Idiots At The Helm

In Federalist No. 10, James Madison said:

    “Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.”

Given the legislative bills we saw come out of the General Assembly in Richmond this year (such as fining the wearers of droopy pants, applying outrageous penalties on drivers committing traffic offenses in the name of raising money for transportation, banning smoking across the state, and so on and so forth), I wonder whether Madison really meant to say:

    “There will be times when idiots will be at the helm!”

It’s time for some major leadership changes in the Republican House and Senate Caucuses.

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  1. Will Vehrs Avatar

    My paper bag is at the ready.

    So we “off” Speaker Howell. Who’s next? How long before we tire of that leader when he/she is unable to keep bills originating in barbership babble from being submitted?

    Republicans have always been uncomfortable in the majority and I wonder if you don’t secretly long for the days of being in the minority, when was easy to say no to big government and spending because GOP votes didn’t matter.

  2. Barnie Day Avatar

    Will! You broke the code!

  3. Barnie Day Avatar

    Phil: When I make that observation, I’m being ‘partisan.’ When you make it, by gawd, you’re a statesman! Better than the NBA–I love this game!

  4. Phil Rodokanakis Avatar
    Phil Rodokanakis

    Will: After Howell, I don’t know who’s next. But we can’t sit here pretending that the emperor is fully clothed while he is wearing nothing but his birth suit…

  5. Phil Rodokanakis Avatar
    Phil Rodokanakis

    Barnie: Given that I routinely violate Reagan’s 11th commandment, I’m being called all kind of different names by the Republican Party establishment–I can assure you that “statesman” is not included in the list of epithets being used.

    But then again following idiots marching in lockstep off the side of a cliff isn’t my idea of standing true to principle.

  6. E M Risse Avatar


    The smoking ban and exposing underware are not the same level of idiocy or the same scale of concern.

    It is not the individuals who need to be changed. It is the structure of governance. Those currently holding office are doing just what they beleive they need to do to get reelected. If the last few federal and state elections are a guide. They are absolutely right.


  7. Phil Rodokanakis Avatar
    Phil Rodokanakis

    I must disagree. Such bills show a mindset toward building a cradle-to-grave nanny state. If there was any real Republican leadership they would have held the line on bills that are a direct affront on the basic tenet of the Republican creed: “That fiscal responsibility and budgetary restraints must be exercised at all levels of government.”

  8. I don’t know…call me an elitist…but I think the main problem is that the bar has not been set very high for members of the House of Delegates. You can win a seat (in an off-off year, like 2003 or 2007) by invigorating an easily movivated minority constiuency. Some of these off year elections are barely pushing 10, 15% turnout…

  9. Barnie Day Avatar

    Exactly, Phil. That is the Kudzu of apathy I referenced earlier. It is in direct proportion to the insidious increase in bureaucracy that has such a grip now that it does, indeed, drive things.

  10. Phil Rodokanakis Avatar
    Phil Rodokanakis

    Paul: I think you just hit the nail on the head!

  11. It occasionally happens. Usually I hit my thumb.

  12. Joe Freeman Avatar
    Joe Freeman

    Thorougly gerrymandered districts, larger population every decade in each district creating more and more reliance on mass media, ungoverned campaign contributions — rewarding propaganda, not thoughtful approaches to practical matters, little public oversight and much public ignorance…. we could have saints and geniuses in the legislators and it would still end up a mess!

  13. E M Risse Avatar

    Re 4:25 and 4:28 Friday Afternoon Posts:


    I am not clear why you call yourself an “elitist” for correctly identifying the problem of participation in contemporary governance? By the way, is this a cause or an effect of dysfunctional governance structure?


    I am not sure with what you disagree. Surely you agree that politicians are doing just what they need to do to get reelected in the current governance structure. Look at the reelection rate and percentages of contested races for incumbents at the federal, state and municipal levels.

    Government’s function is to insure the health, safety and welfare. It is not to be small and cheap.

    Creed, schmeed. Over the past six presidential terms, the most prominent proponents of small and cheap government have increased the number of citizens employed (directly and indirectly) to do the governments work and have driven up the federal debt in ever one of their 16 years in office. As we point out in our next column, they have “succeeded” primarily in making most of the top 5% richer while the rest of us are less healthy, safe or well off.

    Even if you could find someone who is willing to actually live by a creed other than “get me reelected” and “make my friend richer so they will make me richer” how could they work for citizens in work in a 18th century governance structure with three levels when contemporary economic, social and physical life operate on at least seven levels below the scale of the New Urban Region?

    The primary problem with “state government” is that the “state” is no longer a relevant level of government in a 21st century democracy with a market economy.

    We all need to get our arms around the reality of Fundamental Change.

  14. Barnie Day Avatar

    Some of these ‘new age’ settlement concepts some of you advocate suddenly make sense to me now. I think. Instead of trying to structure use to this government that no longer ‘fits,’ we should restructure government to contemporary use? Is that the deal?

  15. Phil Rodokanakis Avatar
    Phil Rodokanakis

    Ed: What I disagreed with was your statement that “The smoking ban and exposing underwear are not the same level of idiocy or the same scale of concern.”

    The point I was trying to make is that if there was real leadership in the General Assembly, such bills would not see the light of day. Instead, we get silly bills like the Droopy Pants bill and then the Speaker is left holding the bag, having to defend it. I heard him speak on WMAL and it was an awful performance. How do you defend the indefensible?

    On the other hand, I generally agree with your comments that our government structure may need a major overhaul. However, I’m not so sure what changes we need to implement to fix the problem.

    I think we can continue working with the current system only if we impose some strict term limits. A large percentage of our problems are due to entrenched career politicians.

  16. E M Risse Avatar

    Phil and Barnie:

    What a nice Saturday morning surprise! I am very pleased you read with care what we were trying to say!

    I have known Bill H. for over a decade and he, Linda and I have done some useful work together. He is not a bad person. I tend to agree with Professor Freeman, we could have angels and saints elected to office and not get good results from the present governance structure.

    I think the citizens of the Commonwealth are by and large good folks too. We just need to get them involved in a way that helps them make decisions that are in their own best interst. We address that in our next column. The program Professor Freeman outlines in his Rain Dance column may be a way to go.

    You and others may have even better ideas, we just need to move forward and not just beat one another over the head with 18th, 19th, and 20th centruy unrealities.

    Keep up the good work.


  17. Joe Freeman Avatar
    Joe Freeman

    Response to Barnie’s last:
    Yes, that’s exactly it. To get the “New Age” vision out of your mind, check out the Wyndhurst village just outside Lynchburg — nothing could be farther from New Age — just some locals trying to put together something that works.

  18. Phil Rodokanakis Avatar
    Phil Rodokanakis

    I’m all ears for new suggestions to get us out of the mess we’re in…

    In the meantime, however, I reserve my prerogative to expose our legislators with my keyboard every time they try to enact stupid laws or outright lie to us–like in Mark Warner’s broken campaign promise not to raise our taxes.

  19. Anonymous Avatar

    “Government’s function is to insure the health, safety and welfare. It is not to be small and cheap.”

    I agree, only I would add protection of property, or maybe even replace welfare with protection of the welfare we have, ie property.

    Now if government would just leave it at that, it would be a lot smaller and cheaper. It should stay out of market issues and social engineering.

    I still can’t believe you think we need more layers of government. I have three layers of government now, each contacting me individually and each asking for money as if each was my primary and only responsibility. It is inefficient and wasteful as it is and you want more?

    I don’t have any problem with politicians doing what they do to get elected: it is what they don’t do after they get elected.

    I’d be a lot happier wth more Kudzu and less “help” in making decisions. A pinch of tolerance is worth a pound of government.

    Health safety and welfare issues should be carefully measured as to whether they are truly life and death issues, otherwise, hands off. Property issues should be restricted to questions of who owns it, otherwise hands off.

    As one who grew up in a New England town meeting system I’m convinced I have a better shot when I’m shooting at someone local. If state government is irrelevant in a market economy we can do without, except as it deals with lower levels of to coordinate more or less uniform government.

    If we think the citizens of the commonwealth are good people, then let it go at that. They don’t need to be told how to think or what is in their interest.

    Ray Hyde
    Delaplane, VA

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