Twain received a lot of laughs when he argued, "It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress."
Americans often enjoy jokes about the officials they elect. I think they figure that laughing about them is much better than crying about them.
I'm intrigued by the fact that more than a million Chinese are making such a fuss over wanting to be more like us. They have set off the largest public demonstration in China's 40 years under communist rule. They flooded the streets of Beijing, dwarfed its central square and paralyzed traffic. Similar, smaller demonstrations for democracy have hit other Chinese cities.
The protesters demanding democratic reforms conducted day-long marches by working people and government clerks in Tiananmen Square and the surrounding streets. That is no simple task. I have stood in Tiananmen Square, and it is hard to imagine, even in China, its 100 acres overflowing with angry people.
Maybe the Chinese have no real understanding of how democracy works, or fails to work in our society. I wonder if the Chinese know what they're in for if they ever set up a government that in any way resembles the kind of government that exists in Washington and in statehouses throughout America.
Shouts of "Long live democracy" by thousands of Chinese youth probably underscore a greater unhappiness with communism than a genuine interest in democracy.
The Chinese probably don't realize that many of America's ills have been spawned by our democratic process. The lack of action on many of our social problems, from unemployment to crime to urban blight, can be traced to a Congress whose general tone suggests quill pens and frock coats in an age of slavish devotion to computers.
When democracy was new, a representative had a fair chance of getting his bills out of committee and onto the floor for a vote. But Congress enshrined the word bureaucracy and the whole world changed.
To get respectable social legislation through the modern Congress without a trail of amendments dragging it down like an anchor is a feat comparable to reaching Mars in a propeller plane.
There was a time when an irate citizen could fire off a letter to his representative with the full expectation of getting a reasonable response in a reasonable length of time. Today, replies often take six months, if they arrive at all. Some congressional leaders write one-letter-fits-all responses, a device that comes out of the mind of a human computer known as a congressional aide.
Chinese protesters don't really know what they're asking for. My guess is it's a pack of trouble. While they're demanding, they'd better get something that works or they'll have to do the demonstration bit all over again.
Actually, I have a healthy respect for our form of democracy - but only
because I don't know of anything better. Democratic reform works haltingly at best. The prime function of government is for our leaders to do for the public what it cannot do for itself, but goodness knows any high school Senate could do it better.
In the democratic process, the electorate has the last word - in a manner of speaking. They can vote lousy leaders out - in theory. In practice, the odds favor incumbents much in the manner that the odds favor the dealer in four-deck blackjack. Incumbent leaders have an even better chance of staying afloat than casino dealers. Congressional leaders perpetuate themselves through creaky machinery, corrupt election practices, the seniority system and all the other protections they've designed to keep them in power and pocket money.
Astute members of Congress exist but they are most definitely in the minority. I side with Will Rogers who said, "I tell you folks, all politics is applesauce."
The very worst thing the Chinese can get is what they're demanding. If they want democratic reform, they'd better be awfully specific about it. If they want assurances, let them ask the average American about his or her experiences. Maybe I should simply send the Chinese a collection of Will
Rogers' and Mark Twain's notes on the relationship between Congress and common sense - if any such relationship exists.
Forwarding such valued information would probably send all the Chinese clerks, students, soldiers and others protesting in the hot sun back into their homes for some consideration and rethinking.