(Rich Galen, Mullings) – House Democrats not only took to the House Floor, Thursday, they took over the House Floor.
They staged a sit-in to protest the lack of votes on gun control measures.
It will be unproductive.
I’m not suggesting that the issue of gun control – or at least more complete background checks – is silly. I am suggesting that a childish demonstration such as the Democrats pulled yesterday will not move a single vote – on or off the House Floor.
It would – should – horrify the House Democrats to realize they are following in the footsteps of Newt Gingrich who was the first to employ modern guerilla tactics on the House floor.
Back when Newt was still a back bencher he formed an outfit called “The Conservative Opportunity Society” which was a direct attack on what he (and others) called “The Liberal Welfare State.”
The idea, according to a PBS interview with Vin Weber, then a young Congressman from Minnesota, was to form a “faction” of Republicans in the House who were interested in promoting a new “philosophy, but not a rigid, narrow, almost theological conservatism.”
Compare and contrast the difference between that and the “Freedom Caucus” today – which appears to me to have all the flexibility of the Spanish Inquisition.
The Conservative Opportunity Society, or COS, gathered new members including Bob Walker of Pennsylvania, Connie Mack III of Florida, and Duncan Hunter of California.
According to Weber, it was Walker who first understood how to make use of the new idea of cameras in the House chamber and, more importantly, the advent of C-SPAN to provide the distribution of the video.
At the end of the regular session in the House, there is a provision for Members to speak in a period devoted to “Special Orders.” According to the Library of Congress, “at the end of legislative business for the day, individual Representatives deliver speeches on topics of their choice for up to 60 minutes.”
What Walker realized was there were a lot of people who watched House proceedings on C-SPAN all day long. Special Orders were part of that day and he calculated that on any given day there might be a half million viewers watching the COS members deliver these speeches.
The rules regarding TV coverage at the time as I remember it, were that the cameras would only focus on the person speaking – Republican, Democrat, or the Chair – so that Members would not get caught dozing off or … whatever.
Those speeches were not an end unto themselves. They were tactics in a decade-long strategy to take over control of the U.S. House on behalf of the Republican party – something which had not happened since the Congress of 1953-54.
The Special Order speeches had an impact. As Weber recounted, Newt asked Jack Kemp, then a Congressman from New York, to join the rotation. When he demurred, Newt said something like, “If I put 500,000 people into a stadium to hear you speak you would never turn down that chance. Just because you can’t see them, doesn’t mean they’re not watching you.”
After a while, the Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill, had to do something to quiet his troops. He decided that he would order the cameras to “pull back,” that is, to have the shot of the House showing there was no one there but the person speaking.
The House Democrats staging a sit-in yesterday was a short term stunt. Whether you agree with their position on gun-control or not, it is a one- or, at most, two-day story. Speaker Paul Ryan controls the cameras (which he ordered turned off) and for that matter controls the air conditioning and the lights.
Gingrich wasn’t interested in a one- or two-day story. He was planning a decade-long war that would show the American people that the Republican Party had in mind a better way of governing.
That better way, ultimately, was distilled into the Contract with America which, in 1994, led to what Gingrich had been plotting: Republican control of the House.
Measure that against the sit-in the Democrats staged Thursday.
Looks pretty silly in comparison.
Mr. Galen is a veteran political strategist and communications consultant. He blogs at www.Mullings.com.