Columnists > Voices

Providential mess

Political schemes may not be pretty, but another Plotter is at work

Issue: "Wildfire," June 24, 2006

It's common knowledge that you don't want to see how they make sausage and laws. Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle in 1906 and took care of the sausage problem.

In 2006, the centennial of the "Pure Food and Drug Act" that cleaned up the meat-packing industry, it would be cool if someone wrote a second book to fix the other mess. No such publication will be forthcoming.

Now part of the messiness of law-making is intentional. Man is a sinner: Even those who don't acknowledge that in their creeds acknowledge it in practice. (This is why my next door neighbor, who is appalled at my Neanderthal notion of sin, locks her car doors.) Thus was begotten the ingeniously cumbersome machinery known as the United States government, whose "checks and balances" check Peter's selfishness and balance Paul's desires, because we wouldn't do right voluntarily.

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The proponents of the amendment to ban gay marriage that was defeated in the Senate on June 7 can take cold comfort in the Founding Fathers' wisdom that set a high bar for creating amendments to the Constitution. They may need several throws before two-thirds majorities in both houses of Congress are attained, and then three-fourths of the states will have to agree. That's as it should be.

But this is just the beginning of the messiness. If you stopped there, at sixth-grade civics class, you would think the matter of passing a law was the straightforward one of two clean ideologies contending: Congressman X is passionate about keeping marriage the union of a man and a woman. Congressman Y is passionate about expanding the definition of marriage to include two men, two women, a man and his pony, whatever.

As I read the postmortems the next day, it occurred to me that the human heart is messier than I thought. Turns out there are scads of reasons why you might introduce an amendment at a particular time, or vote for or against one, that have nothing to do with convictions.

If it's close to a mid-term election (and it's always close to a mid-term election), how will your vote affect your reelection? Will your pro-ban vote further alienate the moderates or independents? Do you need to distance yourself from the president? Does the president need to distance himself from the issue? (Talk it up-but not too much. Send two opposite messages that way.) Do you try to rally the party's base, especially those ticked off over immigration and federal spending? (One congressional aide said the timing of the amendment was to "stop the bleeding.") Is the last thing you really want, even as you're endorsing it, the passage of a gay-marriage ban, which will hand Democrats ammunition to use against you later?

I live in the liberal Northeast; all but one of the Republican dissenters against the federal initiative are from this neighborhood. But our own Pennsylvania constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage passed handily on June 6. Counter-intuitively, nearly half the Democrats, facing Republican opponents in November, voted for it, while moderate Republicans felt no need to do so because they were in safe seats. One representative said, "If there had been a secret ballot on this, the majority would have voted not to have taken it up."

But you are a Christian and tempted to despair. How can any good come of such messiness? And then you remember there are always two parallel levels in history: Two women wed the same man. It was messy. The one was loved but childless. The other was fruitful but unloved. The first gave her husband her servant and got sons that way. When the second one saw it, she sent her own maid in and got her more sons. They bartered with mandrakes for love. More sons were the issue of this tawdry game. On it went under the wearisome sun all the wearisome days of their lives. . . . And when the dust had cleared, there were the 12 tribes of Israel all in a row: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher.

It only looks like sausage from this side of the Jordan.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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