The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

When Congress Doesn’t Work

Posted by The Futility Monster on June 18, 2010 @ 09:22

Poor communicator, yes, but I guess that wasn't why he was made BP's CEO...

Anyone watching the tedium of the BP CEO attending the House Committee on Energy and Commerce session on the oil disaster could probably have only managed five minutes at best before turning off. And that’s coming from a political junkie.

I’ve seen US committees in operation in the past. They are powerful bodies, often conducting very interesting and intensive scrutiny of the evidence and their witnesses. Their power comes from the fact that all bills and appropriations have to be examined by the relevant committee. This means a seat on them is very prestigious indeed, especially if it can be used to deliver pork to one’s constituents…

This multiple role means that its members get frequent opportunities to make a name for themselves. And none of them missed the opportunity to indulge their populist fantasies yesterday. Well, all except Representative Barton (R), who licked Tony Hayward’s boots clean.

But, to me, it just doesn’t work. The way the committee works in these situations is almost embarrassing to watch. One by one the Representatives (or the Senators for a Senate committee) take their turn to deliver a pre-prepared nasty speech, full of rhetoric and invective, which the witness has to sit in silence and listen to in silence. They get a chance to reply at the end, but not before more than a dozen people have cast judgement on them… before the witness has even had the opportunity to set out their stall, no matter how unconvincing they are.

That is very uncomfortable to watch. It is not an in-depth probe, getting to the truth. It is a witch-hunt, a kangaroo court, carried out in the full glare of the media for the benefit not of the country, but for the Congress members themselves, in order to get some cheap headlines and show off their prowess to their constituents.

Such is democracy, I suppose.

Only later does it come to questions, a real opportunity to have a conversation with the witness, but even then they have all already made their minds up.

In truth, it looks more like a blood-letting than a proper investigation, with a ritualistic sacrifice from some contemporary hate-figure.

Not that Tony Hayward doesn’t deserve a thorough grilling, you understand. But the acid test must always be: did it generate anything useful? Are we any closer to solving the problem? Is America any closer to leading the way to end its addiction to oil?

The answers are simple: no. But at least it got the Congress some good headlines in the battle to rescue its shocking approval ratings, eh.

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