Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Value of Doing Nothing

In a footnote to a post on immigration, Mark Kleiman makes a more general point that bears repeating:
From the perspective of the majority-party leadership, passing a bill is success and not passing a bill is failure. Journalists tend to adopt that perspective: a development that reduces the chance of a bill hitting the President's desk is routinely described as a threat, as for example in today's story in the New York Times:
Less than 24 hours after senators celebrated a bipartisan breakthrough on immigration policy, the effort to pass broad new legislation collapsed today in a partisan and procedural meltdown that threatened to derail the issue for the year.
(Emphasis added.)

If that sentence were rewritten with “offered hope of derailing the legislation for the year,” the reporter would be criticized for injecting editorial opinion into a news story.

Yet it is certainly possible — and in this case I think it true — that the public interest is best served by not passing legislation. So the journalistic convention that assumes that legislation equals progress probably ought to be dropped, except when everyone involved in the process agrees that an impasse is damaging to the public interest, as in the case of a budget impasse that forces a government shutdown.
I agree with everything except that last little bit about the government shutdown. I think even that could be desirable. After all, even when the federal government shuts down, it doesn’t really shut down. It continues to spending money every single day, and state and local governments continue to operate as well. Most people don’t even notice. Eventually a budget does get passed, and somehow we survive.


dgm said...

Remember the Great Government Shutdown(s) of 1995? They sounded so much more promising than they turned out to be. [sigh]

Neal said...

Or you could say it "promises" to derail the legislation to get the same bias as "offers hope". For more fun with promise and threaten, read .