After reading his own opening statement, House Oversight Committee Chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Cal.) got so ticked that embattled former IRS official, Lois Lerner, was continuing to invoke her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, that he adjourned the hearing. That didn’t sit well with Ranking Member, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) who thought he too should be heard. Even after Issa cut off his microphone, Cummings kept on, for nearly ten minutes, shouting so the media microphones could still hear him.
To view the entire segment, click here. Notice the guy on the right coaxing Issa to leave the dais.
“Politics is the skilled use of blunt objects.”
- Lester B. Pearson, Nobel Peace Prize winner and former prime minister of Canada
An adage has been validated, over the past ten days or so, that politics is a bloodsport, somewhere between boxing and dagger throwing. Vulnerabilities exposed are vulnerabilities exploited, sometimes with a direct hit, sometimes with the glancing blow of rhetoric and hyperbole.
Like any hard fought match between an aggressive foe and a punching bag, there are body blows that leave the administration to catch its breath, like the IRS’ overzealous, allegedly biased interpretations of the laws surrounding 501(c)4 applicants, and there are hay maker punches, which have plenty of dramatic wind-up, but ultimately land ineffectually, like the Republicans’ hit and miss attacks in its “investigation” of the Benghazi tragedy.
The bell has rung, and the administration has been forced to step into the ring with various, agenda driven House committees, who have already demonstrated the mentality of a pack of foaming dogs in their pursuit of scoring partisan points against the White House. They are looking for blood, of the highest order, and in that hunt, a fleeting pass at establishing truthiness is all that is required.
As ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI), said in his opening statement, prior to hearing testimony from departing, acting IRS commissioner, Steven Miller, Friday, “Chairman [Dave] Camp (R-MI) and I put together this hearing, on a bipartisan basis to get the facts. We must seek the truth, not political gain…
“If this hearing becomes, essentially, a bootstrap to continue the campaign of 2012, and to prepare for 2014, we will be making a very, very serious mistake, and indeed not meeting our [committee's] obligation of truth to the American people… If this hearing essentially becomes an effort to score political points, it will be a disregard of the duties of this committee.”
Levin was responding directly to Camp’s own opening remarks, in which he revealed that, as far as he was concerned, the IRS’ apparent malfeasance is “just the latest example of a culture of cover-ups – and political intimidation – in this Administration. It seems like the truth is hidden from the American people just long enough to make it through an election.”
But the engine in this anti-Obama train is easily the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and its pugilistic chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), whose own hay maker has finally landed. After trying to get the attention of the media by holding hearing after hearing, titled with partisan phrasing like, “EPA Overreach,” “the War on Coal” and “Obama’s Unprecedented ‘Recess’ Appointments,” not to mention its extended inquiry into ATF’s so-called “Fast and Furious” gun running operation, Issa and his pack of bleach blonde, Aryan canines at Fox News are finally getting the mainstream airtime they have been craving.
With the recent (not-really) revelations about what happened in Benghazi, last September, and the implications of the right-wing’s favorite pin cushion, the IRS, being engaged in selective scrutiny of ultra-conservative super-PACs over the last three years, the secret subpoena of AP reporters, and the newly revealed loss of two people in witness protection, “identified as known or suspected terrorists,” Issa is finally having his moment in the sun. The hay maker has been given the bright, media spotlight, where he can make hay of the missteps of the administration.
Take, for example, Issa’s exchange with an obviously frustrated U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Wednesday, during a House Judiciary Committee hearing, when Holder took issue with the Congressman’s characterization of the heavily redacted emails that were sent to Capitol Hill, regarding the president’s choice for secretary of labor, Thomas Perez. Issa asked Holder when they could expect to see the redacted portions of the emails, and other emails Congress has requested.
After saying he would look into it, Holder added, “I’m sure there must have been a good reason why only the ‘To’ and ‘From’ parts [of the emails] were provided –”
“Yes,” interrupted Issa, “you didn’t want us to see the details.” He gave a little dickish snicker, as he continued with his next question. Holder was not amused.
“No. No,” he cut off Issa, “This is what you typically do.” Issa tried to continue, but Holder wouldn’t let it go. “No. I’m not going to stop talking, now.” With the congressman talking over him and appealing to the committee’s chairman, Holder decided to make his point. “It is inappropriate and it is too consistent with the way in which you conduct yourself as a member of Congress. It is unacceptable and it is shameful.”
There are several truths here. The first thing that’s easily recognizable and true, is that this is a prosecution of opportunity, and Issa is the GOP’s hatchet man. His perceived ruthlessness is, in fact, the reason a man with a very unethical past as an accused car thief was chosen to chair a committee that is supposed to find irregularities in the implementation of government policy.
The other, more hidden truth here is that the Obama administration could arguably be taking its broad support, after two decisive elections, for granted, and is acting with impunity, because it thinks it only needs to show minimal cover to get through these scandals. It’s like a fan dancer, trying to cover her nakedness with a fistful of chicken feathers, or a soldier trying to keep from getting shot by holding the tiniest bulletproof vest in one place, leaving other parts of their body an open target. It’s the essential difficulty of spin. Spin, especially when you are already on the defensive, can easily find a politician spinning deftly away from a cheap shot, and meeting a fist to the face when he comes back around.
If the administration points to its need to maintain secrecy, in its investigation into government intelligence leaks, and the overwhelmingly broad subpoena that targeted the records and phone calls of AP reporters, POW, it exposes itself to calls for justifying their skirting the preferred method of negotiating with the media outlet for access. The president countered that with a call to revive a reporter shield law that died in the Senate, in 2009.
If the White House says the failures in Benghazi weren’t covered up, but the facts were evolving when U.N Ambassador Susan Rice was sent before the Sunday shows to present an edited version of the tragic events, BAM, it runs into claims that it didn’t want to lose ground on its assertion that we’re winning the War on Terror, so close to the 2012 election. The administration countered by releasing emails that indicate the CIA asked that references to a terror attack be removed, so as not to compromise an ongoing investigation, indicating the reason for the redaction was security of their intelligence follow-up, and not political.
Holder told the Judiciary Committee he has no idea about the AP investigation because he “recused” himself from it, and President Obama said he only found out about these things when they hit the newspapers, and then he finally fired acting IRS head, Steven Miller.
There is no upside for the American people, here. This punch and dodge is a D.C. Beltway phenomenon, a “thrilla in vanilla.” It is understood that if the Republicans get even a whiff of irregularity, they will raise the call for someone’s head, so who can blame our leaders for playing rope-a-dope, and wanting to establish some kind of plausible deniability? Still, although these shields may be a valid rationalization of questionable activity, they cannot ignore the tenacity of Issa and the GOP, who will attack an exposed flank faster than Fox can say, “Watergate.”
In politics, it doesn’t matter that you have a good reason for what you did; it matters if it satisfies the opposition (never), the press (eventually) and the voters (if they don’t feel screwed). All we can do is let Congress know that we did not send them there to create fights, but to solve problems, and that their behavior is of no value to the average voter. The hay they make is of no practical use to us.
Instead of battling for what Americans fight for, everyday – jobs and healthcare, food and education – they are clamoring about a pinky fight. Their investigation into a “culture of cover-ups and political intimidation,” is really nothing more than an unsanctioned exhibition match, a petty brawl, pushed into the ring with the choreographed movements and righteous indignation of a WWE fight, and created only to fill the politicians’ purses with the pay-per-view donations of lobbyists, activists and special interest groups.
Luckily, though, when the bell at the end of the fight rings, we hold the scorecards. Until then, I guess, enjoy the kabuki.
“In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong.“
- President Abraham Lincoln, from Meditation on the Divine Will, 1862
The fight against slavery was a culture war. So were the battles to control European immigration, the fight for women’s suffrage and the marches against Jim Crow laws. They were all assaults on a status quo that refused to acknowledge the promise of a country established on justice, fairness, and possibility.
Those who grip to their ethnic past as an identity – whether racist, righteous, or radical – deny the dynamism of collective will. They push back against the sunshine of a more tolerant society by hiding the disdain on their faces below hoods and hat brims, by huddling their children into the dark caves of home schooling, and by gathering with their communities under the shade of ever expanding tents of religious dogma. To them, Washington, DC is Rome, and they are Judean zealots, hiding in the hills, waiting for the Lord – the mighty hand of God – to help them with their rebellion.
So hoist your banners high, and ready your flanks, for there is an active theater in the culture wars. Lest you doubt the current contraception debate is a call to muster, remember that the Republicans like to call it a “War on Religion,” and for women’s health advocates, the conservatives are waging another battle in the “assault on women’s rights.”
Of at least three major stories that have pushed cultural touchstones to the fore in the last week, the most press was from the contraception “misstep” of the Obama administration. The Department of Health and Human Services dealt with it by coming up with a compromise that satisfied most, but not all, religious institutions, to whom the rule enabling free contraceptives to people of all faiths, despite the religious ethics of the institutions at which they work, would apply.
Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said the White House ruling “will not stand.” Republican hatchet man, and chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), titled a Thursday hearing on the issue, with the unfactual, hyperbolic and rhetorical, “Lines crossed: Separation of church and state. Has the Obama administration trampled on freedom of religion and freedom of conscience?”
This, of course, follows the feud between Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and Planned Parenthood, which had the right and left taking sides, and in which, eventually, women were the ultimate victors, at least for now.
But the assault continues, with what one Virginia State House delegate called “an attack on women’s health.” Charnielle Herring was referring to the draconian, invasive Virginia anti-abortion bill that requires women who choose to abort their pregnancies to be vaginally penetrated for “fetal ultrasound imaging and auscultation of fetal heart tone services…. for the purpose of determining gestational age. When only the gestational sac is visible during ultrasound imaging, gestational age may be based upon measurement of the gestational sac.” Rarely is the assault so literal as it is in this law requiring medical professionals to stick something into a woman against her will.
Yet more battles are brewing. Washington recently became the seventh state to make gay marriage a legal institution, and it has just passed in New Jersey, although Gov. Chris Christie promises a veto. Maryland is on the verge of passing a gay marriage law, and similar legislation, introduced in Illinois, has won the support of Chicago mayor, and former Obama Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel.
The victory of the cultural warrior is neither Pyrrhic nor shallow. We fight as much for who we are now as for who we want to become, for whether this is a nation only of the exclusionary principle “In God We Trust,” or the all embracing unifier, “E Pluribis Unum -Out of many, one.” Even an arch-Conservative like Barry Goldwater called for a “reconciliation of diversity with unity” (even though he was talking about unifying the crazy and the practical members of the GOP).
Recent news reports about incidents of interracial marriages in this country seem to bear out Goldwater’s advice, quite literally. According to data from the Pew Research Center, released Thursday, marriages that cross racial or ethnic boundaries were at an all time high of 15% in 2010. Add to that, the research shows that nearly two-thirds of Americans “‘would be fine’ … if a member of their own family were to marry someone outside their own racial or ethnic group,” and it seems that at least one small cultural battle in this country is finally getting put to bed.
Victory on the field of cultural battle may be seen as the last gasp of free thought and reason, left black and ashen, in the smoldering ruins of a civilization of promise. Victory may also be seen as the legacy of unaccepting intolerance finally falling into legend, and becoming a cautionary tale about how we were almost diverted from the city on the hill we built from our commitment to unity. The willingness to hold the flagpole, though, when the fighting is over, has to include looking at the other hands raising the flag with you, like soldiers on Iwo Jima, and feeling pride that whether we agree or disagree, despite our uncommon pasts, we hold a common future.
“We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
- President Abraham Lincoln, at his first inaugural, March 4, 1861