Black square

Malevich's "Black Square" was named the official artwork of the Washington State Legislature by a 25-24 vote. Brad Owen ruled it did not require a two-thirds vote.

With yet another special session dawning, there’s no doubt that the creepy crawly denizens of the Washington State Legislature keep on repeating themselves. But counter to Marx’s famous postulation that history repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce, Legislative history continues to written as a single package of tragedy and farce intermingled together in the most curious ways. While the issues & impacts are real, the players seem less than ready for their roles. It’s like an epic Wagner tragedy performed in falsetto by Abbott & Costello. 

While the late-night coup in the halls of the Senate initially seemed it would generate real drama, the passion and strong words only lasted for about an an hour and a half. Since then, instead of raising the holy hell that was briefly promised, all the usual suspects have instead settled on raising sanctimonious heck over the notion that the State Senate was taken over “in the dark of the night.” (The message-makers of the Democratic Party seem to believe that the lack of shadow on the Capitol campus’s sundial is of more importance that the lack of funding for basic food assistance. In their defense, we guess that if there’s one thing history shows, it’s that nothing builds a permanent electoral majority like a good process argument!)

Frankly, we are offended by this language. What’s so bad about “the dark of night”? It’s our favorite time, and suggesting that something is bad just because it happened when the lights are out is nothing more than a projection of internalized nocaturnalaphobia onto the political field.

After all, some of the best stuff of death happens at night. For example, bogeyman of all sorts are known to haunt the sleep of innocents, leaving them with restless dreams featuring imaginary monsters. And the greatest bogeymen of the state budget — “sustainability” — is well suited to the dark of night.

In the light of day, it’s easier to see that the “sustainability” monster is just a way to force unpopular budget cuts by projecting future costs of necessary programs over a near-infinite time horizon, and then taking the current rate of revenue growth as a fixed constant of the universe. That way, you can say that almost any program of any kind is unsustainable, because the cost of almost everything rises faster than our state’s depressed tax base grows! Want to argue different? Well that, dear sir, is simply a gimmick.

Another delightful thing that happens late at night is that human willpower tends to erode due to fatigue. That’s why the initial bursts of anger at the State Senate coup manifested first as procedural hardball, rapidly collapsed into more-heated-than-usual debate, and then turned into typical mealy-mouthed nonsense about jilted bipartisan spirit. All of which serves as an excellent reminder that when it comes to Democratic legislators in the State Senate, whether its day or night, willpower is a theoretical construct anyway, untested in real-life circumstances.

As the special session dawns, the conventional wisdom in Olympia right now suggests there is “no way” the State House and the Governor will agree to cuts on the scale of the Zarelli coup budget. But there’s one thing this conventional wisdom overlooks: that is, the past few budgets which have been agreed to. Just give them time, and it’s amazing what they will accept.

So in the harsh light of day, shake off the bleary eyes of the dead of night and consider just how far towards the death the debate continues to move. After $10 billion in “unacceptable” cuts over the past few years, humans are desperately fighting for a level of spending this year when, in last’s year budget debate, this same level of spending was deemed inhumane & unacceptable.

And that is how, whether it’s the black of a new moon or the glare of the sunshine, whether it’s McKenna’s cuts or Inslee’s realism next year, the undead hordes continue to march forwards, unchecked.