The Congressional Spectator

Congress Must Learn to Be Boring

No one said adult education is always easy.

By 12.23.13


Only a troglodyte does not know that Congress is a train wreck. The image is that of boorishness, immense conceit, and fecklessness — to use polite nouns. Gallup poll results in early December confirm an average approval rating in 2013 of just 12 per cent — a shocking evaluation by a constituency. The rating is the lowest in Gallup’s history. It is worth pondering what might happen to those government folks if they had to survive in in the RW, also known as the real world.

In any private enterprise with that rating from shareholders, dismissals would be rampant. Human resources professionals would be sequestered and work on weekends to design severance pay and outplacement packages. Corporate communications staff would prepare euphemistic press releases about an impending mass exodus. Paranoia would be rampant in every corridor of the company, and no one would be safe — from the thousands of toiling Dilberts condemned to gray cubicles to the CEO himself. Eventually, a corporate raider or bottom fisher would try to acquire the floundering company, only to gut it — and then restructure it to add value.

Alas, we are stuck with those underperformers for two to six years, depending on whether they are from the House of Representatives or the Senate. And we also know that governments are different, as they must sometimes provide solutions, often inefficient ones, where free markets cannot. Nor can they be acquired, except by invasion. But with such distaste for Congress now expressed by so many Americans, we must consider some type of remedial action. As in the RW with intense off sites and retreats, the prescription might be a similar Congressional boot camp — and here is how it could work.

The camp would be in a gentle, pastoral environment where hard-charging Congressmen can actually be themselves, far from the microphones and frescoed Rotunda of the Capitol Building. Aspen or somewhere in the Virginia wilderness are among the possibilities. The site would be well-equipped with the latest audio and video facilities — and a Cordon Bleu chef as a reward for their seriously concentrating on something. There would be lots of PowerPoint, flip charts, coffee and oatmeal cookies. It would be like detoxing — expelling years of bad habits acquired in the line of duty.

The objective of the camp would be to make Congressmen realize that dull should be the new fascinating — and blandness the new flamboyance. They would come to understand that good governance is too important to permit self-display. Each Congressman would be required to develop a personal action plan to become boring. To facilitate this painful transition, each would have a plain spoken mentor from the private sector having the virtues of wisdom, hard work, and probity — selected by a leading mentoring association. No media would be allowed in situ, as they would encourage narcissism and negate the salutary effects of the camp.

The core curriculum would begin with reading comprehension. Congressmen would be forced to read, many for the first time, thousands of pages of the laws they have enacted — and inflicted in some cases. Each participant would need to write a 500 — 1,000 word précis of a complicated law, for example Obamacare or Dodd-Frank. Next, they would have to succinctly explain and quantify the unintended consequences of their work to the chamber of mentors.

Thinking and speaking in clichés would be punished, along with phony straw models, and the usual sophistry designed to confuse and manipulate. Verbosity would be immediately red-flagged and its practitioners would be sent to a penalty box, as would those adjudged by their mentor to be guilty of fake facial expressions. No charisma would be tolerated since it so easily conflates form with substance. To teach clarity using good examples of bad examples, President Obama could make a guest appearance — to demonstrate how one man’s elegant nuance is another man’s obfuscation, and even to lead a break out group on false dichotomies.

Adult education is not easy. But a big dose of discipline from the private sector could help.

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About the Author
Frank Schell is a business consultant and former international banking executive. He serves on the Dean’s International Council of the Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago where he is a lecturer.