Truth Has No Chance on Capitol Hill

by | Mar 25, 2024

Truth Has No Chance on Capitol Hill

by | Mar 25, 2024

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Americans are encouraged to believe that the U.S. Congress is practically on automatic pilot to serve the public. Happily, most Americans are not so gullible and Congress receives much of the contempt it deserves in public opinion polls. But the media and the Washington establishment continue doggedly fighting against the vulgar truth of congressional depravity.

Seventy years ago, comedian Milton Berle quipped, “You can send a man to Congress but you can’t make him think.” Nothing has improved on that score since the Eisenhower era.

In 1999, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published a study that explained why “the incompetent will tend to grossly overestimate their skills and abilities.” The article concluded that “those with limited knowledge in a domain suffer a dual burden: Not only do they reach mistaken conclusions and make regrettable errors, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it.” The article quoted the apt saying by Charles Darwin that “ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.” While the study focused largely on people scoring in the bottom quartile on intelligence tests, the same pattern of overconfidence and incompetence characterizes many members of Congress.

Farm programs have been among the biggest Washington muddles since the Franklin Roosevelt era. In 1985, the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Kika de la Garza (D-TX), urged support for more subsidies based on sheer faith: “I heard a quotation once that said, ‘Facts are the enemy of truth.’ So forget all the facts and listen to the truth.” That year, The Washington Post reported that, during a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing, Senator David Pryor (D-AR) “counseled fellow committee members not to confuse themselves by reading details of a pending bill.”

“Oversight” is a polite term for rote congressional procedures designed to avoid discovering information that might embarrass their allies. A senior House Republican admitted in 2004, “Our party controls the levers of government. We’re not about to go out and look beneath a bunch of rocks to cause heartburn.” Almost 20 years ago, The Washington Post reported that, “after a series of embarrassing disclosures [on torture and illegal surveillance], Congress is reconsidering its relatively lenient oversight of the Bush administration.” Didn’t happen.

Most members of Congress are more likely to grovel to federal agencies than to challenge their power. “How are you so great and how can we help you?” is the usual response when the FBI director testified, as Guardian columnist Trevor Timm noted. For most congressmen, the worst abuse a government agency can commit is not spending more money in their home district. HUD Inspector General Charles Dempsey explained why massive housing scandals occurred during the 1980s: “Congress was more interested in getting favors from HUD than in overseeing its operations.” Georgetown University Professor P.G. Eddington, a former CIA official, in 2017 lamented “the House Intelligence Committee’s slow degeneration from overseer to cheerleader of surveillance” over the previous quarter century.

The behavior of congressmen at a typical hearing is what would get a juror fined and jailed for “contempt of court” at a trial. Most congressmen do not show up for most hearings, and those who do show up attend sporadically, wandering in and out and paying scant attention to witnesses. Most hearings, especially in the House, showcase congressmen often awkwardly reading questions written out by their aides. An intelligent, spontaneous, piercing follow-up question is as rare as a federal agency requesting a reduction in its budget.

Congress’s follies and depravity were showcased earlier this month when Special Counsel Robert Hur testified on his report on President Joe Biden’s mishandling of classified documents. Hur’s report last month concluded that Biden had “willfully retained and disclosed classified materials”—violations of federal law. But Hur said that prosecuting him would be dicey because jurors could view Biden as an  “elderly man with poor memory.”

After the FBI raided Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home to seize classified documents in August 2022, Biden said he was stunned that “anyone could be that irresponsible.” After Hur’s report came out, Biden angrily declared, “I did not share classified information.” He also proclaimed, “All the classified documents were in lockable filing cabinets.”

But Hur testified that those claims were “inconsistent with our findings.” Biden’s classified documents were found at the Penn Biden Center, in Biden’s Delaware garage, his basement den and third floor den, his main floor office, the University of Delaware, and at the Biden Institute. Leaving classified documents strewn in open boxes in his garage was not quite “locked” away.

Vilification is the favorite method of suasion on Capitol Hill. The House Judiciary Committee hearing on Hur’s report was only about “Republicans trying to re-elect the former white supremacist-in-chief,” according to Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO). Fixating on Biden’s document shenanigans could aid Trump and cause the worldwide triumph of tyranny, wailed Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MO). Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) derided Hur as a Republican bootlicker hoping to get a prize appointment if Trump is re-elected.

The hearing quickly devolved into Three Stooges-caliber antics. One Democrat after another put Hur into a headlock and jammed words into his mouth. When Hur objected to Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) claiming that his report exonerated Biden, she cut him off: “Mr. Hur, it is my time.” Democrats seemed to believe that endlessly repeating the word “exoneration” would automatically counteract any Biden dirt that floated to the surface.

Democrats, veering towards full “Manchurian Candidate,” seemed ready to recite with glazed eyes, “Joe Biden is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.” Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) miraculously proclaimed, “Nobody suggests that Biden is senile.” That declaration raised doubts about Cohen’s own cognition—or perhaps he has lived in a hyper-Democrat bubble for the last five years. Biden needed plenty of sycophants because of his hypocrisy, his legal violations, and his brazen falsehoods.

The forty felony charges that Special Counsel Jack Smith filed against Trump for classified document violations were perpetually showcased by Democratic members. But no one explained how Trump’s alleged offenses after January 2021 retroactively exonerated Biden’s perpetual violations of federal classification law stretching back to the 1970s. Republicans wondered at what point in his life Biden became too clueless to be responsible for violating federal law.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) explained that Biden knew the rules on classified information but he broke them because he was writing a book and pocketing $8 million. “Joe Biden had 8 million reasons to break the rules!” Jordan exclaimed. Hur’s report stated that Biden also wrongfully retained classified documents to “buttress his legacy as a world leader” in his ghostwritten book. It is tricky to understand why Biden would have taken that risk with those documents since the Washington media had coronated him a “world leader” long ago, perhaps even before his first major plagiarism scandal of the 1980s. Rep. Jordan is seeking the audio tapes from the interview to better elucidate Biden’s mental capacity. Hur stated that his conclusion on Biden’s poor memory was based on the totality of the circumstances of his interaction with the president during the interview.

Some Republicans were confounded that Hur chose not to recommend criminal charges. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) groused that Hur chose to “apply this ‘senile cooperator’ theory that because Joe Biden cooperated and the elevator didn’t go to the top floor, you don’t think you’d get a conviction.” Rep. Dan Bishop (R-NC) was perturbed that Hur let the president off the hook by claiming in the report that Biden didn’t recognize that a “confidential” marking meant a document was classified—even though Biden stated that he knew that during the interview (Déjà vu: the FBI let Hillary Clinton off the same hook in 2016 when she claimed that she thought a “C” marking on government documents referred to alphabetical order, not classification status.)

Republicans were perturbed that the Biden administration did not release the transcript of Hur’s five hour interview with Biden until the morning of today’s hearing. Biden had falsely accused Hur of raising the issue of the death of Beau Biden, but it was the president who repeatedly mentioned it—and was unaware of the year of his son’s death. Biden’s attention wandered during the questioning, including when he started to make childlike noises like his beloved old Corvette. No wonder the White House intervened to seek to censor the report’s comments on Biden’s mental capacity.

Biden had at least one shining moment of candor and competence during the Hur interview: “We over-classify everything…And 99.9 percent of it has nothing to do with anything I couldn’t pick up and read out loud to the public.” Both Biden and Trump—along with Hillary Clinton, Mike Pence, and busloads of other politicians as yet unnamed—have been caught in a bureaucratic tar pit created to enable Washington to blindfold Americans. Biden, who previously served as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, took no personal responsibilities for the absurdities of the federal statute book. The best case outcome of both the Biden and Trump classification controversies would be a radical rollback of pointless federal secrecy.

Rep. Cori Bush derided the Hur hearing as a “Republican clown show.” But Rep. Harriet Hageman (R-WY) got the last laugh when she declared that the feds have “unlimited resources to go after and prosecute citizens—to make an example of them. Why are people named Clinton or Biden the only ones not held accountable for violating the law?”

In 1954, Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) was censured shortly after a witness he was dogging demanded to know, “Have you no sense of decency, sir?” In popular mythology, McCarthy’s rebuff exemplified how decency ultimate triumphs in Washington. But you only need to watch a few congressional hearings nowadays to recognize that venality continues to prevail.

About Jim Bovard

Jim Bovard is a Senior Fellow for the Libertarian Institute and author of the newly published, Last Rights: The Death of American Liberty (2023). His other books include Public Policy Hooligan (2012), Attention Deficit Democracy (2006), Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty (1994), and seven others. He is a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors and has also written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Playboy, The Washington Post, among others. His articles have been publicly denounced by the chief of the FBI, the Postmaster General, the Secretary of HUD, and the heads of the DEA, FEMA, and EEOC and numerous federal agencies.

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