As a rule, Homo sapiens, don’t deal with complexity well. There are a few of us who revel in the interacting systems and the way that small changes can affect outcomes without seaming to have a direct impact. This leads to a common challenge when looking for solutions, namely that we want and like simple solutions to complex problems.
This never works out. A simple solution is one that, by its very simplicity, does not take into account all the factors of a complex situation. Since that is true whatever factors are not controlled for run wild and you get results other than what you planned and usually worse than the original problem.
While it is a common trait to us all, the Republicans and the Tea Party part of their base (basically there base rebranded) have elevated the simple solution to complex problems to an art form.
Just look at what passes for serious ideas in the Republican nomination process. Think Progress is reporting that GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain says if elected he will not sign any bill that is longer than three pages. Check out the video:
For those with slow connections, here is what Mr. Cain said:
Engage the people. Don’t try to pass a 2,700 page bill — and even they didn’t read it! You and I didn’t have time to read it. We’re too busy trying to live — send our kids to school. That’s why I am only going to allow small bills — three pages. You’ll have time to read that one over the dinner table. What does Herman Cain, President Cain talking about in this particular bill?
There are a lot of things wrong with this approach. First off, to do anything that affects the government of a nation of 305 million people requires more than three pages. What Herman Cain just promised is that he would never sign a defense authorization bill, he would never sign a budget, he would never sign any kind of tax or entitlement reform. Basically he would be unable to govern if he sticks to this idea.
But maybe that is the point. After all, if he would veto any bill over three pages it means that Congress would have send him bills that did not have specific instructions in it. It would be a massive increase in the power of the Executive Branch as they are the ones tasked with implementing the laws, and there would be no space for Representative and Senators to weigh in on how money should be spent.
That is one way you could look at it, but personally I think it gives Mr. Cain way to much super-villain credit. What I think this moronic idea grows out of is his basic lack of any experience in government. Let’s not forget this man, while a successful pizza company executive, has never held a single elected office.
I don’t mean to be elitist here, because there is no way for someone to be fully prepared to be president by their experience. It is a unique job and as such everyone has a steep learning curve when elected. Still if you are also on the learning curve for political process and the constraints on political power when learning to be president there is going to be a marked under-performance compared to someone who has held office prior to becoming the top elected official in the nation.
It might seem like a good idea to keep things simple, but it does not match up with the reality of our system of governance. I seriously doubt that either political parties elected officials are going to give up their input into laws just because a President Cain want to be able to read a bill while having soup.
One of the likely consequences of this plan would be not less words to deal with issue, but tens of thousands of mini-bills being passed. This would actually make the problem that Mr. Cain is trying to solve worse. The claim is that no one can know what is in bills this size. Well that is horseshit. I read the ACA. It took a weekend, it was really dry and filled with Congress-y language but it was not impossible.
If you tried to do all the things that the ACA does in separate bills you would never be able to keep track of the changes and how they interact. Yes, there were a lot of Reps and Senators that did not read the ACA completely (including, I am willing to bet big money, most of the Republicans who voted against it), however their staffs did and briefed them on it. This is part of why they have staffers in the first place.
Trying to keep track of the 700 (or more) separate bills that would have comprised the ACA under the Cain doctrine would have been nearly impossible. Having 700 plus votes on this in both the House and Senate is impossible as well.
Then there is the issue of “engaging the people”. I love that idea, I truly do. I think that as a rule people are too disengaged from the process. However the idea of our Republic is that we elect people to spend their time governing so that every individual in the nation does not have to spend their time doing it.
It is true that we have gone too far in just pulling the ballot lever and then forgetting for another two or four years, but it is still the basic premise of our nation that once elected, our officials are supposed to work and govern the nation so we don’t have to. This might change some but it won’t change to the point Mr. Cain seems to envision.
Beyond that, is there anyone reading this who thinks that Joe and Jane Q Public is going to spend all their dinner and after dinner time reading hundreds of little bills?
This is exactly why we must resist the urge to simple answers to complex situations and problems. I say resist because this kind of short, short sighted and unfeasible idea is going to be all over the place in the Republican primary. The GOP has trained their base to expect simple answers and to fear complexity. It works because it plays into a basic human trait, but that does not make it a good or smart thing.
The floor is yours.