Laws like sausages?

I have a mea culpa to issue this morning.

For years, I have publicly made the comparison that the creation of television journalism was much like that of making laws and sausage: an often un-pretty process that can be uncomfortable to witness with an end result that is hopefully palatable for all involved.

The aphorism dates back, not to the 1930′s and former German leader Otto von Bismarck, but instead to 1869 and American lawyer-poet, John Godfrey Saxe who was quoted in a Cleveland newspaper saying, “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.” The more common quote, almost always attributed these days to the Iron Chancellor, is “Laws are like sausages. It’s better not to see them being made.”

I was planning on making the assertion again in describing the measure introduced in the current legislative session to streamline Wisconsin’s mining rules, but then I ran across this 2010 article from The New York Times in which, and I’m not making this up, a former CIA agent turned sausage maker, describes the process of preparation in a far more streamlined fashion than anything I’ve ever seen in newsrooms or legislatures. What he describes clearly articulates how my analogy for years has been flawed.

“I’m so insulted when people say that lawmaking is like sausage making,” said Stanley A. Feder, president of Simply Sausage, whose plant here turns out 60,000 pounds of links a year to The Times. “With legislation, you can have hundreds of cooks — members of Congress, lobbyists, federal agency officials, state officials… In sausage making, you generally have one person, the Wurstmeister, who runs the business and makes the decisions.”

Then again, as I consider a Republican majority in both the State Senate and State Assembly following the leadership of Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wisconsin),  maybe the analogy is more apt today than ever before. If the governor were to serve in this process as the “Wurstmeister” and the majority group of lawmakers as the assembly line creating the legislation, there won’t be hundreds  of cooks participating in this creation unless they want them there.

If you listen to critics of the proposed mining legislation, their main contention, besides that Wisconsin’s environment will suffer if it passes, is that they are not and have not been consulted in this process. So, for now, and in this particular instance, we’ll just have to wait and see if the correlation of sausage-making and legislating is fair.

All that said, if you’ve ever taken four hours of videotape and smushed it into a two-three minute story on television, you’ll know my original comparison to one of Wisconsin’s favorite foods remains spot-on.

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