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In the Senate

Yesterday, we perched up in the seats above the US Senate. Rows upon rows of wooden desks, like magnificient school desks, stood empty. There were at most six senators present - not that we could see them all from our vantage point. Not far below us, we could watch over an editor's shoulder, seeing the out-of-sight senators speak.

Of course much of government is largely conducted in empty rooms, but I can't remember thinking of it that way before. These senators weren't orating to us, up in the balcony, or even very much to each other. Their audience was whoever happened to flip through channels and pause on C-Span for a moment. Their charts were reiterated from the day before. Their points were largely along the lines of, "As I said earlier..." or "As I was saying yesterday..." It wasn't debate. It was filling time by looking good.

Some of them might even sound good, but most were waffling on, deliberately filling time. I was grateful for McCain, who still had wit and a spark of life in him, despite the emptiness of the room's grandeur.

It began to seem like a pageant, each senator coming on when the script called for it, otherwise off in the wings, doing business, on vacation, not cluttering up the stage.



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 24th, 2009 04:57 am (UTC)
And this is why politicians fail. They aren't interested in being part of the solution. They just want to look pretty for passersby.

Edited at 2009-12-24 12:05 pm (UTC)
Dec. 24th, 2009 08:52 pm (UTC)
That's pretty much the scene all over the developed world. The problem is that parliaments developed as institutions back in the days when people had to be in the same physical space in order to negotiate and reach decisions together, and that's just not the case anymore. Nowadays, all the major points of most debates have already been hashed over in the news media and on the internet long before they hit the floor of a legislature, so the politicians end up reading old news into the record.

It's interesting that the U.S. Senate regularly does business without a quorum. This is going to sound a little strange, but I find that kind of civilized. Back when I was a Queen's Park henchminion, my colleagues and I were constantly struggling with bosses who wandered away from their seats in the House. You take a workoholic type-A personality and tell him "I'm sorry, you have House duty today but you didn't make it onto the speaking roster. Your job for this afternoon is to sit on your butt for five hours, smile for the cameras, and do jack-all," and he gets very unhappy indeed. It would have been much better to let him sit in his office with the TV tuned to the legislative channel. That way he could have gotten work done and I wouldn't have been hunting all over the building with the Whip's office hot on my tail, looking for a boss who was playing hooky and holed up somewhere with his BlackBerry, doing something useful for his constituents.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )