Laws Should Be Messy.


"Laws and lawmaking are dirtier, messier and less tasty than actual sausages," says America's sausage-makers, or at least those quoted by The New York Times:

“I’m so insulted when people say that lawmaking is like sausage making,” said Stanley A. Feder, president of Simply Sausage, whose plant here turns out 60,000 pounds of links a year.

“With legislation, you can have hundreds of cooks — members of Congress, lobbyists, federal agency officials, state officials,” Mr. Feder said. “In sausage making, you generally have one person, the wurstmeister, who runs the business and makes the decisions.” [...]

At Simply Sausage, the bones and other inedible, indigestible, unsavory parts are dumped in a big garbage pail and discarded. On Capitol Hill, stale old ideas are recycled year after year.

My problem with the sausage metaphor has less to do with its accuracy -- though, it's true, sausage making isn't particularly gross -- and everything to do with the general sentiment. Whenever the cliche is used, we're supposed to feel revulsion at the horse-trading and deal-making that goes into making a piece of legislation, as if there is something suspect about the process. But that's ridiculous. For any given piece of legislation, lawmakers have to balance the interests of 50 states, 300 million people, countless interest groups, and the "nation" at large. Without the deals and trades that seem suspect or come close to the line, you actually can't pass legislation. This isn't a bad thing; those separate and parochial interests are as legitimate as any other, and deserve their say. That this makes for messy legislating is a feature, not a bug. 

Of the ideological holdovers from the original progressive movement, I wish liberals would abandon -- at least somewhat -- the obsession with "clean" legislating. Given the country's size and diversity, it's not really possible and more than a little undesirable.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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