So I have this theory as to why important issues are not resolved in the Congress and why for the past, say 30 years, bipartisanship has been on a steady decline. It has to do with the mission of C-SPAN and 24 hr. cable new coverage. Here's the history of why C-SPAN was started.
When C-SPAN was formed, its mission was to provide transparency to the legislative process and to make the American public more aware of the issues before their representatives. The mantra after the Watergate hearings was "disinfect" the ills of government by letting "sunshine" into the process. TV cameras and kleig lights are the "sunshine" that was talked about. At first, it sounded to every body like a really good idea. Before C-SPAN if a citizen wanted to know about a speech they made or a vote their representative took, they had to ask for a free delivery of a publication known as the "Congressional Quarterly." Of course, a minuscule portion of the population asked for this report. I can remember in the 70's my grandfather eagerly awaiting for it in the mail, and devouring it once it came. The "Review" made him an informed citizen. This is what it didn't do. He did not learn about the meetings that took place behind closed doors in "smoke filled rooms" or in the "Cloak room" where politicians from both parties could come together and work out their differences on a bill that both sides knew was important to pass. Both parties were willing to "compromise" to give something up for the greater good. When I was a pol. sci. undergrad in 1976 "politics" meant the "art of compromise."
How has C-SPAN ruined bipartisanship?
The unintended result of allowing C-SPAN into the chambers of the legislature is that our representatives started to realize that what was being taped was easily accessible to millions of viewers and because it was on video tape it could be used in news casts. A couple of problems quickly arose. Representatives started to take harsher tones against issues that came before them because they felt it was necessary to show their constituents that they were towing the line on a "hot-button" issue important to the constituents in their district. Congressional representatives that had ambition for higher office; such as, the senate or governorship in their state started to make political speeches on all matter of issues not even before the house so that they could play to the voters in their state. The language and the positions started to harden making compromise less likely.
In addition, some really sly politicians learned that the C-SPAN cameras were on when at the end of the legislative day when "regular business" is over, any member is allowed to make a speech in the chamber on any subject, and usually to an empty chamber. Members started to make speeches where they would ask questions of a particular member whose bill they where "ranting" against. For example, during this open time when no one accept the representative sitting in the "speakers" chair keeping the floor open and the representative wanting to embarrass the sponsoring representative of a bill would ask that representative a question like: "Isn't it true that my esteemed colleague from California favors a a massive tax increase on every gallon of gasoline hard working Americans must purchase? Please, I yield the floor to you, tell Americans why you support this massive tax increase. (After some pause), I see you don't want to defend this massive fuel tax increase to Americans, you want to tuck this tax into some bill that no one will notice." The sad thing about this stunt is of course the representative from California would not be in the chamber and know that they where being challenged. The proposed tax increase could have only been say 5cents a gallon. Of course the viewing public would not know this because it is against the rules for C-SPAN cameras to pan away from the speakers chair or the podium at which representatives go up to to make speeches. So we don't see that the chamber is empty! We think the "esteemed representative from California" is hiding from defending his bill.
Now we have representatives using the cameras to their political advantages, and the level of hatred and mistrust of their colleagues is at an all time high. What scares me now is that their are media outlets as well as C-Span that are trying to talk the Supreme Court into letting their cameras into their court hearings. I say absolutely not. We don't need justices trying to out do each other for the cameras!!!
So, tell me what you think of my theory. After all, the Founding Fathers understood the impossible task they had in trying to cobble together a the Constitution. the chairman of the proceedings, George Washington, swore the delegates to a news blackout during the proceedings. He told them not to speak to anyone about the proceedings except other delegates. He barred the press from the chamber. He knew that without members having the freedom to "wheel and deal" without pressure from outside interest groups and criticism the task of framing a constitution would have been impossible!!!
What did you think of this review?
Fun to Read
About the reviewer
Michael Neulander (MNeulander)
Recently graduated with a Masters in Humanities degree from Old Dominion University reading in philosophy and history. I graduated from the Univ. of Miami in 1980 with a B.A. in Political Science; specializing … more
Consider the Source
Use Trust Points to see how much you can rely on this review.