Congress and the Ghost of Sam Ervin

By: Don McNay
By: Don McNay

After a recent Congressional hearing concerning Goldman Sachs, Congress did something I thought was impossible. They almost made me feel sorry for the gang at Goldman Sachs.

"I'm holding out for a hero"

-Jim Steinman

After a recent Congressional hearing concerning Goldman Sachs, Congress did something I thought was impossible.
They almost made me feel sorry for the gang at Goldman Sachs.   
Not quite, but I felt like the Goldman Sachs crew were simply props in a "Made for Television" event.
I've been one of Wall Street's biggest critics and a Goldman critic, in particular.  From day one I was opposed to the Wall Street bailouts engineered by former Goldman chief, Henry "Hank" Paulson, when he was Bush's Secretary of the Treasury. 
I'm convinced that when all of this is said and done, you are going to find a lot of dirty dealings and bad behavior on the part of Goldman.
But Congress is not going to be the entity that finds the dirty deeds and bad behavior.  Members of Congress are too busy preening for the cameras and talking in sound bites.  
One of more interesting media-grabbing tactics was for some of the senators to read, out loud, some Goldman Sachs emails containing gutter language.
The net result was to allow some of George Carlin's "seven words you can never say on television" to be said, perhaps fittingly, on television..
Any stand-up comic knows that using profanity is a great way to draw attention.  Thus, it is sad to see   United States senators fall for that tactic.
The performances weren't worthy of a senator.  They weren't worthy of a 3 A.M. am spot on the Comedy Channel, let alone the Senate of the United States.  They were strictly designed to get into the news cycle.
It worked.  Many newspapers and blogs led with the gutter language.  How could they resist?  The senators gave them a free pass to join them down in the gutter.
The senators got their fifteen minutes of fame, but the country isn't any closer to finding out what really happened at Goldman Sachs.   
All we know is that our senators are prone to potty language.
When I was a child, using bad language would cause my mother to wash my mouth out with soap.
We need the people at Proctor and Gamble to send some Ivory to Washington. 
There was a point in time when Congressional hearings accomplished something.  The last time I can remember that being true was during the Watergate hearings.
The chair of that committee, Sam Ervin, captured the attention of the American people.   He didn't do it by playing to the crowd or using gutter language.  He did it by holding an investigative hearing that actually investigated something.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield chose Ervin to head the Watergate committee because he DIDN'T want to play politics.  Ervin had no desire to run for president or, even, to seek re-election.  He was just there to uphold the Constitution.
Which, by the way, he did pretty well.
The only potential presidential candidate on the Watergate committee was Howard Baker, a Republican.  He asked the essential question, "What did the president know and when did he know it?"  It helped frame President Nixon's involvement for the American people.
It wasn't a question designed to play to the crowd and it definitely did not help Baker in a Republican presidential primary.
It just the right, and respectful, question to ask at the right time.
Ervin and Baker ran a committee designed to find answers and uncover cover-ups.  They did that pretty well.
Why don't we have leaders like that now? 
Another Sam, Sam Rayburn, probably had it right with his long-term opposition to televising Congressional hearings.  Speaker Rayburn understood Congress as well as anyone and knew that members couldn't (or, more likely, wouldn't) help themselves from playing to the cameras.
If we are ever going to find what really happened at Goldman Sachs, we will need the people in Congress to be more like Sam and Sam.

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