Does Size Really Matter?

Danielle Steele’s novels are automatically superior to Leo Tolstoy’s novels, right? That must be so if you adopt the logic of a common contemporary Republican talking point: Big documents are automatically inferior to short documents.

Increasingly, it seems Republican pols and pundits love to criticize legislative proposals by citing the SIZE of the package. For instance, they are forever scoffing at the number of pages, pounds and words included in Democrats’ health reform proposals. They imply that anything that can’t be read during a bathroom break should be considered a toilet paper substitute.

While the logic of that simplistic argument is obviously silly –- for instance, the disasterous Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was much shorter than the wildly successful legislation that created the GI Bill — it’s also important to not lose sight of the breathtaking hypocrisy of the argument.

After all, recently pointed out that five of the ten largest bills in American history were introduced by Republicans. The No Child Left Behind bill, fathered by Republican Speaker John Boehner, was 274,559 words at birth. And the Bush tax cuts legislation was also a tome. Worse yet, some of the words in these bills were rumored to be polysyllabic.

And really folks, so what? Both Republicans’ and Democrats’ bills are large and complex because — guess what? — they are addressing large and complex issues.

Why the Republican obsession with their partners’ size? The tobacco industry’s PR wizards of yesteryear privately confided that the primary product they were selling was DOUBT rather than cigarettes. That is, they had to make medical science seem so complex that non-scientists remained in doubt. Similary, Republicans’ focus on health reform girth is all about peddling doubt about life under a reformed system. Because when doubt sells, the status quo lives on.

– Loveland

26 thoughts on “Does Size Really Matter?

  1. Some of the derision of the big bills is that the language is NOT designed to illuminate, but rather to obfuscate.

    Most of the derision comes when a 1,200 page monster gets voted upon before ANYONE gets a chance to read it.

    Typically, a larger bill means more intrusions, and more special language designed to scratch the backs of businesses and others who surreptitiously are responsible for crafting it.

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      If the point is that legalese should be more simple and concise, I agree. I think the legal profession does some of that intentionally to keep themselves indespensible. But if the point is that Republicans write simple bills because they’re clear minded, transparent and straightforward, while Democrats write complex ones because they are muddled, deceptive, and unfocused, the facts don’t support that. They both write complex bills, and it’s not because they are hiding things. They write complex bills, because they are working with enormously complex issues and preexisting systems.

      And again, the issue about people voting on bills without having read them is subterfuge. First, the “midnight vote” people complain about is typically proceeded by MONTHS of committee proceedings that gives ample time to get familiar with the proposal. Second, thorough summaries of bills do get read, and for most those summaries lead to more real understanding than reading the actual underlying legalese ever could. Unless things have changed a lot since I was there, the notion that Members are clueless about what they are voting on is incorrect.

  2. PM says:

    Frankly, I think that these complaints are really based on a not very subtle insecurity on the part of the Republicans–they are envious of the LARGE Democratic bills!

    (penis envy on a national scale)

  3. Dennis Lang says:

    Perceptive point. I think Steele is consistently more long-winded than Tolstoy. Most of her stuff clearly outpacing the concise 97,000 words of “War and Peace”.

    1. Dennis Lang says:

      Disregard previous comment. Found my unabridged version of “W and P” at 1443 pages. Probably 500,000 words. Steele obviously capable of revealing critical insight on the sociological crosscurrents of culture, politics and morality with great economy.

  4. PM says:

    Shouldn’t there be some sort of prize for the most dense and incomprehensible jargon in the smallest number of words/pages?

    I’d nominate Jacques Lacan for that honor. (I tried reading one of his “books” for about 5 pages….)

  5. I get the impression that politicians know what is in those bills, or at least know who knows what’s in there. Since so many concessions and compromises go into a final bill, little nitpicking of various pieces of waste happens because they figure it’s there for a reason. Bringing attention to someone else’s waste opens up the door to closer inspections of their own.

    Sort of a don’t ask, don’t tell bill construction.

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      I think you’re right about that Ed. Good analysis. And I think that kind of compromising is inevitable in a representative democracy in a pluralistic society.

  6. Newt says:

    DC is a town where the value of a legislative bill is expressed in pounds. In the real world, less is more. DC isn’t the real world.

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      Re: “DC is a town where the value of a legislative bill is expressed in pounds.”

      Come on now, amigo. Have you ever heard a SUPPORTER of a bill brag about a proposal’s poundage? Weight is only raised by critics, so it’s not correct to say that is what is commonly “valued.”

      Re: “DC isn’t the real world.”

      That’s certainly a common platitude. This is my view: The “real world” as I’ve experienced it in SD, OR, TX, and MN is a place with both dignity and indignity, excellence and incompetence, wealth and poverty, power and powerlessness, civility and incivility, heros and villains, honesty and dishonesty, sincerity and insincerity, empathy and intolerance, compassion and cruelty.

      For what it’s worth, I would describe the DC I experienced over seven years precisely the same way. No better. No worse. DC is very much a microcosm of the US.

      I fall into the same trap, though. It makes me feel better when I say that people I agree with are “real,” and people I disagree with are “other.” But when I do that, I’m fooling myself.

  7. Newt says:

    DC is a stage IV cancer cell in the midst of a formerly great nation.

    As for a definition of “real world,” it’s any place where private enterprise is predominant – be it Lincoln, NE or Minneapolis.

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      Newt, for the last eight years I have led a pretty darn capitalistic existence as a sole proprietor. I eat only what I kill. I have to come up with my own health coverage. I have to save on my own for retirement and rainy days rather than rely on a government or corporate program. If I lose business, I don’t get unemployment benefits. There is much less safety net and bureaucracy than when I worked for corporations. I am more purely capitalistic than many of my corporate friends, so it would be easy for me to thump my chest about my capitalistic superiority.

      But I gotta tell you, I am no less “real” now than I was when I worked in government. I have done good work and bad work in both sectors. The “them bad, us good” tone is simplistic and narrow.

    2. PM says:

      I agree, Joe–between having been the classic entrepreneur ( running my own company, meeting payrolls, hiring and firing, the whole bit), having worked for a Fortune 500, having served on the board of a large privately held corporation, having been a consultant, and having worked in government, this distinction between “the real world” and “Washington D.C.” is a false one.

  8. Newt says:

    Washington is its own universe, within the United States.

    The engine of the United States is not government – it’s the private sector. Washington is a parasitic organism that feeds off the private sector. Like an untreated tapeworm, Washington is on the verge of depriving the private sector of its nutritive value.

    None of this is to say that good people don’t work in government. Many do. Federal employees merely are rapidly dividing cells within the tumor that we call Washington.

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      Similar to your argument here, there are Americans who say that CORPORATIONS are a cancer on society that should be removed, even though good folks work there.

      The people who make that argument and you are both badly overstating valid points.

      Yes, both business and government sometimes damage people and society, and therefore need to have reasonable limits placed on them. But both also make very positive contributions to society. Neither are a terminal cancer and neither should be completely removed.

    2. PM says:

      Washington DC is not its own universe–it is intensely conscious of developments outside the beltway, and constantly adjusting what happens inside the beltway to what is going on outside the beltway. My experience is that Washington DC (and our elected representatives) are far more conscious of what is happening outside DC than “Mainstreet” is conscious of what is happening inside DC. Our elected representatives pay a great deal of attention to what is happening inside their districts and states–this is why 90%+ get re-elected when they go home to face the voters. This is why there is frequently gridlock inside DC–because they are reflecting (accurately) the disparate and inchoate will of the people who voted in the most recent election, or responded to the most recent polling questions, or even attended the most recent set of protests (even tea parties) or called or e-mailed or wrote to those same representatives.

      The fallacy of Newt and other critics is that there is some easily recognizable “will of the people” that is being ignored. The reality is that there is only Newt’s agenda (or the agenda of any other critic–I am not trying to pick on Newt, only to use Newt as an example) that Newt (or whomever) feels is being ignored. Of course, as there are an infinite number of agendas out there, at any one time, a majority of the people in the United States will feel that their agenda is being ignored, and when they all talk to each other, they all complain about the same thing–that Washington DC is out of touch with “their” concerns. Of course, the problem is that “their” concerns are often incompatible–we see this with the Tea Party folks, who are opposed to social issues, economic issues, just about anything and everything. The only thing that unites them is what they oppose (Obama), not what they want.

      And the other fallacy, of course, is that capitalism can succeed without government. The proper analogy is not parasitism, but rather symbiosis, where they both benefit from each other (think, again, of laws and courts and regulations–all necessary aspects of government without which capitalism would implode–how could anyone do business without enforceable contracts? And how could contracts be enforceable without courts and laws and police and government?).

      Sloppy thinking leads to sloppy analysis which leads to sloppy proposals and solutions.

      1. Newt says:

        Washington essentially exists – in deed and in fact – to do one thing: Preserve political incumbency by redistributing resources and power. Which explains the 90% incumbency rate.

        This is in stark contrast to the intent of our founders, which was for government to function as a guarantor of individual liberties.

        7/8 of government today is involved in activities other than that (e.g.mandating the use of certain lightbulbs, ethanol content in gas, toilet bowl flush volumes, etc.). Thus, it’s not accurate to describe the public-private relationship as a “symbiosis.”

      2. PM says:

        But you are ignoring HOW they achieve that 90% rate–they do it by getting people to vote for them (duh).

        The intent of the Founders was to create a REPRESENTATIVE government, which they accomplished very well. Our government is representative of the people, and this is proven by that 90% re-election rate. If they are not representative, why do people continue to vote for them?

        Your problem is that YOU are not representative of the people of this country–for some strange reason they do not seem to support the same goals and ideals that you feel they should.

        Symbiosis is a system where both parties benefit. The intent of the Founders (whatever those might have been, which certainly is not encompassed by preserving individual liberties–how can you possibly reconcile that statement with the fact that the Constitution enshrined slavery?) has nothing to do with the definition of symbiosis.

  9. Newt says:

    I don’t have the energy to educate you on the Federalist Papers or such notions as the Tyranny of the Majority.

    How can individual liberties be preserved when government’s core tactic is to confiscate and redistribute wealth and power?

    Beltway minds don’t give a shit about individual liberty.

    1. Mike Kennedy says:

      The Founders intent was individual liberties. However, at that time and in most countries around the world, slavery was a way of life. Slavery has existed in virtually all cultures in all countries at one time and slaves were all skin colors. It certainly wasn’t unique to America. It is very difficult in our enlighted period to imagine life 230 plus years ago, nay it’s nearly impossible on every level — political, moral, economic etc. Cultures and countries grow and evolve (hopefully), as ours has.

      In terms of Washington, there is no question the federal government has and does assume more power and has done so gradually.

      The 10th Amendment addresses the fears that our founders had of the federal government assuming too much in the way of power. However, no one in Washington ever mentions this part of the document.

    2. PM says:

      Somehow I doubt that it is energy that you lack…..;-)

      I’ve read all of the Federalist Papers, several times, over my life, and I’m fairly confident that I also understand all about the concept of the tyranny of the majority (which is why the Founders saw the Roman Republic as their model, and not Athens). Hell, I’ve even taught those concepts at a major university! (yeah, I know, now it is clear why everything is going to hell….)

      The problem is that this is not a discussion about individual liberties (although you keep bringing that up–as a red herring?), but rather about your statements about the nature of Washington DC being a separate reality from the rest of the country, and parasitic in nature. I have pointed out to you that Washington DC is, in reality, highly representative of the country, and offered supporting proof (the high rate of re-election of incumbents). Your response has been to start talking about the Founders and individual liberties–total non-sequiturs.

      Why is it that the more you are backed into a corner the more you bring in extraneous issues?

      (that really is a rhetorical question, so you don’t need to answer–we already know why)

  10. Mike Kennedy says:


    You’re right about Washington legislators being representative of the people. From Strom Thurmond to Nancy Pelosi and from Lyndon Johnson to John McCain, our politicians do represent their home base. I have a feeling it’s the people in those districts/states who are in the minority who feel they are not represented. Liberals didn’t feel represented (I’m guessing) by Coleman, and I don’t feel represented by Franken.

  11. Newt says:

    More than 80 percent knew the inalienable rights stated in the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 90 percent of Midwesterners and people at higher income levels answered this question correctly, and Republicans and Independents outperformed Democrats.

    While Americans repeatedly pledge allegiance to the flag
    and to “the Republic for which it stands,” only 40 percent of
    Americans overall knew that the U.S. Constitution established
    a republic, and just as many incorrectly thought it established
    a direct democracy.


  12. Joe Loveland says:

    …and after months of criticizing the girth of congressional bills, Republican leaders Boehner now is criticizing Obama’s proposal for being…too short:

    “…(t)hey want to reorganize one-sixth of the United States’ economy with a document shorter than a comic book.”

    If Nancy Bear’s proposal was too big, and Barracko Bear’s proposal was too small, maybe Boehner Bear’s forthcoming proposal (???) will be juuuuust right!

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