"One Nation Under God." That line, enshrined in the American Pledge of Allegiance, is the theme selected by a self-appointed "task force" that seeks to set an agenda for Thursday prayer events around the country.
But if you were expecting this day to be all about quiet reverence and heartfelt petition, well, just remember that this is an election year, and that religion is a topic that sometimes generates a wee bit of controversy in the public square.
The other reality of this day, however, is that it has become an annual part of the political fabric. It's a day when politicians appeal to voters as people of faith, when interest groups cast wary judgment on politicians, and when many atheists and civil libertarians seek to cast doubt on the very concept and constitutionality of an annual day for prayer in the US.
Start with the fact that it's the president who proclaims the National Day of Prayer (following a 1952 law), but the task force publicizing the "One Nation Under God" theme – the National Day of Prayer Task Force – is headed by the wife of James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family and a leader in the evangelical Christian movement.
Where President George W. Bush welcomed evangelical National Day of Prayer enthusiasts to the White House, President Obama has taken a more aloof approach to the task force and to the Day of Prayer itself.
The White House lists the president's schedule for May 3 as including a lunch with the vice president, a meeting with senior aides, and some remarks at a Cinco de Mayo Reception in the Rose Garden. (An aside: Is that odd, to be celebrating Cinco de Mayo two days early? Just curious.)
The president's proclamation included an exhortation to pray for members of America's armed forces, and for "those who are sick, mourning, or without hope," and to "ask God for the sustenance to meet the challenges we face as a Nation."
Mitt Romney, poised to become the Republican nominee for president, released his own statement of prayer. “Today I join with people of all faiths to express devotion and gratitude to the Lord, who has so richly blessed us," he said. His concluding phrase appeared to be a nod to the task force evangelicals, calling on "the Lord [to] keep us strong and free and we will remain one nation under God."
Groups including the the Freedom From Religion Foundation protest against the prayer day as an imposition of religion by government. A few days ago the American Humanist Association praised Rep. Pete Stark (D) of California for embracing the alternative concept of a National Day of Reason, on the same day as the National Day of Prayer.
A year ago, a federal appeals court overturned a ruling that the National Day of Prayer was unconstitutional.
Mr. Obama took an effort to be inclusive of the many views Americans have on religion, saying that the nation's democracy "respects the beliefs and protects the religious freedom of all people to pray, worship, or abstain according to the dictates of their conscience."
At the same time, some critics say the Obama administration hasn't stood up strongly enough for religious freedom.
The Catholic News Agency, for example, quotes legal expert Robert Tyler of Advocates for Faith and Freedom, raising questions about Obama's statement supporting a "democracy that respects the beliefs and protects the religious freedom of all people to pray, worship, or abstain....” Mr. Tyler said this could be understood as supporting freedom of worship but not freedom to fully to practice a religion.
That distinction came up, in the context of the Roman Catholic faith, when the Obama administration issued a mandate that employer health insurance cover contraceptive services.
The idea of an annual day of prayer was enshrined in law under President Truman (D) in 1952, and President Reagan (R) signed a 1988 law calling for the event to be held on the first Thursday of each May.
Prior to that, leaders including the Continental Congress and Abraham Lincoln on occasion proclaimed days of prayer for specific reasons.
Talk about low-hanging fruit. All the Obama camp needed to do was collect the most pungent of Gingrich’s attacks on Mr. Romney during primary debates and interviews, add a heavy dose of sarcasm, and stir.
Gingrich is throwing his support behind Romney?, the video asks.
“As a man who wants to run for president of the United States who can’t be honest with the American people, why should we expect him to level about anything if he’s president?” the former House speaker asks matter-of-factly in one clip.
Next question: Is it Romney’s business record that Newt supports?
“You’d certainly have to say that Bain at times engaged in behavior where they looted a company leaving behind 1,700 unemployed people,” Gingrich says, referring to the private-equity firm that Romney formerly headed.
Then: “There was a pattern, in some companies, a handful of them, of leaving them with enormous debt, and then within a year or two or three, having them go broke. I think that is something he ought to answer.”
Follow that with slams on Romney’s Swiss bank account, a “Romney machine” that’s “not capable of inspiring positive turnout,” positions that are “anti-immigrant,” and another attack on Romney’s honesty, and you’ve got a tidy message against the presumptive GOP presidential nominee.
Romney finished the competitive part of the primary season with the lowest likability of any major-party nominee in modern history – thanks in part to attacks from Gingrich and the other GOP candidates. Now Gingrich is reportedly set to endorse Romney in the next couple of weeks. The Obama campaign is making sure we don’t forget what Gingrich thought just a few months ago.
Every year around this time, Washington puts up with jokes about how it is “Hollywood for ugly people,” and this year is no exception. That’s because the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner is Saturday night, and the list of “beautiful people” on the guest list keeps growing.
The latest entry is reality TV goddess Kim Kardashian, coming as a guest of Fox. More important, she’s also thinking of getting into politics. OK, Ms. Kardashian recently floated the idea of running for mayor of Glendale, Calif., which actually isn’t an office one can run for, as Monitor colleague Gloria Goodale points out. But let’s go with it. Here in Washington, ever-mindful that we have a bad rap in the looks department, we’re hopeful that a run for Congress can’t be far behind.
Kardashian’s date is her “momager,” Kris Jenner.
Actress Lindsay Lohan is also on the Fox News guest list. We’re not sure Ms. Lohan qualifies as beautiful, given her personal problems, but we appreciate the gesture by Fox anchor Greta Van Susteren, who invited her.
"I love comebacks, and I'd like her to succeed," Ms. Van Susteren told the celebrity website TMZ.
Time Inc. scored actor George Clooney, who in some ways qualifies as both Hollywood and Washington (or maybe we’re flattering ourselves). After all, Mr. Clooney is deeply political, as is his father, who lives here and teaches journalism at American University. Just last month, both Clooneys got themselves arrested for protesting at the Embassy of Sudan over the actions of the country’s strongman president, Omar al-Bashir.
Before we reveal who else is coming, a quick reminder that the 98-year-old dinner accomplishes more than just star-gazing – and a chance to see the president and a top-flight comedian (this year, Jimmy Kimmel) deliver some one-liners. It also raises funds for scholarships to aspiring young journalists. Since 1991, the White House Correspondents’ Association has awarded nearly $600,000 in scholarships. This year’s recipients are three students from Howard University in Washington, D.C.
Now, back to the red carpet. According to the New York Daily News, here’s a list of bold-face names:
• Aziz Ansari, at the New Yorker’s table.
Also coming: Claire Danes, William Levy, Charlize Theron, Rosario Dawson, Mary J. Blige, Eva Longoria, Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas, Goldie Hawn, Steven Spielberg, Christine Baranski, Darren Criss, Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen, Daniel Day-Lewis, Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos, Diane Keaton, Kelli Garner and Johnny Galecki, Colin Hanks, Jason Schwartzman.
Martin O’Malley is often mentioned as a potential presidential candidate in 2016, and when asked Friday if he might run, he offered the usual “I’m too busy being governor of Maryland” response.
But Governor O’Malley didn’t rule it out. And when asked whether he’s had any discussion with his family, he allowed that the subject has come up with his two college-age daughters.
“My daughters will e-mail me when they see the honorable mentions with such tremendous leaders as Hillary Clinton and Andrew Cuomo, who’s done an outstanding job in New York, and Vice President Biden, who my daughters just adore,” said O’Malley, speaking at the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way in Washington. “They’ll e-mail me and say, ‘Boy, Dad, it’s nice to be included.’ So there’s that sort of talk.”
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O’Malley dropped other hints that suggested the idea of running for president might have crossed his mind.
“Anything that you hope to do later in public service always depends on your doing a good job at what you’re doing right now,” says O’Malley, who’s in his second term. “And so ... in some ways it’s a simpler time for me, because I know I cannot run again for governor. “
That means no need to carve out time to raise money for a reelection campaign, or pressure from the party to run again and hold the statehouse, he says.
These thoughts about a possible campaign came after he maintained he wasn’t thinking much about running.
“I also am the head of the Democratic Governors Association for the second year, and I suppose for that reason as well as the good job we’ve done in Maryland together over these last few years, people kindly mention me when they talk about what the future of our party holds,” O’Malley said.
“And that’s nice and it’s kind, but I don’t really spend a whole lot of time thinking about it, working on it, or worrying about it,” he continued. “The future – you know, the future will be, and what I’m focused on right now is what I have to do in the present. And that’s plenty for me.”
In the immediate term, O’Malley faces an impasse in his state legislature over a package of tax increases and spending cuts that, if not resolved by July, could result in deep cuts to education spending. Given the large Democratic majorities in the Maryland legislature, the unexpected meltdown was an embarrassment to O’Malley.
But in his conversation Friday with national reporters, O’Malley preferred to focus on the good news coming out of his state. O’Malley is all about metrics, and he came with an armful: Maryland public schools have been named No. 1 in the nation by Education Week magazine four years in a row. Maryland has also gone four straight years without raising tuition in its public universities. Violent crime is down to its lowest levels in 30 years. Over the past year, Maryland has had the ninth-best job-creation rate in the United States. Maryland has the highest median income in the country.
And, as O’Malley announced the day before, Maryland’s blue crab population is at its highest level since 1993 – not the basis for a national campaign, but certainly good news for a state that prides itself on its tasty crustaceans.
O’Malley, who appears often on national TV as a leading Democrat, also differed with President Obama’s emphasis on “fairness” as a campaign message.
“As I talk to people, yeah, they’re bothered by the income disparity as one symptom, but they’re more bothered by the fact that their husband or their wife might lose their job, or that they might no longer have health care, or if they have it, they’re going to have to part with a lot more money,” he said.
Addressing the issues of job loss, home loss, decline in the quality of life, and erosion of incomes is a more persuasive argument, O'Malley says, than the theme of fairness.
But, he added, there is a “positive platform” for Mr. Obama to run on, centered on themes of education, innovation, and rebuilding.
Over and over, O’Malley came back to education as an area where government can build for the future. So here’s an early guess: If he does run in 2016, he’ll pitch himself as the “education president.”
“I think one of the most persuasive points for our own reelection in Maryland among seniors was affordable college,” he said. “Why is that? Because they remember the GI Bill, because they have grandkids, because they know that education is the best indicator of economic security.”
“So,” he concluded, speaking about the Democrats’ overall message this fall, “I think opportunity is what this is going to be about.”
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Newark Mayor Cory Booker gained sudden national fame well beyond New Jersey Friday as word spread of his heroic rush into a burning building to rescue a neighbor.
While the news media cranked out stories, and Mayor Booker sought to downplay his exploits, the users of Twitter celebrated in their own characteristic way: milking the deed for all the tongue-in-cheek idolization possible. As unlikely as it sounds, the politician-as-superhero is now an Internet meme, thanks to Booker. Even during an election year.
For the record, Booker was returning to his home after a TV interview Thursday night when he and his security detail saw the neighbor's home ablaze. After they had helped some fleeing occupants, Booker rushed back in when he heard a woman still inside, screaming for help. He dragged her out of bed and helped to get her out of the building.
Here are some of the funnier, or wilder, things that people said on Twitter under the tag "#CoryBookerStories." OK, we can admit that some of these look suspiciously like recycled Chuck Norris jokes, and others reference Norris directly. But lots of Twitter readers and retweeters didn't seem to mind.
1. The secret military mastermind edition
@JimmyJoeHardy wrote: "Seal Team 6" was actually just the code word for Cory Booker.
2. The fix Facebook edition
@impactSP2walden wrote: If anyone can convince Mark Zuckerberg to get rid of timeline, it's @CoryBooker.
3. The better-than-Chuck-Norris edition
@MilesGrant wrote: When Chuck Norris has nightmares, Cory Booker turns on the light & sits with him until he falls back asleep.
4. The better-than-Chuck-Norris edition, runner up
@curtjazz wrote: Ghosts sit around the campfire and tell Cory Booker Stories
@jesseltaylor Cory Booker goes into Freddy Kreuger's dreams and fixes Elm Street's potholes.
5. The behind-this-week's-news edition
@_Thierry wrote: Who do you think made that North Korean rocket crash into the ocean? Exactly...
6. The disrespect-Fox-News edition
@dcGisenyi, borrowing from @ReignOfApril, wrote: "Black mayor physically forces woman to leave her home." #FoxNewHeadline
7. The "what'll he do next?" edition
@AntennaFarm wrote: Ok the fire rescue has been sorted. Think Cory could lend a hand to the music industry?
8. The reference-another-online-meme edition
@DearMitt wrote: Corey Booker ignores texts from Hillary Clinton.
9. The tax time edition
@calizephyr wrote: Cory Booker's Form 1040 lists humanity as a dependent.
10. The Hollywood edition
Amid all this, the mayor himself chimed in with a word of appreciation and caution. From @CoryBooker: Grateful to #CoryBookerStories 4 bringing smiles. Fire safety, however, is a serious matter.
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The Ann Romney flap may have unintentional consequences for Team Obama.
When Democratic activist Hilary Rosen dissed Ann Romney Wednesday, saying she has “never worked a day in her life,” the president, first lady, and countless other Democrats swooped in and condemned the slam on the wife of presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney. Ms. Rosen apologized for her “poorly chosen” words.
So what happens the next time someone in the vast universe of Democratic strategists and cable TV pundits makes an untoward remark about a critical issue or voter group? Will President Obama or his surrogates have to step in? And if they don’t, will Mr. Obama be blamed for tacitly condoning the comment?
Liberal editorialist Jonathan Capehart set up that test Thursday. In a Washington Post blog entry called “Selective outrage: Hilary Rosen vs. Allen West,” Mr. Capehart raised the Florida Republican congressman’s statement Tuesday that he believes there are “about 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party that are members of the Communist Party.” It’s called the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Congressman West said.
Certainly, a preposterous assertion, as Capehart notes. Maybe so preposterous that it doesn’t deserve a reply. But then Capehart scolds GOP leaders for not condemning the McCarthy-esque allegation.
As a practical matter, Obama and Company can’t strike down every off-key remark by an ally uttered in front of the ever-proliferating cameras. They would start to look like kids at an arcade playing Whac-A-Mole.
But clearly, the Rosen comment hit a nerve right as Mr. Romney had effectively locked in the Republican presidential nomination, and attention had turned to the general election. Obama is winning big among women, and needs to keep that advantage to win in November. With one off-hand comment –suggesting that Mrs. Romney can’t understand women’s struggles because she hasn’t worked outside the home – Rosen handed a gift to Mr. Romney right when he needed it.
The Romney campaign has followed with a fundraising e-mail titled “War on Moms.” It says: "If you're a stay-at-home mom, the Democrats have a message for you: You've never worked a day in your life."
According to the latest census data, about 1 in 4 women with children under 15 is not working outside the home. That is a significant voting bloc – and most aren’t wealthy like Ann Romney. Mrs. Romney herself noted on Thursday that she has had struggles of her own, particularly with her health.
In addition, Mrs. Romney has carved out an image as an appealing surrogate for her husband, complete with stories about how exhausting it was to raise five boys. Polls show her favorability rating far exceeds her negatives.
So for Obama, the Rosen comment created a PR emergency on multiple levels: She had disrespected a big voting bloc and had gone after a candidate’s wife. Team Obama pushed the panic button.
“I don’t have a lot of patience for commentary about the spouses of political candidates,” the president said.
Rosen’s gaffe was arguably as big as Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom’s Etch-a-Sketch comment – though Rosen doesn’t work for Obama. Still, she has sparked a “mommy wars” discussion that continued to rage Friday. The next time a Democratic pundit blunders on camera – and it will surely happen –everyone will be watching to see whether it merits a presidential response. And yes or no, that will tell us something about Obama’s priorities.
"Let's get this straight. We're debating between a big-spending, debt-ceiling-raising fiscal liberal, a moon-colony guy, a moderate from Massachusetts, or a Texan with a real plan to balance the budget," begins an announcer, speaking with a rapid Texas twang.
Images of his opponents accompany the slams against them, including Newt Gingrich wearing a space suit.
"Ron Paul isn't playing games," the voice-over continues – against a backdrop of an Etch-A-Sketch, a reference to the recent gaffe by the Romney campaign – before labeling Congressman Paul, at the end, a "big, bold Texan."
The message is plain: Paul isn't going anywhere, and with his home state of Texas – and its 152 delegates – up for grabs on May 29, he can still have an impact on the race. That might be even more true as of Tuesday, when Rick Santorum announced that he was suspending his campaign, saying the "race is over for me."
But with Mr. Santorum's exit virtually sealing the nomination for Mitt Romney, the question arises: How successful has he been in his second go-round as a presidential candidate?
In some cases, he underperformed expectations.
Of the three remaining candidates, he has the fewest number of delegates: 51 in the latest Associated Press count, compared with 661 for Mr. Romney.
But by the most important measure – the number of votes he received – Paul was a much bigger player this year than in 2008.
In a "living autopsy" of Paul's campaign, The New York Times's Micah Cohen compared the votes and delegates Paul won by Super Tuesday in 2008 (when 27 states had voted) with the votes he's received so far this year in the 32 states that have held contests. Paul's share of the votes was 4 percent in 2008, compared with 10 percent in 2012. He's also received nearly twice the number of total votes.
In accounting for the change, Mr. Cohen writes that, "It is possible that Mr. Paul has simply run a better campaign. But the more likely explanation is that the mood of the country is more aligned to Paul’s views than it was in 2008." Factors include the rise of the tea party and changing opinions on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (which Paul opposes).
None of that gets Paul any closer to the White House. But he may still have some sway in the Republican Party and the fall election – arguably more than Mr. Gingrich or even Santorum.
For one thing, Paul's followers are famously loyal – to their candidate, far more than to the Republican Party. If Paul were to launch a third-party campaign (a possibility about which many have speculated) he could effectively torpedo Romney's chances.
"Paul is in a much stronger bargaining position than Gingrich to extract promises from Romney because he can do far more damage if he isn’t placated. That’s why – though both men have zero chance of being their party’s standard-bearer – Paul matters more than Gingrich," argues the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza.
Almost certainly, Paul's campaign will keep going to the end in order to keep his platform in the GOP conversation. In fact, he just announced an "in it to win it" moneybomb, hoping to raise $2 million on April 15.
Paul's ideas – particularly on the dangers of debt – have already crept into GOP rhetoric. No one knows at this point exactly what Paul may want from Romney, but expect him to continue to be a major voice.
Even some of the most anti-Romney Republicans seem to be accepting that Mitt Romney will be their party's nominee.
In the latest Associated Press poll of the GOP's unpledged superdelegates (who can support any candidate they choose at the August convention), Mr. Romney picked up 11 new endorsements over the previous month's poll.
And Mr. Gingrich, who has scaled back his campaign, admitted on Fox News Sunday that Romney was likely to be the nominee and said that he'll support him at the convention, assuming he gets the 1,144 delegates he needs to sew up the nomination. He also said that Romney has “done a very good job of building a very substantial machine” that could defeat President Obama.
But beating Mr. Obama appears to be a daunting challenge. Polls don't show Romney doing well against the president, and Romney doesn't generate great enthusiasm among many of the Republican faithful.
Pundits and conservatives are full of advice for Romney, though it seems to vary a lot.
Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin, author of the influential Right Turn blog, suggests he beef up his policy, focusing on health care (she suggests he develop an alternative to Obamacare), energy policy, and entitlement reforms, and let Obama be the more negative candidate. She also advises Romney to resist the temptation to "pander to women," despite the fact that polls show women in key swing states preferring Obama by wide margins.
Chris Cillizza, meanwhile – also at the Post, but without a partisan bent – agrees that Romney needs to work on his health-care response (mostly so that Obama can't invalidate his criticism of the national law by claiming his Massachusetts law was the blueprint). Otherwise he writes that Romney mostly needs to start appealing to a broader audience: sit down with national media outlets, increase his wife's visibility, find ways to talk about Mormonism effectively, and find ways to break with hard-line conservatives and increase his appeal to independents.
What tack will Romney take? Technically, he's got a long way to go before he gets the delegates needed. At this point, according to the AP count, Romney has 660, compared with 281 for Santorum, 135 for Gingrich, and 51 for Paul. If he continues at this pace (he has 58 percent of the delegates so far), he'll clinch the nomination by June 5.
But he's already starting to act like the nominee.
He took a short break from campaigning over the weekend, and also decided to pull all of his negative ads in Pennsylvania while Santorum is temporarily off the campaign trail due to his daughter's hospitalization – an easier step to take now that Santorum doesn't feel like much of a threat.
In a Monday interview on Mike Huckabee's radio show, Romney said that "It’s kind hard for anybody to get the delegates to pass me at this stage, so it looks pretty good." He also said that he welcomed Gingrich's comments and wasn't surprised by them. He said that he and Gingrich speak fairly regularly and said that Gingrich is "pretty open-eyed about this."
If you don't know The Hunger Games, let's get you up to speed on the first part of a triptych whose first installation recently blew away every non-sequel film release in American history during its opening weekend in theaters: A reluctant, female Spartacus crashes the futuristic blood sport (think: Roman Colosseum with streaming HD video ... and hovercrafts) of a dystopian society hunkered down on the ashes of a once-prosperous North America.
To say more of this gladiator, the 16-year-old Katniss, and her quest would be to ruin the truly absorbing – if somewhat lightweight – story created by the trilogy's publicly reticent author, Suzanne Collins.
But while many have wondered about Hunger Games relationship to adolescents, war and whether adults should even bother reading the things at all, your author -- who gulped down the audiobook during a long car ride over the weekend -- was struck by another component of its prose: a strong libertarian streak.
For certain, the Hunger Games trilogy has violence as its main consideration. But whether it's on war or myriad other topics, we don't think Great Libertarian Poobah Ron Paul would quibble with many of the sentiments sprinkled in Collins's writing.
Let's run through four of them.
1. "As long as you can find yourself, you'll never starve," Katniss recalls her father telling her. In this case, the play is on her name, a sort of bluish tuber that she claws up from a riverbank. The book begins on this note of ultimate self-reliance, that only the individual can keep life alive.
To avoid starvation with help from the government, one must enter a devil's pact. While all citizens are entered into the Reaping, a lottery to decide which boy and girl will be sent into the hellish Hunger Games, citizens can opt to enter their name more than once for a year's supply of vital – but meager – foodstuffs. And the entries are cumulative each year from age 12 to age 18.
If you can provide for yourself, the Hunger Games tells us, you can make it through. If it's government help you want, the price may be your very life.
2. “District 12: Where you can starve to death in safety,” Katniss laments near the book's outset. It's forbidden for the people of Katniss's district to venture out into the woods to hunt, fish, or gather plants. Here one could hear echoes of the cries of libertarians, crying out against a government that by securing total security has all but destroyed liberty.
In other words, one must rely on themselves to survive, even in the face of a government that restricts almost all avenues to prosperity.
3. Government bureaucrats, a favorite libertarian target, get a very harsh reading. Not only are Panem's paper pushers aesthetically and culturally bankrupt, the book makes clear, they consider themselves far superior to people from the nation's 12 districts.
"What do they do all day, these people in the Capitol," Katniss muses, remembering some of her attendants who have dyed their skin pea-green or who carry "orange corkscrew" curls, "besides decorating their bodies and waiting around for a new shipment of tributes to die for their entertainment?"
4. Lazy, capricious and warmongering. And it's the last third of those that is most accentuated in the Hunger Games. In the modern libertarian movement, the answer to war is to stop "policing the world."
Libertarian's hold that a force capable of defending the United States should be the mission of American military spending. Simply put, the goal isn't to find ways to insert oneself into conflict but to protect oneself and fight if attacked. Petaa, Katniss's fellow gladiator from District 12, gives a succinct statement that weds a libertarian instinct about violence to his desire to subvert the entire violent system.
"No, when the time comes, I'm sure I'll kill just like everybody else," he says. "I can't go down without a fight. Only I keep wishing I could think of a way to... to show the Capitol they don't own me. That I'm more than just a piece in their Games."
Hoodies on the House floor are verboten, apparently. Rep. Bobby Rush (D) of Illinois was scolded and escorted from the chamber of the House of Representatives on Wednesday morning, when he attempted to give a speech on the need for a full investigation of the Trayvon Martin shooting while wearing sunglasses and a gray hooded sweat shirt.
“Racial profiling has to stop, Mr. Speaker,” said Representative Rush while doffing his suit jacket to reveal his hoodie garb. “Just because someone wears a hoodie does not make them a hoodlum.”
Rush continued to speak while the presiding officer, Rep. Gregg Harper (R) of Mississippi, banged the gavel, ordering him to desist. Eventually someone from the office of the House sergeant-at-arms appeared and escorted Rush, hoodie and all, off the floor.
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The reason for the uproar is that Congress has a dress code. Men are expected to wear coats and ties, and women to wear correspondingly serious clothing. Under House Rule XVII, Section 5, hats are prohibited, and a hoodie is unquestionably a head covering.
“The Sergeant-at-Arms is charged with the strict enforcement of this clause,” concludes that section.
Senior Democrats played down the kerfuffle. Minority leader Nancy Pelosi noted that when she first came to Congress, women were prohibited from wearing pants on the floor. But really, why should the House be such a stickler on items of dress? In the 1830s and 1840s – admittedly, a much more heated era in US history – many lawmakers carried weapons, and violence was not uncommon. In some Asian legislatures today, debates can end in fistfights.
The reason for the rules on decorum may be that civility stands on a slippery slope.
“As [humorist] Will Rogers observed, members call themselves gentlemen and gentlewomen, because the alternatives would be to call one another polecats and coyotes, or worse, liars, hypocrites, stupid, dumb, demagogues, socialists, communists, none of which lend themselves to the deliberative process so important to the governance of the nation,” wrote Ray Smock, director of the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va., last October.
Mr. Smock, who served as historian of the House from 1983 to 1995, believes that civility now “is at one of the lowest ebbs in congressional history.”
Such breaches of decorum as the “You lie!” shout of Rep. Joe Wilson (R) of South Carolina during President Obama’s 2009 speech to Congress on health-care reforms may be indicative of a larger, paralyzing incivility based on bitter partisanship, in Smock’s view.
Narrower measures indicate that Congress may be becoming more civil, not less. An Annenberg Public Policy Center study of the number of times lawmakers are reprimanded for out-of-bounds language by having their words “taken down” found that infractions have become relatively few and farther between.
“Overall, civility, not incivility, is the norm in the House,” said the September 2011 report.
All that said, Rush had particular incentive to speak out on the Trayvon Martin issue. A former member of the 1960s Black Panthers, Rush was active in the civil rights movement of the era. His own 29-year-old son died of a gunshot.