The legend was born last August 1. Throughout the $4-per-gallon-gasoline summer, House conservatives had been pestering their Democratic overlords to scrap Congress's moratorium on offshore oil drilling; but, by the end of July, Speaker Nancy Pelosi had tired of the squabbling and dismissed the House for vacation. But one faction of representatives was too impatient to go. Insulted by Pelosi's brush-off and sensing a hot opportunity, Representative Mike Pence of Indiana rallied a troupe of conservatives in the abandoned chamber. There, as the Capitol staff milled about turning off lights, microphones, and cameras, Pence's gang announced that they were launching a hostile occupation of the House floor until Pelosi returned.Gee whiz, when we tried to occupy the Oakland Bay Bridge during the 1991 protests surrounding the airstrikes on Baghdad at the beginning of Operation Desert Storm, they called us terrorists. Sauce for the gander, you ask me.
Private TV cameras aren't allowed inside the House chamber, but accounts of the insurgency began to trickle out. A Fox News reporter with a hidden camcorder taped grainy video of an "unidentified male"--presumably a congressman--bellowing, "This is the Boston Tea Party!," while Texan John Culberson, a tech geek, whipped out his BlackBerry and began furiously posting to Twitter, a voguish social-networking website. "I am speaking now on the floor to the gallery and to you on Twitter demanding that Speaker Pelosi cancel vacation and vote to drill here now," Culberson tweeted. "We are speaking without microphones--as though it were 1908." Others succumbed to the revolutionary mood, snatching Culberson's BlackBerry and blasting out their own breathless dispatches: "I am Roy Blunt, the GOP Whip, and it [sic] an outrageous move the Democrat leadership has adjourned the House for 5 weeks.""Outrageous!" They say if you're not outraged, then you're not paying attention. Who could have known that adjourning the House for five weeks could be grounds for civil disobedience? Not me, brother... not me.
The picture of naughty congressmen rowdily tweeting inside the House chamber couldn't have been juicier for television, and soon the Boston Tea Party clip was looping again and again on Fox, while C-SPAN broadcast a cellphone video Culberson had shot of the insurgents scheming in a Capitol anteroom. By the next morning, the story had ignited. Constituents began badgering their representatives about drilling, and, among Republicans, appeals for more drilling took on the antic, performative style of the Vietnam protests. There was theme music: Country star Aaron Tippin performed a barn-buster called "Drill Here, Drill Now" with Mike Huckabee on electric guitar. There were props--Republican congressmen began appearing in the Capitol carrying red gas cans--and spontaneous "Drill, baby, drill" chants erupted at Republican presidential rallies.This was one of the more appalling moments in recent Democratic leadership history. Pelosi should have smirked at the camera and said, "We're not going to negotiate with those dirty fucking hippies with their illiterate carboard signs, and their awful protest songs, and their papier-mâché puppets until they take a shower and use soap."
Democrats, for their part, assumed the wretched role of desperate, besieged establishmentarians, some sourly defending their holdout stances--"I'm just trying to save the planet," Pelosi complained to Politico--while others frantically cut reelection ads in front of oil rigs. And the conservatives made it clear that, when Pelosi did return, they would agree to no concessions to environmentalism. After Republicans denounced the compromise she ultimately offered as a "hoax" and a "sham," the hapless Democrats simply let the 27-year offshore drilling moratorium expire.
Why, O Why Can't We Have Real Leadership In Congress?