Howie's big 'Snewze' is no big thing in upper political chambers | By Howard Schonberger
April 19, 2011 · 12:20 PM
Right after WWII, I was working as news editor of Veterans Report in Washington, D.C.
It was created by Hank Gorrell, United Press chief correspondent in the European Theater. We were slanted toward getting fair entitlements for veterans returning to civilian life.
When I went over to interview a congressman, it was always my habit when in the House or Senate to look in their chambers to see if there was any action.
Much to my surprise, it was rare to find more than a sprinkling in attendance unless some big contested issue or universally acceptable change was involved. On those occasions the place was filled for participation and voting purposes. In those days, it was a joy to hear people like Robert Taft, Republican senator from Ohio. and Alben Barkley, Democratic senator from Kentucky, as they addressed one another with the fondest courtesy.
"If the honorable senator from Kentucky will recall, I have always had the highest regard for the many factory workers of our nation, including those from the great states of Kentucky, Ohio and all of the other states of the union....," twanged the gentle voice of Taft as he recalled some of his pro`labor votes such as the Taft-Hartley act. Barkley, later to become Harry Truman's vice president, would rise to his feet, nod and raise his hand to be heard.
"With all due respects to my illustrious friend from Ohio, I would like to remind him of his stand on his speech in this hallowed chamber...," andhe would recite words spoken by Taft during sessions years before with the date and full substance of previous contradictory debate stands.
They had no Google devices in the Fifties. Only their brilliant and rarely mistaken memories.
This is not to say they never slept. Fortunately, there were no photographers allowed in Congress in those days. The only illustrations were done from the press gallery by artists like the late Howard Brodie in chamber hearings. Of course, there were a few cases where napping was noted.
One caught napping was Senator S. I. Hayakawa, whom we first knew when he was a noted ex-staffer from the Chicago Defender (a leading ethnic newspaper serving the black community in Chicago). He became a semantics professor at San Francisco State University and when he stood on a platform wearing his trademark plaid tamoshanter with a bullhorn shouting down striking students disrupting the university activities during the Vietnam War protests, he was plummeted for six years as a Republican into the U.S. Senate by California voters. He did a creditable job, but somehow the semanticsof Washington weren't exciting enough for him.
He was caught napping on the job too many times.
Personally, I don't care if our representatives nod off once in awhile so long as they're not driving the vehicle I'm riding in.
We've all heard how Reagan catnapped in his cabinet meetings on occasion. It's sort of a national heritage started by Rip Van Winkle.
Thomas Edison, who lived to a ripe old age and invented so many wonderful devices, reputedly did all his sleeping in short naps interrupted by multiple-hour work spurts. ( As one gets older, of course, they become long naps interrupted by multiple short spurts. That's okay, if you're not on the clock and you get your work done! )
Howie Rosenfeld does a lot of picture framing for me, so when he told me this month that he didn't realize he was falling off, I tended to believe him.
Nonetheless, if Howie can't get a medical cure, we have a suggestion from one of the latest refinements of another inventor, Alexander Graham Bell, who created the telephone, predecessor to the cellular phone. I finally got a cell-phone the other day and they have the answer.
The Jitterbug manual says: "Turn the ringer off by opening your Jitterbug and pressing the volume button until "VIBRATE" appears on the inside panel."
In other words, every legislator -- town, city, county, state or federal -- should carry a Jitterbug and keep it on "VIBRATE" during sessions. Then the sergeant-at-arms can dial the napping members and vibrate them awake. In congress they can use pages to do this. (Years ago the ushers in church used feather dusters to keep drowsy parishioners awake).
It might even calm down some of the fiery insults being flung in our political arguments lately. Vibrators are supposed to be very soothing, I hear, if you don't have a pacemaker.
— By Journal columnist Howard Schonberger, president of Ferry Lovers of Washington ... Go with the F.L.O.W. (Ferry Lovers Of Washington).