Parallels in politics
By Duane A. Beyal
Special to the Times
October 25, 2012
This fact was apparent in the three U.S. presidential debate and on the opening day of the Navajo Nation Council's fall session last week. The parallel reminded me that every year you can see an RV or other tourist vehicle riding down the highway with a tumbleweed attached to its top, a souvenir of the rez, we can presume.
In D.C. we see a parody of democracy with money and power as the main fuel. The president and Congress fight an ineffective battle. No one wins and a stalemate is the result while the needs and interests of the people remain a secondary or tertiary priority (tertiary as in third in rank, not the prehistoric period although we often seem to be stuck in the caveman age).
The U.S. system is polarized and grinds to a halt when one party controls the White House and another controls the House or Senate. Proposals from neither stand much chance of passage.
The political rhetoric is reaching a crescendo as we approach the Nov. 6 election. In Tuesday night's U.S. presidential debate, Obama and Romney fought to create an image of leadership and struggled to avoid gaffes and major factual mistakes before a national TV audience.
In Window Rock, we may not have Super PACs funneling millions of dollars to promote candidates and their interests, but we are growing up. We're still at the stage of lunches provided to the Council by various interests. But in the same way the Navajo Nation imitates the bureaucracy of the federal government, our elected leaders can increase their bombast in fine imitation of Washington's best political speakers.
The 24-member Council provides less of a stage, i.e., a small group of delegates instead of 88, but sometimes the most entertaining and revealing part of a meeting is the question-and-answer session after the president's state of the nation speech.
In the old days when the roles of today's speaker and president were combined in the single position of chairman, the presiding officer wielded immense power. Delegates could not speak unless given the floor by the chairman.
Obviously, an astute chairman would pick his supporters to speak on the floor and ignore opponents. He often selected delegates before the session began in back-door negotiations.
These machinations upset those opposed to the chairman and many times over the years a delegate had to stand to try to make a point over the pounding of the gavel by the chairman.
But that was the process in the age-old tradition of Washington where the majority quashes the voice of the minority by voting down or not bringing a question to a vote. During one contentious Council session, the chairman took a break and was confronted in the men's room by a couple of angry delegates.
Today, President Ben Shelly can't pick his speakers and questioners after giving his speech to the Council. In a mirror image of the U.S. presidential debate, on Monday the delegates and the president squared off in a rhetorical dance peppered with heated words.
Some viewers of the live Internet feed of the fall session said it was fun watching Shelly spar with some delegates. The intimacy of the gathering, with 24 delegates as opposed to 88, only magnified the tension.
When delegates chastised Shelly for the lack of progress by his administration, he fired back by saying the delegates have lost quorums at meetings and this has stalled several projects.
One delegate admonished Shelly for ridiculing the Council, although it is true a lack of quorums has plagued many legislative branch meetings. Responding to a question about efforts to rebuild the Bennett Freeze Area, Shelly said the delegates need to meet more often.
"You haven't met in the last three months and you haven't done anything in that area," Shelly said. "How in the heck am I going to find out what's going on when you'all are not meeting?"
Regarding a question about the Little Colorado River water rights settlement, Shelly cast all decorum aside, saying, "If you're going to go on with it, go on with it or don't bother with it."
After another admonishment by a delegate, Shelly replied, "These are my words, they are not my staff's, they are nicer."
In Navajo, according to one observer, Shelly said, "You say what I'm saying is embarrassing. Look at yourself."
However, Shelly returned to the meat of the matter for most elected officials in the room, saying, "You need projects to get re-elected" and invited the delegates to work together with him to achieve this.
This brought to mind the tourists hauling an authentic tumbleweed back to their home. Was the tumbleweed still intact when they got home? Was it confiscated at a state border because it was an invasive species? Did the promise of a souvenir from the rez fade as they drove away and the tumbleweed blew away, seeding the land beside the highway?
As we all know, tumbleweeds come and go with the winds, their promise only fleeting and eventually gone until the next season.
Yes, Washington and Window Rock are not so far apart.