I wrote an item earlier in the week casting doubt on the idea that people would ever pay attention to the mind-numbingly boring details of the banking bill conference committee, but I should have added one other thing: it's too bad that they don't. It makes Congress look good. They're obviously hard at work (and going late into the night at times); they seem to know what they're doing; and overall it's a much better side of Congress than most people ever see. There's some posturing, sure, but a whole lot less than people are used to. Which comes to mind not just because I watched some of the conference committee late last night, but also because we're coming up on one of the occasions that makes Congress look about as bad as possible: the round of opening statements during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on a Supreme Court nominee. Alas, that's one of the things that people actually do watch -- the cable networks go live, and the arguments and topics of discussion are all familiar and relatively easy to follow.
Now, I assume that most people watching the conference committee in action would be totally lost, in one sense -- the procedure is obscure, and the issues technical (OK, maybe it's just me -- I just can't bring myself to get interested in the policy details of this issue at all). Still, I don't think people would watch this and get the impression that politicians are preening clowns, which is exactly the impression people will have of Senate Judiciary when their hearing gets started, at least if past results are any guide to future performance.
My suggestion for those of you reading this -- and if you are, you're certainly in the upper sliver of high-information, high-interest citizens when it comes to politics and public affairs -- my suggestion is that if you've never watched a Congressional committee markup or conference committee, that you make an effort to watch one. Floor action, hearings, election campaigns...that's when we see our Members of Congress, but it isn't when they do serious legislating. Now, a fair amount of legislating goes on behind closed doors -- which is entirely appropriate, by the way. But, still, if you're interested in politics, I really do recommend watching a mark-up sometime. Well, at least fifteen minutes, half an hour, something like that, to get a taste of it. I'm certainly not claiming that if more people watched committee markups that everyone would love Congress; I know everyone hates Congress, and they always have and they always will. I'm just saying that it would be nice if at least those who care the most and spend the most time on politics would at least get some sense of what Congress actually does when it writes laws.
Me, I'm trying to figure out how to survive the Kagan hearings. I'm thinking maybe a lot of really sarcastic live-tweeting, maybe.