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Congressional Decorum

By Brian | February 1, 2006 | Share on Facebook

Some quick thoughts on the State of the Union:

Content-wise, I think the President knows that Congress has degraded to a simple numbers game, so it doesn’t really matter what he proposes in his speech. He either has the numbers to get something through or he doesn’t. So, I’m glad to hear he thinks we’re addicted to oil, I’m glad to hear he wants to study the entitlement programs, I’m glad to hear he wants to keep my taxes lower, etc. Still, each of these things is either all-but-done right now, or it’s never going to happen.

Regarding the tone, I was glad to see him get a little ticked off at Congress a couple of times during the speech. First, when he scolded them for substituting angry, ad-hominem attacks where rational debate should be:

Even tough debates can be conducted in a civil tone, and our differences cannot be allowed to harden into anger. To confront the great issues before us, we must act in a spirit of good will and respect for one another, and I will do my part

And then later, while discussing social security, he said “Congress did not act last year on my proposal to save Social Security.” A bunch of Democrats lept to their feet in mocking applause. Hillary Clinton was caught on camera with a giant grin on her face, and others were talking to each other and laughing over their success in defeating the President’s agenda. All that was missing were high-fives and head butts. They looked like a bunch of high school kids disrespecting a substitute teacher.

Bush became visibly annoyed and continued on with “Yet the rising cost of entitlements is a problem that is not going away. And every year we fail to act, the situation gets worse.” Then, the Republicans lept to their feet in an equally classless display of counter-applause. I don’t think they even realized they were applauding the fact that our entitlements problems are getting worse. I mean, if you think about it, it doesn’t even make sense.

This morning, I also learned that members of Congress weren’t the only ones misbehaving last night. Cindy Sheehan got herself a ticket to the speech, and showed up wearing a T-Shirt that said “2,245 and how many more?” Capitol police asked her to leave (there’s a House rule against demonstrating in the Capitol Building) and when she refused, they handcuffed her and arrested her. This was obviously an attempt at making a political statement (getting arrested, that is, not the T-shirt), and it worked like a charm. So much for “spirit of good will and respect for one another.”

(Oh, and before anyone takes the bait and decries the Bushies for stomping on the civil rights of their enemies, note that the wife of a Republican representative was also ejected for wearing a pro-Bush t-shirt.)

To sum up, what was supposed to be a night of communication – proposals and counter-proposals on where the country is going – turned into nothing more than multiple opportunities to shout slogans and mock the opposition, both from the people and their elected representatives.

Nice job, folks. Nice job.

UPDATE: Instapundit reached the same conclusion, as did several others that he links to.

(Links courtesy of John Scalzi)

Topics: Political Rantings | 4 Comments »

4 Responses to “Congressional Decorum”

  1. Jeff Porten says at February 2nd, 2006 at 11:37 pm :
    I swear, Greenberg, sometimes I feel like your primary motivation for blogging is to make my head pop off like a cherry blossom in a Kamakura typhoon. I know you’ve got critical listening capacities, and I don’t understand what it is about this guy that makes you disable them.

    First, where exactly do you find W to be credible on the issues you cited? He’s made it open season for pro-oil legislation since day one. Oil lobbyists are now regulators. Scientists promoting alternative energy technologies and global warming are under gag orders. W’s stated plans follow roadmaps that will take decades to work, conveniently bypassing the ones that are starting to work today.

    Second, just about any critical analysis of political communications of the last five years will tell you that this is the most partisan administration since the 19th century, in both rhetoric and action. They burned a CIA agent because she was married to a critic. And yet you think he’s justified in attacking Congress for ad hominem attacks.

    Third, it’s the *Constitutional role* of Congress to be critical of the president. Look it up, it’s filed under “separation of powers”. My assessment of congressional Democrats is that “Joe Lieberman” is going to have the same meaning in the 21st century that “Neville Chamberlain” did in the 20th. Executive power is at a high surpassing even the powers assumed by Lincoln during the Civil War. Yet somehow you think Congress is being unfair.

    Fourth, if you really want to see the last president who made speeches that were not uniformly applauded by one side of the aisle or the other, look no further than Bill Clinton, who routinely called for initiatives that created remarkable mixtures of applause is the gallery.

    No comment on what went on with the T-shirts. Last time I was in the House gallery, I wore a suit and tie. But you damn well better believe I’d support the right of someone wearing a Suspected Terrorist silkscreen print on the necktie.

  2. Brian says at February 8th, 2006 at 12:04 am :
    I swear, Greenberg, sometimes I feel like your primary motivation for blogging is to make my head pop off like a cherry blossom in a Kamakura typhoon.

    Nah, that happens every time the president speaks.

    First: Your analysis is impressive, and actually pretty consistent with what I said (to paraphrase myself, taking out the obliquely pro-Bush things that distracted you: I’m glad the President said [blah, blah, blah], but everything he said is either already done or never going to happen.

    Second: Ad hominem attacks aren’t helpful, regardless of how partisan the administration is.

    Third: The Constitutional role of which you speak refers to checks & balances, which isn’t the same thing as being “critical of the president.” Only in the modern era, particularly the last 6 years where everything the President says is de facto bad before he says it, does checking & balancing automatically mean critcizing.

    All of that being said, my criticism wasn’t for the usual one-sided applause routine. It was the tennager-like glee both sides showed in their little game of gotcha. Democrats applauding their success in doing nothing about social security? Republicans applauding the fact that the problem still exists? It’s a total meltdown…

    As for the T-shirts, I think we’re in agreement here. Your silk-screen tie would likely not get you thrown out, but in doing so, it also wouldn’t send much of a message. Cindy Sheehan got her message across. I’m just glad to see for some, that message was “Look at me! Look at me!”

  3. Jeff Porten says at February 11th, 2006 at 12:47 pm :
    Someday I really hope to dispel the notion that I am knee-jerk about “everything the President says is de facto bad before he says it”. I have a decent track record on being critical of Clinton when he deserved it, and I still say nice things about Reagan on very limited topics.

    My reaction to the president is that some of the things he says are quite nice, but he has no credibility on actually doing things that I think are nice. Take the most recent example, the “opportunity society” speech. I’m all in favor of entrepreneurship, as you might guess. But then I heard that on the one hand, he makes speeches saying nice things, and then on the other his budget zeros out funding for several projects that I consider essential for those same nice things.

    Where I give Bush props (and if you look carefully, this is a backhanded slam) is that he’s brilliant at getting credit for things that he doesn’t do. CNN and Fox reports the speech, but then doesn’t report the lack of followup six months later. Then again, this is a pattern he established on day 3 of his presidency (cf. carbon monoxide emissions), so I should be used to it by now.

    I’m not going to debate you on “glee” (aside from baritone versus bass), except to say that I prefer to see people acting passionately about important issues, and I despise the attitude that politics is all a game of dominance. So I excuse a great deal of glee when it’s inspired about passion for an issue — regardless of which side the issue is on. Cf. Appendix D of Twentysomething where I expound on this at length.

    As for applauding “doing nothing”, the Republican position is that we need to destroy Social Security in order to save it. The Democratic position is to largely preserve the status quo. So yes, you would applaud the ability to not move backwards on this. Much as the Democrats would applaud replacing Sandra Day O’Connor with another moderate, in some hypothetical alternate universe where the party was effective and useful.

  4. Jeff Porten says at February 11th, 2006 at 12:47 pm :
    Someday I really hope to dispel the notion that I am knee-jerk about “everything the President says is de facto bad before he says it”. I have a decent track record on being critical of Clinton when he deserved it, and I still say nice things about Reagan on very limited topics.

    My reaction to the president is that some of the things he says are quite nice, but he has no credibility on actually doing things that I think are nice. Take the most recent example, the “opportunity society” speech. I’m all in favor of entrepreneurship, as you might guess. But then I heard that on the one hand, he makes speeches saying nice things, and then on the other his budget zeros out funding for several projects that I consider essential for those same nice things.

    Where I give Bush props (and if you look carefully, this is a backhanded slam) is that he’s brilliant at getting credit for things that he doesn’t do. CNN and Fox reports the speech, but then doesn’t report the lack of followup six months later. Then again, this is a pattern he established on day 3 of his presidency (cf. carbon monoxide emissions), so I should be used to it by now.

    I’m not going to debate you on “glee” (aside from baritone versus bass), except to say that I prefer to see people acting passionately about important issues, and I despise the attitude that politics is all a game of dominance. So I excuse a great deal of glee when it’s inspired about passion for an issue — regardless of which side the issue is on. Cf. Appendix D of Twentysomething where I expound on this at length.

    As for applauding “doing nothing”, the Republican position is that we need to destroy Social Security in order to save it. The Democratic position is to largely preserve the status quo. So yes, you would applaud the ability to not move backwards on this. Much as the Democrats would applaud replacing Sandra Day O’Connor with another moderate, in some hypothetical alternate universe where the party was effective and useful.

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