The Jim Wright affair took a new turn last week that puts the Congressional Record back in the public spotlight, where it seldom enjoys favorable attention.
It seems that in 1985 the House Speaker used this publication to plug a home video product made by his wife's employer. As the Associated Press notes, this episode "follows a long Capitol Hill tradition: Just about anything can be printed (in the Congressional Record), and is, at taxpayers' expense."It's not on top of any best seller list, but when it comes to fiction and fantasy, the Congressional Record can hold its own with the best of contemporary American literature.
The Congressional Record is supposed to be the official recorded history of the events happening on the floor of the Senate and House of Representatives. It is the record preserved in the National Archives for historians, writers, and even the public to draw upon in the future.
Unfortunately, the Congressional Record is at best a loose record of the events of Congress. At worst it is an amalgamation of fact and fantasy that holds little value for the historian.
The record is just another example of the "do as I say, not as I do" mentality that seems to pervade Washington, D.C. While demanding exacting accountability from lesser levels of government, Congress conveniently exempts itself from the responsibility of accurate recording of its activities.
Members of Congress routinely insert speeches, resolutions and other items never presented on the floor of Congress into the Congressional Record. Worse, they are also allowed to review, alter and delete things that actually were said, a manipulation that would not be tolerated at other levels of government.
As Americans, we demand accountability from our elected representatives, and rightfully so. We demand that official records be accurate, even if the only thing of significance discussed is spring cleanup day.
It is time that Congress realize that demands for ethical behavior in government are serious. How about starting with the record that Congress keeps of its own activities?