Meet the Moots
The meaning of institutions, like words, changes over time.
Take Congress. The Constitution hands legislative power to the two houses of Congress. With the growth of government Congress has delegated more and more of its powers to the executive branch.
In a recent column, George F. Will identified the most recent “development” of this trend. Will’s example is the automaker bailout. Congress did not authorize it: The package failed in the Senate. But President Bush simply took money from another bailout bill and dumped it at the failing automobile manufacturers.
Even if you think the bailout is good policy, the president should be censured. “With the automakers,” Will writes, “executive branch overreaching now extends to the essence of domestic policy — spending. . . .
George Will’s Washington Post column is titled “Making Congress Moot.” Droll, that. “Moot” is an ancient term for a deliberative body. Philologist and fantasist J.R.R. Tolkien used it to designate his congress of “treeherders.” Remember “entmoot”?
The phrase “moot point” used to mean “open to debate.” It now usually means “an issue raised whose determination cannot have any practical effect.”
Congress has gone from an august, important deliberative body — a moot — to a mere debating society. As the meaning of the word “moot” has decayed, so too has Congress.
Think of 535 moot points.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.