The legislative process has been compared to the process of making sausage: while some may find the final product palatable, you don't really want to see how it's made. However, I've recently come to a profound and somewhat startling realization. Forget Sausage. Think Thanksgiving Dinner. What do I mean? Well, every year we host Thanksgiving dinner for 10 to 15 friends. When we started planning the menu this year, we came to the stark realization that each of our guests has a very different and very steadfast idea of what the Thanksgiving feast must include.
The Chardonnay faction went head-to-head with the Pinot Noir bloc. The green bean casserole enthusiasts simply could not come to terms with those preferring green bean almondine. And I sincerely thought that the mashed potato and gravy vs. sweet potato casserole controversy would erupt into a fist fight.
So did we select between these conflicting and equally worthy menu items? Did we make the "hard choices"? No. Instead, we had two kinds of potatoes, two kinds of green beans - even two kinds of turkey (regular and "tofurkey" for the vegetarians, including myself). And the varieties of wine available became too numerous to count. So when you wonder how Congress comes up with these bills that have 18 million unrelated items, just take a good look at your own holiday traditions. Here are a few tips to (hopefully) help you think of all this in a different way: - Understand where the other person is coming from: Is your Aunt Millicent really insisting on her beloved "Brussel Sprout Surprise" because she's a horrible person? Will explaining to her over and over again that no one else likes Brussel Sprouts really convince her to forgo her long-time favorite? Not likely.
Remember that members of Congress are representing the same diverse and, umm, interesting perspectives when it comes to policy matters. - Fight for your form of potatoes: Speak up! If you just have to have sweet potato casserole at Thanksgiving, say so - and do everything you can to make that happen. Don't just sit there at the table all squinchy-faced thinking about how your meal is ruined because it doesn't include what you want. You may not be successful in lobbying for your potatoes, but you'll feel better if you ask.
And who knows? You might not get your potatoes this year, but maybe you can have something to say about the style of cranberry sauce. Or perhaps a promise (be sure to get it in writing) of your form of potatoes for next year. - Develop alliances: My step-sister and I always join forces in lobbying for the sweet potato casserole, and we've developed strong alliances with other factions. As a result, support for our preference has remained rock solid, despite repeated efforts to have it removed from the menu. Think strategically and politically about how you form these alliances. Who has the ear of the "menu-planners" in Congress? How can you join forces with them to get your menu item on the table? - And finally, be prepared to give thanks, regardless.
Many of us, thankfully, have enough resources (and space for leftovers) to please the majority of our Thanksgiving guests. That's a pretty big thing to be thankful for at a time when millions of people around the world go hungry. In the policy arena, remember that the U.S. Congress is dealing with somewhat more finite resources. Actual choices must be made and sometimes the things we like lose out, especially when new menu items - like rebuilding from a hurricane - start filling up most of the plate.
So, take a deep breath, think of the things you are thankful for, raise your glass of Chardonnay, or Pinot Noir, or whatever you want, and vow to continue the fight for your potatoes another day!.
Stephanie Vance, the Advocacy Guru at Advocacy Associates, works with organizations that want to impact public policy through effective advocacy techniques. She offers training and consulting services on getting government to listen and can be found on the web at http://www.advocacyguru.com