The Corner

You Say That Like It’s a Bad Thing

When the time comes to make the movie of the Obama administration, one of the choice character parts will go to the guy who plays majority leader Harry Reid. With his reedy voice and capon manner, he would have been perfectly embodied by Elisha Cook, Jr., or Peter Lorre, a mean, cowardly little man unaccountably entrusted with the oversight of the U.S. Senate. His attacks on Mitt Romney from the protected well of the Senate surely represented a new low in American political history, and one for which, of course, he paid no price.

Now comes his bleat that “this is the least productive Senate in the history of the country,” like that’s a bad thing. For if there’s one thing a long-suffering taxpaying American populace devoutly wishes for, it’s for Washington to stop being so “productive.” 

Republican insistence on getting a vote to kill Obamacare subsidies to lawmakers and Capitol Hill staff and other non-energy related amendments has stalled the bill to such an extent that Reid predicted at this rate “we’re not going to finish the legislation,” a huge blow to the bipartisan bill from Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio).

“We’ve tried really hard to work on this energy bill, but it’s no wonder that the news is reporting today this [is] the least productive Senate in the history of the country. We have a number of Republican senators — and lots of . . . Republican House members who don’t believe in government,” Reid said.

And there you have nearly everything that’s wrong with the congressional ethos — that, in order to be “productive,” legislators must continually be legislating, otherwise they “don’t believe in government.” This, I think, is an outgrowth of the current business-management fad for “metrics,” markers to be hit whether or not those markers actually make any sense. Conservatives are constantly mystified by the strange mind-control the capital seems to exert on even fire-breathing newcomers, who sooner or later have their ideology beaten out of them as they learn the lessons of bipartisanship and Senate “comity” (a one-way street, as Reid’s remarks linked above clearly show). If the goal of the game is to “write laws” and “pass legislation,” then that eventually is what you will do, and that is all that you will do. 

But when are too many laws enough? The unspoken end point is a country completely tied down by laws governing every area of human behavior — laws often written on a whim, or in reaction to some transient news cycle, which then stay on the book forever. As Glenn Reynolds has written, we’ve become Ham Sandwich Nation, a land in which everything is a crime, and it is left to the judgment of police and prosecutors whether you star as Joseph K. today or tomorrow. “Not going to finish the legislation”? Heaven forfend.

Note also the latest leftist meme that the Right “doesn’t believe in government.” All or nothing at all is their motto; if you’re not in favor of increasing, say, the debt ceiling then you must be in favor starving kids and seniors. For them, there cannot be a desirable social outcome without there first being a law. They’ve happily conflated their Manichaean ethos with bureaucratic process, constantly churning out new strictures at the federal, state and local level, because that, in their minds, is what we pay them to do. They’re clock punchers for the sake of clock-punching, presided over by party apparatchiks like Reid. 

“Least productive Senate in the history of the country?” As if.

Michael Walsh — Mr. Walsh is the author of the novels Hostile Intent and Early Warning and, writing as frequent NRO contributor David Kahane, Rules for Radical Conservatives.

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