I sat up till 3.30am to watch the Health Reform Bill pass. Congratulations, America!
For me, watching the House of Representatives in action was an education. Even two years’ ago was it possible to watch American law being made across the ocean? Maybe it was technologically, I don’t know, because it is only this year that the world holds its breath and turns to America to watch its every move.
I’d never seen the House of Representatives in session before. I imagine most Americans haven’t either.
- There are set plays and set speeches over 2-3 hours clustered in sections like halves and quarters or innings. More like American football than European soccer.
- A sub-leader for each side takes over and calls play allocating 1m, 45secs and even 15secs.
- Most activity is mostly token asking for “unanimous consent to revise and expand their remarks”. They change one or two words in this ritual. Democratics say something like “this historic bill” and the Republicans say “this flawed bill”. Then it appears the representative hands something to the stenographers.
- Several Speakers (‘chairmen’) are used for short spells of half-and-hour to an hour.
- The Speakers’ tone is cold, even hostile. Language is passive. “The House will be in order.” Time is strictly, adhered to.
- When it is time to vote, Representatives are given 15 minutes to enter their vote electronically and CNN kindly gave a running score up on the screen.
Being the early hours of Monday morning here, I was struggling to stay awake and I think I missed a bit but I was there for the last, which was a bit more lively.
- In short, there is no give-or-take or repartee as there is in the British Parliament. The House didn’t even feel full. Not for the Americans is there the Churchillian feeling of knowing something important is happening because the House is crowded.
- Though prepared in advance and most people where repeating a liturgy “I seek unanimous consent”, the speechs were poor in diction, delivery and content. I couldn’t see what purpose they served.
- The on-the-spot decision making was done by the sub-leaders who manage their 15min ‘quarters’ scrupulously interchanging between one party and the other and trying to finish the quarter within seconds of each other.
Of course, you could predict which party someone belongs to with fairly high accuracy. If they are not male WASPs, they are probably Democrats. The Republicans have a few women.
How to tell a white male Democrat from a white male Republican? Well if they are youngish, they are probably Republican (take note of that). It they have untidy hair, they are probably Democrat (though there were two notable exceptions). If they dress with a bit of eclan, then they are definitely Democrat!
The speaking style of the various groups also differs markedly. Republicans rarely show any charisma. Their persuasive tactic is that “I am right”, “you will see”, and “you are wrong”.
A few black representatives used some oratory.
And Nancy Pelosi allowed her face to express all her emotions. I am so glad that I am female and allowed to give non-wooden speeches. Yay.
For me, it was fascinating because it was new to me. But it is dull. Representatives are doing other work while they sit through the ritual. It seems to me that some iphones fitted with the new card reader would dispense with voting in 30 seconds. Gee, even university lecture rooms can process data that fast.
There you have it. Politics grinds on.
Congratulations, America! You made history. Again.
And for god’s sake, make it work. Can you affford not to?
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