Friday, 12 March 2010

Congress & Parliament

Henry Waxman's book, "The Waxman Report", jointly written with Joshua Green deserves to be more widely read. As well as a useful guide to practices within the House of Representatives, it sets out what individual legislators can achieve.

There are two main parts to the book. The first is entitled "The Art of Making Laws" in which he describes how some specific pieces of legislation, which have been of great value to citizens, were enacted into law. The second part is "The Art of Oversight".

Too many media reports (and lets be honest, politicians are complicit in this) concentrate on the theatre. Speeches, soundbites and tactical manoeuvres get all the attention. Too many academic studies over emphasis the importance of roll call votes and the so-called 'rational choice theory'.

Yet legislatures work through lots of negotiations - in which individual legislators; whips; other party and legislative leaders; officials; constituents and lobbyists work out solutions to problems.

Legislatures rarely make good, popular theatre. Citizens are (at best) bemused, often angered by the languages and practices - and this can lead to alienation. Henry Waxman reminds us that, quietly, much can be - and is - achieved. Citizens and legislators can take inspiration from this book.