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There's No Hearing Here
Wednesday September 14, 2005
From Atlanta, Georgia
The Senate Judiciary Committee began its hearing on the confirmation of Judge John Roberts to be Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court on Monday.
Like so many other things in Washington, the word "hearing" in the US Senate has absolutely nothing to do with the act of listening. It has everything to do with talking.
On Monday, every Senator got ten minutes to make an opening statement. There is a very complex question which attaches to that: Why? Senators talk all the time. It is they, in fact, do for a living.
They don't plant 'taters. They don't plant cotton. They talk. And talk. And talk. And what they say is soon forgotten.
So, the "hearing" began with about six hours of Senators talking. The general rule is this: Senators show up for the beginning of a high-interest hearing to make certain they get their mugs on television and in the traditional right-hand-in-the-air-swearing-in still photo.
Then they get up and go somewhere else to talk, leaving behind a trusted aide (those are the people sitting behind the Senators looking oh-so-involved in the process) who will call them when it is time for them to come back if something important happens.
Like Tim Russert coming into the room.
Judge Roberts finally got to say something at about 3:15 in the afternoon. He only took about seven minutes to say howdy after which the chairman, Senator Arlen Specter, adjourned the hearing, the Senators having heard just about enough from one another for the day.
On Tuesday the Senators actually got to ask questions of Judge Roberts. There was not even a pretext of pretending to listen. I wish someone had a stopwatch on the proceedings. I'll bet that out of the allotted 30 minutes that each Senator had, they asked questions which took at least 20 minutes, and Roberts answered for not more than ten.
Joe Biden and Ted Kennedy each reminded me of the guy at a speech who, during the question and answer period, gets to the microphone and begins:
Mr. Galen, as you are no doubt aware, during the Punic Wars the underserved population of Upper Iguana sought to blah, blah, blah �
And ends five minutes later with:
Don't you agree?
With which I, very often, do not.
Kennedy and Biden asked questions which were so long, and were so rude in interrupting Roberts when he tried to answer them, that they reminded me of outclassed boxers who throw a wild punch then immediately rush in to clinch their opponent before he can punch back.
Specter had to play the role of referee of the verbal sparring match, peeling the lesser fighter off the better one.
At one point Specter interrupted Kennedy five times for interrupting Roberts five times:
SPECTER: Let him finish his answer.
But the Talking-at-the-Hearing syndrome is not limited to Democrats. Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) asked a question which, according to the unofficial transcript ran 778 words. Chuck Grassley is not exactly Chuck Schumer when it comes to words tumbling out of his mouth so it is not a stretch to calculate Grassley's question took the better part of nine minutes.
Roberts' answer was 280 words, about three minutes.
See what I mean?
Even - gasp! - CNN agrees with me. Jack Cafferty speaking on Wolf Blitzer's "Situation Room:"
SPECTER: Let him finish his answer, Senator Kennedy.
SPECTER: Let him finish his answer, Senator Kennedy.[Different time]
SPECTER: Let him finish his answer. That was a quite long question.
SPECTER: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Senator Kennedy just propounded a very, very long question. [According to the transcript, it was a 518 word question] Now, let him answer the question.
"I watched Joe Biden's soliloquy [1,101 words] on Judge Roberts. If the idea of these hearings is to elicit information from the man they are considering voting on as a Supreme Court Justice seems to be - to me - is to be quiet and let the man talk."
When Paul Simon wrote:
People talking without speaking
He could have been writing about this hearing. Except in the Senate one never hears the Sounds of Silence.
On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: Links to the Associate Press' transcript of the "hearing," a pretty good license plate Mullfoto, and a Catchy Caption of the Day.
People hearing without listening
Copyright © 2005 Richard A. Galen
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