Congress as Comedy

Watching the various hearings held in Congress is to be highly entertained and sometimes even educated (thanks be to C-Span), though the educational gems must be sought with a certain forbearance since the legislators in their mini-speeches often obfuscate whatever truths the witnesses dare to suggest. Actually, this makes hearing-watching a sort of game perhaps in the tradition of the analysts at the CIA attempting to decipher something like "big hookah-sale tonight" in a message from Baghdad to a suspected terrorist in this country. Did the sender mean an actual hookah-sale or a bit of women-trafficking (Boston accent) or a bomb bought in Iran from a guy named Hookah?

Some lawmakers are more adept than others at attempting to exude charm, with the usual result showing them about as charismatic as a grizzly bear in hibernation. Senator Biden once addressed former attorney general Gonzales as "Buddy," for instance. His exact words in January 2005: "We're looking for candor, old buddy." Gonzales could have asked Biden to let him know if the senator ever found candor in case it needed prosecuting, but he was too nice for that. Biden was supposed to be asking questions, but instead just delivered a speech reminiscent of that of a football coach at halftime, with his team down by 60 points.

In the recent hearing on Iraq, Biden, in addressing Ambassador Crocker, delivered this gem, "If the Lord Almighty came down right now," when asking a question, as if the answer wouldn't be necessary under Lord-less circumstances…but Crocker answered anyway, not even mentioning that the Lord hadn't cooperated. Biden is what he thinks is a "smiler," a Jimmy Carter-type showing 95% of all tooth-area, but the smile he uses always comes off as a smirk, which, of course, it always is, as well as always designed to exhibit profound disdain for whoever the target du jour is.

In the SCOTUS hearings of both Roberts and Alito, the jaws of Biden and fellow henchmen such as Schumer and Durbin and Feingold dropped so hard that the TV shook. The senators had their desks piled high with documents and a myriad of gofers within reach to search desperately for gotcha material only to be confronted by the two targets-for-the court sitting at absolutely cleared tables…not even a pad.

As they shuffled their papers and engaged in a discussion of Constitutional Law with Roberts and Alito, they became more and more like the Israelites wandering in the Sinai wilderness…in 'way over their heads. Biden's smile/smirk couldn't have lasted even with Botox, while Schumer gave evidence of being somewhere else, Feingold came close to frothing at the mouth, and Durbin must have been thinking of all those American soldiers in Iraq whom he compared to storm-troopers, keepers of the Gulag, and purveyors of Pol Pot's style in dealing death in the killing fields. These two hearings formed an entertainment classic.

Then, there's the episodic-emotional-eruption-equivocation-equation vis-à-vis different hearings concerning the same people on the same subject. Last September, Senator Clinton reckoned to General Petraeus that she would suspend belief with respect to anything he said, a euphemistic way of calling him a liar to his face and establishing her macho-image when she was 'way ahead in the presidential sweepstakes, feeling her oats and playing with the big boys. He was nice enough not to suggest that she was being silly and wasting everyone's time in asking questions whose answers she wouldn't believe.

Totally blindsided and surprised later by the Obama boom, the senator, obviously reaching for any port in a storm, came up with the delicious irony, to wit, the totally fabricated tale (euphemism for "big lie") of coming under sniper fire in Afghanistan, all but declaring for a Bronze Star and just stopping short of earning a purple heart (near-sighted snipers) as she developed this yarn in her campaign stops. Actually, she was attacked by a smiling grade-school girl and the president of Bosnia, along with the proper delegation, and with laughter and handshakes all around. Not a sniper to be had anywhere, worse luck.

So…in the just concluded hearing, Senator Clinton, who had also purveyed in a speech the other day a completely false yarn about a woman who was supposedly turned down by a hospital because she didn't have $100 to save her baby, faced the general again, this time looking about like she had just been hit by an 18-wheeler (campaigns can wear one out) and made no mention of her previous or any current suspension of belief. The general might have suggested, on the evidence, that he could have a suspension of belief with respect to anything she was saying. The senators are not so much interested in asking questions as they are in regurgitating soliloquies that would have gladdened the heart of Hamlet, something like "To lie or not to lie" in Clinton's case. Petraeus was too nice.

Ah…but Senator Obama was the star, looking fresh as a daisy and doing just what he did last September, as recorded then in this corner: "Senator Obama, also with no military experience or foreign-affairs experience of substance, chose to take his complete question-time by making a campaign speech and even admitted at the end of his diatribe that he had taken all his time and had no time left for questions. The truth is that he didn't even know the right questions to ask and so wouldn't have recognized a plausible answer, if he'd bothered to prepare. He noted a while back that the lives of those who had died in Iraq had been wasted, giving an indication of his 'values system.'" Nuff said!

In the House hearing last September before Petraeus said anything, recently-deceased Congressman Lantos (RIP) told him he was a hack for the White House, another way of intimating suspension of belief. Native-Hungarian Lantos made it to this country in 1947 on an academic scholarship after this country had paid with blood and treasure to make his good fortune possible. This was his kiss-off of the general.

The configuration of the hearing-rooms is instructive. The legislators sit (sometimes in tiers) on raised platforms so they can look down upon their victims, referred to by them of course as witnesses. This gives them a position of artificial superiority, but what it actually does is exemplified in the lower-level TV-camera shots at Congressman Henry Waxman, giving all the world a comprehensive inside-view of each Waxman nostril. Just an ordinary sneeze would terribly distort the view, as do most of the hearings concerning the truth.