The Magna Carl-a
Carl gives advice to our leaders based on how governments work overseas, and our listener contestant guesses what he's talking about.
CARL KASELL: From NPR and WBEZ-Chicago, this is WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!, the NPR News quiz. I'm Carl Kasell, and here's your host, coming to you from the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda, Maryland, Peter Sagal.
PETER SAGAL, HOST:
Thank you, Carl.
SAGAL: Thank you everybody. Thank you so much. We share your excitement, we do. We have a fabulous show for you today. We're particularly excited to have the British Ambassador to the United States, Sir Peter Westmacott, joining us to talk about international relations. In fact, our show this week is all about politics: past and present, domestic and foreign.
And of course, the key to politics is spin: the art of turning something bad into something good. For example, I might say, we're totally burnt out so we're taking a break from the week's news. But Spinmeister Carl will say?
KASELL: This allows us to bring you the most fascinating hour in broadcast history.
SAGAL: There, you feel better.
SAGAL: So give us a call. The number, as always, 1-888-Wait-Wait, that's 1-888-924-8924. Hi you're on WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!
JOHN MCBRIDE: John McBride from Dallas, Texas.
SAGAL: Well, hello, John, how are you?
MCBRIDE: Excellent, how are you?
SAGAL: I'm pretty well. I'm pretty well. How are things in Dallas?
MCBRIDE: Very good.
SAGAL: And what do you do there?
MCBRIDE: Chief Financial Officer at the Nasher Sculpture Center.
SAGAL: What is that?
MCBRIDE: It's a small museum. We have Ernesto Neto on display.
MCBRIDE: We've got a Picasso out front. We've got some de Koonings, some...
SAGAL: I thought it'd be mostly big bronze cattle. That's what I've seen.
MCBRIDE: No, that's down the street.
SAGAL: OK, all right. Let me introduce you, John, to our panel this week. First, say hello to the man behind Esquire's politics blog and a contributor to Grantland.com. Mr. Charlie Pierce is here.
CHARLIE PIERCE: Hey, John.
MCBRIDE: Hi, Charlie.
SAGAL: Next, a comedienne whose Comedy Central special is available on iTunes, Ms. Jessi Klein.
JESSI KLEIN: Hi, John.
MCBRIDE: Hi, Jessi.
SAGAL: And finally, an author and humorist whose blog now appears at cartalk.com with embarrassing regularity, Mr. Tom Bodett.
MCBRIDE: Hi, Tom.
TOM BODETT: Hello, John.
SAGAL: So, John, we're in Bethesda, we're near Washington. We know there's no hope for the U.S. government; we can smell the failure from here.
SAGAL: But we want to try and still fix the system. So we looked around the globe for inspiration from other countries and Carl has collected all this wisdom and put together his very own Guide to Good Government.
KASELL: And I call it the Magna Carl-A.
SAGAL: So your job today is to explain what he is talking about, interpret his lesson, two times out of three. Do that: you'll win our prize. Ready to play?
MCBRIDE: Excellent, yes.
SAGAL: All right. Our first piece of advice comes from Taiwan.
KASELL: You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. But you catch the most flies of all by punching them.
SAGAL: What could we learn from the Taiwanese strategy that to settle legislative differences sometimes you have to do what?
MCBRIDE: Punch them in the face.
SAGAL: Yes, indeed.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: I rise to make a motion - of my fist, towards your nose.
SAGAL: In 2007, the Speaker of the Taiwanese Parliament wanted to bring up a bill; the opposition party preferred that he not do that. So he invoked a little known provision of Robert's Rules of Kicking Ass.
SAGAL: A huge fistfight ensued on the floor of Parliament. It was videotaped. And it went on, with fists flying and all kinds of things until a group of visiting third graders ran in to restore order.
SAGAL: Now, much was made of this when this happened, but can you imagine how much fun it would be, if we imported this tradition to our government?
KASELL: Tonight - it's the capitol smack down. Nancy "Not So Nancy" Pelosi makes John "Beat Down" Boehner cry for a reason.
PIERCE: If they would do that, C-SPAN's ratings would be through the roof, first of all.
SAGAL: Imagine how...
PIERCE: You would have pay-per-view on C-SPAN; it would be great.
BODETT: And over time, it would attract a different kind of politician. Eventually we'd have like these cage fighter guys in Congress.
BODETT: People would want their rep to be the baddest...
PIERCE: Governor Jesse Ventura, the comeback.
BODETT: There you go.
SAGAL: But really, it would be great. Imagine if, like, the Speaker of the House, on C-SPAN, right, the Speaker of the House takes out his gavel, and the Minority Leader responds by breaking out his nunchucks?
SAGAL: And what if the Majority Whip had one?
KLEIN: I just think it would be a nice change if the biggest problem in Congress was steroids.
BODETT: Well, there would be turnover, obviously. And as these more capable fighters, like professional wrestlers and cage match fighters started to integrate into Congress, the actual overall intellectual capacity of the body would improve.
SAGAL: You'd think.
BODETT: It could be a good thing.
SAGAL: You'd have Ruth Bader Ginsberg walking around holding up a round number.
SAGAL: Wearing presumably a severe gray flannel bikini, I guess would be appropriate.
(SOUNDBITE OF BOOING)
SAGAL: I guess they don't care for that fabric. I don't know. All right, less fighting over principles, more actual fighting, that's lesson one. Let's hear Carl's next piece of advice. This one we learned from Great Britain.
KASELL: Every piece of legislation looks great after the fifth beer.
SAGAL: That comes from the British parliament. Our Congress here could learn a thing or two from that body's longstanding tradition of doing what?
MCBRIDE: Drinking while legislating.
SAGAL: Exactly right.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: The British Parliament does not want their members to drive drunk, by going out to bars. But they don't mind if they legislate drunk. So the British Parliament actually has up to four bars operating in the parliament building itself, open to members
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
SAGAL: Woo-Hoo. This has led to some colorful episodes, as when one lawmaker named Mark Reckless - really - says he doesn't remember whether he even voted for one bill. And then there was the time one lawmaker got drunk and head butted two of his rivals, in the bar. You know things had finally gotten out of hand when one member filed a motion to change the name of the British Parliament to the British Parliament Funkadelic.
PIERCE: They have four bars?
SAGAL: Yes, they have four bars in the building.
PIERCE: Do they have like a food court and a Banana Republic, too?
BODETT: Again, it's another good idea. It would be - if I was a legislator, I'd want to have that kind of cover, you know.
SAGAL: Oh yeah.
BODETT: You go back to the home base and they'd say, "Why'd you vote for it?" I had a few too many.
SAGAL: Well, you'd get stuff accomplished, though, right? I mean, people would wake up; legislators would wake up the next morning next to enormous spending bills they didn't recognize.
SAGAL: They'd be like "oh god, last night your earmarks seemed so cute."
KLEIN: See, I think that it's actually a really good idea because then everybody would be - if you're drunk, you're a lot more honest. So you'd have congressman whose being like "I'm against gay marriage. All, right, 'cause I'm gay, I'm gay, and I hate myself."
KLEIN: You know, you'd save a lot of time.
SAGAL: I know.
KLEIN: Because that process usually takes years. Just admit it right then.
SAGAL: All right. So, a little liquor might smooth out things. We learned that from Britain. Here's your last bit of advice.
KASELL: If you can't say anything nice, you'll be fined if you say anything at all.
SAGAL: Carl is referring to the case of Michael O'Brian. He was the gaming minister for the Australian state of Victoria. He was getting a lot of public criticism in 2011. So he put forward a law and passed it that made what illegal?
MCBRIDE: Being rude.
SAGAL: Being rude to whom?
MCBRIDE: A state official.
SAGAL: Specifically to him is the answer.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
SAGAL: The Gaming Minister made it illegal to insult the Gaming Minister. Claiming the insults made it hard to do his job properly, he tacked on an amendment to the Gaming Regulation Act. It fined violators $12,000 for insulting or mocking the person in charge of the Gaming Regulation Act. That would be him.
SAGAL: It's called the I'm Rubber You're Glue Act.
SAGAL: It was actually passed. It is law in the state of Victoria. But Mr. O'Brian forgot to include a ban on sarcasm, so now everybody there is like, "Oh, yeah, he's the greatest minister ever."
BODETT: I'm on our local select board in Vermont and I'm just thinking, I wonder if a town ordinance could work?
SAGAL: Really? Do people say mean things about you as a select...
BODETT: Oh, constantly, yes.
SAGAL: Give us a sample.
BODETT: I can't.
BODETT: I can't.
SAGAL: If they illegalized political insults here in America, it would cripple our economy.
SAGAL: I mean Fox News and MSNBC would have to change their business model.
PIERCE: I'd be out of a gig for sure.
SAGAL: It's Bill O'Reilly's Hour of Silence.
SAGAL: Carl, how did John do on our quiz?
KASELL: Very well, Peter, three correct answers. So John, I'll be doing the message on your voicemail or home answering machine.
SAGAL: Well done.
MCBRIDE: Thank you.
SAGAL: Congratulations, John.
MCBRIDE: Thank you.
SAGAL: Bye-bye now.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.