When divided government spells legislative gridlock, the Congress still has a critical role to play: oversight.
For once, Congress has retaken its rightful place at the center of the American political world. It has been the talk of Washington recently, displacing even the President as the focus of attention. Unfortunately, it has seen a return to the spotlight not due to some revival of traditional constitutional thought, but instead because it has been an utter circus for the past few weeks.
The election of the Speaker of the House – in the modern era, usually a rote exercise which is decided well in advance of the first ballot – took 15 rounds of voting and dragged out over several days. After this unusually-long process, California Republican Representative Kevin McCarthy was finally elected to lead the lower house of Congress. For nearly a week, the floor of the House resounded with cajoling, negotiating, persuading, conspiring, and arguing. In short, it sounded like a legislature should: fractious, cacophonous, lively. But instead of hearing those proper legislative noises during a floor debate on a serious policy topic, we heard it in relation to internal party infighting and procedural moves. Was the extended election a national security issue, as some claimed? No, but it was embarrassing that the House only got its debate on for such a parochial partisan affair.
Still, the fact that Congress sucked up so much media oxygen during the Speaker fight shows that the Article I branch has at least some political cachet remaining. Despite the divided nature of government – the Republicans tenuously hold the House, while the Democrats tenuously hold the Senate and White House – Congress still has an incredibly important non-legislative role to play: that of oversight. Will the Republican-led House of Representatives embrace that critical responsibility, or will they waste their time and political capital on fruitless investigations into Hunter Biden, social media companies, and woke corporations?
Thanksgiving is the best example of the confluence between America’s pioneering spirit and our national penchant for thankfulness.
Thanksgiving is perhaps the quintessential American holiday; we have feasting, we have football, we have family and friends, and we have gratitude. The last line item on that list may seem odd to associate with ‘Americanness’ as much as the others, but it fits in just fine. In fact, it is deeply embedded in American history, dating back to the colonial era, before the founding of the United States. The strong focus on thankfulness – to the point of dedicating a whole holiday to it – is peculiarly American, but can feel at odds with the classic stereotype of Americans as self-absorbed and entitled. In this case, the stereotype is dead wrong; gratitude is an American tradition that dovetails perfectly with our historic national culture of self-reliance, risk-seeking, and innovation.
A brief defense of a quintessentially American holiday.
Columbus Day has largely been a minor national holiday with deep local roots since it was federally recognized in 1971. It was first celebrated long before that, however. Starting off in New York City in 1792 as a commemoration of the 300th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas, the holiday has kept this identity over the centuries but has also been adopted as a celebration of Italian-American heritage. Most people think of it as the one day off from school in October before the deluge of holidays in November and December. Recently, it has gained in prominence – or infamy – due to a progressive crusade to label Columbus a genocidaire and to rechristen the holiday as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. These campaigners accuse Columbus of perpetuating a deliberate genocide of native peoples and label the European interaction with the New World as irredeemably bad. This activist campaign has gained ground over the past decade and several states have officially changed their calendars accordingly. As useful and proper as it is to memorialize the contributions of Native Americans to the United States, the defenestration of Columbus Day is a terrible mistake. In many ways, Columbus Day is itself a perfect encapsulation of our amazing country and its evolution over the centuries into a “more perfect union.”
With all of the partisan fights over absurdities like the President’s dalliances with a porn star, Facebook personality quiz apps, and whether the President can find a competent lawyer, one would think that a subject as anodyne as the decennial census would be safe from inter-party bickering. Unfortunately, that’s no longer the case, as seemingly every aspect of government is being fought over these days, even the incredibly boring (although important) ones.