[NOTE: An unusually busy travel schedule combined with terrible hotel WiFi and a week that was already stuffed with juicy and provocative ethics stories resulted in my not fulfilling my duties very well the last three days, for which I apologize sincerely. I’m going to make every effort to catch up this weekend.]
Rep. Weiner resigned at last, noting that his district and its constituents deserved to have a fully functioning representative in Congress, and that he could no longer fulfill that role. True enough, though one has to ask (or at least I do): if the people of Queens and Brooklyn deserve better representation than a hard-working, if dishonest, obsessed and twisted, pariah can offer, what about the people of the 8th District of Arizona, who have a representative who can’t funtion in her post at all?
I was going to wait until the six-month mark in Gaby Giffords’ rehabilitation to raise this matter again, since that will mark a full 25% of the Congresswoman’s term that she has been unable to serve, but the combination of Weiner’s resignation and the news of Giffords being released from the hospital created too much dissonance for me to ignore. I fully expect that I will be writing some version of this post 18 months hence, after Rep. Giffords’ entire Congressional term has passed without her voting on a bill or answering a constituent’s letter. To quote the singing John Adams in “1776,”: “Is anybody there? Does anybody care?”
Reports from various medical personnel enthused that Giffords has made remarkable progress, and “seems” to understand “most’ of what is being said to her, though she still has trouble articulating responses. That is great progress for someone who has some of her brain blown away by a gunshot at close range, but it sure doesn’t sound like someone who is going to be making a persuasive argument on the House floor any time soon, or ever. So are we serious about this running the country stuff, or aren’t we?
One of the favorite arguments of the Weiner-excusers was that there was too much vital national business to be addressed for the media and the public to be focusing on a sexting Congressman. If solving the U.S.’s multiple crises are really that important, why aren’t the same people insisting that the House needs its full complement of members on the job? Weiner’s staff had been leaving his office like rats leaving the Titanic: why are Giffords’ staff members still collecting their salaries while treading water?
Nancy Pelosi has been justifiably criticized for applying different standards to Rep. Charlie Rangel, whose outright corruption was stronger proof of warped ethics than Weiner’s actions. [Aside: Outside of the ass from Howard Stern’s show shouting insults at Weiner during his resignation speech—and for you hypocrisy fans out there, anyone getting a paycheck from Stern calling anyone else a pervert should be in the dictionary definition—the most annoying aspect of the speech was Weiner making a point of describing the long-term, multiple incident behavior involving inappropriate contact with women online, sexting, phone sex, undignified use of his position as Congressman, lying, blaming others, urging others to lie, humiliating his pregnant wife and more as “personal mistakes.” This was his final lie, and if I was inclined to harbor any sympathy for the guy at all, that obliterated it. They weren’t “mistakes.” He did what he did with planning and care, and knew exactly what the conduct was, and how wrong it was. Calling such a pattern of outrageous conduct “mistakes” echoes the scene in “Seinfeld,” when George Costanza was confronted by his boss over a cleaning woman’s claim that he had sex with her after hours on his office desk and he said, “Was that wrong? Should I not have done that? I tell you, I gotta plead ignorence on this thing, because if anyone had said anything to me at all when I first started here that that sort of thing is frowned upon… you know, cause I’ve worked in a lot of offices, and I tell you, people do that all the time.” Nor were Weiner’s actions “personal”—not when he used his position and notoriety to make his online contacts, not when he unilaterally converted female supporters of his political positions into audiences for his “junk,” not when he used the House gym for his photographs, and not when his conduct had serious and predictable impact on his party and Congress. “Personal mistakes”—I wouldn’t bet against it’s being suggested by Pelosi or Weiner’s mentor, Sen. Shumer (Good job, by the way, Chuck) is a cynical phrase used to make sure gullible members of the public and media can still be confused in the wake of future scandals, when Paul Begala and Lanny Davis, or their equivilents, tell cable news audiences that an elected leader’s’ multiple love children secretly shipped to Guatamala using the help of various Congressional contacts while paying off a former staffer who is extorting him is all “personal” and irrelevant to his fitness to serve.] Pelosi should have dumped Rangel from his Ways and Means post immediately, and the fact that she didn’t is proof positive that her actions against Weiner were based on political expediency, not concern for the integrity of the House. Now the Democrats are fighting crucial, life-altering legislative battles one warrior short, and it is her duty to exert her power and influence to get Giffords to step down.
Has Pelosi removed Gifffords from her key committee asiagnments, as whe was reportedly about to do with Weiner? The answer is no, and isn’t that passing strange? Who is less able to do effective committee work, a Congressman in the midst of a sexting and lying scandal, or a Congresswoman who can’t speak in full sentences?
It is a tragedy that Gaby Giffords has been incapacitated and that she cannot do her job. It will undoubtedly be painful for her to face the fact that she can no longer be a member of Congress. The House, however, takes actions every day that affect millions of strangers, many in unpleasent or unconfortable ways. It is outrageous that House members are not willing to do what they need to do in order to perform at full strength because of sentimental concerns regarding one of their own.