Sharp minds and empty suits

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

There are senators on that Senate Judiciary Committee who actually seem to know what they’re talking about.

They ask pertinent questions.

They sound as if they’ve seen these pertinent questions more than 30 seconds before they ask them. (They might even have had a hand in drafting these questions.)

Once they ask their pertinent questions, these men and women do something truly remarkable for a U.S. senator: They listen to the answers. They even appear to understand the answers they’re hearing.

And once they’ve heard and understood the answers, they’re able to follow up with additional questions and comments—responsive, related questions and comments—that move the discussion still further along.

These senators, it goes (almost) without saying, can be found on either side of the hearing room, and at either end of that big, long table. These particular talents may be rare, but there’s no Democratic or Republican monopoly on these talents.

These are the senators worth watching—regardless of their party, regardless of their place on the political spectrum. You can learn something from them. You can discover new angles on important issues. You can find better ways of making the case for things you already believe, or—wonder of wonders—even find yourself obliged to reexamine your premises.

These senators are always worth your time.

There are other senators on the committee who couldn’t find the floor if they fell out of their chairs.

They might look good in suits. They might have distinguished hairlines.

But inside the suits? Beneath the hairlines? Nothing.

These senators spend their precious minutes before the cameras posturing, except for when they’re pandering. Except for when they’re plodding.

They read their questions like a third-grader reciting in class. You could swear, watching them stagger through their paces, that their staffers have handed them a script complete with stage directions:

--Ask Question No. 3.
--When finished asking Question No. 3, stop talking and look at the witness.
--When the witness’ mouth stops moving, ask Question No. 4…

These other senators come from every corner of this magnificent land of ours. From North and South, from East and West. (From Midwest, too. Definitely from Midwest.) They speak with big-city cadences and small-town drawls. Their words come pouring forth in a virtual cornucopia of accents. And again, some carry an “R” after their names, and some carry a “D.”

What unites them? Only this:

They are a total waste of the committee’s time—and yours.

They are the legislative equivalent of empty calories.

Run errands while they’re on the screen. Catch up on your e-mail, or your exercise. Or just turn off the TV; you won’t be abdicating your duties as a citizen.

And you’ll miss nothing.

They carry an “R.” They carry a “D.” Better if they all had a “U,” for “Useless.”

That’s not fair. Not all of them are useless. (Not totally useless, anyway.) Some of them manage to be entertaining, in a cringe-inducing, reality-TV kind of way. And others are borderline inspirational:

“If that piece of roadkill can make it to the Senate,” you find yourself thinking, “who knows how far I can go?”

A grateful nation gives thanks.

Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at rickhoro@execpc.com.

Last updated: 10:55 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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