Climate Science; Iraq Requiem; the Valley and the Swamp; C-SPAN at 39

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Hello, it’s Tuesday, March 20, 2018. With the mercury hovering just above freezing here in Washington, D.C., and a cold raining coming down, baseball isn’t the first thing that came to mind this morning. The calendar assures us that today is the first day of spring, however, which means major league teams will be leaving Florida and Arizona in less than 10 days and heading north for Opening Day.


As I write these words, Claudia Tenney, a freshman congresswoman from New York, is on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.” She hails from one of those swing districts you hear tell of -- the kind that will determine who controls the House of Representatives this time next year. From the sound of it, Rep. Tenney is talking sensibly about significant matters. This is not unusual: C-SPAN tends to bring out the best in people.

Over on C-SPAN2, viewers can see the replay of a Monday congressional subcommittee hearing that explored the federal government’s disaster response efforts in 2017. C-SPAN3, meanwhile, is airing a discussion of the likely effects of steel and aluminum tariffs. Okay, that’s a pretty dry topic, but “The Trey,” as I call C-SPAN3, did air a fascinating discussion Sunday on the Vietnam War. Moderated by Steve Scully and featuring James Webb and David Maraniss, that program kicked off a nine-week series titled “1968: America in Turmoil,” a retrospective 50 years after a most tumultuous year in politics and American civic life.

Why am I plugging C-SPAN this morning? Because today is an important milestone for the nonprofit network brought to you as a public service by the nation’s cable and satellite providers.   

I’ll explain in a moment.  First, I’d point you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion columns spanning the political spectrum. We also offer original material from our own reporters and contributors, including the following:

* * *

History Doesn’t Lie: Climate Science Is Sound. Ana Unruh Cohen urges Americans to consider the long trail of evidence that carbon emissions are fueling the rise in global temperatures.

Requiem for Failure in Iraq. In RealClearDefense, combat veteran Danny Sjursen marks the 15th anniversary of the U.S. invasion with a litany of losses.

Silicon Valley Comes to the Swamp. In RealClearPolicy, Casey Given argues that potential government contracts will likely factor into Amazon's decision about where to locate its new headquarters.

New California Law Subjects Green Card Holders to Deportation. Also in RCPolicy, Mark Meuser spotlights the statute’s unintended consequences for legal aliens in the state.

An Education Policy Cheat Sheet for Would-Be Governors. In RealClearEducation, Michael J. Petrilli offers tips for the reform debate.

Unfunded Pensions Could Spell Disaster for Kentucky. Jack Hipkins has the details, also in RCEd.

Lesson of the Stamp Act: Colonies Are Costly. In RealClearHistory, Brandon Christensen revisits the British attempt to impose the unpopular tax on colonists in 1765.

A Glimpse Inside a New York Monastery. In RealClearLife, Robert Marston sheds light on a cloistered community of nuns whose numbers are dwindling but whose faith is strong.

* * *

On this date in 1979, the New York Times carried a headline that was met with relief by a little-known former Navy man and Capitol Hill staffer named Brian Lamb. The Times header was this: “First TV Broadcast of House Session Isn’t High Theater.”

If that seems a tad snarky, it really wasn’t. It was meant to reassure, if anything. Brian Lamb had dreamed of getting cameras on Congress. A few newspaper traditionalists had resisted the idea, perhaps for competitive reasons. So did some hand-wringing good-government types: Wouldn’t the presence of cameras lead to partisan grandstanding?

Getting cameras in the House of Representatives -- the “People’s House” -- was the brainchild of the decidedly non-partisan Brian Lamb, who formulated the idea when working in the late 1970s as Washington bureau chief for Cablevision magazine.

His Big Idea was simultaneously altruistic and business-minded. Remember, this was before CNN (or Fox News) existed, at a time when the three major networks cornered two-thirds of the television audience with their nightly news broadcasts.

When Lamb introduced his idea at an industry-wide conference -- for a nonprofit to be funded by the cable broadcasters themselves -- only one of the cable executives present embraced it. He was industry pioneer Bob Rosencrans, who not only threw his weight behind the concept but wrote a check for $25,000 to get it off the ground.

Lamb proved to be one of those rare visionaries who is enough of a detail man to successfully implement his own idea. Partly, this came from his Midwestern sensibilities and his own family life. His mother was a religious woman who didn’t drink or smoke, his father a no-nonsense Irish-American who managed only one year of college and who stressed hard work over blarney.

Lamb’s dad was a wholesale beer distributor who became intensely interested in politics, Lamb once recalled in an interview with San Diego Union TV writer Don Freeman. Dad’s primary interest, his son recalled, was legislation that kept “politicians’ hands out of the till.”

Ah, but then there was Brian Lamb’s grandfather. A natural showman, he owned and ran Lamb’s Place. This saloon, located in Lafayette, Indiana, included illegal gambling in the backroom, and a proprietor who would sometimes put a glass of beer on his bald head and dance behind the bar.

Brian Lamb was enough like his father that he dutifully went to the local college, Purdue, and enlisted in the U.S. Navy after graduation. But he had enough of his grandfather in him to play drums in local bands as a teenager, and interview musicians in groups such as the Kingston Trio while still a high school journalism student.

Today, C-SPAN has grown into an institution of its own. Its cameras are in the House and the Senate, on the campaign trail, at university conferences, in presidential libraries, and busily airing oral histories of American presidents, documenting the influences of candidates who almost made it to the Oval Office, and showcasing the first ladies who served the American public without being paid a dime.

C-SPAN manages to do all this without injecting itself into the debate, despite coming to prominence at a time of relentlessly worsening political polarization. The signature C-SPAN imprint has been the deadpan interviewing style of book authors by Lamb himself.

It was a manner learned in the heartland from an Indiana broadcasting teacher named Bill Fraser, who taught students at Jefferson High School in Lafayette. One of those students was 15-year-old Brian Lamb.

“He taught me to interview the way I do it now,” Lamb recalled later. “He taught me to stay the hell out of the way. Too many interviewers intrude too much. They want to be the main attraction. They use inflections. They raise their eyebrows as a way of expressing their opinion on what's been said. They try to make us think they're smarter than the person they're interviewing.”

Criticisms about raised eyebrows seem quaint today, in the wake of another, more dubious cable television innovation -- i.e., the overtly partisan network.

But long before he sold one of them (Current TV) to Al Jazeera for some $500 million, Al Gore was a Tennessee congressman with a fascination for technology, TV, and innovation. And 39 years ago yesterday -- on March 19, 1979 -- he made the first speech televised from the House of Representatives.

Addressing an audience that Lamb has joked “was in the dozens,” Gore stood in the well of the House and said, “The marriage of this medium and of our open debate have the potential, Mr. Speaker, to revitalize representative democracy.”

Carl M. Cannon 
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter)

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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