Lights and Camera — Sunshine Laws and Shining Lights.
Few national political institutions open their doors to audio and camera and then shut them back down again, no matter how long our historic pandemic lasts.
Long before I knew that William Howard Taft designed the 1930 Supreme Court building and helped pass some of the most important reforms as the Chief Justice (his preferred position over the presidency), I got to wander the halls of the House of Representatives as a page in the late 1970s. I tried not to spend too much time underground (so I got stuck at the end of the day with errands as punishment, which was fine by me).
We went to school in the Cupola of the Library of Congress. I got to be the M.C. with the majority leader and future (now seen as corrupt) Speaker of the House, Jim Wright — who looked at me like I was “crazy” for suggesting that his tip to me would be to “imagine everyone in their underwear.”
Oh, and Jimmy Carter had already tipped my hat in the Rose Garden after I ratted out the corruption of the Capitol Page School. At the State of the Union address, my own congressman got drunk and called me “Ruthie” and we all lifted a bit of the new carpet for our scrapbooks, knowing that television was next.
I had to plead with my mother two years in a row, and Congressman William Ketchum finally gave us a couple of minutes and told her to let me apply. I’d never win the essay contest — he had no seniority, he had no standing — and this was the better way to shut me up.
I had the feeling that he felt sorry for my mom, though he was far from the first authority figure trying to shut me up — that distinction goes to the junior-high principal when I was 12, and before that to my mother’s siblings and her father. Plus I got to interview Ronald Reagan after he got denied the nomination in 1976 and the family thought that was a coup. I could only see how purple his hair really was.
And by the time I prepared to go to Claremont Men’s College — while our relatives established Brown University (in its pre–Rhode Island days) — Ketchum was dead (dropped dead on the tennis court). Then Congressman Chuck Grassley called my mom to say she should be proud of me.
We got briefed by the CIA, the FBI, and other types of security to watch out for cockroaches tossed down from the galley, and to look out for big and small packages that might carry explosives — we were, after all, overseen by the office of the Doorkeeper.
My mother’s bargain was that I agreed to be banned from going to any “corrupt” East Coast establishment, especially the Ivies. (Most of the 125 pages chose to go to “the city” or “the country,” which in California means Stanford or Cal, respectively; it had a different meaning on the East Coast.) The agreement was: no application to the dangerous-for-women Stanford, and why would you want to go to a college filled with engineers? No going to her alma mater, UC Berkeley; I could transfer there, but I decided going to England and Yugoslavia would be more fun than heading up to northern California.
My mom wanted me to go to Scripps (she regretted going to Cal and leaving Mills). It was only by the skin of my teeth on the campus interview that the Claremont-wide student tour guide said Claremont Men’s College was a better place for me, being interested in politics.
So that I don’t digress, let me leave it like a westerner. Once an institution gets a new carpet, they get new drapes, and the Supreme Court — thank goodness — is opening its doors to video. It’s catching up to the 1970s.
I, for one, will watch this even if I don’t watch the two hours of White House TV, DJT (reverse acronym, since I can’t punish my fingers to type the words).