By Patrick Schmitt
Description: Causes the victim to become confused, befuddled, overly forgetful and prone to follow simple orders without thinking about them.
From: The Harry Potter book series
I don’t know about you, but these days I often feel confused and befuddled by what our elected officials do and say―or perhaps even more so by how they do it, and then how they justify what they have done.
Much like when I was a kid after seeing the first Star Wars movie, where I came home and taped a cardboard tube to a flashlight to fashion my homemade light saber and then proceeded to run around the house defeating all the bad guys.
I think many of our elected leaders have been watching too many Harry Potter movies and are running around with their pens pretending they are magic wands, trying to make things magically happen.
The only difference is that once I had rid the world of all the bad guys and my cardboard tube was beaten to a floppy, ragged pulp, I turned off my flashlight and rejoined the real world. And now, on rare occasions, in the privacy of my home, I pull out my Star Wars soundtrack (on vinyl, of course) and reminisce about my heroic glory days and leave it at that.
Unfortunately, some of our elected officials seem to believe their pens are actual magic wands; and they continue to run around slaying imaginary, and occasionally real, evils of the world. Only, unlike my cardboard tube, their waving of the “wand” has real-world consequences for the rest of us.
In his State of the Union Address on January 28, President Obama proclaimed: “But America does not stand still—and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”
In essence he was saying, “I have a pen and I am not afraid to use it.”
I thought we were a nation of laws and had clear procedures for both creating and modifying those laws, if needed―a certain and specific system of checks and balances, where no individual or faction could take unilateral action? Have you been following the almost daily changes to the Affordable Care Act? Apparently, President Obama can whip out his wand and take unilateral action whenever he wants.
Not to be outdone, today Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber decided that he, too, has a pen and is not afraid to use it.
Oregon has a “clean fuels” program which the Legislature approved in 2009. Its goal is for a 10% reduction of carbon in car and truck fuel by 2025. The intent was for the standard to be implemented in 2011, with the caveat that there must be no increases in fuel costs at the pump. However, the Legislature also threw in a bit of a twist: a sunset date of 2015.
With no ability to produce a fuel to meet the standard without increasing costs, and the short time period to implement the standard, it makes no sense for producers to create a new fuel type unless the sunset date is removed. And this is where Governor Kitzhaber has decided that his pen is in fact a mighty “magic wand.”
In the last legislative session, lawmakers failed to pass a bill that would have extended or removed the sunset date. Proposed legislation in this current session looks as if it, too, will fail. As reported in today’s Oregonian, the Governor is not to be deterred. He, in effect, has whipped out his magic pen and decided to use executive authority to keep the program alive. And to reassure us that all will be well, he has formed an “advisory committee” to help develop the program―although that committee appears to be devoid of some key people (like those who actually have to produce the fuel). I am feeling better already; how about you?
Whether or not we agree with the end goals of the President or the Governor, we should all find it disconcerting that, because they want certain ends accomplished, they dismiss established laws, procedures, and separation of powers. We have those things for very specific reasons; and we need to understand what these actions mean in a larger, long-term context.
We have stop signs on our roads and need to obey them. Doing otherwise results in chaos and possible death. Elected leaders also need to stop and follow the laws, lest we end up with a society in total disarray and dysfunction.
Patrick Schmitt is Development Director at Cascade Policy Institute.