Politicians these days are expected to have such scruples within their scruples that they would never knowingly do anything considerate for a "special interest." But consider H.R. 5783 and the saga of the umbrella frames.
That bill is the handiwork of Rep. Marcy Kaptur, (D-Ohio), whose district includes Toledo, where in 1899 the Hull Brothers Umbrella Company began doing its useful work so that you need not let a smile be your umbrella. In time that firm became part of the Haas-Jordan Company, which today is one of just eight remaining American manufacturers of hand-held rain umbrellas. But no American firm makes frames for such umbrellas. Last year Taiwan accounted for more than 50 percent of imported frames. Under an automatic triggering formula of the tariff schedules, a 15 percent duty was imposed on such imports.
Today 95 percent of all umbrellas sold in the United States are manufactured overseas. The duty on frames could have killed the eight domestic manufacturers, irrationally: it is a protectionist measure, but there is no domestic umbrella frame industry to protect. H.R. 5783 carefully leaves in place the duty on frames for beach and patio umbrellas, as American manufacturers of such frames desire.
On the other side of the Capitol from where Rep. Kaptur toils, the distinguished and able senior senator from the great and sovereign state of Ohio (sorry about the adjectives, but they get flung around in the Senate), John Glenn, saw his duty and did it: "Mr. President, I rise today to add a noncontroversial amendment to the Miscellaneous Tariff bill currently before the Senate."
The amendment was adopted, so unless the president vetoes the whole tariff bill (for reasons unrelated to umbrellas) the umbrella makers of Toledo -- about 25 of them -- can continue to fight the good fight for the American way of umbrellas. They, by the way, are members of Lane Kirkland's legions -- specifically, the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers -- but they stood shoulder to shoulder with management in petitioning for passage of H.R. 5783. This collaboration was a setback for the class struggle, but life is full of compromises.
Rep. Ed Jenkins, Democrat, of Georgia's 9th District, participated in the passage of the bill, as well he should have, having received a rocket from a testy constituent, the founder of the Southern Umbrella Company, the nifty slogan of which is: "Born in Hartwell, Georgia . . . Raised Everywhere." His letter ended with a snort: "I am expecting a satisfactory explanation from you at once without long government red-tape procedure." That is a tone of voice congressmen often hear. It gives you a sense of why being a congressman is not all beer and skittles.
The lads at the White House who weahose aesthetically appalling and ideologically unsatisfactory neckties decorated with the profile of Adam Smith (whose profile would be on neckties in a Mondale administration? John Kenneth Galbraith's?) should, if they want to practice what their neckties preach, strip the protection from the beach and patio umbrella people, forcing them to make umbrellas in the bracing gale of competition from abroad. But just as God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb, government, under Republicans and Democrats alike, follows God's example, and does God one better by tempering the wind even for some unshorn lambs.
It is easy to treat such episodes as the umbrella frame duty-lifting as subjects for merriment: men and women labor like hod carriers and spend like sheiks to get elected to the House or Senate so they can give laws to the great republic, and they wind up worrying about umbrella frames, and being barked at by constituents in the bargain.
Actually, a lot of what legislators do -- searching for lost Social Security checks, delivering high-school commencement addresses, having their pictures taken with Miss Yogurt of 1984 -- is less interesting, less dignified and less useful than H.R. 5783. The wonder is that Americans can persuade people to become legislators, considering the small pay and abundant abuse that comes with the job.
One man eager to become a legislator is Ray Shamie, who defeated Elliot Richardson for the Republican Senate nomination in Massachusetts. Recently, in his umpteenth interview at the end of a long campaign day, he said something he did not quite mean but that some anarchists masquerading as conservatives do seem to think: "Elliot believes government can do good things for people. I don't." That statement, which puts Social Security, the Interstate highway system and World War II (to cite just three government undertakings) in their place, is refuted by, among other things H.R. 5783, be it ever so humble.