Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Meatless meetings, or, help the hearings-impaired

I had always been taught that the point behind having a hearing on anything was to discover what had been hidden, to learn heretofore undiscovered or unexplained facts, to make clear certain events and to decide a course of action based upon those discoveries. For example, in the wake of a disaster, one has hearings to discover what went wrong, and what measures must be taken to prevent its recurrence. It should ask, “where’s the beef?” and then look into the core of the sandwich to find it.

Is there a time in recent history when Congressional-level hearings actually did something positive? For example, has the 9/11 Commission given us real results? I don’t even recall hearing any useful recommendations from them. Rather than seek too better the nation by finding out, for example, what Able Danger was all about relative to the events of September 2001, the commission’s members wanted to stand before the cameras and show how brilliant and self-sacrificing they could pretend to be. (For those who don’t spend much time on those “radical conservative” blog sites like Power Line, reports surrounding Able Danger give us a whole lot more to be worried about than simply “the wall” between CIA and FBI files). Most of their useful action took place behind closed doors, away from the limelight.

Later, when the Judiciary Committees met to discuss John Roberts as a potential justice to the Supreme Court, more time was spent making speeches than actually questioning Roberts, by a ratio of about five to one. They really had no traction for objections to his appointment, so they spent our valuable time on their partisan grandstanding.

And, now, there doesn’t seem to be any valid argument against an immediate vote, for or against Samuel Alito as the next appointee to the Supreme Court of the United States. I’ve been watching Senators spend the duration of their time allotted for questioning Justice Alito speechifying, instead. Alito’s record is out there for anybody to check, his opinions have been stated on the bench, now, for the better part of two decades, and anybody who really cares to can review his decisions, his opinions, his past, from Genesis to Revelations and beyond. Any members of Congress who wanted to know about him have had months and months and months to read up and lead on, or ask their constituents to give them an opinion to hold. I’m convinced that these hearings are not actually to the benefit of the nation in understanding the events. At best, the current hearings give us a chance to come to respect a man for whom we will never vote. Plus, these hearings may be a small boon to us, because they show us exactly how pitiable our elected representatives really are.

Televising these hearings is very much like taking us on a tour of a sausage factory. I’m not so sure I really wanted to see what I’m seeing about the process. I’m not so sure I wanted to know, for example, that Charles Schumer thinks a judge who considers the law first in making his decisions is “extreme”. I’m not sure I wanted continued confirmation that Senator Leahy isn’t concerned so much about Alito’s actual judicial record as he is by the fact that Samuel Alito is a “white guy”. And I’m not at all happy to have had it confirmed that Senator Kennedy suffers from severe disconnect with reality, as he rants about “Judge Alioto” being a tool of the “all-powerful president” (if President Bush were all-powerful, wouldn’t we already have Social Security reform, for example? If he were all-powerful, would he have had to go through the Intelligence Committees to get support and approval for listening in on cell phone conversations between enemies of this nation? Or, more simply, I should say the name “Harriet Miers”. My Aunt Frances might have something to say about “all powerful”). I really didn’t want to see these guys at work.

I’ve seen the results of non-televised hearings. They actually exist (results, that is). And, now, I have no trouble in finding the beef. The beef is that I can’t find any meat to these endless on-air hearings. All we seem to get from pointing cameras at members of the Senate and the House are sound bites and bites and bites. I hate to say it, but their sound bites carry less nutritional value than does an empty cardboard hamburger bun. This country deserves more substance than it’s getting from both houses of Congress.

Useful reading:New Editor:'Sharp ... Sharp Like a Bowlin' Ball, That Is' and Alito: What the NY Times Editorial Didn't Tell You

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