Laws, Politics, and Sausages

Purity, Absolutism, and Politics

And so it begins...
In 1869 the Daily Cleveland Herald quoted lawyer John Godfrey Saxe as saying, "Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made." (A variation of this quotation is often attributed to the Iron Chancellor, Otto Von Bismarck, but the first attribution to him did not occur the 1930s.)

I like sausages. I like hot dogs, especially Bratwurst.
Hot dogs in process
In Pittsburgh we got introduced to Polish Kielbasa, and love it. We don't eat a whole lot of sausages, but we don't listen to the scoldings of the health monitors whose general rule is, "If you like it, don't eat it." Sausages and bacon are two of the comforting mercies in this life.

But it is true that the less you know or the less you
The real thing in Wiesbaden
think about how sausages are made, the more likely you are to enjoy them. Sausages are made of meat "parts" - all sorts of animal parts, which can be from pigs, cows, and turkeys - plus flavoring spices and fillers such as bread crumbs. Though there are artificial encasements now, traditional sausages are encased in pig intestines. The hot dog form of sausage got its name from its association with dogs. Some say it is because German immigrants brought both the sausage meat product and the "sausage (or wiener looking) dog" (the daschund). Others suggest it was because of the not unfounded suspicion that some hot dogs included dog meat. 

In any case, while it might be different for farmers and workers at meat processing plants, for most of us the less we know about the making of sausages the more likely we are to enjoy them. Just eat them; don't think about them. 

Mr. Saxe was making the same point about the making of laws - or, the legislative process - in 1869. What is true of the legislative process by which laws are produced is true of the political process in general. The more we know about these processes the less likely we are to feel positive about the outcome. The recent Omnibus spending bill adopted by Congress and signed by the President is an example of the problem we have respecting the product when we know about the process.

What is true about the making of laws is at least as true about the practice of politics. The trouble many of us have about politics is that we tend to be romantics, idealists, purists, and absolutists. 

When it comes to love, men in general are more likely to be scoundrels than women but are nevertheless the more inclined to be romantics about love, courtship, and marriage. Men want the love affair of the ages; women want someone who will come home after work, provide the money to feed the babies, and take out the garbage. Women are less devastated and more quick to recover from a "love affair gone bad," while men are more likely to become depressed, listen to country music, and take longer to get back on their feet.

All of us, however, want to be romantics about things such as the founding of our country. We speak of the Founders as though they were the perfect patriots who were committed to freedom above all else and who worked in harmony to produce a nearly perfect Constitutional union. The reality is something less. The Constitution is the product of political conflict and compromise. 

Christians are often idealists. They think of the "New Testament Church" as the time when Christianity was nearly perfect. They tend not to take into account,  the almost lost gospel of the Galatian church, or the sin and chaos of Corinthian church, or even the realities of a relatively healthy churches such as Philippi or Thessalonica. They express the longing to  get back to the New Testament church life. (Note: the Reformers also wanted to get back to the church of New Testament age but were realists. They wanted to reform the church's worship, doctrine, government and life according to the teaching of the Apostles preserved in the Apostolic writings, not return to the flawed church life of New Testament church). Idealism is followed by disillusionment for church leaders who go to conventions, assemblies, or other church gatherings, however named, expecting to experience and observe, the never-existent New Testament churches of their idealist conception. The truth is the church is and always has been more or less a mess. 

As with the church, so with the country. Many want to think that there is a basic unity of American citizenship - what the American people "really want." If we could just get to what almost all Americans want and believe, unfiltered by the media, uncorrupted by the Washington "swamp," unhindered by the corrupt "establishment," all would be well. The reality is different. 

We are a country of people with different ideals. For instance, some Americans believe in a version of  "American dream" that means all of us can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and achieve success; others believe only the help of the government can level the playing field and give us all a chance to participate in the "American dream." Some think Social Security and Medicare are great blessings, offering older Americans a modicum of financial security to help them at least to "get by" in their, not golden, but rusting years. Some think that Medicaid provides a "health care safety net" for the poor and their children, while others think Medicaid produces a class of people who will never be motivated to care for themselves and will always be dependent on government (i.e. taxpayers) to stay alive. There is always a tension between the ideas and ideals of Americans. We have to talk, sometimes to fight, and always to live with the less than perfect when ideals are different.

Then, especially in politics, some are purists and absolutists. Not too long ago, I said of a Mississippi candidate for the United States Senate, Chris McDaniel, that he is a purist and absolutist in politics. He flattered me in two ways: 1) He took my description as accurate, a description he wore as a badge of honor. I was a nobody whose description of  prominent Mississippi politician was taken seriously by him. 2) He responded to me as a representative of the Mississippi Republican "establishment." (Here is the extent of my MS establishment credentials: I once heard Tate Reeves, when he was MS State treasurer, speak on the matter of "advance paid tuition" for college and introduced myself to him afterward. I once heard then Governor Haley Barbour speak at a Lincoln Day Dinner in Winston Country, met him, and with all others in attendance received from him the pin of the MS National Guard. I once saw him at Christmastime coming down from the balcony at First Presbyterian in Jackson. I once had some dealings of a personal, not political, nature with his chief of staff.  I once gave the invocation at a Winston County gathering at which Roger Wicker and Greg Harper were introduced. Do any of these people today know who I am? Of course not. Do I have any influence in the Mississippi Republican Party? Not one bit. I have challenged "the McDaniel people" to ask of anyone they know whom they consider to be an  establishment member: "Who is Bill Smith?" They will receive a blank look as though the person were suffering from memory robbing dementia.

The kind of "establishment Republican" I am is the the kind who does not believe that Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell are the embodiments of Republican establishment evil. I rather believe they are the kind of "sausage making Republican grown up establishment politicians" who make it possible for legislation such as the "Trump tax cuts" to be enacted. In other words, in my view men such as these are "Reagan Republicans" - the kind of Congressional Republicans with whom Reagan not only could have but would have been happy to work.

What does a Republican purist-absolutist Republican believe? One example is he is a "Second-Amendment purist and absolutist." What does that mean? Does he believes in the right of the ordinary American citizen to own any kind of firearm whatsoever? Since 1934 the government has regulated and controlled firearms, in particular what we call "machine guns." Should machine guns be legal for personal possession? What about combat jets or personal missile systems? What about nuclear arms? It is impossible to be a Second Amendment purist-absolutist.

The real issue having to do with the Second Amendment is not with whether individual citizens shall have the authority to own, possess, and use, firearms (of whatever sort) but with whether their possession and use is for the purposes of recreation, hobby, hunting, and, if necessary, self-defense. Or, are guns necessary for possible resistance to the government? Do you own the gun to stop the intruder into your home or to stop what you see as  government intrusion into your life? 

If it is the latter, then we have a problem. I am a southerner. While I think slavery as practiced in the south was evil and believe the south should have found way to "phase it out" (that is, I would not have been a typical abolitionist), I would have favored the resistance of the south against the imposition of the will of the north in the 1860s which forced states that voluntarily entered the Union to remain against their wills. There was a war, and what should have been settled by political process was settled by military conquest. 

But, we have tried resistance to government by force of arms, and it did not work. Superior resources of population, materiel, and money made it clear that not even eleven confederated states can successfully resist the imposition the will of the majority. However many or what kinds of guns you and your neighbors own, you cannot succeed in resisting the force of the government. 

Or, take absolutism. "I am an absolutist when it comes to the budget of the U.S. It must be balanced, and expenditures must be slashed." OK, are you still an absolutist when a Camille or Katrina devastates your state? Are you an absolutist about the needs of the military? Would you deprive the military of the resources it requires when this country or its vital interests are threatened by foreign powers, whether a government or terrorist organization? If you think Social Security is unconstitutional would you abolish it or would you, as did Ronald Reagan, commit to its preservation?

But let's take another form or purism and absolutism. Chris McDaniel has recently attacked his Republican opponent Cindy Hyde-Smith: "he accused Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith of being 'a life-long Democrat' and accused the lifetime National Rifle Association member with an A rating of having pushed for gun control." By purist and absolutist standards, is any of that true? No. Cindy Hyde-Smith was a Democrat, as were many Republicans in MS till 2010. At that point she changed parties and was elected statewide as the state's Commissioner of Agriculture for two consecutive terms as a Republican. Is Ms. Smith-Hyde in favor of gun control? Only if favoring gun control means checking into if there were any ways she as Commissioner of Agriculture could prevent the carrying of handguns at the MS State Fair. Does anyone really want to attend the Fair, children or grandchildren in tow, knowing there are teenage gang members who are carrying handguns in their waistbands which a teenager might use if provoked to anger or if he wanted to rob you? What about if a "shooting war" broke out among rival gangs? 

Justice Antonin Scalia is universally recognized as a conservative judge, an originalist in philosophy. He wrote the majority opinion that overturned the District of Columbia's ban on the possession of handguns. But he also wrote that the right to possession of firearms guaranteed by the Second Amendment is not absolute:
Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose. See, e.g., Sheldon, in 5 Blume 346; Rawle 123; Pomeroy 152–153; Abbott333. For example, the majority of the 19th-century courts to consider the question held that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment or state analogues. See, e.g., State v. Chandler, 5 La. Ann., at 489–490; Nunn v. State, 1 Ga., at 251; see generally 2 Kent *340, n. 2; The American Students’ Blackstone 84, n. 11 (G. Chase ed. 1884). Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment , nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

I am not recommending cynicism, skepticism, or indifferentism. There is nothing wrong with a certain "romantic patriotism." I have experienced it many times, especially when I participated in the Desert Storm victory celebration in our nation's capital. It is good to have ideals in which we believe. It is healthy to want Constitutional purity by the three branches of government, especially the courts, if by that you mean honest interpretation of the Constitution that takes into account over 200 years of interpretation and practice. It is a good thing to be a Barry Goldwater absolutist - who desperately wanted to vote for the 1964 Civil Rights law, but could not get past his conscience that it was unconstitutional, and who, once the law was passed and upheld by the courts, accepted it and believed it ought to be obeyed. 

Politics becomes impossible when we fail accept the reality that its practice is like making sausages.

Please give me a not dog - with mustard, onions, and pickle relish - but don't ruin my enjoyment by reminding me how the dog was made.