For over 200 years the Floor of the House of Representatives has been a forum for the voice of the people and exchange of ideas. From dealing with the most sobering of issues to the most controversial of legislation, the floor has represented a sounding board where our elected leaders are able to freely voice the 'will of their constituents'. Unlike so many other nations where violence often breaks out, the floor has been a civil forum for the exchange of free ideas and open debate. For over 200 years our political leaders have upheld this exchange of ideas and openness of debate in an attempt to uphold the beliefs of freedom and a government for the people and by the people.
This past Friday represented perhaps the darkest hour and finest hour that congress has experienced in the past few decades. On Friday congress was scheduled to adjourn for their annual August Recess, a month long vacation from the hard work of doing the 'people's work'. Yet, a day earlier, tensions rose as the vote allowing congress to adjourn passed by only one vote as 17 Democrats joined the Republican Minority in calling upon congress to cancel its vacation. Our nation is on the verge of a recession, driven by flailing financial markets and more importantly, energy prices that have doubled in the past 18 months. Despite the emergence of potential stagflation and a middle class that is being hammered by the rising cost of energy, food, and other consumer goods, congress, in more than 2 years has failed to pass meaningful legislation to address the issues. As a result, frustration of leadership is building around the nation as Americans are increasingly fed up with power-hungry politicians. Over the past 6 weeks, Democratic congressional leaders, spurned by a party candidate, have continuously worked to block bipartisan supported legislation aimed at addressing energy production, speculation, and alternative energy incentives. The move by these congressional leaders has been in opposition to polling number suggesting widespread support for the initiatives.
On Friday, weeks of political frustration and obstruction culminated into what I see as perhaps the darkest hour in the halls of congress in the past 50 years. The 'House' that was built to allow the free expression of the will of the people was shut-down in a clear attempt to silence the voices of the people. Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, when confronted with voices of opposition to her attempts to widely supported energy legislation, literally shut-down congress. With a hammer of her gavel, she shut down the debate, shut off the lights, and shut down the microphones of congressional members attempting to represent the voices of their constituents. C-Span television cameras, the only cameras allowed to tape in the chambers, were turned off by the speaker in an attempt to block the public from witnessing the shut-down of congress. The most disturbing part of this tale comes from the lack of civility displayed by the elected official, who did all of this while a colleague was addressing fellow house members from the floor.
For over 200 years, the House of Representatives has been considered the best representation of the voice of the people and the balance of power that exists within our government. For 200 years the House has has upheld the free expression of ideas and upheld its position as the first line of defense in fight to maintain the power of the people. Today, that status is tarnished as a small group of partisan power-mongers have used parliamentary procedures to silence the voices of dissent and silence the will of the people. Nancy Pelosi's moves on Friday represent the worst of American politics and in many ways have set a dangerous precedent of subverting the voice of free speech, subverting the tradition of equal representation and weakening the heritage of a government for the people and by the people.
Out of the darkest hour, however, a light of hope has emerged.
Congressman Kevin Brady was sitting in a plane waiting for the plane to finish boarding prior to departure. Brady, with his Blackberry in hand, suddenly began receiving messages that a small group of Congressional members were on the floor of the House, in the dark, without television cameras or even microphones protesting the shut-down of our government. Brady, grabbed his carry-on, abandoned his flight home and arrived a short-time later rolling his carry-on luggage behind him at the gallery of the house to join the protest. At its height, some 50 members of congress accompanied by nearly 600 fellow members of congress, tourists groups and other visitors spoke passionately from the floors on congress.
The revolt on the floor of congress was a stunt, but unlike a group of congressional members speaking in front of dozens of cameras on the footsteps of capitol hill, these congressional members spoke not to the television cameras or radio microphones; they spoke passionately for hours in front of their fellow citizens. The event was not advertised before hand, it was not an orchestrated media event, in fact there was no live media coverage as the events unfolded. In the dark, these congressional members refused to allow the desecration of the "floor of the people"; they refused to allow the "voice of the people" to be suppressed. They refused to go home when their leadership told them all was lost.
Representative Poe, one of the original members to stage the revolt stated, "It was one of the best moments in Congress. All the speakers spoke with passion; we spoke extemporaneously; we spoke to the gallery and the gallery responded."
Meanwhile, just a short distance away, a bipartisan group of Congressional Members gathered in a press conference to denounce the shut-down Congress and excoriate leadership for refusing to allow debate or a vote on their bipartisan efforts in drafting energy legislation.
The actions of these two groups of congressional members represent a 'finest hour' for our government. For the first time in decades, we saw a group of congressional members rise up, whether planned or not, and demand a change in how Washington conducts business. They did give meaningless speeches of change, they took action. They rose up in the very spirit that is reminiscent of the profound political speeches of our founding fathers and spoke from their heart with a passion driven by the American people. Did their action change the circumstances under which they spoke? No, but their actions represent the very best of what we should expect from our elected leadership.
We should all thank these few, yet courageous, members of both parties. We should excoriate and demand the removal of those who opposed their efforts. We should applaud congressmen such as Brady, who abandoned an airplane to join the revolt; and should shame those congressional members who hid in their offices, refusing to speak to the press, or refusing to acknowledge the actions on the campaign trail.
Change is not driven by political power and we should be wary of those who demand power in order to institute change. Genuine political change will never come from those individuals, nor their empty speeches, but will always begin in the actions of a few brave individuals whose love of country will not allow them to accept the status-quo.
August 3rd, 2008
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