John Henry vs. The Autopen

In 2011, there was some tooth gnashing over President Obama’s authorization of the signing of the Patriot Act extension.  Not about the act itself, but by the fact that the extension was singed with an autopen. This machine long ago took the place of the chief executive’s hand in dealing with routine correspondence, but apparently this is the first time a mechanical device has been used to turn a bill into a law.

A legal opinion written by lawyers with the Bush (2) administration was used to justify the move.

Even so, Obama was criticized, but that’s not the greatest risk. The greatest risk, as anyone who has worked in a factory knows, is allowing a machine to get a metal and plastic toe in the door when it comes to doing an essential part of your job. History tells us where that leads – sometime in the future our President (whoever it may be) and the autopen are bound to have their John Henry Moment.

When John Henry got into the White House
Famous ‘cause he worked so hard,
He arrived with much renown, he had people all ‘round.
He was popular and held in high regard, Lord Lord.
Popular and held in high regard.

When John Henry reached the Oval Office
Surrounded by women and men
He said, “Now I’m feelin’ fine, I got papers here to sign”
They said, “All of that is done by auto pen” Lord Lord,
“We don’t need you with the auto pen.”

John Henry said to his people
“While it’s true my arms are sore,
I won’t let them wires and wheels fix my presidential seals,
Bring us bills and I will sign them all and more, Lord Lord.
Bills to sign and more and more and more.

So John Henry signed with his left hand
Autopen signed with the right
Though it didn’t have no arm or no presidential charm,
It signed every bill that he did through the night, Lord Lord
Both of them signed bills all through the night.

When they found them there in the morning,
It was dark and cold and damp.
Just a gizmo and a bloke, blood and oil and sweat and smoke.
One was broken and one died of writer’s cramp, Lord Lord.
What a way to go, from writer’s cramp.

The moral to this story
Is to do all you can do.
But there ain’t a man alive who can challenge and survive
when machines arrive to take the place of you, Lord Lord.
When machines arrive to sign then you are through!



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