While it’s not exactly surprising, it’s disappointing to hear, in anecdotes from Mark Steyn’s visit to a U.S. Senate committee hearing, that it isn’t just Rhode Island where legislators seem to misunderstanding their proper position in our society:
I said above that the Senate had no “decorum” to disrespect. By that I mean that, when my pal Ezra Levant and I gave evidence (as we say in the Westminster tradition) in the Canadian Parliament, members from all parties turned up and asked thoughtful and engaged questions. When we run into each other in Montreal, the representatives of the Bloc Québécois and I do not even agree on what country we’re in. But that afternoon we had a pleasant and civilized exchange, and one that had some rewardingly non-partisan after-glow in the months that followed.
In the US Senate, at least on Tuesday, senators wander in and out constantly. Their five-minute “question” sessions are generally four-minute prepared statements of generalized blather followed by a perfunctory softball to “their” witness, after which they leave the room without waiting to hear the answer – and then come back in when it’s their time to speak again at which point the staffer feeds them the four-minute blather they’re supposed to be sloughing off this time round. The video doesn’t capture the fakery of the event because under Senate rules the camera is generally just on whoever’s speaking. Whether this meets the “decorum” of the Senate, it certainly doesn’t meet the decorum of life; it’s a breach of the normal courtesies – and, frankly, Americans are the chumps of the planet for putting up with it. Since the 17th Amendment, senators have been citizen-legislators like any other, and so their contempt for the citizenry who have graciously consented, at their own time and expense, to appear before them demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of the relationship.
It isn’t up to the public to enter the room in the proper way, offer the proper courtesies, and bow at the proper angle while the legislators dispense with even a poor imitation of interest or a shred of pretense that what people have traveled to say might actually affect their opinions and, therefore, the laws of the state or the nation.
It’s a big show. The legislators do their thing. The paid activists do their thing. The news media adds another subtly editorial layer in choosing what is reported. And it all comes down to what insiders and special interests are able to work behind the scenes while giving the impression that we truly have a representative democracy.
That’s why — the difficulty of figuring out what to call him when he appeared before the committee, notwithstanding — folks like Mark Steyn are the perfect witnesses. Exposing the underlying fraud is much more important, at this point, than casting expertise into the hot wind of corrupt politics.