Congressional hearings: Fact-finding or political performance art?

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The Founding Fathers believed in checks and balances. The U.S. Constitution gives the legislature authority to correct improper actions by agencies in the executive branch. Congressional investigations with private and public hearings have been used as a method of conducting this oversight for many years.

But there is a risk in holding congressional hearings concerning legal matters while law enforcement agencies are still conducting their own investigations. Law enforcement agencies investigate possible wrongdoing as part of their mandate. Professionals frequently go to a crime scene or subpoena evidence. Imagine the results if curious amateurs have trampled over relevant evidence.

There’s the possibility of abuse of oversight. Representatives and senators may feel that some televised hearings would enhance their election chances. Or one party may try to embarrass the other by conducting public investigations prior to elections.

Sometimes closed-door hearings are repeated in front of the public. “Gotcha” questions that were asked behind closed doors may be refined so that any answers in the public sessions may seem better or worse. Senator Blowhard may have his questions written in very large type so he can read them on camera without wearing his glasses. And members of various committees often only attend when it is their turn to appear on camera. Is this oversight or is it free publicity for incumbents paid for by the taxpayers?

The inmates in Congress run the asylum. They set their own pay, fringe benefits and rules that may give one party an advantage or disadvantage over the other. Why do they do this? It’s because they can. Poll after poll shows that the American people give members of Congress abysmal approval ratings. Yet, people keep sending the same folks back to Washington.

Most know this quote often attributed to Albert Einstein: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

Many also know this quote from much earlier. The Bible: Matthew 7: 18-20: “18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.” (New American Standard Bible)

Maybe the landscaping in Washington needs a serious makeover.

Ron Taylor