The golden age of co-operation between the branches of New York State government appears to have settled into an era of relative tranquility, during which traditional relationships between longtime incumbents are likely to continue their gravitational impulse on each other, rather than remake state government into anything much more significant than it has been since the years of drift began.
When unexpected events occur, there are likely to be changes which may be required to avert fiscal catastrophe. To the extent that it legally is able to do so, the system will absorb these changes so as to minimize their effect. It is like the effect of well-regulated air conditioning, minimizing the variations that actually take place from time to time.
When changes are required by law, they are made at the last minute, with minimal public attention. This promotes the aura of continuity, which is a hallmark of a government of modest aspirations, acting when circumstances require action, but not generating any great activity on its own.
What we did learn this year is that government can work, in its own fashion, which ranges from lumbering - the usual pattern of activity, aptly symbolized by the donkey and the elephant - to instantaneous, when unread bills are printed in the middle of the night to comply with externally imposed requirements of law. No law requires that any bills actually be read or understood, so that noncompliance is difficult to prove.
Nor would it particularly matter if the bills were read, because the legislators rely on the decisions made by their caucuses, and the actual voting on issues is perfunctory.
The leaders would argue that this is the way the members really want it; the hard work, if any, done by professional staff and the modest debate allowed tending to posturing.
I watched on the Internet the elaborate politeness with which members addressed each other, as if they were in ancient Rome. Whatever the subject, the broadcast proceedings cast the glow of an Animal House toga party over the declaiming solons, as they asked each other mock questions to which they had obviously prepared answers.
If I were younger, so much younger than today, I might have felt more demeaned by the proceedings taking place on the floor. As it happens, however, familiarity eases indignation, so one sees the antic proceedings as what they are: an attempt by people of some ability to make sense out of legal proceedings and rituals, and to have an opportunity to present their views in a setting not designed for the distribution of information so that people can make more informed decisions than they would otherwise.
Perhaps the worst part was the contempt shown for fairness and due process in apportionment. As far as money is concerned, we are used to the insiders getting more than their share; that appears to be a rule in business and life.
But denying people the right to vote, or hacking, stacking, packing and cracking the voters into packages where their influence is minimized beyond reason, with senior legislators braying in the background that they were in scrupulous compliance with the Voting Rights Act and defying anyone to contradict them did suggest the style and manners of a Southern courtroom sixty years ago. The fact that the same words and phrases are now being used to prove the opposite of what they were originally intended to mean leaves sorrow and discontent in the minds of those who worked so hard and so long for social change.
On the other hand, if you believe that people get the kind of government that they deserve, you might not be particularly disturbed by Albany. In fairness, in redistricting you see the legislators at their worst, because their own personal interests are so directly affected by the decisions that they are so deeply arranged in making and manipulating.
If one could take one sentence out of the deliberations, it should be gratitude that in our system, the powers of government are limited, because if the assemblage of our representatives had the authority to make decisions of greater importance to our lives, I would feel increasingly uncomfortable living in any area in which their writ would run.