Letting The Minority Wag The Dog

Jerry Coffee
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Wednesday - May 25, 2005
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Does anyone but me feel like the dog being wagged by its tail? Lately, from Washington, D.C., to the campus of the University of Hawaii, there has in-crept a certain disease that makes one feel like the natural order of things is out of whack, or that whoever is in charge, isn’t, or … well, that the tail is wagging the dog!

I’m talking about the gradual erosion of the concept that for things to work in an orderly fashion, someone has to be in charge. Someone has to be the boss. The buck has to stop at some specific here.

In business, that’s usually the owner who stands to lose the most if things aren’t run efficiently and profitably. If it’s a publicly held company, the ultimate bosses — through the board of directors — are the investors/shareholders.

In American government (the quintessential publicly held “company”), the boss is the highest elected official in any “chain of command.” As far as being accountable, the buck stops with that person. But “accountable” to whom? Accountable to the investors (taxpayers) and stockholders (electorate) — accountable to you and me. We are the Big Boss!

Our “corporate charter” is the Constitution of the United States. In the U.S. Senate (as of this writing) almost half of our 100 employees there are refusing to abide by our corporate charter by refusing to “consent,” i.e., voting “yea” or “nay” on the president’s judicial nominees. The leader of the minority laments that if a vote is taken (in lieu of a filibuster), the majority will certainly have its way, just a “rubber-stamp” approval of the nominees. Well, he might pause to consider that’s why we (the boss) elected more of them than of him. That’s the way we (the majority) want it! So why isn’t it happening?


Last November in Hawaii, we re-elected (rehired) our majority “employees” in the state Legislature who refuse to allow our “CEO” (governor) to fulfill her plan for which we elected her. Was that the way we really wanted it?

Go figure.

Recently that same majority passed legislation requiring government (the employer) to negotiate with labor unions (employees) the terms of transferring or laying off public workers. According to media coverage, the labor unions asked lawmakers to pass the bill to “balance the power between government and unions.”

Excuse me! A majority can’t simply change the fact that when it comes to equality (balance) between employer and employee, democracy stops at the ballot box. Excuse the visual image, but we the taxpayers and electorate, are the employer — the dog. The employees and their union are the tail. They work for us! But with their current cozy relationship with “middle management,” who so frequently don’t represent us, you have to wonder.

And finally we have the “demands” of the student and faculty activists who occupied the University of Hawaii president’s office for several days to protest the implementation of a University Affiliated Research Center (UARC), which would establish a winwin research relationship with the U.S. Navy.

I’d bet the job descriptions of the participating faculty do not include the right to dictate university policy to their employer, much less set the example of illegal trespassing to their students. As fellow MidWeek columnist Bob Jones suggested last week, interim UH president David McClain correctly exhibited extraordinary patience to not immediately fuel the fire with stronger measures. But now that the squatters have been heard out, the UARC decision will be made on its merits — as it should be — by the university president and regents, all appointed by our elected representative, the governor, and whose salaries we pay. Any future “civil disobedience” by the campus militaryphobes should be met with dismissal or expulsion, and they should stand forewarned.

The real issue here is that we — you and I, my friend and reader — are the employer, the investors, the stockholders. Each April 15, we pay the bills!

We are the boss. U.S. senators, state legislators, UH faculty and government workers are the employees. They all work for us, and are accountable to us. Somewhere along the way this basic fact of life has flown from our consciousness, and we have quit being the boss. Our abrogation of responsibility is costing us billions of dollars and it is undermining the most fundamental values of our democracy.

How do we take back our responsibility?

We simply say as “The Donald” says: “You’re fired!”

Hopefully, that’s exactly what we will say through our ballots in November of next year. It’s past time to “rewire” the dog.

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