Lawmaking a mess, but no room for tantrums

Oct 18 2013 - 6:09pm


I have to seriously question the wisdom of Utah Sen. Mike Lee and others of his ilk in Congress, who threw a tantrum about the Affordable Care Act and shut down the government to prove a point. But what point exactly were they proving? By all accounts, the government shutdown cost us at least $24 billion to try to prove that Obamacare wastes money. If your concern was wasting money, wouldn't you try to figure out a way to make your point without wasting money?

I have struggled with metaphors or analogies, but I can only come up with absurd examples like eating three dozen glazed donuts to protest obesity, watching a marathon of (insert favorite sit-com here) to protest lack of physical activity or burning books to protest illiteracy. We don't eradicate our systems in an effort to improve them. There is a word for that: Nuts.

Our laws are forged out of compromise and backroom promises. Of course they are a mess. Law creation allows all kinds of nooks and crannies for lawyers and legislators to manipulate. (That is why in addition to funding our government this Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell got an additional cool $2.2 billion for a dam project in his home state and why Democrats procured a payment of $174,000 to the widow of one of their richest former colleagues. It is also why those individuals who decide to go to law school have some longterm job security.) While this may appear to be a flaw in the system, it is actually part of the design of our entire political and legal system -- compromise and back-scratching.

Does this mean we should disrespect our legal system because it is formed in the back-and-forth compromise of two political parties? No more than we should disrespect our children because of how they were formed. Our laws and our children are both things that deserve our respect and our attention.

To carry the comparison further, while we love and care about our children, we don't always like how they behave and the process of educating and training them is slow, difficult, occasionally faulty and they often don't listen to us. Parents succeed and fail, but never stop trying to get the children to behave in a way that is best for them. One of the pleasant surprises of parenthood is when our children mature and come into their own in ways that we hadn't even imagined. 

Our laws behave in much the same way. By their very nature, laws are ineffective if they are easy to change or thwart. This is why watching C-SPAN is a lot like watching paint dry -- lots of talk and little action. For extremely complex legislation like the Affordable Care Act, we need to raise it like a child, with patience and understanding. Small modifications and course adjustments will be easier to make, while large systemic changes will be difficult, if not impossible.

Yet, that is what we should really desire as a society -- laws and rules that are stable. The hard work of legislation is finding laws that will address a societal problem and then improve our lives. Respecting the law means we don't vandalize the government to avoid answering the critical question of how our laws can best treat the sick and the afflicted.

E. Kent Winward is an Ogden attorney. He can be reached at 801-392-8200 or

From Around the Web