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Michigan Taxpayers Alliance Updates: December 2008

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The sucky speech syndrome

Friends,

This is the first week of the legislature's lame-duck session. As a former state legislator, I experienced three such sessions with mixed public policy results. But one constant in lame-duck is the "farewell" speeches delivered by outgoing lawmakers who are completing their final term in office.

These farewell speeches are all reliably similar. In fact, the content of these politicians' speeches is SO predictable, they're formulaic enough to build a drinking game around. Wanna play the politician "farewell speech" drinking game? Tune in to Michigan Government TV and watch the speeches. Here's how it goes:

1. The outgoing lawmaker opens his/her speech with reverent, almost religious, statements about how great the institution of the legislature is. They always use words like, "honorable", "cherished", "esteemed" and such. Everyone do a shot.

2. Next, each politician absolutely MUST, without fail, go on to disparage the citizen-imposed constitutional term-limit amendment. Nothing is more important and popular among House chamber members than this. Do another shot.

3. The speechmaker laments the demise of the great statesmen from the halcyon, pre-term limit days of Camelot. In those glorious days, politicians confined themselves to selfless public service resulting in brilliant leadership responsible for everything good in Michigan's prosperous past. The longer these noble statesmen of old held and consolidated political power, the more selfless and brilliant their leadership became. Of course, those meddling citizens with their damn term limits law ruined everything! Do shot.

4. Now, the politician must ALWAYS thank some fellow House member from the opposing party whom they worked with to create some new law or regulation. This is a warm, fuzzy way of nobly appearing "above the fray" and creating an overall "team spirit" within the political class. Another shot.

5. Finally, a bonus shot if the outgoing House member breaks down and cries, and is surrounded and hugged by colleagues. Like someone died.

Still standing? You'll need the booze in order to withstand the jaw-dropping detachment from reality on display in the House chamber. In reality, Lansing's political class is not now, and never was, beloved nobility. Politicians, bureaucrats and rent-seeking special interests in Lansing have always been something that Michigan's productive citizens must, at best, endure. No citizen loves government officials more than government officials do, and the politicians' speeches to themselves put that fact on display.

Can outgoing lawmakers name ONE of those 'great statesmen' from the glorious pre-term limit days that they believe existed? They might name some prominent politician that led the bureaucracy and political class in Lansing to expand their size and power, but can they recall a statesmen who actually inspired and led everyday citizens?

Was John Engler such a leader? Engler, I believe, is a perfect example of why term limits are a very good thing. Can anyone name an accomplishment from Engler's final (third) term? I can name several from his first term and even a few from his second.

The "sucky speech" syndrome is symptomatic of a disease that infects the ego, creating a false sense of self-importance that strikes both Democrats and Republicans. Democrats are expected to worship big government, central planning and politicians as saints. Infected Republicans forget that they're elected to restrain government, so that everyday citizens can lead Michigan forward - each in their own individual, productive ways. They forget that government's primary responsibility is to serve by protecting the liberty of citizens - not to "lead" them with new programs and such.

Thankfully, there are exceptions to the "sucky speech" syndrome. A few former lawmakers never lost their sense of perspective. My personal favorite is former State Representative Margaret O'Conner (R-Washtenaw County) who dedicated her years in Lansing (1982 - 1992) to uncovering, exposing and publishing an annual report on wasteful and unnecessary state spending. House leadership despised her because she dared criticize the institution of the legislature. They stripped her of staff, and sentenced her to the worst office in the basement of the Capitol beneath leaky pipes. She never noticed, and kept churning out and distributing her reports on spending.

Another notable exception was former Rep. Stephen Dresch from the Upper Pennisula, whose 1992 farewell speech I listened to from the balcony above the House floor. Both House members and I couldn't understand the things Dresch was saying in his speech because he chose words that exceeded our vocabularies. After he concluded his remarks, his House colleagues rose to applaud the speech that they hadn't understood. Only later, with the help of a dictionary, did I discover that Dresch's speech excoriated the elitist, egotistical mentality of his colleagues and their lack of constitutional restraint.

Two years ago, after serving my three terms in the House, I gave my farewell speech. You can find the content here.

Conservatives, libertarians and other supporters of constitutionally limited government can help future politicians avoid the sucky speech syndrome by doing our part to keep the political process in its' proper context. We should not deify the institutions of government. We should not teach young people that elective office is some noble calling. America's founders, the real statesmen from our past, understood that government is like fire; something to fear and handle with extreme caution.

Leon Drolet
MI Taxpayers Alliance