Small-town mother interprets political vocabulary

Categorized as 10/18/10 Goshen News column

Ladies and gentlemen, get your voting hands warmed up. In just a few short weeks, Americans everywhere will have the opportunity to exercise that very basic right, the selection of our governing officials, using those very hands.

If the polls and pundits are to be believed, the electorate is fired up and ready to deliver a serious paddling to the Washington establishment. Which means it’s a pretty good time to be a farmer or a builder or a janitor; pretty much anything but a politician, if you ask me.

In this season of full-blown campaigning, one hears certain words and phrases being bandied about in the national conversation. To help clear up the confusion, I’m going to interpret the political vocabulary in terms to which we can all relate, starting with “big government.”

This term is used to describe the federal government’s encroachment into areas where average citizens feel it doesn’t belong. It nearly always involves greater regulation and more taxpayer dollars. Hence, the hearty paddling referenced above.

On a real local level, our citizenry occasionally view the established parental regulations and conditions as big government interference as well, and have been known to mount spirited opposition. Happily, every attempted coup has failed so far, aided in part by the distractibility of the protesters when Oreos are introduced.

Bipartisan (when two opposing parties work together) is another popular word. Every presidential candidate has sworn on a stack of hymnals that he’s the one with the magic bullet, the one who will broker peace once and for all between the warring factions up on The Hill and “get stuff done.”

In my opinion, the pols could take some lessons from the real agents of bipartisanship, America’s moms and dads. These brave souls have learned how to broker peace alright, and how to get both sides of the aisle to work together. This aisle, of course, runs between the middle and back seats in the family van. When the goal is to keep the disgruntled constituents from flipping it over in the right-hand lane, you learn real quick how to “encourage” cooperation. It’s called survival.

A recent phenomenon in American politics is the Tea Party movement, named after the original party that went down in Boston when irate colonists dressed as Indians pitched a fit. On a national level, they’re protesting government expansion, spending, and taxation.

Locally, that particular movement is alive and well with the peasants revolting over any number of issues. These include labor complaints (it’s your turn), bedtime disputes (just one more game?), and garden-variety personality clashes, just to name a few. When the Speaker of the House moves in, the revolters suddenly become junior senators and stage a filibuster. This, according to Scholastic, is an attempt to obstruct the passage of a bill by talking continuously.

Sen. Strom Thurmond may have set the record when he talked for more than 24 hours in the filibuster of ’57, but I’ve got a young senator that could rival him. Just before my ears go numb and red spots begin dancing before my eyes, I dial up the whip (there’s another term) of our own personal Congress and file a report. The whip, you see, is the guy who makes sure that all members are present for important votes and that they vote along the party line.

That pretty much sums it up. The whip, otherwise known as Father of the Hooligans, does just that. His job is to ensure that all members are present and cooperative, marching along the party lines as laid out by the mother in his absence. If he hears reports to the contrary, he has a few ideas about what to do.

The British, I’ve always felt, could’ve learned a thing or two from Mr. Schrock.

Unfortunately for the constituents, they don’t get to vote on who the ruling party is, and there are no term limits. Not unless you count the 18 or 20 years they have before they can relocate, voluntarily or otherwise, to another district. If you look at it that way, I guess they’re the ones with term limits.

Regardless of how their terms end, you as a parent will witness the offspring version of a caucus at some point. It’s inevitable. The small party members will huddle, feverishly discussing who will represent the group to lobby (i.e., argue, beg, and plead) for certain rights and privileges like higher allowances, more desserts, and later bedtimes.

When a gathering turns ugly, it’s called a raucous caucus, and that’s when an incumbent (current officeholder) breaks it up. They may pout and sulk, using words like “fun hater” and “you’re ruining my life,” all of which are wonderfully affirming and prove that you, the parent, are absolutely doing your job.

Your polls will rise and fall. There will be trial balloons to dismantle and a few lame duck sessions. You’ll never have a library named after you, but you’ll have lots of stories.

And that’s politics in small-town America. See you at the polls.

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