Thursday, July 3, 2014

So sue me

I’m a musical theatre aficionado. It wasn’t always so. During my early years as a theatre student I looked down my nose at my MT brethren. I was focused on “serious” work. A few short years later – while still a student - I was directing and producing my first musical after realizing that performance halls only fill when audiences actually want to see something…and “important” and “serious” work isn’t so when nobody comes. “Guys & Dollsis a classic American musical. The 1950 Tony-award winning show with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser was selected as the winner of the 1951 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Book writer Abe Burrows had troubles with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) so the Trustees of Columbia University vetoed the selection, and no Pulitzer for Drama was awarded that year. In between two show stoppers in Act II (“Luck Be a Lady” and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat”) is a lovely song “Sue Me” where Miss Adelaide and Nathan verbally joust, resulting in the lament, ‘so sue me.’ The phrase was picked up by Steve Jobs in his dispute with the Beatles Apple Corps. when in 1991 Apple Computer introduced a system sound into the Macintosh System 7 operating system - called 'Sosumi'.  In the past 20 years as society has become more litigious the phrase has become a gauntlet to an adversary challenging them to escalate a dispute. President Obama, in fact, used the expression this week – mocking the Speaker of the House’s threatened lawsuit.

House Speaker John Boehner suggested last week that he would use his authority as speaker to convene the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, a five-member legal panel appointed by GOP and Democratic House leaders. BLAG has authority to direct the U.S. House Office of General Counsel, to participate in litigation and represent the U.S. House itself. Boehner said: “The Constitution makes it clear that a president's job is to faithfully execute the laws. In my view, the president has not faithfully executed the laws."

Commenting on his frustration that Congress won’t take action on any legislation, the President responded: “Middle-class families can't wait for Republicans in Congress to do stuff. So sue me. As long as they’re doing nothing, I’m not going to apologize for trying to do something.”

It’s not the first time this President has publicly stated that he’d work around Congress. When running for re-election he said: “Where Republicans refuse to cooperate on things that I know are good for the American people, I will continue to look for ways to do it administratively and work around Congress.”  In his 2014 State of the Union address  – the entire speech was framed around his mantra: “I will act on my own.” Let us not be surprised that he is doing so.

This week we celebrate the 238th birthday of the United States. The balance of power envisioned by the founders is that the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches would all be a ‘check and balance’ on each other. It’s cumbersome, messy...and it actually works.

The Supreme Court slapped the President this week on the three recess appointments he made to the National Labor Relations Board. It is rare for the Court in a high profile case to garner more than the bare 5-4 majority. Here it was unanimous: the President overstepped his authority by going around the Senate.

President Obama is an activist pro-government progressive who is anxious to do more. Congress has a vocal minority of anti-government, tea-party conservatives who have been elected to do less. This contingent has convinced other conservatives to side with them, making it a majority opinion to not take action. The political sides have been unable (or unwilling or uninterested) in finding a path towards a common ground. So be it. That means the system is working. All voices are being heard. Yes, it’s political paralysis, but that actually reflects the country. It doesn’t mean that one branch should do an end-run around the other.

There are 435 seats in Congress. During the 2014 primary season only 2 incumbents have lost. Two. Congress has a 7% approval rating, but a near unanimous re-election rate! This dichotomy shows why our electoral policies are in dire need of revision. But that’s the way it is. Come November the makeup of the Congress will remain as it has been: a true reflection of the country’s discord. If the country wanted government to do more it’d elect people to make that happen.

It’s childish, unproductive and an embarrassment that the leaders of the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branches can’t find a way of working together. But it’s our system and I’m proud to support it, even in its dysfunction. So sue me.

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