“Mr. Chairman…This has been very interesting because one member on your side, the gentleman, I don’t know his name, said that the man was under investigation…”
—-Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md), ranking Democrat on theHouse Oversight and Government Reform Committee revealing that he hasn’t bothered to learn the names of his own committee’s members.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, through the eyes of Rep. Cummings.
The dysfunction in Washington, D.C., and particularly in Congress, could not have a better or more discouraging illustration than this. You can argue that not knowing the names of your colleagues is no big deal, but it is. It is proof of a lack of interest in cooperation and collegial relations. It is evidence of the absence of basic civility and respect. It demonstrates that Cummings is not interested in contributing to the mission and objectives of the committee, but rather obstructing them.
In the film “The Paper Chase,” a Harvard law student’s entire first year is dominated by his conflicts and interaction with a legendary professor, the imposing Professor Kingsfield, played with a sneer by John Houseman in an Academy Award-winning performance. The student even has a romantic affair with the professor’s daughter. At the end of the academic year, the student chances to be in an elevator with the professor, and tells him how important his class was to him. The professor responds by asking his name.
The insult that this represents is material and unforgivable. I would have told that professor on the spot not only my name, but also told him that he was a pompous jerk not to accord me the simple respect of learning it. How do I know this? Because a very similar insult was delivered to me, in college, by another legendary campus figure, and I did respond that way. (We eventually became close friends and associates. ) What Cummings demonstrated isn’t merely bad ethics for a member of Congress. It is bad workplace ethics and bad societal ethics.
Is Cummings the only member of Congressional committees, or his own committee, to breach the duty to at least make the minimum good faith effort to work together toward a common objective—and taking the time to learn the names of those you work with is certainly minimal? I hope so, but I wouldn’t have believed that a single member of Congress would be so rude, arrogant, adversarial, unprofessional and lazy. So maybe he’s not the only one. Maybe there are a lot of Congress members who view their job this way.
How depressing is that?