House Know-Nothings

There may actually be a reason why a lot of the freshmen members of the House seem not to understand the legislative process.

David Bernstein notes:

only 16 of the 83 newly-elected Republican members of congress [attended] the Congressional Issues Conference of the Institute of Politics (IOP) at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

That conference is completely non-partisan (in fact, co-sponsored by the Heritage Foundation), and serves to give the Washington newcomers a crash course in, essentially, how to be a member of congress — the rules, procedures, and resources, as well as the current policy debates. Usually a majority of freshmen come; Boehner did.

More from from a piece that Bernstein wrote for the Boston Phoenix:

Since the early 1970s, the IOP has held a Congressional Issues Conference for newly-elected members of Congress. The soon-to-be congressmen spend three days attending policy seminars and workshops on the actual workings of Congress and the Capitol. Past attendees have included Al Gore (’76), Geraldine Ferraro (’78), Bill Richardson (’82), Dennis Hastert (’86), and Rahm Emanuel (’02).

The Kennedy School conference is among the most prestigious events for congressional freshmen, and in most years it has drawn more than half of the incoming freshman class. This year, with a massive 93 newcomers invited, barely a quarter made the trip to Cambridge for this week’s gathering. More than five dozen declined the invitation.

In a separate post, Bernstein also details how a variety of factors may have created incentives for new members to attend more ideologically driven orientation in lieu of going to the IOP meeting.*

Now, I don’t want to make too much of this, but it does seem to fit with the general theme of the current Congress, especially of the House freshman.  That is:  what matters is one’s true belief in the Way Things Ought to Be as opposed to the reality of give and take of governing.

*I recall, for example, an orientation that Representative Bachmann held, which may have been in the same timeframe, that included speakers who were of a very specific ideological persuasion (i.e., Tea Party palatable) regarding the meaning of the Constitution.

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Steve

    You are correct. In fact I seem to remember someone writing that many of the Tea Party Freshman were skipping the Kennedy School’s orientation for the Bachmann eve.nt

  2. PJ says:

    Thinking I would write a sarcastic comment about both sides doing it and a pox on both houses, I looked up the newly elected Democrats. There were eight of them. All eight attended the conference.

    But I bet they all sat in the back of the room not paying attention (i.e voting present), which is the same thing as not attending. Most likely they also threw gum at the Republicans who wanted to learn things, and that’s why the debt ceiling won’t get raised.

    Both sides do it!

  3. reid says:

    They’ve been listening to FOX News and Rush since they were 16, so they know the way the world works. Why would they attend some liberal, ivory tower indoctrination event? It probably started with a rousing song celebrating Obama’s greatness!

  4. WR says:

    All that book larnin’ is just for elites and Mooslim-lovers. We know everything we need to know because we read the first couple lines of the constituion. Or the Declaration of Liberty, which is the same thing. Plus all that financial stuff is just cobbled together by the Jews on Wall Street to confuse real Americans. All we need is the common sense we was born with.

  5. I object to the title of this post; it’s an insult to the actual Know-Nothings. Unlike the Tea Party, the Know-Nothings weren’t called that because they were ignorant. They got the name because of their penchant for secrecy (“I know nothing about the nativist party”).

  6. An Interested Party says:

    This makes perfect sense…after all, members of the Tea Party crowd couldn’t dare step foot in that lefty cesspool known as Harvard, now could they? Much better to be uninformed fools…

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    You are correct. In fact I seem to remember someone writing that many of the Tea Party Freshman were skipping the Kennedy School’s orientation for the Bachmann eve.nt

    That fits, “Let us all go to an orientation put on by a woman who has yet to produce a single bill* rather than to a conference dedicated to actual teaching of legislative procedure.”

    * I read somewhere recently (do not remember where) that she has not introduced a single bill in congress. I do not know if this is true, and may well be misremembering. Still, I find it quite believable.