Friday, October 25, 2013

The failure of Catholic education

Imagine if I began a blog post by quoting some writer who expressed some negative thoughts about homeschooling in a post that also talks about how awesome public schools are and how excited the writer is for his children to board that yellow school bus.

Now imagine that I said the following:

If you want to use the public schools because you think these schools will suit your children well and they will benefit from it, then God bless you.

If you have to use the public schools even though you don't want to because you have no viable alternatives at this time, then God bless you even more.

If you are going to use the public schools because you have been stewing in a steady stream of sensational horror stories about homeschooling and homeschoolers, because you've been convinced you're not smart enough to homeschool, because you are convinced that all Catholic homeschoolers are secret wannabe Amish-like end-times preppers and you would never do anything that would keep your kids from fitting in with the mainstream, or because your children are still so undisciplined that you break out in hives at the thought of spending more than a few hours a day with them and because you're still trying to teach them basic civilization (let alone reading, writing, or math) and think you're doing pretty well because so far you've managed to postpone sibling cannibalism, please think again.  Good decisions are not born of terror and disgust and disdain.

It wouldn't be very fair of me to say any of the above, would it?  It wouldn't be very nice or very just for me to assume that many or most of those Catholics who send their kids to public schools are doing so because they hate and fear homeschoolers and homeschooling, would it?  It wouldn't even be nice of me to assume that there are enough Catholics who send their kids to public schools who think this way to write a scolding, warning, nagging sort of blog post about it all, would it?

Well, would it?

If you clicked on that link and read Simcha Fisher's post, you'll notice that she's using Matt Walsh's piece here as her jumping-off place.  I don't know much about Matt Walsh, but having read through the piece I see a passionate criticism of public education of the sort that I see all the time, even from people whose kids are currently enrolled in public schools.  There is nothing wrong with deciding that the system is broken; there is nothing inherently incoherent in deciding the system is broken and yet that in your small town or relatively sane state the damage done by federal education mandates and weird educational ideologies has been kept to a minimum.  Both may be true, and if the second is true than your decision to make use of the local public schools is perfectly logical, if that's what works best for your family. 

However, the fact that Catholic bloggers are even debating whether the Little (Weird) Town on the Homeschool Model of Catholic Education or the Lord of the Flies Public School Model of Catholic Education (with supplements by the parish religious ed. department) is better is proof of one big truth that tends to get overlooked: neither of these models would be necessary were it not for the sad failure of diocesan Catholic education in our times.

When I was a sophomore in high school, my parents committed an act of great sanity and lucidity by pulling all of their children out of our Catholic schools and commencing upon the grand adventure called Catholic homeschooling.  They did this for one simple reason: as good Catholics, they had been brought up to believe that Catholic kids went to Catholic schools, full stop.  Even with the rising costs of education, even with several moves across and around the country, even with a family that eventually grew to include nine children, my parents made tremendous and even heroic sacrifices to educate our family in the Catholic schools--only to learn, at a rather late date, that the schools in question were no longer authentically Catholic at all.

We didn't learn history or literature from a Catholic perspective.  Religion class was weak and spotty, sometimes scheduled less frequently than gym.  Our school Masses were few and far between, and we went whole years without being offered the chance to go to confession in our schools.  Our science courses were taught from a secular humanist perspective that crossed the line from pure science into ideology all the time (some texts poked open fun at the "ancient" people and their "superstition" that a Divine Force was involved in setting the mechanisms of creation going).  Our high school health class included lessons on how to use contraception and what kinds to buy--and when a few of us actual Catholics objected, the "Catholic" teacher snapped, "This is health.  Take that stuff up with your religion teacher."

And for all that, my parents were doing without on a shoestring, one-income budget; and their money invested in "Catholic" education was fraudulently swindled away from them by these hucksters and harridans who handed out scorpions and screamed at us to call them bread.

I didn't choose to homeschool because I hate and fear public schools.  I chose to homeschool because I take my duty as a Catholic parent to provide my children with a Catholic education very seriously.  Perhaps Catholic schools are improving (though the stories I hear from those who use them aren't encouraging), but they remain ridiculously expensive where I live.  Had I chosen, instead, to make use of the public schools my life would be harder, as I would have felt the need to create my own supplements to give my children a Catholic perspective in the humanities as well as supplemental Catholic ethics (especially in high school) to combat the dehumanizing sex education and the forays by the science texts into areas that properly belong to philosophy and about which science ought to keep its arrogant mouth shut.  And that's before we even talk about the necessary entanglements with parish-based religious education programs, a subject which makes some Catholics weep openly and gnash their teeth, but which is properly saved for another blog post.

So for me, the easiest, simplest, best and most affordable way to make sure my kids are getting a Catholic education (not just an "education") was to homeschool them.  Other people will choose the "public school and supplement" model.  Still others may have actual not-horrible not-heretical Catholic schools in their areas to choose from,  whose tuitions don't require Mom to stash the youngest kids in day care and get a full-time job in order to be able to afford the price.  It's just not fair, though, to admit on the one hand that public schools are hardly perfect, are not a panacea, and do not fulfill, on their own, a parent's serious obligation to provide his children with a Catholic education, and then to insinuate on the other hand that many or most Catholics who homeschool make the decision out of disdain, disgust, and fear.  Most of us are making that decision for the same reason the public-school families make theirs: the Catholic schools have failed us, and in the vacuum left behind, we're all still scrambling for workable solutions to the failed, but once-great, model of diocesan Catholic education.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Is poor catechesis the laity's fault?

Hello again!

First, a bit of blog housekeeping news: blogging will continue to be sporadic for a bit as I rush to finish up another writing project or two.  Also, I am in the process of moving this blog.  I've complained before about Blogger, but recent issues have decided it for me.  I hate change and have put up with Blogger as long as I could, but one day soon you'll get a link to a different location, and we'll see how that goes.

Now for the post.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker has an interesting take on the catechetical problems plaguing the Catholic Church today: it's the laity's fault:
I’m the first to agree that there has been some very poor catechesis in the church, however, I’m not sure the problem is completely the fault of the religious publishers, trendy nuns, poorly educated Directors of Religious Education, left wing theologians and unconcerned pastors.

There is also a problem amongst the laity themselves. The best way I can describe this problem is an attitude of “I’m a cradle Catholic. Don’t you try to catechize me!” How many adult Catholics have taken the trouble to have any form of religious education after being confirmed? It would be interesting to know. Catholics still make up the largest religious grouping in the United States. Why are Catholic publishers not selling millions of books like the Evangelical publishers do? Because Catholics don’t read about their faith. How many adult Catholics have taken the trouble to go on a retreat, a conference, a seminar to learn more about their faith and grow in their knowledge and love of God? Not many.

Ignorance of the faith? Absolutely. Poor catechesis? Absolutely. Who’s fault is it? Just as much the laity who don’t have the level of commitment or interest necessary to do anything more than turn up for Mass on Sunday (when they don’t have anything better to do).

Now, I like Fr. Longenecker, and I enjoy reading his blog.  This theory he's come up with has its points, too; an adult whose grammar is terrible can't continually blame his third-grade teacher for not making, say, the role of the semi-colon clear and understandable.  At some point, if we become aware of a deficiency in our education and it is still possible to repair that deficiency, we do have to put some effort into that repair ourselves.

That said, though, I'd like to take a closer look at what Father is talking about here.

Catholics may make up the largest religious grouping in the United States (though that's tricky; actually, Protestants outnumber Catholics--51% to 24%--but because those Protestants include people from multiple denominations Catholics are often counted as the single biggest denomination of Christians in America).  But only around 25% of those who identify themselves as Catholics actually show up for Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation unless excused for a serious reason, so of those 75 million American Catholics, just under 19 million actually take the faith seriously enough to show up every Sunday.  (Interestingly, though research continues to show that 25% figure or an even smaller one for weekly Mass attendance among Catholics, somewhere around 40% of Catholics say on surveys that they go to Mass every week.  I think most of us would notice if regular Mass attendance were nearly double what it actually is; what I suspect is that roughly 15% of the people who say they go to Mass every week are seriously mistaken or have really bad memories or misunderstood the question--and there's a less charitable possibility, but I won't mention it).  Still, if 19 million people come to Mass every Sunday, why don't Catholic publishers sell 19 million copies of each new book; why aren't 19 million Catholics attending the retreats scheduled each year; and why aren't 19 million Catholics annually clamoring for new adult education classes and signing up for any that are offered?

Well, obviously, those 19 million Catholics in the real world (that is, not just the world of research and surveys) are going to include children and elderly people and single people and married people and nuns and religious brothers and priests, and all of those people are going to have different needs when it comes to catechesis.  I think most Catholics who have grown up since Vatican II agree that there's a crying need to improve children's catechesis (and it could start by ending the notion that Confirmation is, or ought to be, "bait" to keep teens in religious ed until they graduate from high school), but I don't know that there's been any consensus about how best to offer continuing education and catechesis for adults.

And that's why I'm not sure it's fair to blame the laity for poor catechesis.  I had a conversation on another blog recently with someone who was blaming the laity (the "Novus Ordo laity") for failing to take confession seriously, or to show up for it regularly, etc.  When I pointed out that it is not in the laity's power to schedule confessions for the real world as opposed to the world of priestly imaginations in which every single person in the parish is going to be free on Saturdays for thirty minutes to an hour before the Vigil Mass, and in which those 30 to 60 minutes will be sufficient time to hear the confessions of one-fourth of the registered adult members (given that monthly confession is the standard usually held up as the goal for lay people) the gentleman got a bit perturbed.  But I wasn't trying to be snide; I was pointing out that it's not fair to blame the laity for their apparent lack of interest in confession if their pastors are so uninterested that in a parish with thousands of registered families (like the one my conversation partner was talking about) they schedule an hour or less per week for Confessions. 

The same thing is true, I'm afraid, of catechesis, especially adult catechesis.  I've been in parishes where the pastor permitted lay people to set up some program like the Why Catholic? program or a Bible study program or even a program to walk through the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but aside from mentioning the program once as it was beginning the pastor then never referred to it, and the well-meaning lay people setting the program up announced cheerfully that the lessons or sessions or study would take place at 10 a.m. every Tuesday morning, and that was that.  Whether the people who are actually in need of continued catechetical education will be available on workday mornings doesn't seem to occur to anybody, and it's that sort of thing that I tend to find rather frustrating.

When parishes offer adult catechesis in the evening hours or on weekends, they do get the kind of turnout I think Father Longenecker would like to see--just as I've noticed that when priests offer extra hours of confession apart from the usual Saturdays they get plenty of people to turn up.  And if a pastor mentions some new or interesting Catholic book he's just finished reading and recommends it to his flock, lots of them will go out and look for it and even buy it.

It's true that pastors can't arrange classes and retreats to suit everybody's schedule, and that not everybody will buy a book just because Father said he really enjoyed it.  But when pastors lead the way in catechesis, good things can happen.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Brief blog break

Most of my most dedicated readers have already figured this out, but I'm taking a brief blog break--perhaps another week or so.  I've been sick, and now that I'm finally starting to get better I'm looking at my "to do" list with a sort of fascinated horror; being sick three weeks in "mom time" is sort of like being sick three months in ordinary time, so to speak.

Now: every time I let people know I'm taking a break, I get some smart-alecky Catholic blogger or three out there making fun of me for doing so, because, come on, you're just a lay woman blogger with a tiny insignificant blog so who cares if you're not blogging, lady... For the benefit of these gentlemen, I'll just mention that I announce this sort of thing for three types of people: 1) family members who read my blog regularly; 2) real-life friends who read my blog regularly; and 3) online friends who read my blog regularly.  All of these people know two things about me: one, that I tend to post every weekday, and two, that when I don't post every weekday something is up.  And then I get the phone calls from family checking in or offering casseroles, and the emails from friends both online and real life making sure that there's not some kind of crisis occurring, or asking me why I haven't posted on this or that amazingly important topic.  My announcement of blog breaks, then, is aimed at these dear people whose love and concern means everything to me, not to smart-alecky Catholic bloggers who think it's just a scream that a tiny insignificant blogger would tell people she's not blogging and even explain why.

In short, gentlemen, it's not about you.  Many things are not.  Shocker, I know.  Hopefully this explanation will save you the time you might otherwise have wasted on your fun-poking blog posts today; however, if that's really all the fun you're liable to get this week, it would be churlish of me to stop you, and it certainly isn't a problem for me if you choose to waste your time this way anyway--except that I hate to see caustic wit and clever invective wasted on such trivia.  Couldn't you at least wait until I'm blogging again and shred one of my posts criticizing Republicans or opining that women do not actually have to wear skirts and veils instead of this one?  Just a thought.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

When noble intentions and market realities collide

Lots of people have already shared this, but it's too good to pass up.  I apologize for the lengthy excerpt, but in this case you have to hear the voices of the people quoted to get the story:

Cindy Vinson and Tom Waschura are big believers in the Affordable Care Act. They vote independent and are proud to say they helped elect and re-elect President Barack Obama.
Yet, like many other Bay Area residents who pay for their own medical insurance, they were floored last week when they opened their bills: Their policies were being replaced with pricier plans that conform to all the requirements of the new health care law.
Vinson, of San Jose, will pay $1,800 more a year for an individual policy, while Waschura, of Portola Valley, will cough up almost $10,000 more for insurance for his family of four. [...]
Covered California officials note that at least 570,000 of the 1.9 million people who buy their own insurance should be eligible for subsidies that will reduce their premiums.
Even those who don't qualify for the tax subsidies could see their rates drop because Obamacare doesn't allow insurers to charge people more if they have pre-existing conditions such as diabetes and cancer, he said.
People like Marilynn Gray-Raine.

The 64-year-old Danville artist, who survived breast cancer, has purchased health insurance for herself for decades. She watched her Anthem Blue Cross monthly premiums rise from $317 in 2005 to $1,298 in 2013. But she found out last week from the Covered California site that her payments will drop to about $795 a month.

But people with no pre-existing conditions like Vinson, a 60-year-old retired teacher, and Waschura, a 52-year-old self-employed engineer, are making up the difference. [...]
Both Vinson and Waschura have adjusted gross incomes greater than four times the federal poverty level -- the cutoff for a tax credit. And while both said they anticipated their rates would go up, they didn't realize they would rise so much.

"Of course, I want people to have health care," Vinson said. "I just didn't realize I would be the one who was going to pay for it personally." (Emphasis added--E.M.)
Isn't that it, in a nutshell?  Most of us think that the way health care is paid for in America is a mess.  Many of us think that linking health insurance (note: not care) to employment and then making access to care based on insurance is a model that simply no longer works.  Lots of people have been frustrated by the difficulties the self-insured face, difficulties which make self-employment, once a mainstay of American innovation, a risky venture especially for anyone with a family.  And many of us, especially people of faith, worry about the people at the margins, the people who don't qualify for Medicaid but can't buy insurance unless they severely curtail their purchases of things like food, clothing and shelter.

So, to some people, the ACA seemed like a good way to fix these problems--except that the more we learn about the actual legislation as opposed to the sound-bite promises that form the basis of what most people "know" about Obamacare, the more we learn that many of these problems aren't being fixed at all, and others are only being fixed by pricing middle-class Americans out of the healthcare market.  Not many of us, for instance, could afford for our insurance premiums to cost us $10,000 more per year than they do now, but financial analysts who have studied the ACA in detail are warning that while such increases might--for  now--be limited to self-employed people like Tom Waschura, above, there is simply no way to provide the increased coverage the law envisions without eventually raising the health insurance premiums for practically every American, and raising them drastically.

To me, the health care law popularly known as "Obamacare" is a classic example of what happens when noble intentions collide with market realities (see also: Marie Antoinette's comments about cake).  That a nation as large as ours should figure out a more equitable way for people to have access to health care is a good principle.  That the only way to make this happen is to place the lion's share of the cost burden on middle-class families so that they, too, have to start making cuts in their food-clothing-shelter budget in order to pay not only for their own health care but for reduced rates for other people is an unsustainable model, and it is the exact opposite of an equitable system.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Question for the Legion-watchers

The Legion of Christ, about which I have blogged quite a bit in the past, is announcing its next step in the process of renewal:

ROME — The papal delegate overseeing the Legion of Christ has announced that the embattled order's general chapter will begin Jan. 8, 2014, to establish new constitutions and elect its new leaders.

“The general chapter should represent the whole institute and be 'a true sign of its unity in charity,'” Cardinal Velasio De Paolis wrote in an Oct. 4 letter to the Legionaries of Christ.

“The upcoming extraordinary general chapter comes at the end of a long journey of spiritual renewal and will have as its principal purpose the conclusion of the revising of the constitutions,” he said.
Cardinal De Paolis was appointed as governor of the Legion by Benedict XVI in 2010, after an apostolic visitation determined the order needed “profound re-evaluation.”

In 2006, the order's founder, Father Marcial Maciel, had been removed from public ministry and invited to a life of penitence and prayer. It was discovered he had led a secret life of scandal and sexual abuse and that other priests of the Legion were involved as well.

Let's review the timeline:

2006: Maciel removed from ministry and "invited" to a life of penitence and prayer.
2008: Maciel dies.
2009: Explosive revelations involving Maciel's misdeeds, including many credible allegations of sexual abuse and the information that he had fathered children out of wedlock are publicly revealed.
2010: Cardinal Velasio de Paolis appointed as the Pontifical Delegate for the Congregation of the Legion of Christ.  Within a year Cardinal de Paolis has called for the Legion to redefine its mission and governing structure and has also revealed serious issues concerning the Legion's lay apostolate, Regnum Christi.
2014 (proposed): Legion of Christ will hold a general chapter to establish new constitutions and elect new leaders, subject to papal approval.

My question: why has it taken so long to get to this point?  Why has it taken four years from the time Cardinal de Paolis was appointed to the proposed establishment of new constitutions?  Any Legion-watchers out there who can enlighten me about this?

Friday, October 4, 2013


Have you seen these remarks Pope Francis made in Assisi today?  I found them interesting:
All of the baptized comprise the Church and all have to follow Jesus, who stripped himself and chose to be a servant and to be humiliated on his way to the Cross. “And if we want to be Christians, there is no other way,” he said.

Without the Cross, without Jesus and without stripping ourselves of worldliness, he said, “we become pastry shop Christians… like nice sweet things but not real Christians.”
“We need to strip the Church,” he said. “We are in very grave danger. We are in danger of worldliness.”

The Christian cannot enter into the spirit of the world, which leads to vanity, arrogance and pride, he continued. And these lead to idolatry, which is the gravest sin.
The Church is not just the clergy, the hierarchy and religious, he said. “The Church is all of us and we all have to strip ourselves of this worldliness. Worldliness does us harm. It is so sad to find a worldly Christian.” [...]

It is ridiculous that a Christian would want to follow a worldly path, he continued. “The worldly spirit kills; it kills people; it kills the Church.” 

What is worldliness?  It is that very spirit which values the material world above everything else; indeed, it is that spirit which insists that the material world is all there is.  For Christians it often manifests itself in an attitude that places far too much value on wealth and on worldly goods, on prestigious undertakings and lucrative careers, on following paths that lead to material success, even while paying lip service to the Christian idea that this passing world is not our true home.

You won't see too many headlines about these papal remarks, I predict.  That's because our Chattering Classes and the MSM glitterati will nod at these remarks and think "Oh, of course I agree!  Why, that's why I vote the way I do!"  Then they will climb into their $50,000 or $100,000 automobiles and drive to their multimillion-dollar mansions to eat the food prepared for them by their servants (and don't ask embarrassing questions about those workers' immigration status, please) as they use their smartphones and tablets to plan for their next exotic vacation in some picturesque country whose poor form a charming backdrop to the interesting scenery...

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Trigger happy

If you've been following the news today, you probably read that a dangerous and sinister shooter drove through barricades, shot a police officer, and then headed for the Capitol before being shot and killed by the police.

And then you would have read, much later, that the 34-year-old African-American female dental hygienist driving the car was unarmed, did not shoot anybody, did crash into barricades and drive a bit wildly (she was being pursued by armed plainclothes police or Secret Security officers at the time, if that helps), and was shot multiple times in the head and neck--and that the barrage of gunfire that killed her did not, miraculously, hit or kill her one-year-old child who was in the back of the vehicle.

All of which just goes to show that both our news media and our police and security officers tend to be a bit trigger happy, don't you think?

Oh, I know, I know.  She could have been a terrorist.  She could have had explosives in the car.  You can't be too careful, especially in Washington, D.C. during a politically charged debate, etc. 

But maybe we've also gotten a bit too used to acting out of fear, and a bit too accustomed to police officers opening fire first and asking questions later, and that's an unsettling thought.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

What's in a name?

Late posting, and I'm going to keep this brief.

I've been reading all week about Pope Francis' interview with the atheist Eugenio Scalfari, and I've noticed something.

The substance of the interview has been discussed to death, and given that there's some good evidence for problems with the translation in English as well, I'm going to hold off on commenting about the content, except to say that I think that if you start from the premise that the Holy Father is talking to an atheist you're not going to be unduly startled by anything that gets said.  I'm not a scholar or theologian or anybody at all but a lay Catholic woman, but when I talk to atheists I tend to do the same thing: try to figure out where they are, what their basis for ethics and morality is (because everybody has some basis for these things) etc., and go from there.  I will grant you that this interview might be startling to people who only talk about religion to other people who not only share their Catholic faith but also dwell in the same sort of "Catholic niche" together and lead the same sort of lives, practice the same sort of devotions, and receive the same sort of political mailings from the same political party (both the heavily underlined printed ones warning of dire threats which require immediate emergency funds and the emailed FWD:FWD:FWD versions) and so on, but anybody who has ever actually talked about Catholicism to people who are not Catholic or not Christian or not believers at all, and who range from mildly curious to openly hostile with every permutation in between, will not faint at the idea that one's exhortations to one's fellow Catholics are going to sound a little different from an introductory conversation to someone who abandoned a rather strict Bible-based fundamentalist creationist church and is now an atheist, or to someone whose parents were atheist fundamentalists themselves and raised their child to disbelieve in God with evangelical fervor.

But that's not what I've noticed.

What I've noticed is that here in America Catholics on the right (roughly speaking) have apparently switched places with Catholics on the left (again, roughly speaking) in terms of how they speak of the Holy Father, or at least how they write about him.  In fact, you can tell what someone things of the Holy Father by their use of this particular device:

The Catholics on the left called (and still call) Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI by the dismissive name: "Ratzinger." 

The Catholics on the right are starting to refer to Pope Francis as "Bergoglio."

It's odd that when it comes to American Catholics, you can now tell what they think of any given pope by their willingness to call him the Holy Father, Pope [Fill-in-the-Blank] as opposed to referring to him by his pre-election last name.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

"Suppose you were an idiot...

...and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself." --Mark Twain

My daughters watched Congress on C-Span for a while this afternoon.  They are braver than I am; but then again, I'm already sick to my stomach and don't need any additional inducements to nausea.

They found the proceedings pretty appalling.  From their perspective, the members of each party took turns standing up to blame the other party for the government shutdown while casting themselves in the guise of the innocent victims in all of this.  They also used creative language to call each other idiots and insinuate that this or that group of constituents ('cause we have all the power...) is really pulling the Congressional strings and forcing the shutdown to happen.

I didn't have much to tell them except that this is how it always has been and always will be.

Here's an example from history, in a speech given by Cicero concerning a new agrarian law (this is the William Jennings Bryan translation):
The first clause in this agrarian law is one by which, as they think, you are a little proved, to see with what feelings you can bear a diminution of your liberty. For it orders “the tribune of the people who has passed this law to create ten decemvirs by the votes of seventeen tribes, so that whomsoever a majority consisting of nine tribes elects, shall be a decemvir.” On this I ask, on what account the framer of this law has commenced his law and his measures in such a manner as to deprive the Roman people of its right of voting? As often as agrarian laws have been passed, commissioners, and triumvirs, and quinquevirs, and decemvirs have been appointed. I ask this tribune of the people, who is so attached to the people, whether they were ever created except by the whole thirty-five tribes? In truth, as it is proper for every power, and every command, and every charge which is committed to any one, to proceed from the entire Roman people, so especially ought those to do so, which are established for any use and advantage of the Roman people; as that is a case in which they all together choose the man who they think will most study the advantage of the Roman people, and in which also each individual among them by his own zeal and his own vote assists to make a road by which he may obtain some individual benefit for himself. This is the tribune to whom it has occurred above all others to deprive the Roman people of their suffrages, and to invite a few tribes, not by any fixed condition of law, but by the kindness of lots drawn, and by chance, to usurp the liberties belonging to all.
  Who passed the law? Rullus. 2 Who prevented the greater portion of the people from having a vote? Rullus. Who presided over the comitia? Who summoned to the election whatever tribes he pleased, having drawn the lots for them without any witness being present to see fair play? Who appointed whatever decemvirs he chose? This same Rullus. Whom did he appoint chief of the decemvirs? Rullus. I hardly believe that he could induce his own slaves to approve of this; much less you, who are the masters of all nations. Therefore, the most excellent laws will be repealed by this law without the least suspicion of the fact. He will seek for a commission for himself by virtue of his own law; he will hold comitia, tho the greater portion of the people is stripped of their votes; he will appoint whomsoever he pleases, and himself among them; and forsooth he will not reject his own colleags—the backers of this agrarian law; by whom the first place in the unpopularity which may possibly arise from drawing the law, and from having his name at the head of it, has indeed been conceded to him, but the profit from the whole business, they, who in the hope of it are placed in this position, reserve to themselves in equal shares with him. [...]

Besides all this, he gives the decemvirs authority pretorian in name, but kingly in reality. He describes their power, as a power for five years; but he makes it perpetual. For he strengthens it with such bulwarks and defenses that it will be quite impossible to deprive them of it against their own consent. Then he adorns them with apparitors, and secretaries, and clerks, and criers, and architects; besides that, with mules, and tents, and centuries, and all sorts of furniture; he draws money for their expenses from the treasury; he supplies them with more money from the allies; he appoints them two hundred surveyors from the equestrian body every year as their personal attendants, and also as ministers and satellites of their power. You have now, O Romans, the form and very appearance of tyrants; you see all the ensigns of power, but not yet the power itself. For, perhaps, some one may say, “Well, what harm do all those men, secretary, lictor, crier, and chicken-feeder do me?” I will tell you. These things are of such a nature that the man who has them without their being conferred by your vote, must seem either a monarch with intolerable power, or if he assumes them as a private individual, a madman. 
The language is far more stirring, and the rhetoric soars to much better heights than anything you will see on C-Span, but there's a kind of familiarity here, isn't there?

I guess my point here is just that when people complain about "politics as usual," we tend to forget just how long "politics as usual" has been around.