April 27, 2009 - Great Expectations

Technical writing for a construction specification is a specialized kind of writing, where the object is to:

  • Describe what you want built for people with the skills and good intention to carry out the work
  • Protect against problems from people with less skills or bad intentions, and
  • Define the rewards for meeting expectations and the penalties for screwing up.

It’s a type of regulatory writing, establishing the laws and rules to govern a project. On the other hand, the art of essay (aka blogging) is about exposing people to a new point of view or delivering a message, often with a call to action. Since I have spent the last two weeks focused on technical writing, I had to set aside the blog for a time. I missed having an outlet for the running commentaries in my head as the Legislative session painfully wound to a close. Last night was an almost all-nighter to meet my deadline, just as the Legislature stayed in Session to the last possible moment. The difference is my deadline was for a 95% complete check set; the Legislature was assigned to hit 100% done on major issues facing the state – like setting a solid budget for the next two years. I got my work done, but the Legislature didn’t.

Our state Legislature was distracted from good governance by an excess of partisan spirit and a dearth of statesmanship. Political partisanship led the Democrats, who have solid control of the House and the Senate as well as the governorship, to take advantage. They refused to bring their Republican colleagues to the worktable to help develop a balanced budget, not just fiscally balanced but also politically and socially. Their exclusivity will deservedly come back to haunt them, as they have nobody to blame but themselves for the results. The Democrats voted to waive the rule requiring the state budget to be released 24 hours prior to the final vote, giving the minority party a chance to read and comment before voting. When the Democrats did release the operating budget, a source at the legislature reports it came out 25 minutes AFTER the 3:00 pm cut-off for amendments. The Republicans are primed to take back control in the next election cycle, the negative ads will practically write themselves.

Notice how that previous paragraph makes the legislative session sound like a game to be won or lost by one side or the other? When governance becomes gamesmanship, the loser is the people of the state of Washington. President George Washington, in his Farewell Address after his second and final term in office, warned of the dangers of political parties run amok. He noted the spirit that leads to parties is inevitable, a result of a human tendency to pull together into groups of like perspective. We naturally choose to work with people with whom we share values and concerns.

I am member of the Republican Party, active at a variety of levels, and proud of the work accomplished and grassroots connections made. If you believe in our core values of limited government and fiscal responsibility, then I urge you to join us. I encourage all citizens to seek out like-minded people of good character to work together for the good of your community and your country. However, I am keenly aware of the danger of focusing on party to the detriment of clearly weighing broader values of constitutional commitment, good character and ability to compromise that lead to statesmanship instead of gamesmanship.

President George Washington was one of the earliest to warn us of the dangers to the republic in the “spirit of party.” Revenge, dissension, seeking of personal power, jealousy, animosity, foreign influence and corruption – President Washington didn’t tiptoe around the subject. It was his letter to the future, setting forth expectations and consequences for carrying forth the life of the Republic. Read his own words, from his Farewell Address:

"I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the state, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party, generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled or repressed; but in those of popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight,) the common and continued mischiefs of the spirit f party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion, that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the Government, and serve to keep alive the spirit of Liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in Governments of a Monarchical cast, Patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of a popular character, in Governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And, there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be, in force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent it bursting into a flame, lest instead of warming, it should consume."

We need to go back and rediscover the specifications for the country. We were blessed with a first president who served his country with integrity and insight, eschewing kingly titles and perpetual power for the good of the nation. Re-read President Washington’s entire Farewell Address, you can find it on Wikipedia and any number of websites and books. I know it’s an old fashioned writing style, persevere and read it anyway, and heed his advice. He did absolutely the best technical writing on the subject of maintaining the republic that you’ll ever read, describing:

  • What we can achieve as a people with the skills and good intention to carry out the work
  • Dangers to be avoided, and
  • The rewards for meeting his hopes and expectations for the republic for which he sacrificed so much.

Political parties will always be with us. They are a useful way to organize people to work on problems with a common goal. As you work with the party of your choice, make sure that you are working for the common goal of the good of the country, following in George Washington's footsteps. Expect your elected representatives to do the same, and remain vigilant lest the fire of party spirit consume us.