Congressional hearings aren’t really hearings
The Dalai Lama might have said it with more eloquence, but it was Rocky Balboa in the movie, Creed, who said it best, “You can’t learn anything when you’re talking.” That bit of wisdom should be inscribed on a large plaque at the entrance to every hearing room in the nation’s Capitol.
According to the website www.govinfo.gov, a Congressional hearing is a meeting of a select committee to obtain information. Yet, when it comes to public hearings where cameras are rolling, collecting information takes a back seat to political grandstanding. Instead of asking concise questions designed to elicit information, most Congressmen and Senators use their allotted time to make speeches and badger witnesses. Last week, Ken Cuccinelli, President Trump’s acting director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, was summoned to Congress for a hearing about the administration’s policy of denying illegal immigrants with serious medical conditions the right to remain in the United States for treatment. Cuccinelli, the former Republican Attorney General of Virginia, is known for his homophobic views and blind loyalty to the GOP, but no one should be subjected to the kinds of attacks he endured at the hands of Representative Debbie Wasserman Shultz. Shultz, you recall, is the woman who came under fire for using her position at the DNC to give Hillary an unfair advantage over Bernie Sanders during the 2016 primaries. Here’s an excerpt from her exchange with Cuccinelli.
DWS: You and Mr. Trump don’t want anyone who looks or talks differently from Caucasians to be allowed into this country.
KC: That’s false.
DWS: Please don’t interrupt…You will pursue this heinous, white supremacist ideology at all costs.
KC: That’s defamatory.
DWS: There’s nothing defamatory about it.
Again, I’m no fan of the narrow-minded Cuccinelli, but Shultz’s calling him a xenophobe and a white supremacist was inappropriate. Unfortunately, this kind of grandstanding by Shultz is all too common, and both political parties are guilty. The website OneCitizenSpeaking.com refers to these made-for-T.V. hearings as “Kabuki Theatre, a stage-managed chance for members of Congress to play to their constituent audience and sound articulate, tough, or compassionate depending on the political climate. This is the primary reason why most hearings feature long and complicated questions that are more like miniature campaign speeches and a regurgitation of the party’s talking points.”
We’ve seen this “Kabuki Theatre” play out time and again over the past 10 years, including with Republican hypocrites like Mike Pompeo grilling Hillary at the Benghazi hearings, and Lindsay Graham screaming at other members while attempting to discredit Christine Blasey Ford at the Kavanaugh hearings. And then there’s wild-man Jim Jordan, who went off on Michael Cohen during the Mueller hearings. Sadly, our elected officials are allowed to lie about, defame and accuse witnesses without fear of retribution or legal consequence. Not so for us regular folks. If we lie at a Congressional hearing, it’s a federal crime, which could land us in jail alongside Felicity Huffman and Aunt Becky. Not only that, but neither a witness nor a committee member can even call out another member for lying. It’s a pretty good double standard for Congressmen, kind of like when the government shuts down, and elected officials still get paid while common civil servants are SOL.
But perhaps the worst part of these televised hearings is that when Congressmen spew unfounded and false information (what Kellyanne Conway calls “alternative facts”), millions of people accept their lies as the truth, and that can lead to an uninformed and misinformed electorate. Or, as playwright George Bernard Shaw put it, “Beware of false knowledge: It is more dangerous than ignorance.”
Republican Congressmen have been complaining of late that the House impeachment hearings are unfair because they have been held in private, which is yet another alternative fact because Republicans have been included in every hearing. Ironically, that hollow complaint and the grandstanding that goes on during televised hearings, do nothing but strengthen the case for closed-door hearings, where members of Congress actually ask questions instead of making political speeches.
It bears repeating, “You can’t learn anything when you’re talking.”