DO YOU REMEMBER how much handwringing and worrying went on when the House Judiciary Committee decided to allow television coverage of impeachment proceedings in 1974? Even some politically knowledgeable people were concerned that members would grandstand, hog the camera and destroy the decorum of these extremely serious meetings. Instead, committee members rose to the occasion and brought credit to themselves and the House in allowing the American public to observe every step of the process. By 1979, the House had begun televising proceedings on the floor.
The Senate, meanwhile, has been relatively camera shy. Television coverage of committee hearings is allowed, but cameras are barred from the floor. After years of wrangling over whether to amend this rule, it now appears that senators are ready to take the big step. Some worry, though, that many Senate rules, devised in a more leisurely era, will make them look anachronistic, even foolish. Plans are being made to change some of these rules in preparation for television -- to "clean up our act," says Sen. Robert Byrd -- and that's fine.
There's no reason for lengthy, delaying quorum calls, for example, and more disciplined scheduling could be instituted. Non-germane amendments might have to go and electronic vote counting be adopted.
Hesitant legislators should have more faith in the viewing public. The people who would sit for hours watching the Senate debate are likely to be intelligent, involved citizens and fans of the legislative process. Within a single session many will be second-guessing the parliamentarian and futilely trying to prompt the debaters. They may be horrified by arcane rituals, inefficiency and bluster, but they will understand and accept the rules that make sense.
As for the lense-louse factor -- the fear on the part of some senators that others will pose and pontificate -- the public will not be fooled. In years of watching televised committee hearings we all remember certain senators whose very appearance on the screen caused millions of viewers to rush to the bathroom, head for the refrigerator or go downstairs to move the laundry from the washer to the dryer. Television enables us to separate the wits from the windbags, and it is the former who have the most to gain by allowing coverage. Let the cameras roll.