To make sense of the vitriol, lack of cooperative spirit and just bad manners being displayed on Capitol Hill, look no further than Massachusetts.
It’s not that the Bay State is unusually mean or even rude. Visitors flocking to the Cape, the Berkshires or Boston’s North End will surely find friendly people. But recent news in Massachusetts demonstrates just how high our tolerance for—even celebration of—bad behavior has become.
The Boston Globe informs us that the Boston School Committee is drafting rules for basic civility at its public meetings. This is not a response to shouting and disruption by children, who by definition are still learning how to behave in public and how to adjudicate disagreements with honor and mutual respect. No, the school committee’s actions are a sad response to the heckling and all-around disrespect shown by adults—parents and teachers—who have been unhappy with school closings and other matters before the committee. Disruptive students have been at the meetings, too, which makes it worse, since the lesson they are learning at the meetings is that it’s acceptable to shout and be rude to display one’s unhappiness with a public policy. One protestor last December yelled “liar” at Superintendent Carol R. Johnson. Was this individual merely parroting the behavior of Rep. Joe Wilson, who yelled, “You lie!” at the President of the United States during a live, nationally-televised speech in the House chamber?
Remarkably, some of the adult activists have not been shamed at the fact that they must be treated as recalcitrant children. The Globe quotes the teacher’s union president, Richard Stutman, jokingly comparing the decorum rules to Stalinist Russia. That’s not only an insult to the people who lived in the brutal dictatorial regime, but an insult to public education. Surely, teachers do not instruct their students that self-control and civility are akin to totalitarianism.
But if the school meetings aren’t distressing enough, Massachusetts can look to its professional football team, the New England Patriots. The team recently signed Albert Haynesworth, whose behavior, on and off the field, was so poor that the Washington Redskins couldn’t stomach him anymore. In sports, the bad boys are often given a pass if their on-field passes are complete. But Haynesworth—who was paid $35 million to play in 20 games and didn’t always show up for practice because he didn’t like the coach’s defense strategy—became just too much for the ‘Skins, who traded him to the Patriots for a fifth-round draft pick. At least Haynesworth won’t be a double burden to the Pats, since Randy Moss, another behavior problem, left the team last year and announced Tuesday he would retire from the sport. Defenders note that Patriots coach Bill Belichick whipped Moss into shape. Haynesworth could be a heavier list; at one point, he was juggling four different legal cases against him even as he feuded publically with his coach.
We should expect more from members of Congress, who have been through campaigns and theoretically should know better. But the public—even as they deride the dysfunction and bad manners in the Capitol—are enablers, rewarding malcontented lawmakers with campaign contributions. Republican Wilson and former Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson, who famously accused Republicans of wanting people to die as a way of saving on health costs, were two of the biggest fundraisers last election cycle, with much of the cash coming from out of state. Grayson lost, but the message was clear: acting up is profitable. And both Democrats and Republicans are raising money off the recent uproar over Republican Rep. Allen West, a Tea Party movement favorite who sent an email to a colleague, Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, calling her “the most vile” member of the House. Wasserman Schultz had criticized West’s approach to Medicare, although she did not name him in the floor speech that led West to accuse Wasserman-Schultz of not acting like “a Lady.”
The Boston School Committee may be able to teach civility to adults who apparently never learned how to sit still and listen. And perhaps Belichick can control Haynesworth. Who will do the same for members of Congress?
By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, August 2, 2011
The time has come in the debt-limit fight for all Americans to declare their loyalties: Are you with the bank robbers, or are you with the dirty old men?
This unpalatable choice is as good a way as any to frame the debate in these last days before the default deadline.
On one side are House Republican leaders who, facing a rebellion of Tea Party conservatives, appealed for party unity by screening for members a clip of the 2010 film “The Town,” in which Ben Affleck’s bank-robber character tells the Jeremy Renner character: “I need your help. I can’t tell you what it is, you can never ask me about it later, and we’re gonna hurt some people.” Renner replies: “Whose car we takin’?” The clip ended before the shooting and beatings that followed.
On the other side are House Democratic leaders, who had to decide how to handle Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.), accused of making unwanted sexual advances toward a teenage girl (he claims it was consensual). Wu, who previously attracted attention by sending staff members photos of himself in a tiger costume, had no choice but to resign. But leaders accepted his plan to stay on the job for the debt standoff, thereby giving them one more vote against Speaker John Boehner’s debt plan.
It’s hard to decide which wins the craven crown: Exhorting colleagues by playing for them a call to criminal violence? Or trying to thwart the opposition by tolerating a 56-year-old colleague accused of forcing himself on a friend’s daughter?
Both are evidence of how desperate the warring parties are for any fleeting advantage in the fight. Someday, Democrats may rue wooing Wu to stay with them for the budget votes, and Republicans may do penance for embracing Hollywood violence. But this is not that day.
In the Democrats’ case, Wu’s grace period was a matter of arithmetic. Without him, Boehner would need 216 votes to pass his budget-cutting plan; with him, Boehner needs 217. And so Wu released a statement that he would “resign effective upon the resolution of the debt-ceiling crisis.”
That’s a delay Democrats are apparently comfortable with, even though this was not the first time this tiger has prowled: He was disciplined in college after a woman accused him of trying to force her to have sex, the Oregonian newspaper reported several years ago.
At a news conference Wednesday, I asked Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chairman, whether she thought Wu should go sooner — and she demurred. “I think he made the right decision to resign,” she said.
The Republicans’ problem is more complicated. Though he has made few concessions, Boehner is facing a chorus of criticism from Tea Party activists who think he has not been belligerent enough. At a breakfast organized by the Christian Science Monitor on Wednesday, the co-founders of the influential Tea Party Patriots network said a poll of their supporters found 82 percent of them dissatisfied with House leadership and 74 percent inclined to see Boehner replaced.
One of the co-founders, Mark Meckler, called Boehner’s proposed budget cuts “phantom” and “fake.” Later in the day, the leader of a smaller group called Tea Party Nation called for Boehner to be ousted. And staffers for conservative lawmakers rallied interest groups to fight against Boehner’s plan.
To resist such pressure, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) thought the proper tone would be Affleck’s crime thriller, packed with sex, drugs, violence and profanity, and described by USA Today as having “murky morality.”
The selection evidently had the desired effect. After the clip, in which the Renner character asks whose car they’ll drive, Rep. Allen West (Fla.), a Tea Party favorite, announced to his colleagues: “I’m ready to drive the car!”
Over the next 24 hours, conservatives’ resistance to Boehner’s plan ebbed, and Wednesday morning, Rep. Louie Gohmert (Tex.), one of the few remaining holdouts, emerged from a caucus meeting feeling the pain McCarthy promised. “I’m a beat-up ‘no,’ ” he reported.
Democrats pretended to be offended by the film selection. “They could have used ‘Hoosiers,’ ‘Rudy’ or ‘Band of Brothers,’ ” protested Wasserman Schultz (the person would-be getaway car driver West called “vile” and “not a lady”). “Now is not the time to be thinking about putting the political hurt to the other party or the president.”
But Republicans have a defense. That effort to “hurt people” in “The Town” was planned as revenge on men who had hassled a young woman.
David Wu might want to take that as a warning.
Does Allen West hate women? That’s a question explored by Michelle Goldberg at the Daily Beast, and the answer seems to be more that Allen West hates everyone. That doesn’t spare him from being a sexist, however, since his hatred for women has an ugly, gendered tone to it, as evidenced by his strange war on Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whose main sin seems to be a willingness to disagree with West while in possession of a vagina, causing West to claim she’s “not a Lady.” This, in turn, has caused a lot of speaking from feminist-minded women who are sick to the teeth of grown women being addressed in exactly the same terms that my grandmother used for me when I displayed bad manners … and I was five years old.
That said, calling a Democrat “not a Lady” and claiming that liberal women are the source of the country’s economic woes because we supposedly neuter men are, if anything, the least worrisome parts of the entire Allen West phenomenon. More disturbing is the evidence that West is unhinged and may have a personality disorder, but this not only doesn’t bother the voters who elected him into office, but seems to delight them. As Goldberg recounts, West acts erratically, lashes out randomly, has a victim complex that makes Sarah Palin look thick-skinned, and has acted out violently from his rage issues. But the space between Tea Party ideology and unhinged rage is whisker-thin.
West is a symptom of a larger problem: The most famous political force in the country right now, the Tea Party, has embraced a conservatism that is defined by being angry, bigoted, ignorant, and proud of it. It’s less about coherent politics and more a club for people who have a chip on their shoulders because they confuse getting the stink-eye for saying nutty, mean-spirited things with actual oppression.
It’s not that I’m clutching my pearls at colorful rhetoric and blatant mockery, two avenues of political discourse I enjoy quite a bit. But there is — or should be — a difference between a willingness to be abrasive and unhinged anger issues like West’s. The line should be drawn long before lionizing people for doing things like torturing prisoners of war, something West was disciplined by the Army for doing. Instead, we now live in a country where such vicious behavior can make you a hero in the eyes of the Tea Party, to the point where it elevates you to Congress.
By: Amanda Marcotte, Slate, July 22, 2011