Sunday, June 23, 2013

Maddow blogger shovels it

I really like Rachel Maddow. But even her bloggers can shovel it once in a while. Here's an example.

Steve Benen criticizes Republicans for complaining about the length of some pieces of legislation. You might remember when the Affordable Care Act was going through Congress and Republicans were complaining that the bill was so long that no one really knew what was in it. And you might remember a picture I borrowed and published of that zany congressman from Iowa, Steve King, carrying a copy of it on his shoulder.

Benen writes, "When opponents of a bill are reduced to talking about the literal, physical size of the legislation, they've completely given up on the pretense that public policy matters. If opponents of immigration reform want to debate the merits of the proposal, great. But focusing on pages and pounds is the absolute worst form of debate."

Benen makes some good points. He says that we live in a complex world, so legislation will also be complex, and it is the job of those in Congress to read, understand, and evaluate it. In addition, the format of legislation makes it look significantly longer than it actually is. "For example, if the immigration bill is about 1,075 pages, in terms of the number of words, it's about half the length of Sarah Palin's first book," writes Benen.

Benen goes wrong, however, in his penultimate paragraph. He writes, "So why does this talk persist? I think it speaks to the post-policy anti-intellectualism that too often plays a role in conservative commentary. Big bills must be bad bills because they're, you know, big."

That, I think, is unfair. The greater the length and complexity of a bill, the more time is needed to read, understand, and evaluate it. Now, Republican complaints about the Affordable Care Act were pure bullshit. They had plenty of time to study that bill. But I can imagine cases in which the length and complexity of a bill could be a legitimate concern, and certainly there have been actual cases in which it has been. The USA PATRIOT Act, for example, became law a mere one and a half months after 9/11, and it's 132 pages, single-spaced. Could our elected officials think clearly about that bill, while Attorney General John Ashcroft is warning them "that further terrorist acts were imminent, and that Congress could be to blame for such attacks if it failed to pass the bill immediately"? I doubt it.

But Benen seems to think that there are no good reasons for concern over the length of a bill. Well, I think he's shoveling it.

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