As I kept a relatively close eye out for the white smoke that would signal the selection of a new bishop of Rome last week, I was struck that the selection process might be a great way to get this country “off the schnide,” as they say in the sports world.
That selection process is called the papal conclave and is basically a meeting of the College of Cardinals that is convened inside the Sistine Chapel for the purpose of choosing a new pope. They have been doing it that way almost 750 years, when Pope Gregory X decided it would be a swell idea to padlock the cardinals inside a chapel until a new pope could be selected.
He may have figured the cardinals would get pretty tired of each other after being locked inside a chapel for three or four days and would move a little quicker on a compromise. If it took longer than three days to select a pope, the cardinals only got one meal a day and after five days of stalemate they got only bread and water.
In 1241, according to history, the townspeople got tired of waiting for the cardinals to make a decision, so they removed the roof of the Palazzo dei Pappi to make them a little less comfortable. I’m guessing it might have been the middle of winter.
To their credit, the 116 cardinals were able to choose a new pope (Pope Francis) last week in just two days (with at least two-thirds majority) and there were some pretty strong candidates. No cardinal over the age of 80 is allowed to vote. It’s bad enough to force an 80-year-old to travel to Italy, let alone lock him in a chapel with just bread and water for several days.
Which takes me to Congress and its inability to produce a balanced budget. I will bet the 535 men and women we send to D.C. to manage our money would have a little more urgency to do that if we locked them inside the Capitol with just bread and water, secluded from their interns, staff members, families, girlfriends, boyfriends and perks.
First week passes and no budget, we cut off the power. Second week and no budget, the bread is gone. Third week, they get no water. Fourth week without a budget, we send in Guido with a baseball bat, maybe break a couple of kneecaps to get their attention.
Imagine Harry Reid and John Boehner sweating in the attic of the five-story Capitol, maybe down to their boxer shorts by Day 15 without a budget.
Reid: “Come on, John. Help me out here. I’m so hungry I could eat my shoelaces.”
Boehner: “Listen, Harry. If you want to ever see the buffet line again you’re going to have to cut that stupid high-speed train idea. We’re not going to spend five billion dollars just to get gamblers from Hollywood to the Vegas Strip in an hour.”
Reid: “You’re killing me, man. But if that’s what it takes to get out of this attic and on a plane to Vegas, I’m in. But we’re going to have to see you guys make a sacrifice, too. No more tax breaks for billionaires and we’ll need to cut the billion-dollar funding on that nuclear tank program.”
Boehner: “That tank is sweet, Harry. Hate to see it scrapped, but we’re willing to meet you halfway. We can agree on that, but for every dollar in new taxes, you guys agree to cut $10 in spending. Do that and you could be watching Wayne Newton by midnight. And don’t tell me you can’t find anyplace to cut. Heck, we gave Smuttynose Brewery $750,970 to buy new beer trucks not that long ago. And don’t forget the $639,884 we spent to see if we could make beef jerky look like a Fruit Roll-Up.”
Once they have reached an agreement the president has 24 hours to sign off on it, or we send him to his room with no dinner. There will be no golf, no parties and no vacations (Air Force One stays in the hangar) until a balanced budget is produced. When that happens they blow white smoke out the chimney, signaling to taxpayers that they have finally produced a holy budget, replacing the one that had holes in it.
If I’m reading history correctly, Pope Gregory X got tired of the cardinals’ inability to do their jobs and turned up the heat. Unless we find a way to apply that same pressure to the talking heads who have bickered us to the point of bankruptcy, the only smoke we’ll see from the Capitol building will be the same smoke they’ve been blowing up our collective behinds for too many years.
Jeff Ackerman is publisher of The News-Review. He can be reached at 541-957-4263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.