Why is it that the myth of Sisyphus invariably comes to mind when I think about the amount of effort being expended by the life insurance business in pushing the optional federal charter boulder up the steep slope that is Capitol Hill?

You remember Sisyphus. In Greek mythology, he is “the greedy king of Corinth [who is] doomed forever in Hades to roll a heavy stone uphill, only to have it always roll down again,” according to my trusty Webster’s New World College Dictionary.

Now, let me say right from the get-go and before any involved parties take umbrage that I am not drawing parallels to every aspect of the myth with the current efforts to effect passage of optional federal charter legislation.

Therefore, let me state for the record that I am not implying in any way, shape or form that the American Council of Life Insurers bears any resemblance to a greedy Corinthian king. I am merely drawing a parallel to it being the one making the enormous and exhaustive uphill push. (I could say its Herculean efforts, but then I would be mixing myths, which is almost as bad as mixing metaphors.)

Similarly, I am not implying in any manner whatsoever that Capitol Hill–home to the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, known worldwide as the world’s greatest deliberative chamber–resembles a mountain in Hell. I am merely drawing a parallel to the difficult terrain that the boulder of OFC has to negotiate on its way to the top.

Do you remember late last year when the OFC issue seemed to be starting to build some momentum? Legislation had been introduced, a palpable degree of optimism was in the air, and supporters were generally in a fine fettle.

Then, out of the blue, 1 of the 2 co-sponsors of legislation in the Senate, Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., had to undergo emergency brain surgery that incapacitated him for months. All of a sudden, uncertainty and bleakness prevailed after months of sustained effort–kind of like the boulder rolling down the hill.

It seems to me that there are bound to be many more obstacles in the path of this particular piece of legislation becoming law. Most of them will not be as dramatic as Johnson’s temporarily dropping from the scene (happily now he is back in the Senate), but will more likely be the ordinary garden variety of political problems that would face any such major change in the oversight of so important a financial industry as insurance.

Right now, one of the most formidable problems facing the ACLI and other OFC proponents is embodied in the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America, which I can almost visualize (sort of like a cartoon) as being near the summit of the hill, ready to kick the OFC boulder down every time it gets near that point.

But one should not discount the tenacity of the ACLI when it comes to pushing the issue. This is very important to some of its members, particularly the bigger ones, which provide the fuel (read ‘membership dues’) for it continuing to plug away in the face of disappointment.

Finally, where I have to depart from the myth of Sisyphus is that I believe the ACLI will ultimately be successful in getting optional federal charter legislation enacted. It may take longer than expected and the hill may eventually come to seem like Everest, but I think time and globalization are on its side, at least for the life insurance business.

And at that point, it will be like the part of the Sisyphus myth that nobody knows about, which is when he got that damn boulder over the top. Then he just sat down with a cold beer and savored the feeling of having gotten the job done.

Steve Piontek

Editor-in-Chief

Quote

“One should not discount the tenacity of the ACLI when it comes to pushing the [OFC] issue. This is very important to some of its members, particularly the bigger ones, which provide the fuel (read ‘membership dues’) for it continuing to plug away in the face of disappointment.”