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The Jan. 6th Committee Starts With “Just the Facts, Ma’am”

The committee rises to the occasion. Will we?
June 9, 2022
The Jan. 6th Committee Starts With “Just the Facts, Ma’am”
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 09: U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) Vice Chairwoman of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, delivers remarks during a hearing on the January 6th investigation on June 09, 2022 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The bipartisan committee, which has been gathering evidence related to the January 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol for almost a year, will present its findings in a series of televised hearings. On January 6, 2021, supporters of President Donald Trump attacked the U.S. Capitol Building during an attempt to disrupt a congressional vote to confirm the electoral college win for Joe Biden. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

I have no idea whether tonight’s January 6th Select Committee hearing changed any minds, or even opened some. I don’t know what effect this first primetime hearing, or the subsequent ones, will have on American politics in the months and years ahead. I wish I were more confident they will help strengthen the guardrails of American democracy. But I am open to the possibility that the hearings will have little practical effect. Churchill’s great speeches in the 1930s made little difference in the short term.

One can’t guarantee an effect. One can’t control if one makes a difference.

What one can do is act in a way that makes one’s fellow citizens proud. That is what the House January 6th Committee did tonight. And that is what Liz Cheney in particular did tonight.

Cheney’s opening remarks tonight were in their way very American, and very democratic in the best sense. It was a “Just the facts, ma’am” presentation. Its eloquence lay in its clarity, its directness, and its straightforwardness. Cheney’s presentation was far more factual than rhetorical, laying out the evidence calmly and clearly. It reminded me of some of Lincoln’s speeches from the 1850s—some of the less famous but nonetheless very important ones—which were similarly plainspoken and evidence-heavy.

Liz Cheney did her job tonight. Her remarks, and the hearing as a whole, gave me confidence the Jan. 6th Committee will do its job well over the next two weeks. We all complain, often justifiably, about the failures of our leaders, the failures in particular of members of Congress. But the Jan. 6th Committee, I will venture to say, will do its job. The question is whether we the people will do our duty in drawing the conclusions we need to draw. Will we make these hearings an inflection point in strengthening our democracy, not just a blip in politics as usual?

As I listened to Cheney, I thought of other notable speeches and hearings I’ve seen here in Washington, and of course of many others from history that I’ve read about. But somehow I kept thinking less of the famous speakers of the past and more the audiences for those speeches—and for tonight’s.

The Federalist Papers are famous for not expecting too much of the citizenry. But near the end of Federalist 55, we read:

As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so there are other qualities in human nature which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form.

Do we the people of this republic in the year 2022 have the qualities a republican citizenry should have which would justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence?

William Kristol

William Kristol is editor-at-large of The Bulwark.