On January 3, the 113th U.S. Congress sat for the first time. Their predecessors in the 112th Congress left some great big clown shoes to fill: Our least productive Congress on record, 112 failed at bipartisan consensus, failed to pass a budget, and briefly failed to keep the lights on at all. In the last month of 2012 alone, Congress managed to not provide relief for Hurricane Sandy, not reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, and not even show up to discuss the “fiscal cliff” until the last moment. The 112th was, according to one poll, less popular than root canals, Brussels sprouts, and head lice.
So, New Congress, while you have been given a lovely fallback for “at least we weren’t as bad as 112,” don’t think you can get away with that. Horse turds may be less unpleasant than cow turds, but they remain turds. In the interest of making your Congressional year as un-turd-like as possible, I’ve laid out a few new year’s resolutions for you.
1. Resolve to stop saying “rape.” Not entirely, of course. This isn’t to say that Congress shouldn’t discuss rape at all. Just stop talking about it the way you talked about it throughout 2012. See, to you, “rape” is just a base-level qualifier for a woman to deserve to get an abortion. (This is followed by such requirements as “was a virgin beforehand,” “fought and said no,” and “will feel so ashamed about getting an abortion that she won’t go through with it anyway.”) To us, “rape” is a real and traumatic thing that is done to real people, enabled by (among other things) a culture that denies uterus-having people agency over their own bodies, disparages women who aren’t “sexy enough” while simultaneously vilifying them as temptresses in turtlenecks, and excuses men who “just couldn’t help themselves.” (“Easy to rape,” y’all.) Until you’ve managed to research, process, and understand this semantic gulf, don’t consider yourself sufficiently informed to comment intelligently on the subject.
Action item: The next time you find yourself about to say the word “rape,” take a deep breath and hold it for ten seconds while you think about what you’re saying. If, afterward, it still makes sense, go ahead and say it, but be prepared to find out you’re actually a complete idiot anyway.
2. Come to that, resolve to just stop talking about things you know nothing about. Again, not entirely, but if it isn’t your area of expertise, try to spend twice as much time listening and asking questions as you do talking. As my imaginary boyfriend Neil Degrasse Tyson said, “Boy, I wonder what profession all of these senators and congressmen have? Law, law, law, law, businessman, law, law. And I said, you know, where are the scientists? Where are the engineers? Where’s the rest of life represented here?” Of the 2012 House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s 37 sitting members, 14 were lawyers, and only eight had any background at all in science or technology — including physician Paul Broun, a young-earth creationist who this year famously announced that embryology, evolution, and the Big Bang theory are “lies straight from the pit of Hell.” (In the 2012 election, his district provided more than 4,000 write-in votes for Charles Darwin.)
The 2011 debates about SOPA/PIPA and the 2012 debates about access to birth control both underscored the extent to which Congress didn’t bother to seek out subject-matter experts and didn’t listen to the experts they sought out. The Fightin’ 112th closed out 2012 with a “series of tubes”-level knowledge of basic human reproduction (not to mention human decency). Don’t do that. Do better than that.
Action item: Make it your goal to spend two hours chewing gum with your mouth closed for every hour you actually speak while in session. If necessary, keep a chart.
3. Resolve to go into every debate understanding how much of your constituency doesn’t look like you. A common refrain on the Republican side after November’s election is that if it weren’t for POC and women of all races, Obama never would have run. This is true. Had the election been left up to white guys, Mitt Romney would have won in a landslide. But it turns out that white guys accounted for 34 percent of the electorate in the 2012 elections, and thus Romney found himself defeated due to what we colloquially call “citizens” or “voters,” also known as “constituents.” (On the flip side, you 101 female congresspeople just sworn in can enjoy the fact that 51 percent of your constituency is rather like you, so you can understand that you are so vastly disproportionately underrepresented that you’re going to have to bleed your blood to get worthwhile legislation passed on their behalf. Congrats and good luck!)
Basically: Sorry, the 67 percent of Congress made up of white guys; you’re not alone out there. Now, do I realistically expect you to actually do anything with this knowledge? Of course not. I’m not that naive. I’m just hoping that if you really internalize the demographics of your constituency and yet continue to legislate the way you have for the past decade, the cognitive dissonance will make your anterior cingulate cortex swell up and kersplat like a tomato in the sun.
Action item: Have your assistant’s assistant print out a demographic profile of your district using colorful charts and pretty illustrations and tape it to your bathroom mirror. As you’re brushing your teeth in the morning, spend those two minutes saying to yourself, “Even non-conservative-white-guys deserve true representation in government,” and you 359 white guys should follow up with, “and I’m a total shit if I try to pretend otherwise.”
4. Resolve to brush for two minutes every morning and night. It’s just a good idea.
Action item: Have your assistant’s assistant’s assistant get you one of those electric toothbrushes that play music.
What other items need to make it on Congress’s list of new year’s resolutions for 2013?
- VAWA held up by Republicans. Again. by Jill February 11, 2013