Vol IV, No. 2 │ August 2017
What Congress Does and Why It Matters
The Byrd Call │ August 2017
Table of Contents
What Congress Does and Why It Matters
Putting Our Collections to Work
Constitution Day Lecture
The Byrd Traveling Exhibit Enters the Home Stretch
2017 Fall Film Series
Become a Friend of the Byrd Center
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What Congress Does and Why It Matters
The mission of the Byrd Center is to promote a better understanding of Congress through programs and research that reach citizens. We recently completed a training day for a group of West Virginia teachers on Congress and the Constitution in partnership with the Center for Legislative Archives, the part of the National Archives that holds the official records of Congress. We called this teacher training program “What Congress Does and Why It Matters,” because now, with public understanding and appreciation of Congress at its lowest ebb ever, we need better informed citizens.
People from across the entire political spectrum are unhappy with the way Congress works and wonder if it is working at all. Surveys show the American people do not trust Congress to do the nation’s
business. Recent Gallup polls show the public’s disapproval of Congress at over 70%, while only 20% approve, and the rest have no opinion. Now let’s look at the other side of the equation. When American citizens are polled about their knowledge of Congress and how it works, the numbers show a dismal lack of knowledge on the part of most Americans. An Annenberg Public Policy Center survey in 2016 found that only 25% of Americans polled could name the three branches of the federal government and an even smaller percentage could explain what the three branches did.
The public and private institutions that support this nation in so many ways, including our entire educational system, are failing to put enough resources and enough emphasis on the importance of
Charles Flanagan, Director of Outreach at the Center for Legislative Archives (NARA) gives a presentation to educations at the Byrd Center's recent Teacher Institute.
By Ray Smock
necessary,” James Madison said. But we all know that men and women are not angels and human nature has a dark side that needs to be checked. This is why we have laws. This is why we divide power, so no one person or group can easily corrupt the entire system. Above all, we erected our government on the pillars of law and justice. We say no one is above the law.
Today we live in an era where the very idea of government as a positive good for the betterment of the people, for the advancement of civilization, and for the common defense and general welfare is under assault. Government is the problem, some say, not the solution to vexing national and global issues. We elect people to Congress who want to stop government or shrink it rather than make it work. Congress, the lawmaking body of government, has too often abandoned the time tested ways in which laws are made. Members today call for “Regular Order” when there is no order. Some lawmakers
Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (standing left of center) addresses the Senate in the late-1970s.
public understanding of government. In a republic like ours it is essential that the people, who elect our representatives and senators, and our president, know the fundamentals of government and know the basic story of how our government was founded and what it does and why this matters to each and every person in the nation.
People need knowledge of government and good, reliable information on what it is doing. The members of the Founding generation knew that a republic depended on informed citizens. They also knew how easily people could be duped by what Elbridge Gerry called “pretended patriots,” by which he meant demagogues and snake oil salesmen who could fool enough people enough of the time to be a threat to the success of the government. Our government was designed to separate power among three branches because the Founders understood human nature. “If men were angels no government would be
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We need a major national effort to restore the kind of power that knowledge gives. We need an educational effort in this nation that is a big and bold as if we were facing an invading army, because we are. We cannot pretend that some subjects, like politics, history, civics, and ethics, (especially ethics), are not as important in our educational curriculum as those fields that we think lead directly to jobs. We emphasize math and science, as we should in this high-tech age, but we should not do so at the expense of those areas that give us the knowledge to be better citizens who will be informed about government. Better informed voters are vital to this nation.
While there are no easy answers there are important universal solutions that we need to remember. “A popular Government,” Madison wrote, “without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”
look for quick solutions to write complex laws that need time and study and much debate to be honed into good law. Too many members seem to be as ignorant of the history of Congress and how and why it works as the people who elected them.
No system of government is perfect and none ever has been. Nor has any system of elections ever been perfect. Governments are composed of human beings who are elected by human beings. None of us is perfect either. But we must find ways to be better than we are right now in how we conduct our government. There are new dangers that we have yet to learn to address. The last presidential election experienced unprecedented tampering at the hands of a foreign power. This is a direct and dire threat to our democratic process of elections. For a number of years the partisanship in our politics has increased to the point that it has become poisonous hyper-partisanship. Congress has lost its ability to compromise, even though the art of compromise is the essence of good governance and good lawmaking. Republicans and Democrats have gone from being political rivals and competitors to enemies who cannot be trusted. The public is cynical and one often hears “they are all a bunch of crooks.”
How do we turn this around? There are no magic wands, no simple solutions, and no quick solutions to these serious problems. Just as it has taken several generations for us to get to this point of dysfunction, it may take that long to undo the cynicism and the distrust of government that is so common today.
I keep this small tray in my office to remind me of the wisdom of Frances Bacon (1561-1626), to whom this phrase is attributed.
The recently-restored dome of the U.S. Capitol (Photo Credit: Architect of the Capitol)
Swearing-In of the 96th Congress (January 15, 1979)
If you ask what you can do for your country, at this time, in this place, it just might be to become a better informed citizen with more of the power that knowledge gives so that we are not easily fooled by cynics and pretended patriots. Here at the Byrd Center we will do our part as best we can, knowing full well that this has to be a major national effort involving the best thinking of a lot of thoughtful Americans and a lot of support from institutions of learning at all levels, the American press, the publishing industry, and all entities of mass communications. We simply cannot afford to have a nation that is ignorant of how government works. It is time to up our game and help save this country from the dangerous doldrums of civic ignorance and apathy.
Putting Our Collections to Work
These materials tell the complex story of Congress, how the House and Senate function and why they are governed by different procedural rules and traditions, how the day-to-day governing of our nation occurs, how controversial decisions are reached, and how crises have been averted or, in some cases, created.
The archival collections housed at the Byrd Center also highlight the intimate relationship between West Virginians and their elected officials. The correspondence between Senator Byrd or Congressman Staggers, Sr. and their constituents offer lenses for understanding what West Virginians expected, wanted, needed, and sometimes demanded of Congress and how those perspectives shifted during the post-World War II era. The letters in particular paint a portrait of democracy in
Students view original archival documents during the Summer Policy Institute at West Virginia Univeristy. (Photo Credit: Danielle Emerling)
By Jay Wyatt
The drive to facilitate a better understanding of what Congress is and the central role it plays in our republican form of government is a guiding factor when we plan the many events and activities that the Byrd Center sponsors and hosts throughout the year, and it is reflected in the research-driven exhibits and blogs that we produce and share with the public. It also lies at the heart of our expanded efforts to support civic education in West Virginia and across the nation.
The Byrd Center’s congressional collections consist of tens of thousands of documents, reports, letters, press releases, surveys, and all manner of other archival documents that highlight the many functions that Congress performs and the myriad tasks and duties our representatives and senators perform.
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A screenshot of the legislation section of the Great Society Congress exhibit, published by the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress and featuring documents from the collections of the Robert C. Byrd Center.
action, of constituents engaging the democratic process and elected representatives taking their attitudes, ideas, and requests into consideration while governing, often with the knowledge that an unpopular decision, whether for the greater good or not, might cost them their job.
It is critically important that Americans, young and old, gain a greater understanding of the legislative branch’s duties as well as what their representatives and senators do and to what ends. Over the past year, the Byrd Center has greatly expanded our educational outreach in an effort to enhance civic literacy and help meet these challenges.
As president of the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress (ACSC) and co-curator of the expansive digital exhibition, The Great Society Congress, I collaborated with colleagues from Baylor University, the University of Kansas, Drake University, West Virginia University, and NARA’s Center for Legislative Archives on the development of a special teaching module titled "Congress, the Great Society,
in the 1960s and Today,” based on the exhibit for grades 6-12 educators and students. The module provides five days worth of hands-on experiential activities in which students explore the exhibit, learn about Congress’ role in forming and passing the legislation that created the Great Society, and work in collaborative groups on the planning of a mock documentary. In the process, students will apply what they learn and assess how congressional action during the 1960s can serve as a model for addressing contemporary issues. With the same team, I also co-authored a feature essay about the exhibit, which holds more than 400 primary-source documents, for the 2018 National History Day competition themebook, which will be distributed in print and digital formats to more than 60,000 educators and students across the nation in the coming months.
In July, we welcomed near twenty West Virginia teachers for our second annual teacher institute. Titled “What Congress Does and Why It Matters,” this year’s institute included three interactive sessions
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with Danielle Emerling, Assistant Curator, Congressional and Political Papers Archivist at West Virginia University, to develop a lesson focusing on the response of local, state, and federal actors to the 1985 West Virginia floods. Titled, “The Flood of 1985: The Government Responds,” the lesson required students to wade through a variety of primary-source materials from the Robert C. Byrd and Harley O Staggers, Jr. Congressional Collections as well as the West Virginia University Libraries’ Governor
Educators participate in a group exercise during the Byrd Center's 2017 Teacher Institute.
Berryman’s Political Cartoons.” I contributed to the day’s activities by treating attendees to an early look at a forthcoming Byrd Center lesson plan that utilizes Senator Byrd’s leadership in securing Senate approval of the 1978 Panama Canal treaties as a case study for examining the Senate’s constitutional role in providing advice and consent on all international treaties. Titled, “Teaching Advice and Consent,” the lesson plan features materials from the Robert C. Byrd
led by Charles Flanagan, Director of Outreach for NARA’s Center for Legislative Archives (CLA). A master teacher with over 25 years of classroom experience prior to joining the CLA staff, Flanagan engaged teachers in hands-on explorations of lessons and resources that demonstrate the effectiveness of incorporating primary source materials into classroom instruction, including “What Congress Does and Why It Matters,” and the ebook “Representing Congress: Clifford K.
Congressional Collections and will be available on the Byrd Center website in the coming weeks.
In late July, I participated in a collaborative workshop for college undergraduates attending the 2017 Summer Policy Institute at West Virginia University in July. The focus of this year’s policy institute was the state and federal response to the massive flooding that racked West Virginia in 2016. Byrd Center Archivist Jody Brumage and I collaborated
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Arch A. Moore Jr. papers in order to better understand the processes by which aid for the state was secured and how obstacles to the delivery of that aid were recognized and surmounted.
As a whole, the responses from the educators that attended our teacher institute and the students that participated in the policy workshop were overwhelmingly positive, and their collective feedback has highlighted the fact that not only is there a need for greater civic education and access to materials documenting the history of Congress, there is demand for it as well. Over the next year, we at the Byrd Center will continue to develop educational resources, participate in workshops and seminars, and cultivate relationship with educational stakeholders within and outside West Virginia. We are already laying out plans to take our teacher institutes on the road next summer. By holding one-day institutes at various locations across the state, we intend to make our resources more available to as many West Virginia educators as possible.
Our nation’s founders believed that an informed citizenry was a requirement for the proper functioning of our government. We believe that idea to be as true now as it was in the late eighteenth century, and we are committed to doing our part to help raise the level of civic education and historical literacy in West Virginia and across the nation.
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Students review primary sources during the Summer Policy Institute at West Virginia Univeristy. (Photo Credit: Danielle Emerling)
Constitution Day Lecture
Join us on Thursday, September 14, 2017 at 7:00 pm for the 13th Annual Tom E. Moses Memorial Lecture on the US Constitution. This year's lecture will be given by Ganesh Sitaraman, author of The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution: Why Economic Inequality Threatens Our Republic. Sitaraman is an Professor of Law at Vanderbilt Law School and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. He served as policy director and senior counsel to Senator Elizabeth Warren and has commented on foreign and domestic policy in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and the Christian Science Monitor.
In an original and provocative contribution to the current debates over income inequality in America, Sitaraman argues that economic inequality represents more than a moral or economic matter; it threatens the core of our republic. Sitaraman will trace how a strong middle-class served as a bulwark against class warfare in America for nearly two centuries and was a prerequisite for America’s constitutional system to function properly.
A book signing coordinated by Shepherdstown’s Four Seasons Books and a reception will follow the lecture. Admission is free and open to the public, but due to limited space advance reservations will be required. Reserve your seats by email (email@example.com) or phone (304-876-5648).
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Above: Ganesh Sitaraman
Top: Constitution, Barry Faulkner (National Archives and Records Administration)
After spending much of 2017 on the western side of the Allegheny Mountains, the Byrd Center’s retrospective traveling exhibit Robert C. Byrd: Senator, Statesman, West Virginian will return to the eastern part of West Virginia this fall with stops at Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College in Moorefield in September and Blue Ridge Community and Technical College in Martinsburg in October. The exhibit’s successful eighteen-month run will conclude with a gala celebration at the West Virginia Culture Center in Charleston in November in celebration of Senator Byrd’s 100th birthday.
The exhibit will open at Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College on September 5 and remain on display .
The Byrd Traveling Exhibit Enters the Home Stretch
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through September 25. The exhibit’s stay in Moorefield will coincide with the 64th annual Hardy County Heritage Weekend which brings thousands of visitors to the small town each year and features historic house tours, craft and car shows, and lots of good food. Blue Ridge Community and Technical College will welcome the exhibit back to the eastern panhandle on Monday, October 2 and host the exhibit through Friday, October 27.
The traveling exhibit’s final stop at the Culture Center in Charleston will open to the public on Friday, November 17, with special festivities for young and old. As part of our celebration of the Byrd centennial, which is November 20th, Friends of the Byrd Center members will have the opportunity to join a bus trip to
Criminal Justice Information Center in Clarksburg before former U.S. Senator Carte Goodwin helped welcome its appearance at “USA’s Largest Small Town Independence Day Celebration,” in Ripley WV. Most recently, the West Virginia Press Association hosted the exhibit at its annual meeting at at the Canaan Valley Resort in August.
We thank all of the institutions that have provided the settings for our exhibit tour,
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especially the West Virginia Division of Culture and History who will be supporting our finale reception in November.
Major support for the exhibit has been provided by a grant award from the West Virginia Humanities Council as well as contributions from FirstEnergy Corporation, Comcast, Piper Jaffrey, and the United States Capitol Historical Society.
Williamson hosted the exhibit in March. Byrd Center Director Ray Smock and Director of Programs and Research Jay Wyatt participated in a panel session about Senator Byrd’s career alongside Marshall University Assistant Professor of Political Science, C. Damien Arthur, in March to help kick off the exhibit run at Marshall’s John Deaver Drinko Library in April. The exhibit also was also on display at the United Hospital Center and the neighboring FBI
The upcoming stops mark the final leg of the traveling exhibit’s extremely successful tour. Byrd Center staff and interns have traversed thousands of miles across West Virginia’s beautiful mountain landscape while transporting the exhibit venues large and small. In January, the exhibit was displayed at Wheeling Jesuit University and Pierpont Community & Technical College in Fairmont, and in February it moved on to the Randolph County Community Arts Center in Elkins. The First National Bank of
2017 Fall Film Series
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Wednesday, September 6
Funny, riveting, and timely, Tickling Giants traces the rise of Bassem Yousef, a former heart surgeon, and his satirical weekly program Al Bernameg, into the most viewed and controversial television show in the Middle East during Egypt’s Arab Spring. In a country where free speech is not settled law, Bassem and his team endure physical threats, protests, and legal actions while employing comedy to comment on hypocrisy in media, politics, and religion and to hold those in power accountable. In the process, the discover that democracy is not easily won.
The Byrd Center is excited to announce the films that will be featured in our upcoming Fall Film Series. Join us for three fantastic films focusing on free speech, election integrity, and political public relations!
These film screenings are sponsored by the Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education with support from Shepherd University’s Lifelong Learning Program. Admission is free for everyone! All you need to do is reserve a seat in advance.. You do, however, need to reserve your spot by contacting us via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (304-876-5648).
All film screenings take place in the Byrd Center Auditorium (213 North King Street) and begin at 6:30 pm. The doors will open at 6:00 pm.
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Wednesday, October 11
What happens after you cast your vote? I Voted? investigates U.S. election systems and highlights glaring deficiencies within our election security. Despite growing concerns from election integrity experts, these issues are largely ignored. I Voted? argues that “we the people” must reclaim our elections and demand accuracy, security, and transparency. I Voted? writer/director, Jason Scott Smith will participate in a remote Q&A following the screening.
The Reagan Show
Wednesday, November 29
An all-archival documentary about the original performer-president’s role of a lifetime, The Reagan Show, teases apart the spectacle at the heart of finger-on-the-button global diplomacy by following Ronald Reagan’s rivalry with charismatic Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Tracing the Communicator-in-Chief’s impeccable discourse, it is made evident how he used his public relations chops to overcome Soviet mistrust, the objections of a skeptical White House Press Corps, and the looming threat of WWIII.
Our first Friends of the Byrd Center gathering was held on May 23, 2017 at the Byrd Center.
Become a Friend of the Byrd Center
Save the Date:
Members will receive invitations soon for our Fall Reception at Popodicon on Wednesday, October 4 from 5:30 pm-7:30 pm.
We will hold two "Evenings at the Archives" on Wednesday, October 18 and Thursday, November 9, offering behind-the-scenes tours of the Byrd Center and the opportunity to see original documents from our collections.
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Have you joined the Friends of the Byrd Center? Our growing annual giving society is welcoming members to join in this special inaugural year. Through a donation of $100.00, members of the Friends of the Byrd Center are supporting the research, programs, and archival work that makes our mission of promoting a better understanding of the U.S. Congress and Constitution possible. If you haven't joined the Friends yet, there is still time to become a member. You can join online by visiting www.byrdcenter.org/friends- of- the-byrd- center or you mail your check to the Byrd Center (PO Box 5000, Shepherd University, Shepherdstown, WV 25443 attn: Jody Brumage).
The Byrd Center advances representative democracy by promoting a better understanding of the United States Congress and the Constitution through programs and research that engage citizens.
213 North King Street • Shepherdstown, WV 25443
www.byrdcenter.org • (304) 876-5670
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