The Country’s Two Biggest Scandals So Far This Year

Indeed. - promoted by david

The first six months of Obama’s second term have been marred by scandals.

Of course, a few events regarded as scandals turned out not to be scandals at all.  The Benghazi Talking Points-scandal was the product of a forgery.  The IRS-scandal proved to be equally bogus.  (Sadly, while the flaming, apparent controversies caught everyone’s attention, the truths revealed later have gone under-reported, and so, only some us are aware.)  Still, a few others, like the DOJ/AP- and NSA-scandals, were quite real and continue to be deeply troubling.

But those two scandals pale in comparison, I think, to the second-biggest political scandal in Washington D.C. and the entire country: the ineffectual and lazy 113th Congress.

In the six months and one week since this Congress started meeting, it has passed a grand total of 15 bills.  That’s significantly less than the record low pace of the 112th Congress.  (The 112th, by the way, ended up being the least productive in recorded history.)

That number, 15, is indefensible and absolutely pathetic.

But once you take a peek at that tiny list of what has passed, the story only gets worse.  A watering-down of the STOCK ACT.  (Thanks, Harry.)  A bill amending verbiage in an existing law that specifies the size of the precious-metal blanks used in the production of the National Baseball Hall of Fame commemorative coins.  [Slamming head against desk.]  Something called the Freedom To Fish Act.  (WHAT!?!  OBAMA’S CZARIST, ICHTHYARCHIC HENCHMEN ARE HELL-BENT ON PREVENTING US FROM FISHING?!?  IS THIS STILL AMERICA?!?!  Actually, the bill only pertains to fishing in two spots along a river in Kentucky.  America endures–for now.)  I’m sure most of us remember when members of Congress hastily passed the Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013, because God forbid the pointless sequester burden their lives–or the lives of the media-people who cover them.  (Meanwhile, the sequester’s impact on the poor and elderly remains wholly intact.)  These laws don’t exactly address the big issues of the day.

And they haven’t passed any laws yet that at all deal with (let alone, fix) the big issues of the day.  (Go ahead and look at that list again.)

And this country faces a laundry list of HUGE issues pertaining to chronically high unemployment, long-term indebtedness, gay rights, climate change, an epidemic of gun violence, immigration, and etc.  Just last week, facing a deadline to prevent interest rates on student loans from doubling, Congress decided to go home and watch fireworks–and yet, that’s definitely not the most ridiculous thing many members of Congress have done this year (with more ridiculousness in store!).  Reasonable people can disagree on how best to address these issues.  But it’s completely unreasonable if nothing is accomplished to address any of these things.  And yet, Congress’s completely unreasonable lack of productivity is not the country’s biggest political scandal.

No, the country’s biggest political scandal so far this year is our apathy.  We provide members of Congress good salary and benefits, get next to nothing in return, and no-one cares.  While there’s at least some evidence that the public is paying attention–its recent approval rating of Congress is at ten percent or worse–there’s been nothing like the responsive outcry and organized protest we saw from Tea Party in 2009 and ’10 or the Occupiers in 2011.  There’s hardly any coverage of their lack of productivity in news media, as well.  We should demand that members of Congress be engaged and working, that it be a top story on Evening News broadcasts when they’re not–but no, it’s all just sort of expected that they’re not, now.

And it’s all just very sad.

(Twitter: @BillTaylor2)


24 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. The biggest scandal by far

    The biggest scandal by far is that the GOP remains the majority party in Congress and the upcoming mid-terms are projected to be competitive. If the mass-media were doing an even marginal job reporting the truth of the current situation, the GOP would be as dead nationally as it is here locally here in Massachusetts.

    The scandal is that ANY thinking person admits voting for the GOP — never mind affiliating with the GOP as a candidate for public office.

    Of course, most of the current GOP candidates (and far too many of their voters) fail to meet the “thinking person” threshold.

    • Majority in the House

      and this is a consequence of redistricting. Most of those House Republicans are in solid red districts and either don’t need the votes that some of these efforts would bring (or would lose votes if they supported it), or maybe a case could be made that they are voting their district.

      I often watch Morning Joe and they talk about it all the time.

      I don’t think it’s a scandal. I think it’s an evolutionary result of many actions that have been taken in the past. One example- When we were young, people complained the Congressional leadership had too much power, and eventually that system was changed. Now people complain that Boehner can’t control his caucus. It goes on and on- powerbrokers and machines were minimized, and outside interests and PACs stepped in. We reduce pork barreling and log rolling and then legislation doesn’t go through.

      You can hate the GOP but the fault is spread too wide to point fingers, and it’s only going to get “worse.” I put that in quotes because of course worse is in the eye of the beholder.

    • Huh?

      The biggest scandal of the year is that the GOP retains the majority in -one house- of Congress? What did you think was going to happen in 2013 to change that?

      sabutai   @   Wed 10 Jul 10:33 PM
      • Let me try again

        Suppose a prominent elected official who is outspoken in his defense of “traditional family values” is shown to be in the midst of a torrid affair with a much younger staffer. Suppose, further, that the elected official routinely flaunts his affair at official functions — squiring his lover from event to event, being photographed coming to and from area hotels, walking hand-in-hand in full view of the public and press. I suggest that such behavior on the part of that official would be a scandal, even if no election is imminent.

        The behavior of the current GOP majority in Congress is similarly scandalous, even though no election will happen before 2014. The refusal of the mass media to educate the public about the extent and implications of this behavior — or, in the case of Fox, the flagrant attempt to further mislead the public — is scandalous. The fact that the current GOP majority is anything but a laughing-stock is scandalous.

        The media continues to report polling that shows that a significant number of Americans still support the current GOP representatives in Congress. That is scandalous.

  2. same as it ever was... same as it ever was

    A short while ago, Robert Caro’s latest volume on LBJ (highly, highly, highly recommended) popped to the top of my reading stack and, very coincidentally, I am currently post JFK assassination when Caro is going into detail about the legislative situation at this point in time. Essentially, ever since FDR tried to pack the Supreme Court, Congress’ biggest achievement was thwarting presidential initiatives. The only period where significant progress was made in breaking through was Johnson’s tenure as Senate Majority Leader.

    The purpose of this section of the book (at least from my POV) is to illustrate in detail the magnitude of what Johnson was able to accomplish after he became president. Before that point, Kennedy’s initiatives were stuck, mostly due to the power of the southern Democrats in committee chairs. The situation was worsened by having a chief executive who had a short tenure in the Senate and never really got to the point of understanding how the place works (is there an echo in here??). JFK’s peeps (other than Johnson, whose advice was ignored) were no more savvy at dealing with Congress. Minus the assassination, a strong case could be made (and Caro makes it) that these bills would have died at the end of the Congress. Another strong case can be made that JFK would not have had a second term to take another swing.

    Coming back to the point of this post: I’m sure some folks (especially Fox News watchers) will be quick to call me a pinko commie fascist traitor for writing this, but combining Caro’s writing with what we see going on now makes me wonder: Is this particular form of government as great as I’ve been told it is all my life? It seems much more geared toward making things NOT happen as opposed to getting things done. Whether it is civil rights (then), moves to stimulate the economy (then and now), or climate change (now), it is way to easy for a few well-placed individuals to bring action to a halt.

    I understand that this is desirable in some cases – tyranny of the majority and all that – but is the cost having to deal with continual tyrannies of the MINORITY? Is there a reason why our closest allies all have parliamentary systems?

    • I like to think about radical changes to our governmental structure

      Sure, POTUS popular vote is one, should it come with nationalized laws on voter eligibility, polls, ID laws, and all the rest, but there are more. What if the House had IRV? What if, in addition, there were super-districts of X members (3, 4, 5?) so the top 3/4/5 all won? What if we increased the number in the House from 435 to something even bigger? What if SCOTUS was an 18 year position, so that each POTUS got to put two on the SCOTUS each POTUS term?

    • A desired stasis?

      Interesting question, jasiu.

      At the founding of our Republic, the word “democracy” was not as rosy positive as it is in our day: it contains a suggestion of mob rule. The experience of the French Revolution strongly suggested that mobs were quite dangerous, too. The government was also formed almost of entirely of men of similar high station.

      Fast forward some decades and we encounter Clay’s American System and Jeffersonian-Jacksonian opposition to having the government do anything that might benefit one sector disproportionately. There was an Inaction Agenda, as it were.

      • That fight lives on

        One of the many reasons Jon Meachem is a moron is that he compared the Federalists to the Tea Party in his bio of Jefferson. Going back to Scheslinger and perhaps further, American liberals have tried to claim Jeffersonian-Jacksonian values for our cause when in reality we are advancing Hamiltonian-Clay’s American system-Lincoln/TR Progressie republicanism.

        That fight is still happening and it will never be resolved, it’s the tension at the heart of our republic, but I would argue we are living in an epoch requiring more not less government and the vast majority of Americans agree on this. We are thwarted by an opposition pretending to carry the Jeffersonian torch while it actually carries the torch of special interests that profit from continuing the current chaos. Something must be done.

        • I can't stand when people refer back to the founding fathers

          Note: not talking about your post here, but when people use the quotes from 220 years ago as somehow authoritative. Madison switched sides. Jefferson had no problem with slavery and thought blacks inferior. Andrew Jackson committed perpetrated genocide. We can read and learn, but it’s part of understanding today, not a guide for modern day actions.

          • The irony is that the ...

            … idolizing the founders as having a uniquely inspired as-perfect-as-could-have-been vision is only possible because of a blind spot to what is perhaps their greatest contribution – a framework that could change because they knew they probably didn’t get it right the second time either.

            • along those lines

              When it does come quotes by the founders, I prefer this one by Jefferson:

              I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.

    • Going back even further, there's Speaker Cannon.....

      ahhh, the “good old days” 1903-1911.

      Cannon wielded the office of Speaker with unprecedented power. At the time of Cannon’s election the Speaker of the House concurrently held the chair of the Rules Committee, which determined under what rules and restrictions bills could be debated, amended, and voted on, and in some cases whether they would be allowed on the floor at all. As such, Cannon effectively controlled every aspect of the House’s agenda: bills reached the floor of the house only if Cannon approved of them, and then in whatever form he determined—with he himself deciding whether and to what extent the measures could be debated and amended.
      Cannon also reserved to himself the right to appoint not only the chairs of the various House committees, but also all of the committees’ members, and (despite the seniority system that had begun to develop) used that power to appoint his allies and proteges to leadership positions while punishing those who opposed his legislation. Crucially, Cannon exercised these powers to maintain discipline within the ranks of his own party: the Republicans were divided into the conservative “Old Guard,” led by Cannon, and the progressives, led by President Theodore Roosevelt. His committee assignment privileges ensured that the party’s Progressive element was essentially powerless in the House, and his control over the legislative process obstructed progressive legislation.

      On March 17, 1910, after two failed attempts to curb Cannon’s absolute power in the House, Nebraska Representative George Norris led a coalition of 42 progressive Republicans and the entire delegation of 149 Democrats in a revolt. With many of Cannon’s most powerful allies absent from the Chamber, but enough Members on hand for a quorum, Norris introduced a resolution that would remove the Speaker from the Rules Committee and strip him of his power to assign committees.
      While his lieutenants and the House sergeant-at-arms left the chamber to collect absent members in an attempt to rally enough votes for Cannon, the Speaker’s allies initiated a legislative block in the form of a point of order debate. When Cannon supporters proved difficult to find (many of the staunchest were Irish and spent the day at various St. Patrick’s Day celebrations), the filibuster continued for 26 hours, with Cannon’s present friends making repeated motions for recess and adjournment. When Cannon finally ruled the resolution out of order at noon on March 19, Norris appealed the resolution to the full House, which voted to overrule Cannon, and then to adopt the Norris resolution.
      Cannon managed to save some face by promptly requesting a vote to remove him as Speaker, which he won handily since the Republican majority would not risk a Democratic speaker replacing him. However, his iron rule of the House was broken, and Cannon lost the Speakership when the Democrats won a majority later that same year.

    • another (local) example

      In today’s Globe:

      House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray, fellow Democrats, have vowed to shoot down Patrick’s plan for a higher gas tax next week, saying their own proposal for a smaller tax increase is enough.

      The two legislative leaders now hold most of the power in what has become an icy showdown with Patrick.

      • DINOs

        With all due respect to their defenders here, the behavior of Mr. DeLeo and Ms. Murray is a) scandalous b) arrogant and c) delusional, dishonest, or both — just like Republicans.

        It’s past time to get this problem solved.

        • So are you working on creating a new epithet, 'Republican'

          meaning a person engaging in scandalous political behavior?

          It’s somewhat humorous because when many people want to slam Democrats in MA, they often point to DeLeo and Murray (and of course all the former Speakers) as examples of what they don’t like about one party rule.

          • Pretty much, yeah

            Mr. DeLeo and Ms. Murray are what I don’t like about “conservative rule”. If the MA GOP had even a modicum of rationality, a large portion of today’s “Democratic” legislature would call themselves “Republican”.

            Meanwhile, it seems as though “Republican” works as an epithet just as well as “liberal”.

            • Do you have any thoughts about early 20th Century Progressives?

              TR is now considered a good guy, but I once (in an Policy Sci class) wrote a paper denouncing the Progressive movement in cities because in their quest to break the hold of the urban machines they took power away from immigrant populations and put it in the hands of the business interests.
              I was just making a point for a paper (and got an A) but you still see the remnants of that movement in city wide councilors, weak mayors, and the like.

              My point is that it’s hard to hold onto labels. They might eventually move away from your original target. I don’t view liberal as an epithet (BTW some Tea Party types are trying to reclaim “classical liberal” – maybe you shouldn’t let the copyright lapse!), though progressive does have a much better ring.

              I’m not sure I agree with

              If the MA GOP had even a modicum of rationality, a large portion of today’s “Democratic” legislature would call themselves “Republican”.

              #1 DINO Jim MIceli couldn’t get elected as a Republican in the 1970′s, and most of the others, Garry et al predate the current era by decades, so I think the bias towards Democratic party affiliation has been around for some time.

              • Ours has always been more conservative than we think

                Anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-single payer, anti-clean elections Tommy
                Finneran, Lynchie, Bulger, Ed King, Silber. Tip O’Neil recalls almost losing his first bid for re-election because he condemned McCarthy (while Jack Kennedy let him drink his sister and feted him around town). Our Democrat-Republican breakdown was similar in the 80s when MA voted for Reagan twice. A lot of it comes down to the blue collar-liberal professional divide that I hope we can finally bridge.

                • Don't forget anti-birth control

                  and a history of backwardness/provincialism/skepticism/xenophobia in any number of areas.

                • Say what?

                  Surely you meant something other than “Jack Kennedy let him DRINK his sister.”

                • Our asymmetry

                  Even nationally, a very large bloc of the Democratic Party is moderate not liberal. More years than not, polling showed more self-identified moderates in the party than liberals.

                  There’s also an identification bias. People tend to describe themselves as more conservative than they are because they like the conservative identity. It implies neatly pressed shirts, discipline, going to church, donating to charities, and being able to shoot accurately. I always wish that liberals would get a reputation like that the Dutch sometimes do: being liberal is consistent with being industrious, productive, civic-minded, and clever to the point of innovation. But here, in the U.S., it implies a kind of slovenliness. We’re just DFHs.

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