When magic gets brought up in Congress, it is usually only by cynics trying to disprove its existence. Some issues are so complex that "we can't really solve them with the wave of a magic wand," Sen. John Cornyn said earlier this year. "I don't have a magic wand," Sen. Thomas Carper said last October. "The president," Rep. Marsha Blackburn said in 2013, "needs to realize he cannot go around waving a magic wand and fixing this by executive fiat."
Judging from a resolution introduced in the House of Representatives on Monday, however, crusty legislators whose understanding of hocus pocus is limited to watching bills get sucked into a bureaucratic abyss dare to believe in the impossible sometimes, too.
House Resolution 642, introduced by Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, seeks to recognize "magic as a rare and valuable art form and national treasure." The text of the resolution looks as if it should be spoken aloud only in the squeaky intonations of an animated woodland creature, not in the monotone deadpan of those tasked with introducing legislation. That is, if singing chipmunks sprinkled their uplifting choruses with over a dozen uses of "whereas."
"Whereas magic enables people to experience the impossible," the resolution dreams. "Whereas magic is used to inspire and bring wonder and happiness to others … Whereas magic is timeless in appeal and requires only the capacity to dream; Whereas magic transcends any barrier of race, religion, language, or culture."
The resolution has seven cosponsors. Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan, who has made dozens of YouTube videos that use magic to explain legislative politics, is the only Democrat and magician on the bandwagon. “A lot of people might not know this, but when I was younger, I helped pay for college working as a magician,” he told us in a statement. “Rep. Sessions’s resolution seeks to recognize magic for the positive impact it has on society, something I feel very strongly about. With a passion for magic and a vested interest in maintaining this valued art form for future generations, I am proud to be an original cosponsor of this resolution.”
As shocking as it might seem that Congress is debating the artistic merits of illusions, this is not the first time it’s happened. Back in April 2014, Sessions — who seems to have a high density of magicians in his district — recognized magic as an art in a floor speech. Former president of the Society of American Magicians Dal Sanders, who mentions that Harry Houdini was also a president of the organization, says we have to go back at least 50 years to get to the beginning of this battle for recognition on Capitol Hill.
The magicians trying to prove their artistic credibility are trying to borrow from the same playbook used by those who love jazz and got Congress to call it a national treasure in H.R. 57 back in 1987. The decades-long search for validation from Congress isn’t just because our nation’s illusionists want the fuzzy-wuzzy feelings that come with a federal thumbs-up, though. As long as magic is considered a hobby or craft instead of an art, the government gets to do a trick of its own — making all possible funding for magic disappear. Magic is considered an art in Canada, making it much easier to get grants to build sets and do performances, Sanders says. Magicians have wanted the federal government to open up funding for illusions for awhile; a petition on Change.org asked the House Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies to “create a separate budget for the National Endowment for the Arts specifically for the purpose of supporting and protecting the American Magic industry.” (The petition has only 24 supporters.) Getting a resolution passed, however, is the key to helping magicians win court battles after their secrets are stolen, getting the Society of American Magicians’ repository of artifacts out of a warehouse and into a museum, and maybe even getting endowed chairs of theatrical magic at a few colleges. At least, that’s what the magicians hope.
Mayor Eric Hogue, who is mentioned in the resolution introduced this week and worked on this issue with Sanders, agrees. Hogue started doing magic as a shy fifth-grader, then evolved into Clinky, a magical clown, during his college years. Now he only gets to do magic when he isn’t politicking — and Clinky is the star of a children’s book. Hogue has also transmogrified into a bit of a Texas magic ambassador. Wylie, the city of 45,000 that Hogue has run for the past nine years, held its first weeklong Magic Festival last year, complete with a seance and thousands of trick-or-treaters. When Sanders was scheming with his fellow magicians on how to become eligible for grants and asked, "Don’t we know a politician who can get this done?" Hogue was the one who thought of Pete Sessions.
And last year, when the magicians decided that they wanted to get a resolution on the art of magic actually passed, Hogue and another, far more famous illusionist were the ones on conference calls with Sessions planning it all out. You can probably guess who this person is after reading the resolution; he’s mentioned eight times, and is probably the most famous living magician who happens to not be a fictitious Brit. He also happens to offer proof that the government has shown interest in recognizing magic before; in 2000, David Copperfield was named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress.
Copperfield can list many reasons why Congress should "give magic the respect it deserves" — like the fact that illusionist Georges Méliès helped create early cinema, or the effect that magic can have in making children in a hospital feel better. He’s also feeling pretty good about the resolution’s chances of passing. "I think we’ve got a good shot," he told MTV News. "And when it passes, that’s going to be a great day."
Hogue and Copperfield both plan to be on Capitol Hill if the resolution passes — and Copperfield might even put on a performance. Of course, if America is going to get the chance to watch a magician make the entire House disappear, or turn them back into human beings, the legislators first need to pass the resolution, and it’s not clear when, or if, that might happen.
"They could probably use a little magic sometimes," Hogue says with a laugh.
Copperfield is aware of the types of things Congress has been saying about magic over the years, like the stuff said at the top of this piece, and argues that there are plenty of times that magic and politics have crossed paths — like the time someone drew a political cartoon that showed George W. Bush raging at Copperfield for disappearing the weapons of mass destruction.* He’s also aware that the chances of the resolution getting passed may be hindered by the fact that "this is an amazing political time." But any politicians hoping to get a magic wand in exchange for passing this shouldn’t hold their breath underwater while handcuffed in a glass box. "Inspiring people, making people dream," Copperfield says, "is as political as I’m going to get."
* David Copperfield says said political cartoon can be seen in his private museum, along with many other instances of magicians altering political history.