Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Modesty Becomes Her

I seldom find something admirable in liberal Democratic lawmakers. Not only are the policies they prefer inimical to liberty and individual responsibility, they pursue them with what Hayek warned us about, a "fatal conceit" that "my way is best because it is my way."

So it was refreshing to learn that a Democratic Member of Congress from New York has resisted this temptation and is taking her time before trying to put her stamp on what otherwise would be ill-advised public policies.

According to an article on Politico, freshman Representative Yvette D. Clarke (D-New York), who succeeded longtime Brooklyn lawmaker Major Owens in one of the country's most liberal, urban districts, has yet to introduce a piece of legislation, something exceedingly rare among the ambitious types who populate Capitol Hill.

According to Politico correspondent Josephine Hearn, writing on September 27:

It’s been eight months and 22 days since Rep. Yvette Clarke was sworn in as a member of Congress.

Yet more than a third of the way through her two-year term, the New York Democrat has yet to introduce any bill, resolution or amendment on the House floor.

That fact makes her unique among 54 House freshmen; every other new lawmaker has proposed some floor legislation, if only a symbolic measure to congratulate a victorious golfer (from Iowa Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack) or celebrate the bald eagle (from Tennessee Republican Rep. David Davis).

Setting aside the fact that Clarke's colleagues Loebsack and Davis are wasting the time of Congress and the money of taxpayers on trivial pursuits, Clarke's reticence is itself delightful. Her reasons for her delay in introducing legislation are prudent and commendable:
Clarke said in an interview Wednesday that she has been occupied with other responsibilities.

“I have not really concentrated that much on crafting legislation,” she said. “Part of it was getting my bearings. I do have interest. I just haven’t made that my ultimate focus.”

Constituent work and hiring qualified staff for her district and Washington offices have trumped lawmaking, the lawmaker said.
Clarke should be held up as a model of respectable humility, moderation, and self-reflection. Understanding and acknowledging one's limits in any profession -- especially one that affects the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans -- is a trait that should be encouraged, not mocked or sneered at.

To be sure, my views of Clarke's form of legislative restraint are colored by a wish that government as a whole would be restrained, something noted in the Politico article by Hearn:
Proposing legislation and shepherding it through Congress is a seminal responsibility of members of Congress.

With the exception of anti-government crusaders who believe proposing bills promotes government, most lawmakers relish the opportunity.

Clarke's style of self-restraint should be matched by changes in the rules to slow the growth of government that inevitably results from unlimited legislative activity.

One place to start would be by passing the Read the Bills Act, which would require legislators to -- as the title suggests -- read proposed laws before voting on them.

There is another proposal I have long favored, for the Virginia General Assembly, in particular, but also for Congress. (Richmond legislators consider upwards of 2,500 bills during a session that is scheduled to last less than three months.) That would be a requirement that, for every bill that proposes a new law, a legislator must also introduce a bill that repeals an old law. Alternatively -- and this would work especially well in state legislatures that meet for limited periods -- one session of a two-year term would be devoted to repealing old statutes, with the other reserved for revising or introducing new legislation.

Whatever her views on public policy issues, Representative Yvette Clarke is -- at least temporarily, until she drops that first bill in the hopper -- a libertarian heroine.

Let's hope that the 2008 election cycle brings more like her to Washington.

1 comment:

Roci said...

introducing new legislation is only one measure of congressional modesty. A second, more important measure, is the number of actions she voted for, despite not having sufficient staff or "bearings".

Her rationale for not creating new bills should also be restraining her from voting at all. But I doubt that it is. Any legislative assembly really only needs a few leaders with new ideas and grand agendas. THe real damage to liberty comes from the 217 "yes men" who go along with it.

But I suppose even small victories are a cause for celebration.