Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The whole schmizole: Massa outs
bipartisan corruption in Washington

AS IF READING FROM ONE script, the punditoblogocracy wants to skewer Eric Massa. We’re used to pundits and talk show hosts – and even supposed straight news reportage – condemning the accused without the benefit of trial, or without any evidence at all. We’re used to comedians seizing on any goofy story for yuks. It amuses us to see some public figure caught in some version or another of "so when did you stop beating your wife?" But why the seeming unanimous viciousness against the former Congressman accused of sexually harrassing a male staffer? How are people who weren’t anywhere near the situation so sure that the accusation of an ex-staffer must be true?

Even if the allegations are true, where's the satisfaction in this pile-on? There's no potential hypocrisy points to score. The guy is no moralist, conservative Republican from the heartland or the Bible Belt who was caught tap-dancing in a men's room. This is a New York Democrat. But suddenly everybody wants to get all Perez Hilton on him.What could be going on here?

Well first, note that this is a Democrat, yes -- but a Democrat with a difference. He’s not playing ball with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. He’s not afraid, in fact, to call out the self-acknowledged political terrorist for what he is – a control-freak sociopath who allegedly will even accost a congressman naked in the shower to get his egomaniacal power fix.

Massa's not going along with key White House/Party leadership initiatives such as the insurance-care bill and the cap-and-trade racket. So it's very convenient for them that Massa has come down with a sudden, severe case of the scandals.

What do I know? The racy allegations may be true. Or they may be a disgruntled-former-staffer problem. Or disgruntled-former-staffer-being-used-as-tool-of-revenge-by-parties-much-more-powerful?

Could the ex-congressman's problem be that he’s not doing the happy slave dance for the massas of the Democratic Party plantation -- and dares to expose the glaring absence of democracy within its confines and elsewhere?

Whatever the outcome, in his Tuesday exclusive interview with Glenn Beck, it was Massa who outed the corrupt system running Washington. He described the unglamorous -- and undemocratic -- treatment of so-called “junior” congressmen. They’re told what to do, how to vote, herded about, and have to spend 5-7 hours a day on the phone begging for money: No life for you!

He told of being coached in fund-raising -- which, as it turned out, was about half of his long workdays. He was told which specific keywords and "data points" would help wring more money out of donors. (I can't help but think of an old sales job, in which I had to undergo daily training meetings on how to sucker people out of their money.)

Ever the partisan, Beck tried suggesting that this stuff was peculiar to the Democrats – of course they're corrupt, it's all that labor money! – but Massa shot back with the obvious point that “it’s not just Democrats, it’s the whole schmizole.” Of course the White House, he noted, has to spend valuable time raising money too.

When you get in the good graces of the party, you get party money. Being the guy to hold and control the DNC purse, in fact, could be described as political terrorist Emanuel's real entree to Washington power-playerhood. The purse is the key lever of control the committee holds over candidates and officeholders. 

Of course you can read about the sordid details of political prostitution in books and so forth -- it's "out there" in a general way -- but how often have you seen such a high-profile and arresting example: an embattled, just-resigned congressman breaking rank and lashing back at the system that wore him down, chewed him up and spit him out like a wad of old gum?

As Massa defended himself on Beck, it became clear the 24-year United States Navy vet has a whole different sense of duty than his would-be masters such as Emanuel and Pelosi. He displayed a populist streak that must have proved troubling to the party bosses. He held 80 town hall meetings last summer, he bragged – more than any other representative “by a factor of three"  and "carried a copy of H.R. 3200 (the House health care bill) everywhere I went.” What? Taking his job as representative of the people seriously? That’s another strike against him: He thinks he works for the People rather than the Party.

"It’s my job, if I believe in the principles of the Democratic Party, to say when we’re not adhering to them.”

Think outside the partisan cage, Massa urged viewers. The corruption in Washington is "out of control"  and "it’s the leadership of both parties," he said. “You tell your [viewers] to forget about political party – Republicans and Democrats – and tell them to call their Congressmen and say ‘Hey, if you vote against this health care bill we will return you to Congress and we’ll give you the backbone to do what you think is right, regardless of political party.”

Well, good on him. The Congress isn’t supposed to be duopolistic extension of two private corporate organizations (both funded by the same interests) with their own command and control hierarchies and their own priorites little related to those of the average American. The commanders and controllers, if any, ought to be us. If we're all equal, and they represent us, they ought to be equal as well. Part of the problem of entrenched hierarchies is the fact that being a member of Congress is now regarded as a permanent job.(Yes, I know -- the argument is that Congressmen need to be there permanently because otherwise who would oversee the permanent bureaucracy? The answer is, we shouldn't have either -- but I'll cheerfully admit, that's way beyond the scope of this piece.) 

FOR HIS PART, Beck wasn’t of much help in helping Massa get his point across. You’d think: here’s a Democrat turning on his party – who’s against the Democrat leadership on big initiatives like cap-and-tax and the federalcorporate health-care takeover? -- a real conservative would’ve been all over this, eager to help Massa make his case to America. Instead, we find Beck carping and snidely sniping and using every opportunity to find fault, cast doubt, to undermine Massa, to make him look suspicious. And when Massa attempts to engage in an exchange – what most of us know as a two-sided conversation – he gets silenced by Beck, in that verbal bully move most of us are all too familiar with.

BECK [Referring to Massa's stories of corruption by money]: You’re trying to convince me you believe these things…


BECK: And I can’t change it as a member of Congress…

MASSA: Do you realize, do you realize --

BECK: Bullcrap.

MASSA: I can’t, especially –

BECK: Bullcrap, sir.

MASSA: No, it’s not bullcrap.

BECK: Listen to me.

MASSA: Here’s why –

BECK: do you realize what some of us, do you realize what some of us are doing, we’re not in elected office. Do you realize my family is at stake? Do you realize

MASSA: [Inaudible; off camera, perhaps motioning to say something]

BECK: [With curt condescension] Excuse me, sir.

MASSA: So is mine --

BECK: [Again, rudely] Excuse me, sir. Excuse me for a second, sir. [Continues to hold forth]

Even with all the juicy populist, anti-party-corruption material Massa had given him at this point, Beck still wanted to take us back to naked Rahm in the shower and whether there are any “Tiger Woods sex messages” about to come out. Why was Glenn so eager to run interference for the Democratic Party and obfuscate such a powerful critique, coming from one of its members? Your answer's as good as mine. For a few seconds one might've thought he was living up to the image in his head of being a real journalist who asks tough questions. But when he tried to steer the conversation from bipartisan corruption back to naked guys and sexting, it was clear he was just being a douche.

SO IF THE STORY about Massa “groping” and propositioning a male staffer’s not true -- if it was just playful rasslin' among a bunch of drunk overgrown frat boys at a birthday party -- why resign? Well, that's why Massa toted the x-rays along, showing what could be a recurrent cancerous tumor, which he said were taken back in December before these allegations were made. 
I can’t fight this. I can’t fight cancer. I can’t fight the White House, I can’t fight the Democratic Party, I can’t fight the Republicans, I can’t fight any more. I don’t have it any more. I don’t have the life energy to get up 5 o’clock in the morning and work until midnight, spend five hours on the phone begging money. I have completely abandoned my family for five years. That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing.

If that's true, if his interpretation of the X-ray is correct, well, I'd be doing what Massa is doing too.

If nothing else, the guy's going out with a good sense of humor. Toward the end of the interview, he actually "apologized" for maligning Emanuel. “I went over the top. I said he’d tie his kids to the railroad to get a vote. He wouldn’t do that."

Continued Massa: "He’d tie my kids to the railroad to get a vote. But maybe not his.”

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