Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Three Rules of Legislative Practice

About five years ago I began to formulate the three rules of legislative practice. For me they are about as complete as it is possible to be. So I thought you might enjoy them. They are a) the Lord Palmerston Rule, b) the Otto von Bismark Rule, and c) the Scarlett O' Hara Rule.

Lord Palmerston - the 19th Century British political person - who worked in and around Disraeli - said Great Britain has "no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, only permanent interests." Indeed, the legislative process requires one to be rigorous about knowing what is important. That means ignoring the fact that someone is almost consistently on the other side of things you care about. Treat people well and it will be returned.

Otto von Bismark - Bismark, the founder of the modern social security system (now there's a claim to fame) once said "Politics is the art of the possible." One of the defects of many political thinkers is that they ignore Bismark. What seems the limits of today's system can be substantially redefined almost overnight. Just ask Howard Dean. Or Assad. Or Gray Davis. This is not a suggestion to go chasing after foolish ideas - but it is also foolish to define the terms in conventional wisdom, exclusively.

Scarlett O'Hara - her insight comes from her great line in Gone with the Wind - she said "Tomorrow is another day." There is a reason it is called the legislative process and not the legislative event. The best players look for the long term and remember the first two rules. Just like Allen Funt - some time, some place, you may be surprised at the possibilities if you are on the lookout for them. But if you play each issue like a death struggle, you will eventually die.

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