The Battle of the Bulls

I want to write about the possibility of a government shut down this week, and I will write about it.

But today I’m up to my ears in alligators, family style.

So … I’ve decided that this post I wrote at the end of a legislative session here in Oklahoma might start you off. It doesn’t deal with the specific issues at hand, and the federal stand off is almost breathtaking in its ruthlessness. What I’m describing here is healthy political give and take. However, much of the psychology is the same. Read, and think about it. Then, we’ll take up what’s happening now tomorrow.

We shut down the session Friday and it wasn’t pretty. Oklahoma‘s constitution requires that we end the legislative session by 5 pm on the last Friday of May each year. What that means in the real world is that no matter what else we do, we must pass the budget by that day. Otherwise, all the money stops and the lights go out all over the state.

We did manage to get to the finish line with a budget of sorts, but not without a lot of drama. We skated to the edge of the cliff more than once in the last week, always barely avoiding the messy business of adjourning without funding the government. Egos were bruised, names were called, deals were done and legislators and staff drove themselves past simple exhaustion into incompetent somnabulence in the process.

By the end of session, most of us weren’t fit to drive a car, much less make laws for millions of people.

This annual exhibition of legislative histrionics makes the voters mad. In fact voter anger is why we have to shut it down by 5 pm on the last Friday of May. Back in the day, we used to cover the clock with a towel or sheet or maybe some unlucky legislator’s jacket, and just keep on fighting. We went right around the dial, 24-7, until the deals were done. The people of Oklahoma, in a disgusted pique, passed a constitutional amendment by means of a referendum petition that required us to take at least 8 hours off each day and to end the session on the aforementioned last Friday of May.

It was a good idea, but good ideas are very seldom a match for human nature. That’s the force driving these annual end of session train wrecks; testosterone-fueled human nature. The Oklahoma legislature is run by people with y chromosomes. It always has been. I don’t want to sound sexist, but it’s just a fact that when men who have more ego than brains start shoving each other around, the discussion quickly descends to an unacknowledged battle over who is the real alpha male around here.

All the talk about “the people” and “policy” and “rights” devolves down to who has enough manhood to make the other guy do obeisance.

I may get myself uninvited to lunch with the boys for saying all this. It’s definitely not politically correct. But it is the truth. Decisions are made which affect the lives and futures of millions of people, including people who haven’t been born yet, based on this chest-thumping battle of the bulls.

Those of us who don’t have quite so much testosterone get into it, too. Female legislators are quite as capable of standing our ground as the guys. The difference is we usually have some vague notion of why we’re actually doing it, and we aren’t nearly as likely to offer to “take it outside” and “settle it there.” In fact I can honestly say that in all my 16 years as a legislator, I have never threatened anyone with a right hook to the jaw for disagreeing with me.

Remember: This is Oklahoma. I’ve seen legislators come to blows more than once in my tenure in office. A year before I was first elected in 1980, one legislator brought a gun onto the floor of the House with the intention of shooting one of his colleagues. I met one of the legislators who disarmed him when I was elected the next year and married him a couple of years after that. Two kids and almost  30 years later, we’re still together.

I expect some people will be upset by this view from the inside of the legislative rumbles. But I have to admit, it doesn’t bother me. I don’t mind the yelling. I don’t mind the fist fights. I don’t mind the shoving and threats and bombastic carrying on. I don’t mind because, messy and ridiculous as it sometimes is, it’s also democracy in action.

I would much rather see a messy session shut down where everyone noisily had their say than a well-mannered tea-sipping shut down where only a few powerful nabobs made all the policy. We practiced hard-ball politics this week, but we also stopped some horrifically bad bills from becoming law. I am convinced that we saved lives and protected the state’s economy from ruin by the moves we made. It took both parties and every single one of us to do it.

I was so tired last Friday that I was dizzy-headed and nauseous. I had to concentrate to vote correctly on the rapid-fire procedural votes that we were shooting at one another, something I can usually do on automatic. I saw other legislators start making speeches on the mike when they were recognized to ask a question, debate the wrong bill and repeatedly get befuddled about what they were trying to do.

All of this was exhaustion, and exhaustion to that level when you’re making law is not good. It also wasn’t necessary. We wasted a lot of time twiddling our thumbs in the days leading up to this; time we should have spent hearing bills in a more judicious fashion than this last-minute onslaught.

But I still prefer that to any “reform” that would tamp down on it. When you bring  150 people together from all over a state as big as Oklahoma, from rural folks who live in counties with more cattle than people to city dwellers who worry about gangs, you’re going to get disagreement. The only way to avoid it is for some of them to sell out the people they’re representing.

That’s what usually happens. I’ve seen it over and over. I saw it this session. But something happened this last week and the House members rose up and started representing their constituents. That’s how the bad bills died.

But bad bills which are pushed by powerful people who stand to make a lot of money from them don’t die easily. The resulting fights were why we were all so tired.

Was it worth it? Oh yes.

But I’m sure glad I don’t have to do it again this week.

Stop Slogan-Voting. Stop Hate-Voting. Stop Being Manipulated. Part 7. Democracy = We Are Responsible


Democracy is not a lazy person’s form of government.

If your idea of good citizenship is watching the dissolution of our society from the sidelines like an insomniac staring at a late-night movie, you need to move to a dictatorship. Democracy is too much work for you.

“The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” Contrary to popular attribution, neither Thomas Jefferson nor Patrick Henry said this first. The truth appears to be less glamorous.

John Philpot Curran first said, “The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and punishment of his guilt.”

Personally, I like Curran’s original wording better. It’s not as pithy as the more popular version. It won’t fit as well in a speech or the lead of a news story, but it says what needs saying.

Liberty is our natural state under God. If you doubt this, all you have to do is consider the extreme and absolute freedom He bestows on each of us. God does not force us to follow Him. In His own words, He sets before us life and death; right and wrong. But he lets us chose. He allows us to live our lives exactly as we decide to live them, even if that means committing grievous sin and turning our backs on Him.

Liberty is our natural state under God. But we live in a devil-besotted world that is stained and weakened by original sin. Thus, liberty, which comes from God, comes also with the requirement that we must guard it well or we will lose it.

No one wants to be a slave, but it seems that there are a lot of people who want to own slaves. Curran rightly says that if we stop tending our liberties, we will lose them and we will end in servitude.

In our generation we acknowledge that members of our military pay with their life’s blood for our freedom. What we don’t acknowledge is that the real threat to our freedom is not military invasion. No foreign power I know of is hankering to land on our shores with troops and armaments, and as Lincoln said, “by force take a drink from the Ohio River.”

This generation’s challenges to liberty come from our two political parties, our own government, our corporations and from our lazy refusal to fight for the democracy which is our inheritance. It feels good to blame the propagandists on our televisions, the amoral political parties and the equally amoral corporations who own them. Disrespecting politicians is an American birthright, a natural outgrowth of freedom of religion and speech. If we ever see the day when we can not make fun of our elected officials, we are doomed. But, worthless as they are, puppet people politicians are not ultimately to blame for this mess.

We may have, as Will Rogers said, the best government that money can buy, but the ones wearing the biggest price tag on them are not the politicians. The many millions that are lavished on political campaigns in this country are spent for one purpose: To buy us. By the time the campaigning starts, the puppet people politicians are already bought. They’ve been recruited, programmed and polished to a marketable level. Now they’re set before us for our inspection like new cars on a lot.

As I said earlier, the object of all this sloganeering, hate-campaigning, and propaganda is the manipulation of us, of we the people. Or, to put it more bluntly, the object of all this expenditure of capital and slime is our vote.

The one thing that those who want to control our government for their own ends fear is an informed and aroused citizenry. That’s why they spend huge amounts of money to feed us a steady diet of propaganda and lies. We have brains. We’ve got to think something with them. So, they spend enormous sums to fill our otherwise very good minds with half-truths and lies.

We are the products of an educational system that no longer teaches young people our American story. We’ve been taught to take multiple choice tests and not a lot else. Our educational system produces wave after wave of people who’ve never read an original source. We have large numbers of people with higher-level degrees whose entire education is the product of the digested and massaged bits and scraps of thought found in incredibly over-priced textbooks.

We have actually been taught to take other people’s pre-digested opinions about great thinkers as the works of the thinkers themselves. And we don’t have to understand these thoughts. All we have to do is exercise the totally-useless-in-life skill of getting a high score on a multiple choice test.

This is our educational system from early childhood through university level. It is nothing more than a trade school, or what we used to call vocational-technical education, on steroids.

That makes us prey for the propagandists and manipulators who want to confuse us into believing whatever sheep dip they’re dumping on us. Coming as we do from churches who preach politics rather than Christ, who sometimes preach politics as Christ, we are shorn of the moral underpinnings that would keep us from jumping headlong into abusive language, vicious slander and hate-voting.

We are, in short, easy pickings.

We can blame the manipulators, both secular and clerical, for misusing their enormous talents to do such harm. They are certainly responsible for what they do.

But ultimately, no matter how much money is spent manipulating us, it’s up to us whether or not we will allow ourselves to be manipulated.

We are Americans. We are a free people. That makes us responsible. We are responsible for what we chose to believe, how we chose to behave and whether or not we value our liberty enough to do the work and exercise the vigilance to keep it.

Liberty is our God-given right. The God of all the universe, the creator of creation from bottom to top, set us free from our beginning. He gave us such absolute freedom that we can accept or reject Him. We can do anything we want. We can create or destroy, think or blindly follow, live free or become slaves.

The equation is, again, a simple one:

Democracy = We Are Responsible


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