Friday, January 28, 2011

Where You Stand Depends On Where You Sit

I thought of that old maxim as the media discussed the novel idea of Democrats and Republicans sitting together when President Obama gave his State of the Union Speech.

The world looks different depending on where you're viewing it from.  If you are on Flattop looking down at Anchorage you see a city much different from what you see on 4th Avenue and D.  If you're in Anchorage you see a different world than if you're in DC.

So if all the Democrats only sit with fellow Democrats and the Republicans do the same, the party members will see and think about all the legislation differently.  Irving Janis described a serious policy disability called Groupthink which he defined as:
A mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members' strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.
Screen Capture from Facebook Live Coverage
But if they mix parties in the seating and they get to chit chat about their kids, the problems of fund raising, the weather, and all the other non-ideological parts of their lives, they'll recognize each other as fellow human beings, fellow Americans, who, if they disagree on how to do it, all want to make the US a better place.  (I think that's the case with most of them, though there are some who think they can do that while lining their pockets.)

Watching House Speaker Boehner at the State of the Union sitting behind the President and next to the Vice President, looking like a kid forced to behave in church for hours, I couldn't help thinking what a waste this all is.

Here he is sitting near the President of the United States, a man who is eloquent, bright, and clearly committed to making the US a better place.  I'm guessing that future history books will treat him well.  Boehner has this incredible opportunity to be working with this man, being a partner in moving the US to a better future.  And for various reasons, he sees him as 'the enemy' and spends all his time fighting him.

You see that kind of nonsense in organizations all the time.  People preferring to bicker and pick fights rather than find common ground and work together.  And, if the history books do remember him at all, Boehner will be known as that thorn in the side of that great president who did all he did despite small minded people constantly nipping at his heels.  [Hey, I know conservative readers will be rolling their eyes at this.  It's opinion.  It's prediction.  Let's wait 20 or 30 years (It should be longer, but I'm not sure I'll be around even that long.)]

So, I'm making this offer to Rep. Boehner.  I could tell how hard it was for you to look halfway respectful there sitting behind the president.  So I'm volunteering to sit in for you next year.  You can chill out with your friends somewhere.  Deal?

Meanwhile, Back In Juneau

This made me think about how different this is with the legislature in the State of Alaska.  Juneau is so small that you can't help running into the other legislators wherever you go.  They have to talk to each other.

The Alaska Senate is split even - 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats.  Instead of  having a standoff, they've formed a Senate Coalition Majority that has all the Senators except for four Republicans who couldn't work within a coalition majority.  

In the House, there is a pretty big Republican majority - 24 Republicans and 16 Democrats.  But they haven't let party affiliation rule how they set up the House Majority and Minorities.  They have four Democrats joining 22 Republicans in the Majority, a 12 member Democratic Minority, and a two member Republican Minority (don't ask, it's like high school.) 

I'm told their seating is chosen by the legislators themselves. Those with the most seniority getting the first choice.  Here's a chart I got from the Legislature's website and then colored it in to show how they are mixed on the floor.  (For those with problems distinguishing colors, sorry.)

BTW, while writing this, I found the House Republican Majority website.  It lists all three groups, but in the House Democratic Minority page, it leaves out Bob Miller, the new Democratic representative from Fairbanks who beat incumbent Mike Kelly.  It has to be an oversight.  But let's see how long it takes them to fix it.

UPDATE January 29:  I checked today and someone fixed it:


  1. Thank you for speaking out about bonehead's behavior. I think we should all write him a letter reminding him that he works for us and we expect him to be more civil and to act like an adult. Right now he just looks like a big jerk.

  2. And to think that serving as a member of Congress used to be looked at as a privelege. The pay wasn't that much, but it was done as a service to make our country great. What happened?


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