November 30th, 2008

talent, pencil

When political judo goes awry...

I've just finished reading a fascinating book called The Liberal Hour by G. Calvin Mackenzie and Robert Weisbrot. It basically seeks to explain the factors that lead to a brief period in the 1960s that saw a huge amount of sweeping liberal legislation pass, and then to explain the factors that brought that period to an end. Very timely reading now that we've got an incoming president with a pretty ambitious legislative agenda. (One lesson of this book is, "If you want to advance an ambitious domestic legislative agenda, keep yourself out of expensive and unpopular wars." Hmmm.)

But one of the things that's really delightful about the book are just all its little stories of laws in the making. I particularly enjoyed the story of how one of the first laws banning discrimination on the basis of sex passed essentially by accident: When the 1964 Civil Rights Act was making its way through Congress, Representative Howard Smith of Virginia introduced an amendment to extend the ban on discrimination in employment to women as well as blacks. He thought that introducing something so clearly ridiculous into the bill would cause enough representatives to vote against it to make it fail. The bill passed anyway. Ooops.