Thursday, July 01, 2010

Advice, Consent, and Congressional Hearings

One of the numerous checks and balances built into the American system of government is the concept of advice and consent. This is how advice and consent is defined by the online U.S. Senate glossary:

"Under the Constitution, presidential nominations for executive and judicial posts take effect only when confirmed by the Senate, and international treaties become effective only when the Senate approves them by a two-thirds vote."

This has led to the phenomenon we know today as Congressional hearings. Once again, we turn to the Senate glossary for this definition:

A meeting of a committee or subcommittee -- generally open to the public -- to take testimony in order to gather information and opinions on proposed legislation, to conduct an investigation, or review the operation or other aspects of a Federal agency or program."

The reality, as you may have observed, is somewhat different. Bilbo's Revised Dictionary of Modern American Government © defines Congressional Hearings this way:

"A meeting of a committee or subcommittee, convoked for one of two purposes: (1) to allow Members of Congress to pose and preen for the press while thundering from an elevated dais at hapless witnesses who have no recourse but to bear the abuse with bovine resignation; or, (2) to allow Members of Congress to facilitate either the canonization or public humiliation (depending on the party of the respective member) of candidates for appointed office."

To illustrate my point, here is an actual photo taken at the confirmation hearing for General David Petraeus to be the commander of forces in Afghanistan:

While this is an illustration drawn by a reporter of the confirmation hearings for an individual nominated by President Obama for appointment to a Federal office:

It should be noted that the political leanings of the inquisitors Members of Congress in the above illustration can be identified, are interchangeable, and depend on which party is in power at the moment.

The public filleting of BP CEO Tony Hayward (who, admittedly, did his part to earn it) over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster is a prime example of why Congress holds hearings. When Congress has no idea what to do about a serious problem, the answer is to (1) appoint a select committee and (2) hold hearings. This gives the illusion that Congress is doing something and allows members to fulminate before the cameras, while accomplishing nothing...

In truth, though, I must admit that hearing is actually an appropriate term, because - as near as I can tell - there is no actual listening going on. Witnesses sit at low tables and squirm under the bright lights while Members of Congress glower down from their elevated seats and thunder the embarrassing questions whispered into their ears by their staffers, who have been appropriately primed by the concerned lobbyists.

Eventually, the candidate for appointment is confirmed (or not), the disaster du jour is thoroughly investigated (or not), and new legislation is proposed (or not), whether such legislation is actually necessary (or not). Appearance is everything, and as long as Congress appears to be doing something, all is well.

Unless, of course, you are a Real Person in need of affordable health care, concerned about the state of the economy, or hoping to get through the day without being shot by someone exercising his or her Second Amendment rights.

Hearings. The practical alternative to action.

Have a good day. Demand better from your government, but don't be too disappointed if you don't get it. That's just politics.

More thoughts tomorrow.



Mike said...

"That's just politics."

That sums everything up. Now and forever.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

I can see Tony Haywood is on the wheel with Obama moving him around.