“Madame Speaker, We’re Hooked On Our Own Petard!” “Shut Up And Keep Hoisting!”

Last week, there was a bit of a kerfuffle on Capitol Hill, involving procedural shenanigans over a measure that would have denied certain forms of federal aid going to illegal aliens. Long story short, the vote was gaveled over before everyone thought it was over, and the vote tally was changed and switched around a few times until it was finally judged defeated by the Democrats, whose leadership had opposed it. This infuriated the Republicans, who were paying closer attention to the tallies than the Democrats (as proven by a the “instant replay” — a review of the actual tallies and the C-SPAN footage of the voting) and had believed that they had won.

This has sparked no end of accusations, recriminations, heated denials, walkouts, and the other forms of political theater that August — the month Congress usually takes off to escape the DC heat — seldom sees.

I’m not much of a follower of Congress. For the most part, I tend to be pretty skeptical and cynical about our congresscritters, as the vast majority of them are useless hacks whose primary allegiance is not to their party or even their constituents, but to the cause of getting re-elected. Whenever one of them gets into some sort of trouble (regardless of nominal affiliation), I find it’s usually safe to consider them guilty until proven innocent — a philosophy that has served me fairly well so far.

The sole exceptions in recent years have been Tom DeLay — anyone that has two grand juries refuse to charge, and a third have to violate the Constitution to indict, is most likely the target of a witch hunt by a vindictive prosecutor — and Mark Foley — who was a repulsive, vile, disgusting quasi-pedophile, but tapdanced to stay within the letter of the law. Other than that, I feel fairly comfortable with my presumption — and have no problems waiting for justice to catch up with William Jefferson Clinton and Ted Stevens, among others.

This case, though, I’m not so willing to jump to my typical cynical conclusion. Oh, I have no doubts that the Democratic leadership would play such games, engage in such chicanery, violate rules and ethical standards for their own political gain, but I don’t believe it happened this time.

One of the aphorisms I’ve found incredibly useful in life is “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

So far, the Democratic leadership of Congress — especially the House — has demonstrated their primary characteristic is incompetence. They have no idea what the hell they’re doing, but they’re utterly convinced that they’re in the right, doing the right thing, and blindly blunder from botchup to botchup while proclaiming their integrity, their rightness, and their efficiency. It reminds me of another great quote, this one from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.”

I suspect that the Democrats simply lost track of the votes, thought they had it right, and insisted on their rightness right up until it was proven they were wrong — and then were stuck with their argument. They didn’t intend to “steal” the vote, but wound up stuck with having done it without even realizing it.

This largely happened because the House has made a tremendous game out of voting. Representatives can ass around and delay or reverse their votes right up until the gavel strikes, It was precisely that loophole that made last week’s SNAFU — and I mean that literally, “Situation Normal — All Fouled Up” — not only possible, but inevitable.

And in today’s hyperpartisan atmosphere, the outrage just as inevitable.

As a good citizen, I have a couple of solutions I’d like to offer the Honorable Members:

First, get rid of the running tally. Make all House votes “secret” until the voting is closed. Once the balloting is gaveled shut, then — and only then — is it revealed just how each member voted. This will put added pressure on the party whips and other apparatchiks, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Second, make the casting of a vote irreversible. Once a member has pressed their little button, their vote is locked and recorded for all eternity. If they screw up and press the wrong one, then they can stand before their colleagues, confess their ineptitude, and ask for a motion to reconsider.

Either or both will make stupid incidents last week far less likely to occur again in the future.

But I have the utmost faith in our elected officials. Once deprived of this particular manner of screwing things up, they’ll find even more and inventive ways to screw up.

But here’s the bright side: while the House is busily investigating and examining itself, it’ll likely be too busy to cause as much mischief as they normally would. And, if nothing else, they’re almost guaranteed to make great spectacles out of themselves with repeated examples and rehashings of their own ineptitude — and that’s always entertaining.

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