Denver Bar Association
November 2011
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The Pangs of Changing the Law

by Dennis Walker


ndia recently passed reform legislation to "finally" combat corruption in government. The hunger strike of a respected protester prompted this change, according to the Western media. We hear that he fasted for eight days.

Several weeks earlier, the U.S. Congress announced an agreement on legislation to raise the debt ceiling. Observers say the legislation was expected, but it came at the supposed "final" moment. Many had predicted that new legislation would emerge as a critical necessity. Credit analysts then downgraded the worthiness of U.S. treasury bonds. They chose this action, the media reported, because Congress did not budge until it was almost too late. The relative hunger of elected officials was not reported.

This leads to the question: Who in American public life could cause a change in the law by refusing to eat? Fellow Docket Committee member Marshall Snider asked me, "Didn’t it take Gandhi weeks" to prompt change by the British regime? In the U.S., tremendous disagreement along party lines staggered attempts to achieve legislation on the funding of government expenditures. Fasting was not suggested as a means to break the impasse.

Pondering the influence of the politically powerful to promote the passage of legislation can lead to several hypotheticals.

If Rush Limbaugh chose not to eat, would lawmakers worry and take drastic action?

If Lindsey Graham and John McCain felt compelled by administrative "failure" to start skipping meals, would priorities get reshuffled?

If John Boehner cut back to the Spartan diet of a barroom janitor, would masses rally to trim spending?

If Nancy Pelosi began skipping meals and risked losing the strength to maintain her smile in a crisis, would the rest of Congress rediscover priorities for financial measures?

If former President Bill Clinton chose to go without regular consumption ("I want you to feel ma hunger"), would currently serving officials regain any focus?

I hope Indian protestor Anna Hazare will not be disappointed by moves to stem corruption following his resumption of regular meals. It remains to be seen whether elected representatives will use a crisis to shine a spotlight on their ideas or in fact make sacrifices to accomplish what is needed for the country. D

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