to all of us. We started trying to figure out whose district these emailers were from.

Finally, I emailed the one who we all felt was the most flamboyant and asked what part of the state he lived in. Nobody answers these kinds of emails, and I think it was the first time any of us had clicked “reply” on one of his. The person responded and asked why I wanted to know. I said that we’d been talking about him and were wondering whose district he lived in.

If it’s possible to sound abashed in an email, this person did. I really don’t think he realized that people read the stuff he was sending. In all the years since, he has never sent another blanket email to the Oklahoma House.

Of course, this person, hateful and goofy-sounding as his emails were, did not rise to the level that gets someone into the “Crazy People” file. It takes a special kind of venom, and usually a couple of threats, to land there.

The point I’m making is if you’re writing your legislator in support of Christian values, remember that someone will read what you send. Do your best to sound like a follower of Christ and not an escapee from a wingnut radio talk show. You can make your point just as well without calling people names or attacking their intelligence, beliefs, children, parentage or appearance.

Remember: When you say your are a Christian, other people judge Christ by you. Don’t be a negative witness for Christ just because you think it’s clever and witty to degrade other people with your speech. Civility will not only make you a better witness for Christ, it will make you more persuasive about the positions you are advocating.

It can also keep you out of the “Crazy People” file.

Pennsylvania: Another AG Refuses to Do Her Job

Kamala Harris has an astral twin in Pennsylvania

Ms Harris is the California Attorney General who refused to do her job when it came to speaking for the people of California and defending Proposition 8 in court. That is why the Supreme Court refused to rule on Prop 8, which let the lower court decision that overturned it stand.

Now, we have another state Attorney General who says she is going to use the power of her office to aid in overturning a state law by the simple expedient of refusing to do her job.

“I can not ethically defend Pennsylvania’s version of DOMA,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced at a press conference attended by cheering gay marriage supporters, “We are the land of the free and the home of the brave and I want to start acting like that.”

I’m not sure how an Attorney General can claim that they are “ethically” refusing to do the job they were elected to do with a straight face, much less do it with such grade school rhetoric.

I am a Democrat, but it’s no surprise to me that this latest la-dee-dah refusal to do the job which is the primary requirement of the office she holds comes from another Democrat. I have a suggestion for Attorney General Harris: If you find the laws of Pennsylvania so reprehensible that you cannot in good conscience enforce them and defend them in court, then do not file for the office and campaign for the job which requires you to do that.

If Attorney General Harris wanted to be a lawmaker, she should have filed for the state legislature. Then, she could have worked to overturn this statute by acting in the full integrity of her office. However, she did not file for the legislature and she was not elected to that or any other lawmaking body. The office she sought and to which she was elected is the chief law enforcement office of Pennsylvania.

Cops at any level do not make laws and they do not chose which laws to enforce. It’s called separation of powers, and we have it to keep little caesars like this from taking over government.

These two women have allowed their overweening concern with their own personal opinions to supersede the responsibility they owe the people of their states to do the job they were elected to do. If they were honest rather than demagogues, they would resign these offices on the basis that their consciences would not allow them to do the job in front of them.

To refuse to do their jobs and by so doing to aid in the overturning of a law they are bound by oath to enforce and defend is dishonest, callous, cheap demagoguery that denies the people who elected them the voice in the courts that they promised to give when they ran for election in the first place.

From Reuters:

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) – Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane refused on Thursday to fight a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union challenging the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The lawsuit is believed to be the first federal case since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 26 that the U.S. government must recognize same-sex marriages in states where it is legal.

Kane, a Democrat who supports same-sex marriage, announced her decision at a press conference in the National Constitution Center in historic Philadelphia.

“I cannot ethically defend Pennsylvania’s version of DOMA,” Kane said, referring to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, overturned by the high court last month.

“It is now the time here in Pennsylvania to end another form of discrimination,” Kane said to a crowd of about 200 supporters gathered at conference, many carrying signs reading “Out for Freedom” and cheering her decision.

“We are the land of the free and the home of the brave and I want to start acting like that,” she said.

By declining to defend the state, Kane effectively tosses the issue to Governor Tom Corbett, who can decide to appoint another state lawyer to the task.

Kane and Corbett, a Republican who opposes gay marriage, are both named in the federal lawsuit that was filed in Harrisburg this week.

The ACLU sued on behalf of 23 people, including potential marriage candidates whose unions would not be recognized under current Pennsylvania law.

The lawsuit asks the court to allow the plaintiffs and all other same-sex couples the right to marry in Pennsylvania, and also asks that the marriages of same-sex couples validly obtained in other states be recognized by the state.


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