You can learn a lot by watching C-SPAN

If you have a basic cable package, you probably have C-SPAN and C-SPAN2. And you probably watch them about as much as if you didn’t own TV. But you should watch them more (and by that I mean “some”) because when you complain that “nothing is on,” C-SPAN is, and you can learn a lot.

For example, you learn that government is mind-numbingly boring, stupid and inarticulate. Otto von Bismarck once said, “Laws are like sausage; it’s better not to see them made.” To some extent, C-SPAN is a window into that sausage factory. You can’t see everything, but what you do see makes your stomach turn. Congressman Mark Pryor of Arkansas has pointed out you don’t have to pass an IQ test to be in the Senate, and he was being honest. Sit down for just a few minutes to watch the nation’s most professional and powerful legislature and its proceedings, and wonder how some of these people were ever elected. Then wonder just how much you want these people’s decisions affecting your daily life.

It’s possible C-SPAN is actually the propaganda wing of the Libertarian party.

You also learn no one cares about anything unless food is provided. Any speech, any conference, any lecture by an author – when the camera pans to the audience, no more than a handful of people will be there, unless they’re eating dinner. This is especially absurd for speeches on the House or Senate floors when the esteemed congressman from Ohio spends 10 minutes orating with great emotion and making use of charts and graphs … to an empty room.

You learn the people who do care about the things on C-SPAN are of two types: stupid people and overly educated stupid people. When an author or expert panel gets to the Q&A section of their event, the instructions are always, “Be sure to have a question and keep it brief.” Invariably, these instructions are not followed.

“I really like your book about Watergate, but I was wondering… Dick Cheney’s relationship with Halliburton … tri-lateral commission … and so 9/11 was another Zionist conspiracy inside job. Thank you.” Sometimes the ellipses aren’t even filled in.

The Washington Journal’s morning call-in show is even worse because you can be reasonably certain these people vote, otherwise they wouldn’t care enough to call. The show usually has Republican, Democrat and Independent lines – or a similar setup along those ideological positions. Then you realize how those elected people got elected, and you’re elated it’s them representing the average voter, not actually that voter.

For all that, C-SPAN is legitimately the best network available for nonfiction material, especially on weekends when Book TV comes on. It’d be better to actually read the books, but knowledgeable people speaking on their subject of expertise for an hour is the most efficient substitute for that.

Really, C-Span’s value is that it’s the opposite of 24-hour cable news stations. No one is watching, so no one bothers spinning the news to a non-audience. C-SPAN is “fair and balanced” because it’s mostly unfiltered. Where it is filtered, two representative propagandists aren’t given equal time to repeat talking points and shout over one another; equal time is allotted by the programming. It’s the opposite of CNN Headline News because it covers subjects of gravity with depth.

Book TV is only broadcast on weekends, but it’s available round the clock at booktv.org. If you’re doing something else on the computer, just let it play in a background window like the radio.

And when nothing is on, you ought to watch C-SPAN. You could learn a lot.

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