A Nation of Dress Codes, Not Politicians
Tradition is what makes us a nation of laws.
Senate Majority Leader Schumer’s announcement that members of the not especially respected body will be able to wear what they want means that out go the business suits and in go Sen. Fetterman’s basketball shorts. The point of the old dress code was that the Senate was engaged in serious business and its members should look like adult professionals.
But what if its members, like Sen. Kyrsten Sinema or Sen. John Fetterman, aren’t adults? Sinema and Fetterman have both taken to wearing what feels good rather than attire that treats the offices they hold with due seriousness. And they are just flaunting what so many members of Congress already believe: that the office is all about their self-expression and about them.
It’s not just about the clothes. The pandemic allowed the House of Representatives to unleash proxy voting and even remote hearings. It became a common sight for United States government events to take place with a hotel room or a bathroom in the background.
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Proxy voting meant that members of congress didn’t even have to bother coming to work if they didn’t feel like it. An endless slew of official letters by politicians who were on vacation, attending campaign events or conferences claimed that they couldn’t be there to vote in person because of the “public health emergency”. If anyone had bothered to enforce perjury laws, most of Congress would be serving time in prison, in person, with no proxy sentences allowed.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s decision to end proxy voting restored some small measure of dignity. Members of Congress are actually expected to show up in person and conduct the business of government. And yet the complaints continue. Why should members of Congress have to put what they want to do on hold to actually conduct government business?
And why should members of the Senate have to wear pants?
Dress codes and voting in person are forms of institutional standards. And, like wigs in British courts, they can seem silly, but they serve as important reminders that public officials are the bearers of a national tradition. John Adams argued for “a government of laws, not of men.” The civilizing formalities are not just forms of basic decency which bound our behaviors, they also remind the men and women in charge of our system that they serve something higher.
Not just themselves or their parties or their donors. They serve the American tradition.
It is no coincidence that the men and women who disdain dress codes or demand proxy voting also have little regard for laws, beginning with the constitution, and who want the absolute power to reshape our lives according to their whims. Radicals and extremists invariably reject any form of discipline or limitations on their powers. Their insistence that they ought to be able to do anything they want is an egotism that begins with them and ends with us losing our rights.
Tradition teaches us to see ourselves as more than our egos. Capitol Hill and much of Washington D.C. is a history lesson writ in paint and stone. Those who pass through it are supposed to understand that they are part of a national pageant and elected officials, in particular, are taking up a role held by their predecessors for hundreds of years.
There are some who still see it that way, but the House has no shortage of cranks, radicals, foreigners, egomaniacs, extremists and others to whom history is meaningless and worthless. When they look at the statues, they don’t feel themselves to be a part of the nation’s past, they just count which ones they’d like to see taken down and how they can claim credit for it. Dress codes have no value to people who respect no national tradition and certainly no traditional clothing beyond the Islamic hijab, because they don’t see themselves within a larger body.
Until recent times, members of the two houses saw themselves as part of American institutions, in solidarity with each other, and with the nation, across party lines and partisan elections. When it comes to Sen. Fetterman or Rep. Ilhan Omar, that should not be taken for granted.
Politics has always been abusive and corrupt, the force of tradition, patriotism, heritage and other intangibles helped restrain some of the worst impulses of elected officials. Those forces are dissolving. A government of laws is being replaced by a government of men who refuse to be limited by traditions, principles or laws. As American traditions fall apart, what replaces them are the even older traditions of politics, personality cults, tribalism, and the determination to seize power by any means necessary and hold it even more ruthlessly.
“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other,” Adams warned. That is even more true of politicians who have already shown ample evidence that at the earliest opportunity they will tear any constitution or body of laws apart like wolves descending on a wounded sheep.
Dress codes are one of the niceties of tradition that serve as canaries in a coal mine. Politicians who are self-interested and undisciplined enough that they can’t be bothered to abide by them won’t be likely to keep any of the more serious traditions and laws that they help to guard.
Tradition seems silly and worthless if you’re a self-centered child which is what our average politician is. Asking them to accept any restraint on their powers is too much. Why should they be expected to abide by the minimal expectation of countless offices in the country? Or by any expectations at all? Why should they be expected to come to work or not, suddenly, decide to declare that the Second Amendment has been suspended by a public health emergency?
In a government of men, not laws, politicians don’t reason or respect the past, they feel very deeply and they believe that following their feelings is the reason that they were elected. They don’t see themselves as part of a larger body or a nation, only as righteous individuals here to destroy the past and usher in the future based on whatever they believe right this second.
America needs dress codes, more than it needs politicians, it needs standards more than it needs iconoclasts, it needs men and women willing to put the country ahead of themselves.
And it would help if some of them could also put on a pair of pants before they go to work.
Article posted with permission from Daniel Greenfield