Welcome Jocelyn Jones Evans, and Host Adam Serwer, The American Prospect.

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

One Nation Under Siege: Congress, Terrorism, and the Fate of American Democracy

Adam Serwer, Host:

Many books about terrorism begin with a personal anecdote about where the author was on 9/11. Political Scientist Jocelyn Jones Evans was working on the Hill when the planes hit and changed the course of American national security policy.

“For the first and only time in my life,” she recalls, “I remember rolling down my windows to see and to hear the news for myself.”

One Nation Under Siege though, isn’t a book about policy. It’s a book about how 9/11 and its aftermath changed the culture of Congress, and how those changes have affected the work of government and the American people’s access to their own representatives. Drawing on dozens of interviews with Hill staff and legislators, Evans vividly depicts the impact of the threat of terrorism on congressional culture after 9/11 through a combination of narrative and political science.

The already heightened sense of alarm on the Hill right after 9/11 was compounded weeks later when an intern in then-Majority Leader Tom Daschle’s office opened an envelope containing anthrax—which lead to process by which each piece of mail sent to Congress is decontaminated, delaying its receipt for weeks, and speeding the technological shift towards email. Both attacks, according to Evans caught the Capitol police sorely unprepared for either emergency. There was confusion over whether the Speaker’s office or the Capitol police themselves were responsible for coordinating the emergency response. There was no system in place for preventing biological threats from entering the buildings or detecting them once they got there. The attacks prompted the Bush administration to create a new governmental agency, the Department of Homeland Security, and Congress scrambled to put in place the relevant oversight committees. But the pressing nature of their work didn’t stop the committees in both houses from being rendered relatively ineffectual by turf wars between previously established committees and their entrenched leadership.

The most dramatic physical change to the Hill however, is that the attacks, which revealed just how unprepared Hill authorities were to deal with an emergency, sped the construction of the Capitol Visitors Center, a kind of underground hybrid of fortress and museum that funnels visitors through a single entry point in order to maintain security. The 9/11 attacks and the Anthrax scare, Evans points out, were hardly the first time Congress has been menaced by violence. From the burning of the Capitol in 1814 to the shootings in the House Chamber itself in 1954, Congress has felt under siege before. But while the CVC was first proposed in the 1970s, it was the 9/11 attacks that pushed the greatest single expansion in the building’s history into becoming a reality, after years of stalled construction and wasted funds. But not even a sense of self-preservation could overcome Congress’ natural sloth—the CVC wasn’t completed until 2008. No longer do visitors enter through the steps of the Capitol—instead they enter from underneath, as the building’s edifice looms above them. “Democracy’s temple may be more secure,” Evans writes, “but it is less accessible.”

For those of us interested in the massive expansion of the national security state—an expansion that has continued apace under the new Democratic administration—the CVC offers a poetic symbol of the way liberty has been sacrificed in the name of a rather expensive and symbolic sense of security. The CVC was a longtime target of both parties for being a waste of taxpayer dollars, and even conservative media organs like the Washington Times warned in the 1990s that “limiting individuals’ access to their representatives could bring out the worst in our own government.” But as we now know, 9/11 “changed everything.”

The change that may have the most significant impact on the fate of American democracy however, is something more subtle. The heightened security that has emerged on the Hill since the 9/11 attacks reminds those who are responsible for writing and passing laws related to national security of their constant vulnerability. While few would dispute the need for greater security after 9/11, the cultural impact of things like House desks now containing gas masks rather than the congressional record can’t be ignored. Most of us don’t have to go to work every day having to worry about a potential terrorist attack. But everyone who works on the Hill has to worry about it—it’s hard to imagine that new paradigm doesn’t affect the trajectory of American national security policy. As one Senior Republican Congressman put it to Evans, “Partisanship is mostly from media accounts. Most issues relating to security are not that partisan.” I suspect for some many of us, that’s more a source of frustration than a comfort.

One Nation Under Siege is a fascinating book, and I would encourage salon participants to ask Professor Evans about the contrast between congressional culture before and after 9/11, the way its affected communications between constituents and their representatives and Senators, and ultimately what it means for the legislative branch of a democratic system to operate under a siege mentality.

105 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Jocelyn Jones Evans, One Nation Under Siege: Congress, Terrorism, and the Fate of American Democracy”

BevW October 16th, 2010 at 2:01 pm

Jocelyn, Welcome to the Lake.

Adam, Welcome to the Lake and thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

egregious October 16th, 2010 at 2:01 pm

Welcome to FIredoglake – so glad you could join us today!

dakine01 October 16th, 2010 at 2:01 pm

Good afternoon Jocelyn and Adam and welcome to FDL this afternoon.

Jocelyn, I have not had an opportunity to read your book so forgive me if you address this in the book – as Adam notes at the end of the intro, the post 9/11 and post anthrax world has led to a change in the way folks communicate with the elected representatives. Prior to these things, we could at least write letters to out of district congressmen and women and out of state senators and we I guess assumed the letter would at least get a cursory reading from someone.

Nowadays, a lot of Members of Congress or senators won’t even accept an email from outside their district or state yet they presume to be national leaders. How do we counteract this disconnect when we also don’t have the available millions to be campaign contributors?

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 2:01 pm

Thank, Bev. It’s such an honor to have this opportunity to discuss my book. Thanks, Adam, for the wonderful introduction.

ubetchaiam October 16th, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Welcome and thanks for coming to FDL. In the prelude description to this salon it’s written “Most of us don’t have to go to work every day having to worry about a potential terrorist attack.” “having to worry” indicates there is not a choice and perhaps that is a factor in the CVC and everything else. If so, obviously, the words ‘home of the brave need to be stricken from the national anthem.

It’s really hard to accept that those elected are still fixated on the ’9/11 changed everything’ meme when it really hasn’t.

Adam Serwer October 16th, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Hey everyone! I just want to say thank you for having me, it’s great to be here. I also want to welcome Professor Evans to FireDogLake’s book salon on One Nation Under Siege.

Professor, just to get the discussion started, can you give us an idea of what the contrast is on the Hill before and after 9/11 in terms of basic, daily security procedures?

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 2:04 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 3

In fact, the change in the way Members process mail through their offices is one of the most lasting and wide-reaching impacts (in my mind) of the whole terrorism era of 2001. Members do encourage constituents to fill out online interactive forms rather than send snail mail because the latter takes so long. I worry that quality is lost and quantity (of email) is overwhelming…

Adam Serwer October 16th, 2010 at 2:04 pm
In response to Adam Serwer @ 6

Alternately, feel free to respond to DaKine’s question first.

Nowadays, a lot of Members of Congress or senators won’t even accept an email from outside their district or state yet they presume to be national leaders. How do we counteract this disconnect when we also don’t have the available millions to be campaign contributors?

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 2:06 pm
In response to Adam Serwer @ 6

Sure, Adam! There’s a table in the book on pg. 43 that details these changes… but in general there have been major changes in terms of 1) access to the Capitol, 2) searches of cars, and 3) the preparedness of individual offices to deal with a security threat. Members and staff are further encouraged to wear identification at all times. Communication systems have dramatically changed. And there are now much more sophisticated screening procedures for mail and deliveries to the Capitol grounds.

Adam Serwer October 16th, 2010 at 2:08 pm

One of the most fascinating sections of your book is where you describe Congress’ reaction to various violent incidents in the past—and they often opted to keep the Hill more open. Why do you think the reaction to 9/11 was so different?

Adam Serwer October 16th, 2010 at 2:08 pm
In response to Adam Serwer @ 10

Sorry, meant to direct that question to Jocelyn.

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 2:09 pm
In response to Adam Serwer @ 8

Another thing I will mention about the shift to email as a preferred mode of contact in congressional offices is that offices are now highly susceptible to massive spam attacks (mostly by special interests). Organized groups use their membership lists to mass email congressional offices – often rendering them unable to deal with regular business.

dakine01 October 16th, 2010 at 2:10 pm

My only work around has been to use zip codes from places I’ve lived in the past when I send to congress or senators who might have represented me previously – fortunately, I don’t think they check yet for the IP to verify if it is in district or state.

Edit: But even then, I usually wind up receiving some canned unresponsive response that rarely even is on the topic I was writing about.

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 2:11 pm
In response to Adam Serwer @ 10

I do think that instances of the past (a fun chapter to write, by the way!) were mostly isolated physical attacks on individual Members or security guards. Of course, the burning of the Capitol is a notable exception. 9/11 was so different because the whole campus was uncertain of the number of planes, the target of the planes, the identity of the enemy, etc. Anthrax also was somewhat of a faceless mass attack that sent waves of terror across the complex.

Adam Serwer October 16th, 2010 at 2:12 pm

Jocelyn, does that mean that, under a more email focused system, organized groups are able to drown out the voices of individual constituents in a way they couldn’t previously?

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 2:12 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 13

An effective way to reach offices is to call them directly and ask for the specific legislative assistant dealing with the policy area of concern. You will get an answering service, but you might also get a call back.

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 2:13 pm
In response to Adam Serwer @ 15

I believe that it does. It’s hard for offices to sort through the email coming from a single concerned constituent trying to contact their Members of Congress and a mass message using the conduit of an email contact list.

Adam Serwer October 16th, 2010 at 2:16 pm

Jocelyn, You briefly suggest that the Homeland Security Committee is kind of a successor to the old House Un-American Activities Committee. Why is that?

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 2:16 pm
In response to ubetchaiam @ 5

I struggled with this issue – is “having to worry” about security a choice in a post-9/11 world? On some level, I think that it is. On another, however, on Capitol Hill every little noise (construction crews, random small plane venturing into forbidden airspace, etc.) becomes a terrorist threat. It’s really psychologically tough to face in the workplace. I know it troubled me, and it continues to trouble my friends still on the Hill.

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 2:18 pm
In response to Adam Serwer @ 18

There are a few examples in recent memory of committees that were established to respond to a “crisis” that then became permanent fixtures of the institution. The House Un-American Activities Committee is one of them (a special committee that became a permanent committee for quite some time). It is also very similar in that it was established to deal with a perceived threat to national security (nazis, communists, etc.).

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 2:19 pm

I should say that in another way the Homeland Security Committee of the contemporary House is much different in that it parallels a Department of Homeland Security in the executive branch and is not involved in the same kind of investigative “hearings” that HUAC was.

ubetchaiam October 16th, 2010 at 2:20 pm

Ms. Evans, here is my first hand report about “that quality is lost”:
http://seminal.firedoglake.com/diary/74672

dakine01 October 16th, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Wow. Yet thirty years ago when I was in the USAF and stationed at a northern tier Strategic Air Command base housing a squadron of B52s and a squadron of tankers, we were quite fatalistic and almost blase about things, knowing that if the planes were launched for real it was likely that if we went into the “fall out shelters” things would b extremely different when we emerged.

Is it because we knew we were targets that made us more likely to be able to deal with it than it sounds like the folks on Capital Hill are dealing with it?

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 2:22 pm
In response to ubetchaiam @ 22

I am actually not very surprised. I require students in my Legislative Process course to contact their Members of Congress. Many of them do not receive a reply by the end of the semester, and some even tell me years later that they never heard back.

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 2:25 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 23

You know, I think that our military personnel do have to face the possibility that they are entering harm’s way and might not make it home. Those on the Hill working for Members of Congress are often young kids, fresh out of college, who just thought it would be cool to do an internship and look for a job in D.C. The anthrax scare made that part of the Hill culture so real for me. The hundreds of staffers waiting in line for Cipro were mostly the legislative correspondents – 22 year-olds told to get treated by their terrified parents back home.

dakine01 October 16th, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Yet many of those same military knowing they might be going in harm’s way are 18 to 22 years olds as well.

ubetchaiam October 16th, 2010 at 2:28 pm

It did surprise me that the USPS regulations for mail was not being followed by Pitney Bowes and I was surprised in the responses I did -and did not get- even when I had done: “An effective way to reach offices is to call them directly and ask for the specific legislative assistant dealing with the policy area of concern.”

But I’ve been called naive ever since I was 17. *G*

Jane Hamsher October 16th, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Welcome, Jocelyn and thanks for hosting, Adam.

In addition to affecting access to members of Congress, do you think the constant reminder of personal vulnerability affects the willingness of Congress (or lack thereof) to exercise meaningful oversight of the Pentagon?

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 2:29 pm

I recently had the opportunity to tour the Capitol Visitor Center with Deputy Historian Fred Beuttler. It was amazing to actually explore (with the expert) the shape that the center took – given that it was in large part a clear response to security concerns.

emptywheel October 16th, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Jocelyn

Thanks for joining us.

Adam

Thanks for the great intro.

I found this to be an interesting approach to measuring the increased anxiety of the Hill after 9/11. I’m with those who wonders whether it is valid for people on the Hill to be that obsessed about their own security, but then I guess that’s one of the effects (intentional or not) of security theater. (I’m even more skeptical, of course, since only Pat Leahy and Rush Holt seem all that interested in checking the FBI’s obviously inadequate work investigating the anthrax attack.)

I haven’t gotten through your section on the CVC. How much do you deal with the new secure briefing rooms. It seems fitting that they are a part of the complex.

Adam Serwer October 16th, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Do you think people have grown habituated to it? Or is it still jarring for them? What about those who have come after the new procedures were put in place?

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 2:30 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 26

That is true. I do think, however, that military service seems more dangerous from home than congressional service… It’s not until you actually have to go through the security procedures and evacuation drills on the Hill that it becomes very real.

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 2:32 pm
In response to Jane Hamsher @ 28

That’s a really interesting question, and one (I honestly must admit) I had not considered. In 2001, there seemed to be little questioning of either the White House or the Pentagon, but that seemed to be a product of both the immediate security threat and a period of unified government.

ubetchaiam October 16th, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Your description leads me to believe that those in congress RARELY actually interact with constituents; am I understanding you correctly?

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 2:34 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 30

It’s great that you bring up the briefing rooms of the CVC. In researching the floorplans for the facility, it became clear to me that there was a section of it dedicated to “extra space” for the House and the Senate, including a meeting area. This space does exist, but it is not part of any public floorplan of which I am aware.

Adam Serwer October 16th, 2010 at 2:35 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 30

Thanks Marcy and Jane for having me!

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 2:36 pm
In response to ubetchaiam @ 34

That’s too extreme. Members and their staff do interact with their constituents while in the district and when constituents visit their offices each and every day. But…. I do think that the busy schedule of Hill life leads to offices just putting out fires one after the other (especially during appropriation and election seasons). This means that emails and voicemails are addressed when time permits. The sheer volume of email they receive each day is unbelievably overwhelming.

tjbs October 16th, 2010 at 2:36 pm

I ? 911

We’re told it changed everything and rushed in ultra security measures.

911 and the targeted anthrax attacks fail the smell test.

911 was solved in 24 hours and the anthrax investigation took six + years? Stinks.

Just like the Kennedy assassination where the criminal investigation avenue was blocked, so has been 911. I still await a Colombo style investigation, but we’re scared of ?

But what the government proclaimed in 24 hours is the gospel truth ?

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 2:39 pm
In response to Adam Serwer @ 31

Many have left the Hill since 9/11, and given the high turnover on the Hill that’s to be expected. It’s not necessarily because of 9/11 and anthrax. The average tenure on the Hill is just a couple of years. Staffers who are new additions to Capitol Hill don’t have a sense of what it used to be like before 2001. The heightened security, the road blocks, the office emergency protocols are all part of the work environment. But those who have been around for a few decades (in my interview experiences) all bemoaned the change in atmosphere that that fall created.

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 2:40 pm

And let me say that it makes sense that this meeting space would not be detailed for the public. It is a secure space for Members to meet in case of an emergency. We all remember on 9/11 when Members gathered on the steps of the Capitol and sang “God Bless America.” That was an absolute nightmare for Capitol Police.

Adam Serwer October 16th, 2010 at 2:41 pm

Jocelyn, your book reminded me of all the fights over rural jurisdictions getting more per capita funds than say, New York or California. Can you talk about the conflict between legislators acting as “trustees” and as “delegates” when it comes to homeland security appropriations?

emptywheel October 16th, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Well, one of the reasons I raised it is because it effectively institutes more secret government.

Much of the history of unchecked expansion of executive power can be traced through classified briefings–not least, through WH games with briefings (we know this happened w/the torture and illegal wiretap programs, but that’s just what we know about). To be fair, including modern briefing rooms in the CVC addition at least puts the briefing on Congress’ turf. But it still points to the necessity (invented or not) to have space that is by definition secret.

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Absolutely, Adam. One of the themes of the book chapter on the homeland security committees is that they were relatively ineffective due to turf wars with impacted committees vying for jurisdiction over policy domains. Also, the appropriation decisions of the new committees were scrutinized because the funding formula treated states somewhat equally. Does Montana face the same terrorist threat that New York faces? You get the idea. Why was the formula so egalitarian? It’s simple. Because we have a Senate – in which states are equally represented. If the homeland security committees have members from more rural or inland states, then those states will be well-represented when it comes to funding.

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 2:47 pm
In response to emptywheel @ 42

The new meeting space is state-of-the-art. In fact, it has a space for translators – like the UN. While this might not be necessary right now, the designers were thinking ahead to a possible need in the future.

powwow October 16th, 2010 at 2:47 pm

The sheer volume of email they receive each day is unbelievably overwhelming.

That’s perhaps another argument in favor of ubetchaiam’s suggestion that we expand the number of House Representatives to match the dramatic growth in the American population. (I’m glad you linked to your detailed account of attempting, and failing, to meaningfully interact with your Senators and Representative in D.C. by snail mail, ubetcha; it’s right on point, and an eye-opener.)

Adam Serwer October 16th, 2010 at 2:48 pm

The Senate ruins everything. How have the turf wars between the homeland security and more longstanding committees progressed since you finished your research? Do you still see the committees as largely “unproductive?”

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 2:48 pm

It was choices like this one that most certainly drove up the cost of the CVC… one of the major criticisms of the project.

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 2:51 pm
In response to Adam Serwer @ 46

I do…. The analysis in the book is current as of 2009. Table 4.5 and Table 4.6 cover the jurisdiction of the committees on homeland security in the House and Senate. These jurisdictions are not parallel, and I think this reveals part of the problem in productivity. An additional problem concerns the relative prestige of this committee assignment. If it is any indication, the Senate chose not to create a new homeland security committee (like the House), but rather attach homeland security to governmental affairs… not the most prestigious assignment.

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 2:55 pm

Just an example of one of the many jurisdictional areas that differ by House and Senate homeland security committees is customs. In the Senate, the commercial function or operation of Customs and the immigration functions of Customs are excluded from the committee and handled by the Judiciary Committee and the Finance Committee. In the House, customs revenue is handled by Ways and Means, but customs (everything else) is handled by the Homeland Security Committee.

Adam Serwer October 16th, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Point taken about prestige, although I’d argue it’s still too good for Joe Lieberman. Another one of the statistics in your book that caught my eye was that it takes DHS sixty hours to prepare for a single congressional hearing. Why is that? Is it the same across other departments that deal with natsec related issues, like Justice or Defense?

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Let me ask you all a question. What do you think of the new CVC?

powwow October 16th, 2010 at 2:59 pm

The Congress as a whole – at least by body, the House together, the Senate together – obviously receives periodic secret briefings from the Executive Branch in the new meeting space. I’ve heard Harry Reid referring to the Capitol Visitors Center briefing room on occasion when the Senate recessed, for example, so that everyone could attend one of those affairs.

[When the CVC had a grand opening, or was finally considered officially finished, Harry Reid was giving one of his mumbling Senate floor speeches about how wonderful the new space is, which I happened to hear. It's hard to convey without a direct quote, which I won't go in search of, but - I kid you not - one of Reid's stated reasons for praising the new space was its air-conditioning - because, said Harry in so many words on the Senate floor, it would helpfully tamp down the 'odor' of the visiting masses who tramp through the building in the humid D.C. summers, sweating as they go... That's Harry Reid, all over.]

Adam Serwer October 16th, 2010 at 3:00 pm
In response to powwow @ 52

That’s. Amazing.

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 3:01 pm
In response to Adam Serwer @ 50

In my humble opinion, I think that it takes departments and agencies that kind of time to prepare because committee staff and Member staff (as well as Congressional Research Service staff) are spending time scrutinizing their activities and spending. Departments can expect to be asked the hard questions, and hard questions often take a lot of time to answer… In 2005, for example, FEMA was the subject of much congressional oversight. It had just recently been added to the Department of Homeland Security. The change in location, personnel, oversight, etc. created much chaos. And the congressional hearings were expectedly brutal.

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 3:02 pm
In response to powwow @ 52

I remember that… In fact, I mention it in the book in the section on the opening of the CVC. Not the best soundbite.

edur October 16th, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Congress was more than pacified first by the pre-emptive Bushist wiretap extortions the first year and clinched by the 9/11 anthrax attacks. They’re still under the Obamanible blackmail shepherding; who’s also continuing the Company efforts to also pacify the rest of US.

Jane Hamsher October 16th, 2010 at 3:05 pm

It was also the time they blew the lid off the lockbox and started looting Social Security to pay for the War on Terror. Everyone sat back and let Bush do it, and that led directly to the situation we’re in now where the government wants do default on the Treasury bonds they issued.

Meanwhile, the ever-expanding Pentagon budget is hidden from public oversight in the name of “national security,” and they suck money for programs that run the gamut from green energy development to pharmaceutical research. It’s becoming a government within a government, and the only ones who could exert any oversight are Congress, who really don’t.

Just wondering if the constant reminder of their own vulnerability makes it easier to look the other way.

powwow October 16th, 2010 at 3:06 pm

Good catch!

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 3:07 pm
In response to powwow @ 58

Given that you were there at the opening of the CVC, what did you think of the affair? What do you think of the facility in general?

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 3:09 pm
In response to Jane Hamsher @ 57

I am interested to watch Hill culture in a post-9/11, post Iraq, and post Afghanistan era. If the only attacks in the next decade are random shootings (like the one last month and last summer), then will security relax? Will deeper scrutiny of the White House and the Pentagon resume (even if we are still in a period of unified government)?

Adam Serwer October 16th, 2010 at 3:10 pm

I actually hadn’t thought about it much before I read your book, because I started covering politics just before the CVC was finished. It’s “normal” from my perspective.

powwow October 16th, 2010 at 3:11 pm

I actually know next to nothing about the CVC – Adam’s introduction here was very informative regarding its genesis and propulsion by 9/11. I fell for its misleading name, and assumed it was some sort of glorified Congressional museum/gift shop area. Out here in the hinterlands, we really have very little understanding about what goes on inside the halls of power. [I'm holding back lots of nosy questions about your tenure on Capitol Hill, like how, and how often, the corporate lobbyists get access to our time-pressured legislators, while the teeming masses in the halls are ignored, if at all possible.]

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 3:13 pm
In response to Adam Serwer @ 61

I find “normal” really fascinating right now in the land of museums and visitor centers… The CVC was designed by the same firm that designed the Holocaust Museum, according to Dr. Beuttler. It has the same feel. That opens up a whole other can of worms to discuss, but the going “normal” is definitely an approach to the visitor experience. The multimedia inside the CVC was designed by the same firm that did the Constitution Center in Philadelphia. I found the exhibits to be strikingly similar.

powwow October 16th, 2010 at 3:13 pm

Sorry for the confusion – I heard Reid speaking via the internet, on C-SPAN2, not in person.

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 3:15 pm
In response to powwow @ 64

Ohhhh…. I too watched the event via C-SPAN.

Adam Serwer October 16th, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Was that because they wanted to give the CVC a relatively solemn feel?

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 3:18 pm

The entrance to the facility highlights the themes of Unity, Freedom, General Welfare, Common Defense, Exploration, and Knowledge. These are taken from a summarized version of the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. It’s interesting what’s included as themes and what’s excluded…

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 3:21 pm
In response to Adam Serwer @ 66

I think it is because the Holocaust Museum is one of the most recent museums to be built and so Congress was familiar with the firm. The multimedia exhibits are very similar to those in Philly. There are lots and lots of visuals, but I found the exhibits to be light on artifacts. The back side of the CVC is much more interesting (to me) than the front side. The front side strikes me as kind of random – focusing on Exploration and Knowledge. In fact, a lot of the exhibit on the front side of the facility focuses on copyrights.

Adam Serwer October 16th, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Jocelyn, if we could go back to the Senate briefly, I’d be interested to hear about how you think the post-9/11 paradigm affected the institutional norms there, since as you note in the book there’s been a kind of breakdown of its historic “collegiality and reciprocity”.

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 3:23 pm

There also seems to be a conscious effort to paint Members of Congress in a positive light. For example, Rep. Adam Clayton Powell (1960s) is mentioned for his efforts to secure civil rights legislation, but his activities leading to the famous constitutional case of Powell v. McCormack are left unmentioned.

eCAHNomics October 16th, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Jocelyn,

No need to respond to my conclusory remarks, but I can’t resist making them.

The USG’s instant response to 9/11 & lack of preparededness was bad enough. After all, it failed utterly at its primary job, national security.* But what it has done since then it contemptible. It has used it for an excuse to invade & disrupt country after country, throw the U.S. military weight around the world in a most reckless way, and fractured itself and the U.S. population in every conceivable way.

I now hold the USG in complete contempt, though I admit the feeling is mutual, since the president & congress obviously hold the population in contempt also.

What a bunch of scardey cat, power-crazed idiots, who are now more firmly ensconced in their useless bubble.

By way of background, I was jogging 5 miles away from WTC when the first plane hit, and lived within spitting distance from several terrorist targets like the U.N. & Citicorp center. I observed in the years that followed that Manhattanites concerns for terrorism, at least the ones I know, are much lower than those in parts of the country unlikely to be hit.

Last year, fewer Americans died from terrorism (25) than dog bites.

It’s just an excuse for an increasingly fascist state.

*The best book I’ve read on OBL & AQ is Unholy Wars by David Cooley. It was published before 9/11; my copy in 2000. David Cooley, born around 1925, now deceased, was just a reporter who made it his job to find out about that terrorist organization. And while he did not have specifics about exactly what or when the attack would be, he was completely clear about what the intentions were.

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 3:27 pm
In response to Adam Serwer @ 69

I think the section of the book to which you are referring is my recounting of the turf wars in the Senate over the newly created Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. This whole episode of congressional history is particularly interesting to me because it dealt with the fundamental structures organizing the institution as opposed to typical partisan policy battles. Members were acting not as partisans but as self-interested actors – each trying to protect his or her own niche or “turf.” Accounts of the battles over the structure and jurisdiction of the committees suggest that they were extremely bitter and did not paint the Congress in an attractive light at all.

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 3:32 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 71

I will say that in writing the book I grew to appreciate the similarities between the attacks in 2001 and the burning of Washington. How little we know or remember about the War of 1812! The British chose Washington on purpose. It was a symbol. To me, this comparison was particularly fascinating and important.

After the War of 1812, we chose to keep our Capitol open… In fact, we built it to be open and accessible to the people. My hope is that this part of the congressional experience isn’t lost for future generations.

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Adam, I want to thank you for the really thoughtful and descriptive introduction you provided. I felt like you captured the heart and soul of the book, and for that I am so appreciative.

eCAHNomics October 16th, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Turnabout is fair play in 1812, no?

I’ll mention in passing blowback as a major factor in 9/11, as Cooley so clearly saw. No excuse for U.S. not to anticipate that.

Adam Serwer October 16th, 2010 at 3:37 pm

I thought that was remarkable too. I mean I suppose there’s are huge technological differences, but in 1814 the Capitol was literally burned in the midst of a war and Congress bounced back. It made me wonder if, greater security capabilities have actually made us more fearful.

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 3:41 pm
In response to Adam Serwer @ 76

I recently visited a public building in my local area for a county commissioners’ meeting with one of my classes. The security officer asked that I remind all of my students not to bring in any guns or knives, or scissors, etc. A student had to return to his car to leave his pocket knife. When we all entered the building and went through the metal detectors single-file, the machine beeped and beeped and beeped. But the guard just waved us on through. This little anecdote spoke volumes to me. I think that what is needed today is trust… trust of people interested in their government. Sure there are risks, but there are also rewards.

powwow October 16th, 2010 at 3:42 pm
In response to Adam Serwer @ 50

Another one of the statistics in your book that caught my eye was that it takes DHS sixty hours to prepare for a single congressional hearing. Why is that? Is it the same across other departments that deal with natsec related issues, like Justice or Defense?

Does this mean that Congress always gives DHS (and other agencies) a 60-hour (week-long, plus) heads-up before scheduling a hearing with them (or longer, if DHS demands it)?

From out here, the last thing that today’s Congressional hearings look like is “brutal” – seems that standards must have fallen a long way since questions were actually followed up when evaded, rather than, conveniently for both parties, prematurely ended after an arbitrary 5 or 10 minutes, no matter the state of the answer(s).

A good example of the real deal, questioning-wise (use-of-time-wise), in government (Executive Branch) hearings, are the joint Coast Guard/Interior Dept. – plus every lawyer in TX & LA – hearings exploring the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which have been conducted to little notice (but great effect for those paying attention) over a period of many months now in Louisiana.

I do recognize, though, that just the threat of an adversarial public Congressional hearing, no matter how meekly or ineptly conducted, tends to have a profound effect on the Executive Branch agency asked to appear. Which is why the paucity of oversight hearings by this Democratic Congress (which has been documented, by POGO, I believe, to be even less active on oversight than the Republican Congress during the Bush presidency) is, to put it mildly, so lamentable (particularly for those of us for whom the words “unified government” sound ominously and dangerously undemocratic and unConstitutional).

eCAHNomics October 16th, 2010 at 3:45 pm
In response to Adam Serwer @ 76

My casual observation is that the more powerful a nation becomes, the more fearful it becomes. That’s my read on U.S. history, anyhow, not that I’m an expert. Heavily influenced by House of War by James Carroll, which traces the WWII & post-war Pentagon’s efforts to scare the pants off of everyone over every little danger in pursuit of higher & higher budgets & bigger & bigger toys. Woodward’s Obama’s Wars continues same story: the U.S. military “rolled” O, as Woodward said many times, though it certainly seems like O was willing to be hosed by the military.

I have done less reading about congress & will read Evans’s book to increase my familiarity, but suspect the same behavior takes place there.

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 3:46 pm

The congressional oversight hearings of the CVC were actually very interesting. With spending out of control and the project way past its projected deadline, the House and Senate began to hold very regular and very confrontational oversight hearings. Some of the Members and staff I interviews likened it to getting in trouble with 535 bosses.

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 3:48 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 79

For whatever reason, your comment made me think of Machiavelli’s question: “Is it better to be loved than feared.” The Prince might be a worthwhile re-read for all of us.

Adam Serwer October 16th, 2010 at 3:49 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 79

One of my journalism professors worked on the documentary version of Carroll’s book on Christianity and warfare, Constatine’s Sword. He’s a fascinating guy.

Jocelyn’s book is a great account of Congress’ institutional culture–it’s the first book I’ve read to look at terrorism’s effect on Congress as an institution through the lens of political science.

Adam Serwer October 16th, 2010 at 3:50 pm

Do you think their aggressiveness was more motivated by the fact that they were spending the money essentially on themselves or the fact that no one else’s ox in Congress was getting gored, making it a low-risk target?

eCAHNomics October 16th, 2010 at 3:51 pm

Or, as in respect to my point in 79, is it better to be loving or to be afraid.

AdamPDX October 16th, 2010 at 3:51 pm

Excuse me, but… WTF?!?

You look at 9/11 and you start thinking of the War of 1812?!?

This is the reason why nobody that been “inside the beltway” should ever be allowed near governance.

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 3:51 pm

I’m pretty sure it’s the only thing out there of its kind. Political scientists don’t tend to do this type of anthropological or historical analysis very often. They also are not often inclined to treat Congress as a “culture.” I hope that this notion gains some traction because I truly believe it to be an accurate account of the way things work on the Hill.

powwow October 16th, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Well said.

The recent closing to public access of the formal front door of the Supreme Court building (so as to shuttle the unwashed public around to a side door) is another example of this unsettling trend. The symbolism alone speaks volumes.

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 3:52 pm
In response to Adam503 @ 85

Maybe that’s why I needed to get out of D.C. :)

Adam Serwer October 16th, 2010 at 3:54 pm
In response to Adam503 @ 85

Actually Adam, part of what Jocelyn examined in the book were past violent incidents at the Capitol. I think what she meant was that in terms of an existential threat, the burning in 1814 is the only thing that was remotely comparable to 9/11.

eCAHNomics October 16th, 2010 at 3:54 pm
In response to Adam Serwer @ 82

The diff between Carroll’s two books is that Carroll’s personal interjections in CS were jarring and irrelevant to me, whereas in HoW, they were essential, as his father was the first head of the DIA, the longest serving one to date iirc, and he slid up & down the ramps in the building in his socks as a child.

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 3:54 pm
In response to Adam Serwer @ 83

I think that the most outspoken critics of the cost overruns on the CVC were the Blue Dogs and those concerned with out-of-control spending. Some media accounts quoted Members called it the “‘Big Dig’ in our front yard.” It was also given the “Golden Drain Award.”

BevW October 16th, 2010 at 3:55 pm

As we come to the end of this Book Salon,

Jocelyn, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and Congress.

Adam, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:
Jocelyn’s website
Adam’s website

Jocelyn’s book

Thanks all,
Have a great evening.

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 3:57 pm

And, I think you’re right, Adam…. It’s kind of like Members running for Congress by running against Congress. They could all point fingers at the faceless Architect responsible for the out-of-control spending on the CVC, but the project was authorized by the Congress. And spending was appropriated over and over and over again.

eCAHNomics October 16th, 2010 at 3:57 pm
In response to Adam Serwer @ 89

Pretty amazing there haven’t been more attacks in D.C., all things considered. Shows two (& probably many more) important points: how docile U.S. population is, and how important being separated from most countries by 2 oceans is.

Adam Serwer October 16th, 2010 at 3:57 pm
In response to BevW @ 92

Thanks Bev, Jane, Marcy and everyone else for having me. And thank you Jocelyn, for writing a great book.

Take care everyone!

Jocelyn Jones Evans October 16th, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Thanks so much, Bev and Adam. It was a real pleasure.

Adam Serwer October 16th, 2010 at 3:59 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 94

With AQ focusing more on small bore type attacks I suspect there will be something of the sort at some point. In a country that respects the freedom to bare arms, it’s extremely difficult to say, stop a single individual who decides he wants to start shooting random people.

Hopefully Congress will be able to react to it effectively if it happens.

eCAHNomics October 16th, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Thanks Jocelyn, Adam, Bev, et al.

powwow October 16th, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Accounts of the battles over the structure and jurisdiction of the [Senate] committees suggest that they were extremely bitter and did not paint the Congress in an attractive light at all.

I wonder how much of that bitter battling was due to self-interested attempts to protect the flow of jurisdiction-connected campaign contributions from private parties in line for the federal largesse controlled by those committees/members…

Bluetoe2 October 16th, 2010 at 4:11 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 71

Terrific remarks.

AdamPDX October 16th, 2010 at 4:13 pm

The War of 1812 a tiny fledgling United States was fighting off the assets of, if not the strongest military power on Earth at the time, at least, the Greatest Naval Power on Earth. Any place a British warship showed it face, it owned that spot of turf until it decided to leave that spot of turf.

The only reason the new United States wasn’t flattened by Britian was the other greatest military power on Earth, France under Napoleon, was a significantly greater, more immediate threat to England than we were.

England could not spare very many of those extremely powerful British warships to swat annoying American flies.

As far as the American side, they knew that when a British Warship shows up in your early 19th century front yard, you leave. The British are gonna do whatever whatever they want to do. They knew the Brits would have to leave pretty quickly.

The British did leave, as the American commanders knew they would. Napoleon and all that rot.

You’re comparing those 19 so-called box-cutter wielding hijackers to THE BRITISH NAVY in the early 19th century?!? What kinda box-cutter zen ninjas do you think these guys were?

powwow October 16th, 2010 at 4:16 pm
In response to Adam Serwer @ 97

Hopefully Congress will be able to react to [another attack] effectively if it happens.

You and me both, Adam.

Thank you, Jocelyn, for writing this valuable book, and thank you, Adam for your informative hosting of this discussion.

Our neglected Legislative Branch of government needs all the help and attention it can get. Maybe one of these days those power-seekers running for Congress by running against Congress itself, or by deriding its core functions (like oversight of the Executive, impeachment included, or public debate and legislating, which are all but extinct on the House floor) will be asked why they want to be a federal legislator, exactly, if they find public, democratic legislative bodies too inefficient, or uncomfortably accountable to the public for their tastes.

P.S. To Adam503 @ 102: I believe the point you’re making is basically the point that Jocelyn is making: Despite the much greater threat posed, and damage caused, by the War of 1812 to Capitol Hill and the newly-independent nation, nevertheless the federal representatives who experienced the War of 1812 made sure to leave the nation’s legislature open to the public. Your legitimate anger should be directed at those in Washington today who in fact evidently do equate 9/11 with 1812 (or worse), as Jocelyn’s book has helpfully chronicled, and haven’t the courage to follow the example of the legislators who preceded them, who obviously managed to keep things in admirable perspective, by comparison.

kumari October 16th, 2010 at 4:48 pm
In response to Jane Hamsher @ 57

Miss Jane, you are factually incorrect. The government adopted a unified budget in the Johnson administration in 1968. This change resulted in a single measure of the fiscal status of the government, based on the sum of all government activity.[45] The surplus in Social Security trust funds offsets the total debt, making it appear much smaller than it otherwise would.

kumari October 16th, 2010 at 5:01 pm

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.
Benjamin Franklin
Sounds like a wonderful read.
Thank You, Ms. Evans

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