Outsourcing Gavel Production in the US Senate

The following is a guest post from Robin Bose. Robin went to MIT with me and likes beer almost as much as I do. He’s also a great singer. 

The United States Senate has a busy 2013 summer schedule: a new farm bill, interest rates on student loans, and comprehensive immigration reform. Immigration reform in particular has thrown off a lot of heat and light, with new entrants into lobbying — led by Facebook and the tech sector — facing an already crowded field of corporate interests, immigrant groups, unions, Tea Partiers, border militia, and lots of local, state, and national officials. For example, we know who the sheriff of Maricopa County AZ is (Joe Arpaio). He makes national immigration news. That’s crazy. I don’t even know who the sheriff of my town is (do we have a sheriff?).

There’s a big stink about immigrant visas from places like India, tied up with leftover emotions from the last presidential campaign about outsourcing. So, as the Senate considers immigration reform, its members might take a quick moment to look at their gavel.

By U.S. Senate (Senate gavel (direct image URL [1]).) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Apparently, in 1954 (a mere 7 years after modern India gained its independence from the British Empire), the US Senate asked the Indian government to fashion a replacement for the national gavel, which was made of so much ivory that there wasn’t enough available commercially to make one without asking India (honestly — how much ivory do you really need?! Won’t a single elephant tusk do?). So the vice president of India traveled to the US Senate and offered the presiding officer a new gavel (whose manufacture was outsourced to India!).  He also offered an appropriate homily about the senators debating “with freedom from passion and prejudice.” Maybe something for them to remember during the summertime immigration debate, when veiled warnings about the dangers posed by immigrants to the American economy/culture will probably get thrown about.

By the way — there’s a sidestory behind why America’s most august chamber needed a new gavel. Richard Nixon, then the VP and presiding officer, broke the old one, which had been around in the Senate for over 100 years. He kept whacking it against his desk during a heated argument about atomic energy. It broke. Party foul.