World Gone Wrong (Or at least the Democratic Congress)
For the last week, the political press hasn’t stopped discussing the merits of Congress’s non-binding resolution to oppose the Administration’s plans to send additional troops to Iraq.
Yet the truth is that no matter what one’s opinion is about the direction of American foreign policy, the resolution was a disgrace.
That’s because the resolution was, of course, non-binding. If I personally protest the war as an ordinary citizen, my opposition is, of course, non-binding. But Congress is the one institution with the power to take binding action. Why, on earth, is it wasting its time passing non-binding resolutions? What’s next, a non-binding tax cut? (Don’t laugh – it’s already happened.)
It’s all of a piece with the direction in which Congress has been heading for decades. Years ago, in his seminal book, “The Image,” Daniel Boorstin wrote about the rise of “pseudo-events” in the American media and political cultures, in which the illusion of results becomes far more important than the results themselves.
Congress may well be the worst culprit among the three branches. From legislative hearings that don't really look at legislation to crime bills that almost everyone privately admits will do next to nothing to reduce crime, the appearance and the drama of the action overshadow the importance of the action itself. The press gets all excited analyzing these pseudo-events on the Sunday talk shows and in the blogs, magnifying their “importance.” Pseudo-events, Boorstin said, are usually more interesting than real actions (a resolution opposing the war!!) and they therefore seem more compelling and often more real.
He wrote, “Once we have tasted the charm of pseudo-events, we are tempted to believe they are the only important events . . .. And the poison tastes so sweet that it spoils our appetite for plain fact. Our seeming ability to satisfy our exaggerated expectations makes us forget that they are exaggerated.”
Thus, what Congress did a week ago was worse than meaningless. It was harmful to any antiwar effort because it gave the false impression that it was meaningful. Congress has the power to end the war. The fact that a new Democratic majority would devote its energies to the passage of a pointless resolution shows that, unfortunately, no matter which party is in control, it’s business as usual on Capitol Hill.