Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Just Send Smoke Signals

Washington politicians could take a lesson from the process for selecting a Pope employed by the cardinals of the Catholic Church.

 As you recall, when a Pope dies, cardinals from around the globe assemble at Vatican City, huddle up in the Sistine Chapel, peruse the resumes of all the prospective Pope candidates, and haggle, haggle, haggle.  When they finally agree on a new Pope, they send up a plume of white smoke, thus proclaiming their decision to the world.  

Hooray!  Well done!  For us, painless.  For them, mission accomplished and dignity retained. 

In those intermediary moments, when they’re bickering and disagreeing, when the extremists among them will not budge and even threaten to bring down the Church before they’ll compromise, they send up a billow of black smoke.   

That’s how we know things are unsettled in the cloister.  We sigh and exhale, shrug our shoulders.  What’s taking them so long? 

There may be multiple iterations and repeated puffs of sooty effluent.  We wait.  Even we Southern Baptists twice removed sit at seat’s edge.  We’re intrigued.  We’re titillated.  We wanna know. 

Of course, we find out who the new Pope is, but we never get to know who voted for whom.  We never learn which radical cardinal dug in on what point of contention.  We don’t know who caved.  We never realize how close to the brink the Church teetered. 

Could the Cardinals improve the process by sharing their deal breakers with the masses before going into the huddle?  Maybe they could draw strength for their positions from the perceived moral support of Catholics around the world who agree with them, “Yeah!  The new Pope better not relax the Fish on Friday rules.”  (Forgive my flippancy.) 

I wonder how it would go for the new Pope if all good Catholics knew he was a compromise candidate.  Would they sandbag him if they knew their first choice for the top dog was vetoed by a recalcitrant conservative or hardline liberal cardinal? 

No.  The process would not be improved.  It would be worse. 

The new Pope’s ability to lead would not be enhanced.  He would have a more difficult time asserting himself.  

I think our congress should consider this process for the upcoming Gang of Six “negotiations” on the remaining trillions of dollars of cuts mandated by the recent debt ceiling deal. 

Both parties seem likely to send their dug-in, hard-nosed, party-line perfect representatives instead of the moderates among them who might actually be able to negotiate effectively.  We’re already bracing ourselves for the process of disingenuous proposals, haranguing, lamenting, insincere counter proposals, gridlock, and at last, compromise. 

Why not lock them in to a beltway backroom and let them slug it out like the cardinals do – in seclusion? 

The cardinals surrender their cell phones and iPads.  They even sweep the Sistine Chapel for “bugs” before the conclave, so adamant are they that their deliberations remain secure, no tampering occurs, nor outside influences allowed to creep in.  The cardinals don’t come out between ballots and complain about their colleagues’ well-known ideological stances. 

How could our representatives decline being treated like cardinals?  We can ferry in food and fresh shirts.  Heck, we can sing a song and buy them all capes.  They can send up smoke signals to let us know what we already know:  They’re still fighting.  They haven’t decided.  It’s hard. 

We wouldn’t have to listen to their infantile whining and complaining.  They couldn’t take false encouragement from mindless press coverage of their fingers pointing hither and yon.  We would view the dark vapors wafting from the chamber, recognize them as the typical emissions we’ve come to expect from our elected officials, and wait. 

I know, I know.  Transparency.  Sunshine.  But must we hear every cry of “wolf”?  Must we reel in all red herrings of proposal and counter proposal?  Must we endure the artificial anguish of falling skies again and again? 

I say No!  Lock ‘em up.  Don’t let ‘em out until the white smoke flies.  We will be just fine out here, living our civilized lives.  And, as always, when they’ve reached an agreement, we will deal with their decisions.   

Just once, save what’s left of your dignity by doing the difficult dirty work away from the cameras and out of earshot.  Spare us the maddening and predictable blow by blow.  Just send up the smoke.