When was the last time you heard a sitting politician give a speech that made you stop and think? A speech where you actually learned something?
When was the last time you heard a vicious excoriation of Washington and Congress and the whole federal government, yet saw the first glimmer of hope that perhaps all is not already completely lost?
Sen. Ben Sasse, Nebraska Republican, delivered his first speech on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon, one year to the day since being elected in his first bid for public office. All of his fellow freshmen have long since delivered their “maiden” speeches.
But Ben Sasse waited.
Not because he wanted to reject the whole silly tradition that some stupid first speech by a newly minted Senate blowhard is somehow so precious it is to be called “maiden” and politely applauded and toasted afterward for posterity or something. I am certain that not a single one of the other “maiden” speeches — blech!!!! — delivered on the Senate floor this year has been worth watching, much less applauding or remembering.
No, Mr. Sasse waited simply because he did not want to speak until he actually had something worth saying. (I know what you’re thinking. “And he’s a politician? And he got elected to the United States Senate? Something is wrong here.”)
Not only did Mr. Sasse want to wait until he had something worth saying, but he also had something particular he wanted to talk about. He wanted to talk about how entirely broken the United States Senate has become.
He wanted to talk about how dangerously out of whack the whole separation of powers has become, sending the bloated federal government on a glidepath to monstrous and unstoppable debt and eventual doom.
He wanted to talk about all the ways presidents from both parties and members of both chambers of Congress have inexplicably conspired to cede greater and greater control from the legislative branch to the executive branch. Today, we see, there is virtually no check whatsoever left on the executive branch.
And he wanted to talk about the insidiously corrosive effect that the increasingly ungovernable “administrative state” has on a free society.
Mr. Sasse wanted to sound the alarm on America’s coming ruin.
The message he brings from home: “A pox on both parties and all your houses! We don’t believe politicians are even trying to fix this mess.”
And a sidewinder for a couple of fellow Senate Republicans running for higher office: “To the grandstanders who use this institution as a platform for outside pursuits: Few believe the country’s needs are as important to you as your ambitions.”
And to whorish Senate Democrats who would trade away their grandmother if they could get a good deal on her: “Few believe bare-knuckled politics are a substitute for principled governing.”
The primary reason for this catastrophic legislative decay, Mr. Sasse warned, is the death of debate in the United States Senate, once envisioned as the “world’s greatest deliberative body.”
Not the fake barking back and forth and manufacturing of fake “facts” and statistics we always see. But actual debates where honest men and women argue about real and serious problems.
“We in recent decades have allowed the short-termism of sound-bite culture to invade this chamber and radically reduce so many debates to fact-free zones.”
And — thank goodness — Mr. Sasse moved quickly to squash the perennial canard from the screaming weenies about the need for more “civility” on the Senate floor.
No, he said. “This is not a call for less fighting, but for more meaningful fighting.”
Sure, the speech was sharp, concise and brutally honest. But the greatest thing about it was the surprising sense of hopefulness.
Delivered with the senator’s trademark goofy grin and genuine humility when speechifying, it wasn’t an angry harangue.
It was a call to arms, the reading of a serious mission.
Delivered by a guy who looks like your average college football coach, talking to his losing team, inspiring them to dig down, focus and reach once again for greatness.
Charles Hurt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter via @charleshurt.