Two contrasting congressional days

Last Friday in Washington there was evidence of why only 16% of the public approve of the job Congress is doing, according to a Gallup poll.

During a House Oversight Committee hearing on whether to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena, several House members resorted to schoolyard taunts and raucous name-calling. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) started it by claiming to Rep. Jasmine Crockett (D-TX) couldn’t see the resolution being discussed because “…  your fake eyelashes are messing up what you’re reading.”

Crockett, who is Black, responded by calling Greene, who is white, a “racist.” It went downhill from there.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) quickly joined the fight: “How dare you attack the physical appearance of another person,” she shouted.

“Are your feelings hurt?” Greene asked facetiously.

“Oh girl, oh, baby girl, don’t even play,” Ocasio-Cortez shot back, leading Greene to say, “oh really, baby girl?”

Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) appeared flummoxed, as though he had no idea how to gain control of the situation.

Order was eventually restored. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) later issued a statement, saying he was disappointed by the name-calling and “it was not a good look for Congress.” That’s an understatement.

Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) had the best response: “In the past, I’ve described the U.S. House as ‘The Jerry Springer Show.’ Today, I’m apologizing to ‘The Jerry Springer Show.’ ”

Personal, even physical attacks, are not new in Congress. In the 19th century Rep. Preston Brooks (D-S.C.), a slaveholder, used his cane to beat unconscious fervent abolitionist Sen. Charles Sumner (R-Mass.), after Sumner had delivered an anti-slavery speech.

As the History Channel notes, members during this time “commonly carried knives and guns” on the floor. “There were more than 70 violent incidents between congressmen, writes Yale history professor Joanne B. Freeman in ‘The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to the Civil War.’ ”

Fortunately, last Friday’s name-calling didn’t end in a physical confrontation.

Perhaps if those members had attended an event the day before in Statuary Hall they might have acquired some humility. The event was the unveiling of a statue honoring the late Evangelist Billy Graham. Speaker Johnson, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper (a Democrat), and four other House members spoke. Graham’s humility, his friendships with presidents and politicians of both parties and his faithfulness to the Gospel were mentioned. Speakers noted Graham boldly displayed leadership at the dawn of the civil rights era, refusing to speak anywhere stadiums were not integrated and rejecting an invitation to visit South Africa, as long as apartheid existed. Graham was also a friend of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Graham told me that King said to him about confronting segregation: “You take the stadiums and I’ll take the streets.”

The event was in stark contrast to what followed on Friday. If people felt shame for anything they say or do these days, the Friday fiasco would qualify for a truckload of it dumped on the participants.

Many are crying out for civility and humility in our leaders, but they aren’t getting it. That includes Donald Trump and Joe Biden, who engage in name-calling and putdowns of each other.

Where are the great orators, like Daniel Webster, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Rep. Barbara Jordan, and many others who encouraged us to embrace the “better angels of our nature” instead of our worst devils?

Instead of members of Congress who shout others down, we need people who lift us up, overcoming evil talk with kind, encouraging and optimistic words.

You’ve probably seen Greene’s deplorable behavior on television, as well as Crockett’s and AOC’s angry responses. If you missed the Graham statue dedication “live,” you can watch it at C-SPAN.org. Note the difference between those two days and pray for (and demand from your representatives) better and more civil behavior.

Readers may email Cal Thomas at [email protected].