“On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other bird voices there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh.” – Rachel Carson, in her seminal book about the unchecked use of pesticides in post-war America , Silent Spring
Rachel Carson, in 1962, published a book that moved a nation to do something about the devastating environmental impact of DDT. Setting the stage for her argument, she wrote of a hypothetical morning in a not too distant future, where nature will have been stymied into silence by the overuse of insecticide that made its way through the food chain, killing birds, plants and bees. As a result of Ms. Carson’s well documented work, laws were passed outlawing the civilian use of DDT, and awareness was raised about just what kind of impact our lifestyle has on the planet we share with the rest of nature. People stood up. Something got done.
This spring, it’s time to pay attention to a perhaps more insidious pollutant that affects the way we live. Winter’s acrid snowfall of presidential election idiocy has distracted us, muffling the voices of protesters that began screaming last fall about fair access to the ears and hearts of our lawmakers, that didn’t involve entering through their wallets. Despite President Obama renewing the call for “fair play, shared responsibility,” in the spring thaw, there is only the creaking of Congress’ rusty wheels blowing across the election year breeze. It’s the practiced deafness of a seized machine – not the gear churning, consensus building, bill producing process with which our legislative branch is tasked.
“Some insecticides affect sensitive plants … retarding root development or depressing growth of seedlings.” – Rachel Carson, ibid
Plants can’t grow properly in soil infected by toxins, and our Congressional ecosystem has been toxified by money. The laws that come out of Congress have long had their potential stunted by the ugly politics of greed and corporate congressional corruption. We are promised fields of green, spring wheat and acres of blooming flowers, and are presented with AstroTurf and plastic poppies. This isn’t what government should look like. This is a painted backdrop of mythical American glory, an artifice created by the corporate manipulators and political strategists, where they can stage a bought Congress that passes the laws they write with the help of ALEC.
For most members of Congress, it seems that Capitol Hill is just another market where power is the commodity and there are plenty of big-monied lobbyists looking to buy. Sure, America is a free market economy, but let’s keep the free market in the marketplace, and not in the halls of Congress, where lobbyists and Super PACs line the walls, trading laws for dollars like the moneychangers at the Temple gates. A den of thieves, to be sure.
The first five words of the First Amendment are, “Congress shall make no law.” Unfortunately, it seems, Congress has stopped right there, taking the phrase out of context as easily as a super PAC ad, and using it to illustrate their attachment to the meme that government can’t do anything. What’s really sad is everyone knows they can’t do anything. In the recent arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court, about the Affordable Care Act, there was an acquiescence to the stymied way the 112th Congress has limped through its tenure.
In one exchange, on the third day of oral arguments, regarding what might happen to the entire law if the so-called individual mandate were struck down, Justices Sotomayor and Scalia had this telling indictment of the current Congressional process in an exchange with Paul Clement, who was arguing that the law should be scrapped. Justice Sotomayor asks Clement (page 7, line 10), “I guess, on the bottom line, is why don’t we let Congress fix it?”
“Well, let me answer the bottom line question,” Clement responds, “if you strike down the mandate, there’s going to be something for Congress to do. The question is really what task do you want to give Congress? Do you want to give Congress the task of fixing the statute after something has been taken out, especially a provision at the heart, or do you want to give Congress the task of fixing health care?”
“[W]hatever you do,” Clement later adds, “Congress is going to have options.”
It’s there that Scalia interrupts the petitioner, with the most practical question of the entire proceeding: “Well, there’s such a thing as legislative inertia, isn’t there?”
“[W]e all recognize there’s legislative inertia,” Clement goes on to agree, “And then the question is what’s the best result in light of that reality?”
The Supreme Court of the United States has little respect for Congress’ ability to get anything done, and they’re right to think that. Those attending the proceeding found the whole notion of Congress buckling down to “fix” the healthcare law laughable:
(page 26, line 14)
MR. CLEMENT: At a certain point, I just think that, you know, the better answer might be to say, we’ve struck the heart of this Act, let’s just give Congress a clean slate. If it’s so easy to have that other big volume get reenacted, they can do it in a couple of days, it won’t be a big deal. If it’s not, because it’s very -
MR. CLEMENT: — well, but — I mean, you can laugh at me if you want, but the point is, I rather suspect that it won’t be easy.
No, Mr. Clement. It won’t be easy, because nothing in Congress is easy. They need 60 votes to get anything done in the Senate, and the House is passing budget bills with the goal of “sharpening the contrast,” as Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) put it, between the majority party and the president during an election year. It’s all done for political points and serves only the perpetual campaigners in Congress, not the American people.
While it may be easy to blame Congress, though, this is our fault too. They lead not just by our votes, but also by our example. If we are silent about our polluted and corrosive system, then they will be too. If we are unwilling to allow our elected representatives to be a cacophony of “sound and fury, signifying nothing,” then we have to make certain we don’t represent the same thing to them. Meaning, if we want them to actually get in there and do the work of enacting laws that help everyone in this country prosper, then we have to be willing to do the same. We appear to have given up on our federal government being functional, and so have they. There’s not much left for them to do except rake in the cash from defanged regulations. If they saw us giving the issues that affect our fellow citizens the due diligence they deserve, perhaps they would too.
I don’t know what SCOTUS is going to do about severing the individual mandate from the Affordable Care Act, but just as Scalia argued against presenting Congress with a “false choice” of all, some or none of the act intact, we have a similar choice when it comes to Congress in November – do we re-elect all, some or none of them? Maybe we can just sever the toxic ones. Then, perhaps, the seeds a new Congress plants will have a chance to prosper, for all of us.
“No witchcraft, no enemy action had silenced the rebirth of new life in this stricken world. The people had done it themselves.” – Rachel Carson, ibid