Part I: The Bad Idea & the Dunce
Note: All characters are fictional and bear no resemblance to anyone living or dead.
One Saturday a noted politician had one of those Bad Ideas which frequently plague the Washington swamp-dwelling establishment.
Acting on impulse as he and his comrades generally did (considering their minds to be more efficiently reliable than the faded paper document securely guarded as decorational ‘history’ in the National Archives), Congressman Bookworm the very next day drew up for congressional approval the bill that would implement his newest idea.
It seemed to him so strikingly beneficial he could not, in all his learned mind, think why it hadn’t been done before his time.
“But no matter, it will be done now—and the credit will be mine when the people begin to reap the benefits!” he told himself proudly, beaming over his 2,196 page document as the clock struck 11:30pm. His back ached from sitting before his computer all day. He sipped his coffee and stretched his arms but the soreness didn’t want to leave.
It was the weekend, after all, and he was supposed to be taking a break from his Congressional Philanthropic Mission; but being the big-hearted Do-Gooder he was, Congressman Bookworm rarely took a break, often laboring late into the evenings. Weekends were no respite either; he could not even tear himself from his philanthropic projects to go to church on Sunday. He was a regular Washington Do-Gooder who couldn’t approve of wasting time in reading the Good Book when one could be out-and-about doing what it commanded.
He frequently had to remind over-zealous family members (who frowned upon his absence on Sundays) of the the words of James, very gently, of course.
“But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”
His family always sighed when he repeated this, and acknowledged that he was right.
“Ah,” they said, “if only we could be in such a glorious position to carry on the caring for the Poor as our Dave!”
Yes, Congressman Bookworm was a very selfless man, and had been such longer than he could remember. He could still vaguely recall the incident when he was four years old and he found his younger cousin playing with two wooden trucks, while his little sister had no trucks to play with at all.
Young Davie benevolently took the second truck from his cousin and handed it to his sister.
Cousin Johnny, unable to understand the wisdom and magnanimity of his older cousin’s actions, opened his mouth and began to wail, bringing the mothers of both boys running.
Davie piously told the entire story.
Scooping their little boys up in their arms, they looked at each other and sighed in motherly delight.
“Isn’t Davie so generous?” asked the beaming mother of the future politician, petting her son’s brown curls.
“Delightfully so,” cooed Davie’s aunt. “Why, he will grow up to make a wonderful congressman, perhaps even president!”
Little Davie had never forgotten either his aunt’s prophetic words or his disposition to be generous with the property of others. He had, in fact, every distinguishable mark of a politician, which may well have been the reason he had so easily found a job on Capitol Hill that suited him so well.
Now grown-up “Davie” continued to fulfill his great life mission, even now as he surveyed his draft of HB 1148 and smiled to himself. What complexity! What efficiency! What generosity! What. . .bureaucracy! And what could delight his fellow Comrades more than each of these virtuous objects?
Flipping off the light-switch, the sleepy, satisfied Congressman crawled into his luxurious king bed. This hotel was certainly deserving of his honorable presence! Every luxury a hotel could (and could not) offer was at his disposal at this fine establishment. Only a renowned philanthropist deserves to stay in a place like this, he often thought to himself, though he never told that to anyone else, for fear they should take him as snobbish and hypocritical—two despicable things the benevolent Congressman would never indulge in.
* * * * *
“My dear comrades and Mr. Speaker!” began Congressman Bookworm the following morning, as copies of his prized HB 1148 were handed out to each Congressman and Congresswoman. His voice revealed feverish excitement. The other representatives, catching the excitement in his voice, suspected a new Program or Cause and smiled at each other as they waited for the enthusiastic thirty-two year old Congressman to share his discovery.
“I have here a bill entitled ‘The Library Incentive Books & Rewards Act Regarding Youth’. This is The LIBRARY Act!”
Curious looks ran around the room and the Congressmen and Congresswomen sat up and began to look really awake and interested. Libraries? They hadn’t thought of touching local libraries yet. Why hadn’t they thought of that? What was the potential! Congressman Bookworm gave them no time to wonder.
“It outlines,” he went on eagerly, “a plan for improving the nation’s libraries! Here is a Cause we all can unite around. For the sake of the Children, of course, we intend to improve their reading centers. This bill allows us to do this in three simple steps.”
More nods and smiles from the Congressmen and Congresswomen.
“Section A of the bill authorizes the United States Secretary of Education to expand the Department of Education to include the new Nationwide Library Program. This means libraries can join the Nationwide System of Libraries and get access to books from other libraries all over the country. Think about how our kids will have so much more information at their fingertips!”
This bill was evidently gaining popularity at an unprecedented speed. Enthusiastic, glowing smiles came from many members on both sides of the aisle.
They did not think back to their own childhood days, in small towns with small libraries, and remember how libraries already loaned books to each other without federal assistance.
Glowing at the outstanding approval, Congressman Bookworm smiled his huge politician grin and was about to go on when he suddenly noticed Congressman Freeman—The Dunce, as his comrades called him when frustrated with his non-cooperation—standing in his place, already waiting his turn to speak.
Kindly Congressman Bookworm’s face darkened, his eyes narrowed, and his jaw thrust forward, dreading the Lecture they would undoubtedly be subjected to after his own spectacular speech had come to an end. It was inevitable. Inevitable and annoying.
Nevertheless, he still had his own oration to complete, and he plunged in again, glancing at the other 433 friendly, smiling faces for the encouragement he so needed to make him warm inside and excited about Doing Good once more.
“Section B authorizes the Department of Education to set aside funding to distribute to all libraries who join the Nationwide System of Libraries. The libraries will be rewarded for participation and membership in the NSL with grants for buying more books, remodeling old downtown libraries, and hiring librarians who can knowledgeably answer kids’ questions.” There was a curious emphasis on that last thought.
Congressman Bookworm looked around the room—a vast sea of smiling Do-Gooder faces, male and female, plump and happy to help the Children. They did not think that libraries and librarians alike were already doing fine, as they had been since before prehistoric times (meaning, before they were born into this world).
The Dunce’s habitual frown deepened to a scowl and he crossed his arms. He still stood tall in his place, waiting for his chance to speak.
“What a sour old grump!” kindly Congressman Bookworm thought as he took a sip of purified water from the recyclable water bottle that was never missing from his desk, at the same time glaring at the aged Congressman over his bottle with hostile eyes. Everyone knew whom he was glaring at, but being as polite and civilized as they were, they remained transfixed on the skilled and awe-inspiring orator. Freeman was an irremovable irritant, since his stubborn constituents seemed to somehow appreciate his relentless raining on Washington’s parades. The esteemed House of Representatives widely viewed Congressman Freeman as The Dunce, and his obstinate constituents as ignorant old bogeys.
“And Section C,” Congressman Bookworm grandiosely concluded, his eyes darting from one face to the next of his comrades, “sets the standards of the Nationwide System of Libraries. My friends, here is where the plan really gets exciting. Through this provision we will powerfully innovate the nation’s libraries!
“This section is open for revision, as we here at the Congress of the United States need to put our heads together—without a doubt the brightest and bestest of heads in the nation—and figure out what will really make our libraries shine brighter than the libraries of the rest of the world.
“We’ll find what will give our children the best access to books the world has ever seen. We’ll find what will make librarians, local officials, parents, and most of all The Children, happy. We’ll find what will bring communities closer together. That is the purpose of HB 1148, and I respectfully ask for each one of my comrades’ support. Thank you very much, my dear comrades and Mr. Speaker.”
A resounding applause following the masterful oration (at least it was masterful to the “brightest and bestest of heads in the nation”) propelled Congressman Bookworm into a high state of exultation. He turned and bowed all around and sat down in his seat, happily forgetting the scowling Dunce seated several rows behind and across the aisle.
It was not many moments before he was again reminded of the unwelcome presence of Congressman Freeman.
The short Representative, whose stern, wrinkled face rarely smiled when fulfilling his unpleasant duty in Washington Swamp, immediately prepared to reply to the outrageously benevolent proposal. The apple-cheeked Speaker of the House reluctantly motioned for him to speak.
The other Comrades were still transfixed with the brilliant bill, thumbing through the pages, making notes, murmuring approval to one another, and nodding favorably. They always recognized a Bad Idea when they saw one.
Their reverie was shattered by the powerful booming voice of the imposing Congressman.
“Mr. Speaker and fellow Representatives,” Freeman began, as multiple Comrades winced at the mention of the word “representative,” and refused to look at the speaker, who cut a much more impressive figure in the Congress—in spite of his lack of height—than many other members of Congress, male and female alike.
“COMRADES,” roared a rather youngish Congressman next to Bookworm. “Not representatives.”
Representative Freeman paid no attention to the heckling and went straight on. Everyone was forced to listen to Freeman, in spite of their scornful disdain of his old-fashioned foolishness. Freeman’s voice was not an easy one to ignore.
“You already know what I’m going to say, since I’m seemingly the ignored unofficial conscience of the House of Representatives—the lone ranger and the last hold-out who stands for individual liberty and personal responsibility.”
“Dunce!” hissed a young blond Congresswoman, who hated the fact that her place was directly below Freeman’s. Other indistinguishable calls and murmurs came from various annoyed comrades and echoed in the hall, but the loving, tolerant Speaker made no move to suppress the heckling.
Representative Freeman went on. He had only just launched into his initial remarks.
“It is my painful duty,” he thundered, “to once again remind the deaf members of the House that we have no authority to even consider HB 1148. Your abominable disregard for the US Constitution—which grants Congress no power over the nation’s libraries—does not change the law of the land. If we pass this bill, we are law-breakers and criminals!”
There was silence from the Congress, though the members stirred uncomfortably. They had told him a thousand times before, “Can’t you see? The Constitution is outdated. It’s also bigoted, racist, old-fashioned, broken, and extremely limits the power of Doing Good. It’s in the archives if you would like to build a shrine. As for us? We are the new generation, and we are sophisticated. We are going to Do Good despite some old paper written centuries ago. We make They the People happy, and that’s good enough.”
Their gentle reprimands had never gotten through that thick-headed old man, and he always, without fail, plunged into a lecture on “Constitutional Powers” and the Tenth Amendment or something like that whenever a bill he didn’t approve of came up for discussion—as he was doing now.
They had given up on him some time ago. He was an unrepentant Anti-Do-Gooder, and no one in the House of Comrades could change that. They tolerantly let him blow his steam every time.
They listened with sighs and blank eyes. He was so poorly educated that the enlightened members of Congress oftentimes could not even fathom his bewildering statements.
Despite his impressive booming voice, he often rambled on—much to the annoyance of his colleagues—with no apparent meaning. He did so now.
“Section A of the representative’s bill expands the Department of Education—an unconstitutional agency from the start. Why should we expand an already illegal agency?”
He glared fiercely at his weary colleagues and went on. His favorite method was to tear bills apart one section at a time, just as their proponents tended to exalt them one section at a time.
“Section B!” Representative Freeman thundered, literally rolling up his sleeves. “This Nationwide System of Libraries would be a terr-ible program!”
There were audible groans on every hand, but The Dunce was prepared to back his absurd claim, and did not pause.
“The NSL would strip local control of libraries from the communities they serve, and place it in the hands of bureaucrats in the Education Department! Why in the world are our present community libraries not good enough? They already share books with other libraries, remodel as needed, and have knowledgeable librarians who can answer kids’ questions.”
“Heresy!!” screamed the young lady below the Dunce, her fluffy blond curls flinging out in righteous indignation.
“The last section is the most intolerable of all!” boomed Representative Freeman, not in the least daunted by the misbehavior of the screaming youngster below him.
“Section C calls for federal micro-management in local affairs! This is unconscionable, Mr. Speaker and fellow Representatives—unconscionable! You speak of the good of The Children, and I too favor the plan that best works for America’s youth. Which is why I cannot but oppose this heinous proposal! Look at problems you have supposedly “solved” in recent years—education, health care, technology, drugs, law-enforcement, food, housing, manufacturing, labor unions, and everything else you could possibly think of—and now libraries?! You would now ruin the nation’s libraries?!”
The Comrades sat in stunned silence. That their wonderful Do-Good programs were a failure was inconceivable. Utterly absurd. Absolutely ridiculous. Dangerously treasonous.
“You propose, sir,” Freeman addressed Congressman Bookworm directly now, his dark eyes flashing, “to direct a bunch of clueless disaster-makers called ‘comrades’ and ‘bureaucrats’ in setting so called ‘standards’ for the entire nation’s libraries. Explain, please, what these standards may be. I expect they’ll have the unmistakable stamp of the Swamp all over them. Which means our libraries will fail—fail even as they are beautifully remodeled and have more books than ever before. Our libraries will begin to fail our children—fast. We must stop this nonsense and return to proper obedience of the US Constitution!”
The valiant effort of the lone-ranger did not accomplish much.
Sighing with relief that the lecture had concluded and they could return to the legitimate business at hand, the comrades looked at the bill and nodded prudently. Yes, this was the recipe for success that the libraries so desperately needed!
Despite the efforts of The Dunce, HB 1148 passed the House of Representatives later that week, and went before the Senate, who passed it the week after that with equal enthusiasm. Such an exciting bill had not been seen for some weeks! It passed the President’s desk with a hearty signature of approval.
End of Part I: The Bad Idea & the Dunce
Have you heard of the weary constituent who wrote to his congressman? He wrote, “Please do not improve my lot in life any further as I simply can’t afford it.”