let us all, or maybe each, cultivate our own legislations

I was a bit surprised to see this somewhat panglossian take on how bills get passed in Mark Schmitt’s recent piece on the Senate health care bill:

The bill is flawed, but only by comparison to some hypothetical piece of legislation that could never have passed. The same could be said of any successful legislation, from the first progressive income tax to Social Security and Medicare to the Clean Air Act. And conservatives would say the same about their own legislative achievements. This is How A Bill Becomes A Law.

It’s one thing to point out that the legislative process always involves compromises and leaves most people partly (or more-ly) unsatisfied with the resulting bill; it’s quite another to suggest that these compromises have led to the best (according to some implicitly progressive standard) of all possible bills. I suppose it’s true in the sense that it’s the best bill that was passed, but it’s too bad we can’t know these things beforehand or it might have saved people from writing, just ten days before the bill was passed, about the encouraging possibility of the bill including a Medicare buy-in in place of a public option. (I’m probably being unfair, and this was simply a slight overstatement for rhetorical effect.)

Anyway, what initially struck me about the piece I quoted above was the initial line:

“The most troublesome task of a reform president,” Henry Adams wrote in his autobiography, is “to bring the Senate back to decency.”

Because over a year ago, during the Democratic primaries, Schmitt wrote a piece about the Senate that opened:

“The most troublesome task of a reform President,” wrote Henry Adams, is “bringing the Senate back to decency.”

I don’t think this is an accidental repetition: there’s a lot of continuity between the pieces, with Obama being first the potential, and now the actual, reform president. But it makes me think of the Simpsons line, said by an automated DJ machine: “Looks like those clowns in Congress have done it again. What a bunch of clowns.”

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