June 20, 2006
A House Depleted
The best article in the brand-new Democracy: A Journal of Ideas is Brad Carson’s review (reg. req’d) of a book called The House: The History of the House of Representatives by Robert Remini. And it is so good because it is so sad:
The distance from [Henry] Clay to [Dennis] Hastert can only be measured along a steep descent. It is for this reason that Remini’s new history of the House of Representatives reads like a chronicle of degeneration, a well-wrought record of the decay of American politics and, perhaps, of American character, too. The House once was the very heart of democracy; such was its prestige that Clay himself left the Senate to seek election to what he called the “people’s chamber.”
Carson is particularly well-suited to write this review because… he was a congressman! As he says, he reads Remini’s book as the tale of an institution that was really good and interesting for a while — the first half of the 19th century, Clay’s time — but has been sliding into the sea ever since.
But there’s lots of texture to the tumble. For instance, I never knew about Galusha Grow (!!), a Pennsylvania congressman who was demonically eager to see the Civil War get started:
“No flag alien to the sources of the Mississippi,” cried Grow from the House floor, “will ever float permanently over its mouth till its waters are crimsoned in human gore; and no one foot of American soil can ever be wrenched from the jurisdiction of the Constitution of the United States until it is baptized in fire and blood.”
Carson finishes up his review with our favorite thing here at Snarkmarket — recommendations for radical structural readjustment:
If members are watching debate on television — and most aren’t even bothering with this — why shouldn’t they simply stay in their districts, safe from the predations of lobbyists? A representative wouldn’t miss a thing. Committee hearings are a well-known joke that benefit neither witnesses nor representatives. […] All votes could be held, not at 2 a.m. as now, but in a group, perhaps at videocast town hall meeting every Wednesday night. With the reduced overhead costs of offices in Washington, we could even increase membership in the House, which has been frozen at 435 since the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, even as the country has almost tripled in size. Coupled with meaningful campaign finance reform, this would revolutionize the House of Representatives. Having served in the institution, I can assure you that this change would be both workable and salutary.
So basically megacaucuses. Ha, no, not really… but there is some shared DNA there, yeah?