A Quote for Our Moment

Senator John Stennis thought that it was wrong to raise funds from interests he was regulating. Many in today’s Congress don’t. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

In his book, Republic, Lost, United Republic ally and Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig relays an anecdote that provides a useful foil for how Congress works today. In an essay for the New York Review of Books, Ezra Klein sums it up:

In 1982, Mississippi senator John Stennis was chairman of the Armed Services Committee. Stennis was a senator of the old school—literally. When he retired in 1989, after forty-one years, he was the chamber’s most senior member, and the second-longest-serving member in the Senate’s history. And so he did things a little differently than we’re used to today. Asked by a colleague to hold a fund-raiser with defense contractors, Stennis recoiled. “Would that be proper?” he asked. “I hold life and death over those companies. I don’t think it would be proper for me to take money from them.”

In his book, Lessig notes how very different the issue of money in politics was for Stennis compared with his modern-day Congressional counterparts:

reflects a change in norms. Stennis was no choirboy. But his hesitation reflected an understanding that I doubt a majority of Congress today would recognize. There were limits—even just thirty years ago—that seem as antiquated today as the wigs our Framers wore while drafting the Constitution.


Source Article from http://unitedrepublic.org/2012/a-quote-for-our-moment/

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