Remember how TV’s classic rumpled detective, Lieutenant Columbo, is always saying to hapless murder suspects “Oh just one more thing!”? He’s never really that absentminded. All the forgetful fumbling is just a way to trip up the suspect and get at the truth.
What’s all this got to do with the Congressional Record? Hey, glad you asked. Well, it’s always “one more thing” there, too. Except the goal is not to uncover the truth, but to bury it. The record is not a real record at all. For more than a century ever since its birth in its present form in 1873 the Congressional Record has borne only a scant resemblance to the actual events in the House and Senate.
While it is supposed to be the verbatim transcript of congressional doings, congressmen are free to “extend” their remarks at will, prior to publication. And that’s a very liberal understanding of the word “extend.” As historian Daniel Boorstin notes in his book The Image, “Despite occasional feeble protests, our Record has remained a gargantuan miscellany in which actual proceedings are buried beneath undelivered speeches, and mountains of the unread and unreadable.” This kind of legislative page-packing does a disservice to historians and to the voters. Sure, we have C-SPAN now.
So if you want to find out what really happened on a particular day there’s probably a box of videotapes in some closet somewhere that you could try to dredge up. Most of us don’t have the time for that. And yet we’d sure like to know what those rascals are really up to.
This is Common Sense.Â I’m Paul Jacob.