On the Utah Senate Race

This is yet another of a Series of Short Takes, about the salient issues of the day.  This one is explicitly political, and even pointedly concerned with the GOP in Utah, something I almost never do, but because of my position in local politics, I felt I ought to.  Be offended if you like, but really, why bother?

I wanted to take just a second and address a comment made on a Facebook post about current law. Here’s the problem as I see it: while I agree that future law should be based on a correct interpretation of the Constitution, surely you agree with me that laws are made by men and those men don’t seem to care about your interpretation.   Or mine.   Or Mike Lee’s.  They get assaulted all the time by people waving a copy of the Constitution as if it had some talismanic value, like a sprig of wolfsbane.

In point of fact, the fastest way to get a sitting Senator or Congressman to tune out what you’re saying is to invoke the Constitution, as if it were a piece of the True Cross. People don’t buy WHAT you’re selling, they buy WHY you’re selling. First you have to make them care. First you have to get them to see that following the Constitution is good for THEM, and for the people they allegedly serve. That does NOT take debate. Debate is rarely a good way to convince – especially public debate. Mostly what that will do is entrench people against you.

Even worse, once you get them to care about the Constitution, you have then to persuade them that your interpretation of it is correct, and if you think that can ever be done by citing precedent and quoting John Locke, then you’ve never been part of a deliberative body.

What it takes is back-room private persuasion. It takes tedious, personal, intimate relationship-building. It’s a lot less sexy than the Big Speech. It makes terrible television. But it works, and in my experience – which is long, in this arena – it is the only thing that does.

In this election, perhaps as never before in my experience, we have a choice between a debater and a persuader. Mike Lee’s experience is legal and judicial. He has a good understanding of the legal arguments, and, indeed, is reputed to be formidable in a court of law. That is an arena for debate, where a question is to be decided in a public forum, yea or nay, and where the voting is done secretly, and often has a universe of just one (Lee’s experience is almost entirely judicial, instead of juridical, meaning that only one man has to be persuaded), and where that decision must be justified by a blizzard of argumentation.

Legislation also uses debate, but the debate is almost entirely for show. The decisions are made long before the speeches are made, and they never have to be justified to anyone. NO ONE has ever changed his vote on a piece of legislation because of the speech his opponent made on the floor. The very idea is ludicrous. The Facebook poster wants a debate on the Constitution; so do we all. But the poster is mistaken if he thinks that debate will do anything useful about legislation. It will not. Legislation is affected most significantly by private negotiation, not public posturing. It lends itself to a much less visible strategy, something that looks a lot like running a company or a political party and a lot less like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (much as I love Frank Capra movies).

If you want a fiery Senator that will make great speeches and accomplish absolutely nothing, then apparently Mike Lee is your man, because that is exactly what he has done. If, however, you want a man that is willing to muck in the trenches and move things in the direction we want them to go, who accomplishes things without needing to be the center of attention, then I submit to you that Tim Bridgewater is the guy you want, because that’s exactly what HE’S done.

Obviously, I think what the country needs right now is Bridgewater, and not Lee. We have elections to see who is right. I’m looking forward to this one.

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