Pay attention to where Congress bunk in Washington
Let's consider the story of Rep. Eric Massa, a freshman Democrat from upstate New York who made headlines recently when he resigned from office amid talk about sexual harassment of male staffers.
Massa's defense was that the questionable conduct was boisterous horseplay by an old ex-Navy officer and five of his single male aides, who roomed together in one small Washington townhouse. "Not only did I grope him," he said of one of his roommates, "I tickled him until he couldn't breathe and four guys jumped on top of me. It was my 50th birthday, and it was: 'Kill the old guy.'"
Already we have extracted our first important lesson from this scandal, which is that voters are going to have to pay more attention to where their elected officials bunk while they're in the nation's capital. Remember that last year we had the Prayer House, a much larger and nicer townhouse full of conservative Christian congressmen? They were supposed to be engaged in discussions of the Bible, but, in fact, seemed to spend most of their time trying to bail each other out of adultery crises.
The extremely overworked House ethics committee is looking into charges that the Democratic leadership should have done something about Massa sooner. It might have been a warning signal when he told a reporter that rather than pay substantial salaries to a handful of aides like most members do, he preferred to hire lots and lots of people who made so little that several of them were forced to economize by living with their boss.
Massa has offered a raft of explanations for his sudden resignation, ranging from a possible cancer recurrence to a plot by the Democrats to drive him out of office because he opposed the health care reform bill. This last one instantly excited Glenn Beck, who invited Massa on his program in hopes of hearing more about the claim that a naked Rahm Emanuel poked an angry finger at him in the congressional gym.
The Beck interview was mesmerizing. Whatever Massa did or didn't do with his aides, it was obvious that as a legislator, he is utterly loopy. His examples of political corruption consisted of Democratic leaders begging him to support the president and donors telling him that they wouldn't give him more money if he voted against the programs they care about.
To clean up the mess in Washington, Massa told Beck, voters should call their representatives and urge them to forget about the party or the president or even said voters' own personal convictions and just "do what you think is right."
Now, people, here is the problem exactly. There are quite a few members of Congress who are as out to lunch as Eric Massa, although we hope the rest of them are not career ticklers. Do we really want to see them all follow their own private drummers and go careening around from one position to another like a bunch of Frisbees?
Here we are, looking at the upcoming health care vote and mulling the virtues of bipartisan political independence. You think George Washington; I think Eric Massa.
Another star of this week's political sex scandal headlines was Rielle Hunter, the John Edwards mistress. This particular saga is less interesting than it would have been if Edwards was actually an elected official rather than a man who has spent the past six years being consistently rejected by the American voters, state by state, primary by primary.
Plus we have already learned the most important tip the story had to teach us, which is to avoid any candidate who makes his or her marriage the centerpiece of a campaign.
Nevertheless, Hunter was eager to tell her version of the affair. As soon as Edwards told a national TV audience that the only woman he had ever loved was his wife, she reported, he called to assure her that he didn't mean it.
Which, she says, she believes, since she knows he will love her "till death do us part."
If Hunter was a more credulous soul, I would have taken all this as a terrible failure on the part of the national news media. Really, the whole point of writing about one straying, lying political alpha dog after another is to alert the next generation that when a powerful pol invites you to come to his hotel room for a date, and suggests you arrive disguised as the turn-down maid, he is not going to stick with you through thick and thin.
But Hunter is 45 and has been around the block a time or three. So I think it's safe to say that she is not deluded so much as a woman intent on rearranging reality to suit her convenience.
"Before I met Johnny, I had a lot of judgment about infidelity. Now I have a deeper and greater understanding and acceptance of people's processes," she told an interviewer for GQ.
This was in happier times, before Hunter professed herself to be shocked by the magazine's pictures of her lying on a bed wearing pearls and no pants, since she was sure the photographer would be interested only in face shots.