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Spin Control: Let’s kick the canned phrase, lose the chant

Sun., April 10, 2011, midnight

Ping-ponging between the sobering budget hearings and the raucous budget protests of the past week has left me with a desire to get the legislators and demonstrators to the negotiating table to broker a deal.

Not on the budget. I’m not smart enough to do that, and the session has yet to prove that anyone is. No, I’d like to broker a deal that each side would give up a phrase that got particularly tiresome as the week went on.

For legislators, that would be “kick the can down the road,” which is what some legislators say when they believe the budget proposal contains a program or policy they want to end. Republicans are particularly apt to discuss kicking of said can when discussing Basic Health or the Disability Lifeline or workers’ compensation.

The precision is disconcerting: The can is presumably empty, lest we stub our collective toe and stop kicking it. But it’s never quite clear the size of the can. It’s probably not a soda can or a beer can, because aluminum ones wouldn’t take much kicking before losing their shape. Probably not a can of corn, either, because that’s a baseball metaphor, and it means something relatively easy, and the budget is anything but. Doubtful that it’s anything larger than a No. 3 can, because that would be too big for a good kick.

And don’t even start trying to figure out where the road is, or whether it’s blacktop or gravel or possibly just dirt.

Presumably, this is a reference to the game of kick the can, although how many of us actually played that instead of the much simpler version of hide-and-seek? And when you do kick the can while playing the game, it’s not always in the same direction, which is what this denigrating description suggests.

For the protesters, I’d give them a choice between “The people, united, can never be defeated” and “This is what democracy looks like,” which were both chanted ad infinitum as demonstrators marched on, into and around the Capitol.

It’s possible that every rally since the 1960s has featured the first, even though the concept is demonstrably not true. History is replete with examples of people who were united but got defeated by larger forces. The folks in the Alamo were united, right up to the end, and so were the Confederate states. Yes the Texans later beat Santa Anna at San Jacinto and states’ rights is making a comeback as an issue, but that’s not quite the same as “never be defeated.”

At best, one can say that people who stick together long enough have a better chance of success than those who bicker and go their separate ways. Admittedly, that’s not much of a chant.

Marching around the Capitol shouting the second one is perhaps the more ironic of the two. It’s as if the protesters slept through civics the day the teacher explained America was a republic, and how that differs from a democracy. If it were a true democracy, one wouldn’t have to go to Olympia, where one’s representatives have been sent by the voters to make decisions for the state as a whole. We’d have an army of Tim Eymans proposing a blizzard of initiatives and an election every other week.

The fact that the protesters were marching outside the doors of their elected representatives, petitioning for a redress of grievances, is the hallmark of a republic. At least the Founding Fathers apparently thought so.

Sorry if it messes up the cadence for the chant.

The lowest form of humor?

Despite the partisan divide and tension over the budget, the week was not without its lighter moments. One came on a relatively small bill, unless one is a skier or a snowboarder. Senate Bill 5186 would make skiing in areas that are posted as dangerous and closed to the public a misdemeanor akin to trespassing, with a fine of up to $500. When it came up in the House, debate lasted for about a half-hour over how dangerous such activities are, whether this should be a misdemeanor or a civil infraction, what the warning signs should say and so forth.

As debate lurched to a conclusion, Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, rose to say he was voting for the bill, although “I was worried the bill was going downhill … that it might be a slippery slope and that we should not jump to conclusions.”

Speaker Pro Tem Jim Moeller banged down his gavel: “Representative, you have exhausted your quota of puns.”

The bill passed on a 71-26 bipartisan vote. It goes back to the Senate for approval of a few amendments.

Spin Control, a weekly column by Olympia bureau reporter Jim Camden, also appears online with daily items, reader comments and videos, at spokesman.com/spincontrol.


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