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  • How to Get a Complex/Technical Bill Through a Legislature

    Posted by David Foster on May 5th, 2017 (All posts by )

    In 1751, Lord Chesterfield decided that the time had come for England to switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar.  In a letter to his son, he explained how he got this done:

    I consulted the best lawyers and the most skillful astronomers, and we cooked up a bill for that purpose. But then my difficulty began: I was to bring in this bill, which was necessarily composed of law jargon and astronomical calculations, to both which I am an utter stranger. However, it was absolutely necessary to make the House of Lords think that I knew something of the matter; and also to make them believe that they knew something of it themselves, which they do not. For my own part, I could just as soon have talked Celtic or Sclavonian to them as astronomy, and they would have understood me full as well: so I resolved to do better than speak to the purpose, and to please instead of informing them. I gave them, therefore, only an historical account of calendars, from the Egyptian down to the Gregorian, amusing them now and then with little episodes; but I was particularly attentive to the choice of my words, to the harmony and roundness of my periods, to my elocution, to my action. This succeeded, and ever will succeed; they thought I informed, because I pleased them; and many of them said that I had made the whole very clear to them; when, God knows, I had not even attempted it. Lord Macclesfield, who had the greatest share in forming the bill, and who is one of the greatest mathematicians and astronomers in Europe, spoke afterward with infinite knowledge, and all the clearness that so intricate a matter would admit of: but as his words, his periods, and his utterance, were not near so good as mine, the preference was most unanimously, though most unjustly, given to me.

     

    3 Responses to “How to Get a Complex/Technical Bill Through a Legislature”

    1. ed in texas Says:

      1751 gives us the earliest citation for “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull$hit.”

    2. dearieme Says:

      Lord Chesterfield: “… I was particularly attentive to the choice of my words, to the harmony and roundness of my periods, to my elocution, to my action.”

      “Lord Macclesfield … is one of the greatest mathematicians and astronomers in Europe …”

      Maybe it helps if the legislature includes men of such abilities.

    3. Mr Black Says:

      Modern lawmaking doesn’t even pretend to inform the members. They vote for a bill, which they have never read and don’t understand, simply because a donor asked them to.

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