Guest Commentary | Legislative “Stagecraft:” How Lawmakers Signal Their Virtue; Increase Government Power; Decrease Our Liberty; And Charge Us To Do So

Or, How The Elite Ruling Class
Pulls The Wool Over The Sheeple’s Eyes

by Pem Schaeffer

“The power of accurate observation is commonly
called cynicism by those who have not got it.”
– George Bernard Shaw

Modern-day consumerism has given us the concept of truth in packaging, or more formally, “Fair Packaging and Labeling.” It went into effect in 1966; the intent was to prevent the public from being misled by “unfair and deceptive” packaging and labeling methods for consumer products. The law applies to many consumer products, and requires the label to state:
  •      The identity of the product;
  •      The name and place of business of the manufacturer, packer, or distributor; and
  •      The net quantity of contents.
On its face, this is a great idea. Over the years, it has been bastardized a good deal by various special interests. Terms like “non-fat,” “low-fat,” “sugar-free,” and “all-natural” usually don’t mean what the words seem to say. (What exactly does “natural” mean, anyway?”)

It would be an even better idea if elected officials and their staffs applied it to their own “packaging and labeling methods,” which are clearly exempted from such common-sense requirements. This is no surprise since our self-identified public servants routinely excuse themselves from all manner of constraints imposed on the rest of us.
My subject today is the titling of proposed and enacted laws, and how it often employs great deception and grandiloquent abuse of plain English, bordering on outright lies. All the better, of course, to conceal the actual contents of the legislation.

At the federal level, calling Obama Care “The Affordable Care Act” is a most egregious example of this practice. Add Speaker Pelosi’s decree that “we’ll have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it,” and you have legislative deception of Olympic achievement.

Recently Members of Congress have created a number of travesties when it comes to truthfully packaged legislation.

Take H.R. 1, which House Democrats refer to as the “For the People Act.” The degree of perversion in doing so is breathtaking, even for a Pelosi-led majority. Better, it should be named as follows:

An Act to Violate Our Oaths and the US Constitution We Swore to Uphold by Appropriating to Congress From the Legislatures of the Several States Their Designated Obligations to Determine the Manner of and Overseeing the Conduct of General Elections, and for the Purpose of Celebrating, Memorializing, Making Permanent, and Evolving the Corrupt and Fraudulent Methods Perfected in the 2020 National Election.
Then, immediately upon taking office, President Biden signed an Executive Order titled “Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation.” Better it should be named thusly:

An Executive Order to Emasculate Title IX and The Woman’s Athletic Programs It Was Enacted to Create and Regulate, and to Banish All Recognition of and Respect For The Biological Realities Endowed to Us by Nature’s God In the Creation of The Earth and All Who Inhabit It.

I’ve had far more experience with the practice at the state level. Here in Maine, as many as 2000 new bill summaries are submitted for consideration each 2-year session. Newbies are advised “to make a name for yourself by creating and sponsoring notable bills.” How typical of “public servants;” think of yourself first, and the people and their governance last. if at all.
The only legislation that really MUST BE submitted and passed regularly at State and Federal levels are the budget bills. Government shuts down (yeah, right!) unless it has funding authorization and appropriation. Everything else is optional, and often bizarrely unworthy.

Listed below are my suggestions for “straight-talk” (no-malarkey?) re-naming of various bills I’ve seen go through the system over the years. I suspect you could “borrow” these suggestions and apply them to bills up for consideration in your state; they have a sadly timeless aspect to them. As you might expect, they are obtuse and multi-purpose enough to mask a broad range of specific political motivations. (Any redundancies you notice simply make a larger point.)

An Act to Add Yet Another Law to the Hundreds Already on The Books Addressing the Same Subject, Because Passing Laws is Easy, but Enforcing Laws is Hard and Requires Real Leadership. (Not to mention that no-one ever makes news for enforcing laws on the books, but media exposure almost always comes with submission/passage of a NEW LAW.)

  •   An Act to Compromise the Privacy Rights of The Innocent While Strengthening the Privacy Rights of The Guilty
  •   An Act Clearly Misnamed to Escape Public Notice
  •   An Act to Eliminate the Consequences of Personal Irresponsibility
  •   An Act to Encourage Unemployment as a Desirable Goal
  •   An Act to Encourage Multi-Generational Dependency as a Viable Lifestyle Choice
  •   An Act to Make Constituents Feel Better
  •   An Act to Exempt Lawmakers From Laws the Public Must Obey
  •   An Act to Prevent Parental Choice in Children’s Education
  •   An Act to Bolster My Ambitions for Higher Office
  •   An Act That Does the Exact Opposite of What Its Title Says
  •   An Act to Designate More Winners and Losers in Yet Another Way
  •   An Act to Designate the Moonbat as the State Bird
  •   An Act to Preserve Maine’s Quality of Place by Discouraging Young Families and Businesses from Moving Here
  •   An Act to Establish Mortuaries as Maine’s Leading Growth Industry
  •   An Act to Spread the Wealth Around
  •   An Act to Create More Takers and Decrease Makers
  •   An Act to Preserve, Protect, and Expand Sloppy Election Practices
  •   An Act to Encourage Attorney Full Employment
  •   An Act Punishing Law Abiders While Ignoring Law Breakers
  •   An Act to Increase the Advantage of Criminals Over Law Abiding Citizens

We surely do need to clean house, at all levels of government. The real cynics are the elected betters who engage in commonplace opaque labeling practices. Corruption is, sadly, rampant at all levels of government. One could argue that submitting thousands of candidate laws per session to make a name for themselves, and obscuring their real content with false labeling, is a core competency for success in elective politics. Add in big money and special interests, and anyone with a good lack of scruples could be a winner.
Let’s close with one more example:

 An Act You’ll Never Ever See

Summary: This bill would require that all legislative documents be labeled with clarity and that the name accurately reflect the law’s provisions; and that the bill language cite the specific Constitutionally specified power that undergirds it.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal

Pem Schaeffer is a retired engineer who progressed to a position in business development leadership in defense electronics. He lives and writes in Brunswick, Maine, and blogs at: He can be reached at [email protected] or you can always buy him lunch at an MHPC luncheon. He’s easy that way, and he’ll still respect you if you do.

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