Tag Archives: Congress

Mr. Dickens Goes to Washington

Charles Dickens visited Washington, D.C. in 1842.

I was sometimes asked, in my progress through other places, whether I had not been very much impressed by the HEADS of the lawmakers at Washington; meaning not their chiefs and leaders, but literally their individual and personal heads, whereon their hair grew, and whereby the phrenological character of each legislator was expressed: and I almost as often struck my questioner dumb with indignant consternation by answering ‘No, that I didn’t remember being at all overcome.’ As I must, at whatever hazard, repeat the avowal here, I will follow it up by relating my impressions on this subject in as few words as possible.


I saw in them, the wheels that move the meanest perversion of virtuous Political Machinery that the worst tools ever wrought. Despicable trickery at elections; under-handed tamperings with public officers; cowardly attacks upon opponents, with scurrilous newspapers for shields, and hired pens for daggers; shameful trucklings to mercenary knaves, whose claim to be considered, is, that every day and week they sow new crops of ruin with their venal types, which are the dragon’s teeth of yore, in everything but sharpness; aidings and abettings of every bad inclination in the popular mind, and artful suppressions of all its good influences: such things as these, and in a word, Dishonest Faction in its most depraved and most unblushing form, stared out from every corner of the crowded hall.

— Charles Dickens, American Notes for General Circulation.

I think Charles would be pleased to learn that, one hundred and sixty-five years later, there has been an important change: members of our nation’s legislative body can now be trusted not to spit on the floor.

The Senate is a dignified and decorous body, and its proceedings are conducted with much gravity and order. Both houses are handsomely carpeted; but the state to which these carpets are reduced by the universal disregard of the spittoon with which every honourable member is accommodated, and the extraordinary improvements on the pattern which are squirted and dabbled upon it in every direction, do not admit of being described. I will merely observe, that I strongly recommend all strangers not to look at the floor; and if they happen to drop anything, though it be their purse, not to pick it up with an ungloved hand on any account.

American Notes (four paragraphs later).

Shouting for Privilege

(I posted about this earlier. Then I tried to write something a little longer. Then I forgot about it for a while. Here it is anyway.)

A couple of weeks ago (yes, this is a little late. I got distracted) the Senate invited a Hindu cleric to give their morning invocation. Apparently this was a big historic first-time thing, so of course somebody had to screw it up.

You can see the video here. The poor guy hasn’t even started when this droning half-zombie voice breaks in with a prayer to Jesus so mechanical that it must have erupted from some automatic place without passing through the speaker’s brain. And the sergeant at arms restores order in the Senate, and the chaplain starts his spiel, and another voice breaks in ranting, this time in the exact tone small children use for “Mom! I’m booooooorrrrrrred!

It’s amazing that they thought they could do this
; that standing up and shouting down a speaker in the Senate was in their clouded minds somehow the right and natural thing to do. This is the bald obliviousness to normal standards of behavior you’d expect from a severe Asperger’s sufferer. How did they get to this place in their heads?

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