>Rep. Jim Cooper On How To Fix Congress

>Coop, my Congresscritter, recently gave a speech at Harvard on this topic. He pulled few punches in his lecture, to the point where during the post-speech Q&A he said he hoped his appearance “would not be a career limiting move” (and for those wanting parity, a Republican lecture on the same topic is coming in March). I found his speech enormously interesting and urge everyone give it a listen/watch.

Before you let the lecture’s apparent length deter you, Cooper’s talk is only about 30 minutes long (the rest is Q&A) and actually doesn’t begin until 4 minutes in. (Also, you can download it as a podcast and listen to it while walking the dog, should you be so inclined.)

Here’s the video:


What’s interesting to me is his contention that Congress has basically become a parliamentary system; for those of us who have decried our current partisan state and wondered what living under a real parliamentary system might be like, it’s a douse of cold water. And in fairness to Coop, he says we have the worst of both worlds: the parliamentary aspects without the accountability a party-nominated prime minister provides.

Cooper calls the state of our modern Congress “grim,” labels the institution “willfully blind to most of the nation’s problems.” I daresay you’d be hard pressed to find disagreement on that point, regardless of your political affiliation. His focus on the negative outcome of the Citizens United decision struck me as especially interesting, since he’s a Blue Dog and I thought being against Citizens United was unique to us DFH’s.

Cooper had some intriguing ideas on how Congress can be reformed, including these two “quick thought experiments”:

1- What if Congress were paid on commission to cut spending or repeal obsolete laws?

2- What if Congressmen could only raise money from real people who lived inside their district, not outside interests?

What, indeed? A lot of Cooper’s talk casts the blame for our current overly partisan woes on the shoulders of Newt Gingrich, who politicized longstanding Congressional practices back in the ‘90s — and the Democrats who failed to go back to Tip O’Neill-style rules and practices when they came into power in 2007. That lends a bit of an “offa my lawn” quality to Cooper’s talk but the information is still useful. For instance, how many people know that the political parties now require members of Congress to pay exorbitant dues — or, as Cooper infers, that plum committee assignments are related to one’s timely payment of said dues?

Cooper’s talk has received little attention but I think it’s something every political observer should watch.


Filed under Congress, Rep. Jim Cooper

10 responses to “>Rep. Jim Cooper On How To Fix Congress

  1. >The guy struck me as a run of the mill jack wad. At around 48:40 he says "most people who run for Congress, most people who serve are good people, they're from the heartland…"Where is this part of the United States that is not part of the heartland? I'm guessing he assumes empty acres America is the heartland and urban centers, Houston and Dallas excluded, are foreign blots on the sea to shining sea landscape.Pay Congress people to reduce the national debt? How about paying them to raise the share of national income going to the median income American household, to stop the rise that's being observed in global temperature averages, to reduce the number of our troops who are permanently deployed over seas, to increase the amount of medical services we provide to the underdeveloped world for free?I didn't hear much more from this guy other than that Blue Dogs should rule and good old boys ought to be able to be elected without raising money. My impression is that he thinks Representatives should be able to make their entire campaign one stop at the local diner where they can announce to Joe Bob and a few other pillars of the community that they've decided to serve again. (By the way, if you want that to be the environment in which you're campaigning, obviously you should be advocating for the House to increase its membership total by a factor of thirty.)

  2. >P.S I didn't make it past the 52 minute mark.

  3. >I'm coming back to this when I have time, but thanks for posting! Not many will be willing to watch a vid this long, but like you wrote, it's not that hard to do if you skip the crap and get to the meat of it.Appreciate this post!

  4. >CMike, dollars to donuts sez he only used "Heartland" because "RealAmerica(TM)" is a term reserved for use by us coastal elites.As a card-carrying coastal elite, the only thing which makes me seethe more than inland suburbanites playing farmer/cowboy (and I don't mean in "Oklahoma!") are those well-educated well-off types who have some man issues and feel the need to suck up to those same types.Tweety and Bobo, I'm looking at specifically, but I'm afraid we'll never run out of them.

  5. >Cooper is not a Teabagger type to toss around labels like "real america" and "heartland" as dog whistles to wingnuttia. He would, I'm sure, put himself among the "elites" — he's the son of a former governor of Tennessee, Rhodes Scholar, studied at Oxford … not the Sarah Palin "I went to five colleges in six years" model.That said, I didn't hear his "heartland" quote, although I listened to the whole lecture AND Q&A … I guess it passed over my head, so I can't speak to the context in which it was used.I'll have to go back and give it another listen by my guess would be he was referring to the representational nature of the House, that there are more rural districts represented than urban ones. I dunno, just a guess.

  6. >Our host's opinion about Cooper is much more informed than mine, so I guess I'd more go by what she says.However, I still reserve the right to spout off on any pol who calls the stretch from NYC to Down East their home.

  7. >One lady's cup of tea is another man's treacle I guess.56:41 Right now the public isn't given the tools to determine who is a good legislator or not. I'm a Blue Dog Democrat, we're fiscally conservative, it's difficult for us to show concretely exactly which votes were good or bad for America. So voters are clueless and you can spin it either way. And, in fact, we've gotten so good at spin we've almost departed from facts entirely. Fox and MSNBC can not even cover the same events that day so you're almost wondering if they're reporting on two different nations, Red or Blue America and never the twain shall meet.Some how we have to get beyond this. The recent financial reform commission was unable to agree on the facts of the fiscal crisis. That is stunning. Some how it reminds me of the Yeats poem, "…the center can not hold." And, we've got to be really careful here because, you know, he was overly pessimistic in the twenties, maybe not about Ireland but the world, but, you know, when the best lack all conviction and the worst are full of passion and intensity, that is a scary situation.So, there are opportunities here to build and I think the key is to be able to persuade the average Rotarian back home because, in my opinion, civic club people are the backbone of America and I think Robert Putnam would back me up on that. You can reach these folks because there's a balance wheel somewhere and there's this magnificent grandfather's clock that's always worked and it's going to work again if we let it…

  8. >Well, CMike makes an excellent point when he notes we can't even agree on the basic facts anymore. That is not just stunning, it's depressing. Politics has poisoned everything … the Congressional Budget Office is a reliable source of facts until those facts run counter to Republican ideology … the New Testament is a reliable source of moral authority until that moral authority runs counter to Republican ideology … I honestly don't know how we move past this.And let me just saw, I know I am way to the left of Blue Dogs like Jim Cooper, yet I feel like Cooper is probably the best Rep our district can hope for. Nashville isn't as liberal as a lot of folks would like to think — nor is it as conservative.What frustrates me about the whole "fiscal conservative" thing is that certain programs are never on the table, such as Pentagon programs. At the beginning of the month I wrote about how Americans grossly underestimate our defense spending. Why don't we ever talk about this stuff?I also recognize the urgency of the national debt but I don't see why the poor and middle class must always be asked to shoulder the burdens. Tax cuts for the wealthy are immoral. Time for the rich assholes to start pulling their weight.

  9. >Southern Beale writes:CMike makes an excellent point when he notes we can't even agree on the basic facts anymore.My second comment is, almost in its entirety, a transcription of Jim Cooper's remarks beginning at the 56:41 mark of the video. Sorry if my formatting did not make that clear.

  10. >AH I got it … I didn't *think* you were a Blue Dog Democrat! Thanks for the clarification …