God Bless C-SPAN

Article excerpt

In this election year, it's good to acknowledge one of the most vital institutions of American political life, not counting that thing in Iowa where citizens chose the next president by means of a covered dish.

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In the belief that democracy requires informed citizens, C-SPAN is the 24-hour cable network that broadcasts, without comment, the workings of Capitol Hill. Then it opens the phones and lets average Americans express how nauseous they get when they watch the workings of Capitol Hill.

Before C-SPAN, Americans assumed their congressional representatives were honoring the proud tradition of governing a democratic society: engaging in the give-and-take of debate, weighing the merits of each bill, and finally reaching a congenial compromise. Then C-SPAN turned on its cameras and we learned that, except for a few bored staff members shuffling papers in the background, both chambers of Congress are usually devoid of human life. Because of the merciless truth of C-SPAN cameras, we now know the constitutional mandate of the House of Representatives is apparently absenteeism, and that most laws are actually made in expensive restaurants, the outcome dependent on who picks up the tab.

And it's not much better in chambers on the other side of the Capitol, where the U.S. Senate consists of only two clerks, a security guard, and West Virginia's Robert C. Byrd, who, as occasional slight movements in his upper body indicate, may even be alive.

Given the unblinking eye of C-SPAN, it's no surprise the U.S. Supreme Court forbids cameras in its own chambers. Otherwise we would see Clarence Thomas working on Sudoku puzzles, or Ruth Bader Ginsburg sitting on a phone book to see over the table while listening to oral arguments on the constitutional rights of students to clean their handguns during school prayer.

The justices especially don't want C-SPAN to broadcast the beginning of each session, when the clerk cries out "Oye, oye, oye, all persons having business before the Supreme Court are ordered to draw nigh." "What's up with 'oye,'" a typical C-SPAN viewer might inquire, as she waits for lunch at her assisted living center. "What is this, a bullfight?" ("I hope they don't have creamed corn again. I hate creamed corn.")

Many of you may have never watched C-SPAN, preferring other programs that promote a healthy society (tonight on Fox: Are You Smarter Than A Fifth-Grader? …

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