On Laughter

Sometimes laughter is the only possible response to a ridiculous situation. I love seeing others laugh, but there are some people who witness laughter and become extremely upset. I’m afraid that’s what happened to House Speaker Robbie Wills on Thursday.

Don't fear the Reeper
Don't fear the Reeper

Rep. Greg Reep, standing on the House floor, was explaining how important it was for us to raise taxes. Of course, everyone has the right to his or her opinion on these things. My opinion: to strip $90 million out of the economy to pay for new health care programs when we have $300 million in the state treasury, in the middle of a recession, is not very responsible. I think it’s the fiscal equivalent of driving your car into a lamppost, getting out of your car, and swaggering up to the policeman on the scene and saying “Yeah, I had a couple of drinks. What are you gonna do about it?”

Disagreement about the way the world works is common in any legislative body. Disagreement isn’t fun, and it’s not very funny. But when someone speaking in favor of a tax hike realizes that it’s pretty hard to make a convincing case on the merits, and instead tries to justify it by saying “I’m a fiscal conservative” – as Rep. Reep did – well, I am afraid there were plenty of us who found this particular statement hilarious.

Most of us understand what a budget is. Put simply, it’s a way to set financial priorities. The whole point of a budget is to force us to make choices, to weigh things against one another in a world of limited resources, so that we assign resources to their best and highest use. The discipline of abiding by a budget is a necessary and useful one.

But when we decide that budget discipline is just too hard – when we give in to weakness by deciding that we need to continue to spend every dollar that we currently budget for and also buy $90 million worth of new stuff in addition – we have made a regrettable choice. This choice is not regrettable just because it will kill jobs and burden the economy with $90 million more in taxes. This choice speaks poorly of us morally because we have failed to behave like adults who can make intelligent decisions and set priorities by scouring the existing budget for second-tier items that we could eliminate.

Someone who makes Reep’s choice – to tax more and spend more – can describe himself as a fiscal conservative, just as you could describe a bank robbery as a financial transaction. But this kind of abuse of language invites incredulity and laughter. It certainly did Thursday.

I won’t defend Rep. Mark Martin. Martin was wrong to yell “It’s the law” when Reep was speaking about the way he “balanced the budget,” and Martin was right to apologize on Friday. But if we aren’t even going to be allowed to laugh when the man standing in the well of the House says something entirely lacking in moral or intellectual seriousness, I think we’re all in trouble. Laughter is an involuntary reaction to an absurd situation, and as far as I know it is not expressly prohibited by House Rules.

Robert "Robbie" Wills
Speaker Robert "Robbie" Wills

Robbie Wills is most upset – not just about Martin’s inappropriate outburst, but about the laughter at Reep’s remarks that filled the chamber. In a blistering post on his blog, he scolded us by saying that laughing “showed a complete lack of respect for the House of Representatives.”  He and I have a fundamental disagreement about who it was who showed a lack of respect for whom on Thursday.

I say that laughter is often a healthy response to bluster and scolding. I think even Robbie Wills would agree with that, especially when he gets over being a sore winner.

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16 thoughts on “On Laughter

  • February 7, 2009 at 12:42 pm
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    In general, why can’t someone be a fiscal conservative and also vote for new taxes? If that’s the best way to balance the budget or pay for new needed programs, then so be it.

    My house runs on a balanced budget, but that doesn’t mean we go without A because we want to buy B. It can also mean we raise enough money to buy both A and B.

    Won’t that kill private industry? First, the idea that we could lower taxes to zero and the economy would suddenly grow enough to pay for government, doesn’t play out in real life. That’s voodoo economics.

    It takes $3 in growth to replace $1 in taxes anyway you slice it, and if there’s a business out there making $3 for every $1 invested, that’s a business that doesn’t need a tax cut to create new jobs.

    Second, that $1 in taxes doesn’t disappear, it simply moves to another place. Just like the taxes I pay here in Little Rock to subsidize people who live in rural areas. My wealth is redistributed to the very people who scream the loudest about socialism. HA!

    Third, as far as smoking, when fewer people smoke, the less they cost me in taxes and insurance premiums. Tax them, tax them, tax them.

    Tax gasoline while you’re at it.

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  • February 7, 2009 at 1:12 pm
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    Jim
    You need to go read your macro economics book again. Your understanding of economics is as lacking as Mr. Reeps and the other morons who voted for this tax because it made them “feel good”

    We need to start electing smart people and not dumb lackeys who will do whatever you want them to as long as you tell them a sad story.

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  • February 7, 2009 at 2:48 pm
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    Thank you for your comments Mr. Greenberg. Very well said and very necessary indeed.

    The silliness being spouted by Rep. Reep and his claims of fiscal conservatism, along with the typical drivel oozing out of Rep. Wills mechanically operated mouth (with Beebe handling the controls, no doubt) are the truest indicators of “a complete lack of respect for the House of Representatives.”

    Rep. Martin needed to apologize because without decorum on the House floor, things would quickly degenerate lower than they currently stand. Outbursts from the floor should not be tolerated. The British do it, and, well, look at their success in runing things.

    The Dems have proven over the years they have no hesitation to run rough-shod over those who might disagree. Passage of this bill simply provided additional proof of their lack of respect for Representatives who might disagree. Kudos to Rep. Martin for having the cajones to do right and make his apology. Rest assured there won’t be any Democratics headed to the well to apologize for a lack of decorum against the Representatives who were crushed in this latest debacle.

    At the same time, Rep. Reep either is the intellectual equivalent of a box of rocks (likely) for his assertation he is a fiscal conservative, or he is a liar of the first order (also likely) for his ridiculous proclamation from the well.

    Rep. Wills is nothing but the Beebe butt-boy in this and all other matters legislative. For him to publicly decry a lack of bi-partisanship is hilarious. Just wait and watch for the new governmental position Wills will assume, provided Beebe is re-elected, once he is term-limited in a couple years. Also, beware of Wills altruistic intents in crafting the 100 page lottery legislation. There will be more “good-old-boy-ex-legislator” positions created through this legislation than any other single legislative fiat in the history of this state. Well, paying positions anyway. Who can forget the creation of the 1,000,000-man Martin Luther King, Jr. Commmission?

    Reep is but one of the jokes in this legislature. He compares favorably with that staunch tax and spender of suppposed Republican ilk, Roy Ragland. It is all a joke, the way this legislature is treating Arkansans. Unfortunately, we the citizens are the butts of the joke.

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  • February 7, 2009 at 2:53 pm
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    Rep. Greenburg,

    You and I know that Speaker Wills did not sound the gavel until Rep. Martin spoke out, not after Rep. Reeps made his fiscal conservative remark and many in the chamber laughed. Saying that Speaker Wills is against “laughter” is absolutely absurd. You are distorting the facts and that’s a shame.

    Laughter occurs very often in the chamber and I’ve never heard Speaker Wills or any other Speaker sound the gavel for laughter. However, when a representative shows overt disrespect on the floor of the House the Representatives, it is necessary to inform members and those viewing the session that it will not be tolerated. Shouting from the floor of the House of Representatives is something expectant of a high school student council meeting. I also applaud Rep. Martin for apologizing because I do realize that emotions were at a high on Thursday.

    Again, I ask, please do not distort the facts, Rep. Greenburg, because the record shows that Speaker Wills did not reprimand anyone for laughing.

    John

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  • February 7, 2009 at 3:08 pm
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    Does anyone else think that John sounds like Speaker Wills?

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  • February 7, 2009 at 3:15 pm
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    Now that added for some serious laughter, Bill.

    I’m sure you can do any I.P. trace, so try that. I’m a Comcast subscriber in Little Rock.

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  • February 7, 2009 at 3:29 pm
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    John, it is clear that you are responding to Representative Greenburg’s post, which discusses Speaker Wills’s, without the benefit of reading either one. Here is what Wills said.

    “For the most part, dignity and decorum prevailed in this debate. Unfortunately, a few opponents showed a complete lack of respect for the House of Representatives by heckling Rep. Gregg Reep, the sponsor of the bill, with derisive laughter, hoots and catcalls. It was out of line. A few of them have since apologized. Some don’t seem to think they did anything wrong.”

    Robbie Wills is anti-laughter.

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  • February 7, 2009 at 3:39 pm
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    Seriously, being upset about laughter and a one-liner is kinda petty to me. A man was once stabbed on the floor of the Arkansas State House. I think everything but Speaker Wills pride will survive a little laughter.

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  • February 7, 2009 at 4:06 pm
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    First, John, we don’t go in for that IP search business on this blog and I’m perfectly content to host your commentary sans full identification, so welcome.

    Second, what I find most interesting in all this is this concept advanced by Wills that the Arkansas House of Representatives chamber is some kind of sanctum sanctorum that must be revered in and of itself. How fortunate that these concepts of restraint and dignity and decorum and reverence (ugh) for the institution coincide so perfectly with the Speaker’s and Beebe’s interests. This desire to avoid all outward displays of conflict is a pretty powerful weapon wielded by Arkansas Democrats, since most of the Little Rock media crowd endorses such go-along/get-alongism as the highest obtainable good.

    But perhaps my sensibilities are too cynically irreverent.
    D.

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  • February 7, 2009 at 4:15 pm
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    I agree with Kinkade on all that. The startling inability of Arkansas Democrats to detect partisanship from anyone besides Republicans is a related and most interesting phenomenon. A press release goes out from the DPA urging all Democrats to endorse the tax release; no problem. A week later, Bryan King endorses smaller government; suddenly Robbie Wills claims partisanship has been injected into the debate by, natch, Republicans. It’s like the time that one of my car speakers blew out and I could only hear the music from the right side of the car. Can these politicians even hear themselves?

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  • February 7, 2009 at 5:46 pm
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    This is a guy who made such a fool of himself at a high school football game he had to publish an apology in the hometown paper. The true judge of the effectiveness of Representative or Mayor Reep is the steady decline of his own home town. Warren has been in steady decline since he became mayor and has gotten worse since he was elected by the citizens of Bradley County to represent them in Little Rock. Maybe he should spend more time trying to bring in industry and economic development to rescue Warren and less time attending homosexual fundraisers and speaking double truths from the house floor. As a former citizen of Bradley County he is a total embarrassment to me, in his general appearance, and his voting record.

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  • February 7, 2009 at 8:10 pm
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    I attended a meeting today with Rep. Reep and Hall. I was appalled when they explained that people in their districts were overwhelmingly opposed to the tax but they were being real leaders by voting for the tax since their constituents were too poor and uneducated to know what was “really best for them”. This kind of legislative arrogance is not only laughable… it is deplorable and their uneducated constituents should bring them home to think about it.

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  • February 8, 2009 at 12:02 pm
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    What meeting? I would like to know more about that.

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  • February 9, 2009 at 1:19 pm
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    One of the charges against Socrates in Athens — and _Dartmouth Review_ editor Debbie Stone in New Hampshire — was “malicious laughter,” so you’re in good company, Dan.

    Reply

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