Some may dismiss it as merely a symbolic gesture, but symbolic gestures can be powerful. They're often prerequisites for subsequent, substantial change. Without those seemingly futile efforts, no genuine reform would follow.
So-called symbolic gestures sometimes represent an idea whose time has not yet come, but is coming. Suppressed or ignored, they may nevertheless have a demoralizing effect on protectors of the status quo – and an emboldening effect on advocates of reform.
A good example of this phenomenon is last week's passage by the U.S. House of Representatives of a bill designed to promote fairness and honesty in asbestos litigation and to increase transparency in asbestos trusts.
Combining Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte's Fairness in Class Litigation Act with Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold's Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency (FACT) Act, the bill would prohibit the mingling of injured and uninjured consumers as plaintiffs in a single class action suit and require asbestos trusts to disclose claim information quarterly and comply with information requests from asbestos litigators.
Those are laudable goals. With President Obama expected to veto the measure, however, what will its passage really accomplish? For one thing – and this is no small thing – the passage of the bill is a witness to the truth (in this case, the need for asbestos litigation reform) and a witness to the existence of truth-tellers (a testimony to the integrity of the legislators who voted for it).
It's also a shot across the bow of asbestos attorneys who game the system by inflating and double-dipping claims. The message: Clean up your act, because we're coming for you.
It's a challenge to President Obama, as well. He said he would veto it, so if he does, let the members of his party defend that veto in an election year. Last but not least, passage of the bill demonstrates its potential to become law in 2017, under a president committed to the common good instead of cronyism.