The conspicuous presence of ultra-right extremist rhetoric and actions has made this a contagion of size and scope on the national political scene that is arguably without precedent. Holders of elective office, screamers with access to print and broadcast media and others of similar ideological bent seem engaged in undeclared battle to determine whose demagogic fervor most effectively serves the cause. Those of us not in the market for this extremist hysteria remain dismayed that the conservative take on things doesn’t come via a David Brooks, of The New York Times and PBS NewsHour – he of the generally measured style and perspective. Rather, the daily menu of right-wing speak favors the preposterous, favors scant regard for what’s factual and, overall, bares telltale indicators of unbridled power lust. Bad as is all of that, it gets infinitely worse when there’s classlessness as well. Such as we got last week from Republican Congressman Darrell Issa.
Congressman Issa’s display of unforgivably despicable behavior toward Maryland’s Elijah Cummings, ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee that Issa chairs, seemed to reach back into the Issa files to a time when conforming to a good-conduct code proved more than once to be a bit difficult for this guy. Long before becoming a business operator of considerable means, Issa reportedly had scrapes with the law for infringements like auto theft and carrying a concealed weapon. Some might say that when he imperiously aborted a committee hearing and then turned off Rep. Cummings’ microphone when he tried to speak, Issa was merely reverting to a form that’s still DNA solid.
Issa had scheduled a hearing to continue the committee’s investigation into alleged targeting by the IRS of conservative organizations seeking tax-exempt status. Issa had demanded another appearance before his committee of an IRS employee at the center of the controversy, who in her earlier appearance had pleaded the Fifth. When the witness did so again last week – something that was pretty much expected – Issa pulled his arbitrary adjournment stunt.
Like the never-ending Republican harping on Benghazi, where there’s obviously no hidden story still to tell, the flames of a Republican witch hunt continue to be fanned, to uncover evidence of some sinister plot by Democrats (up to and including the White House) to stymie, via the IRS, conservative groups’ tax-exempt applications. Clearly disgusted with Issa’s maniacal prolonging of the probe and the blind eye he and his so-called expenditure-conscious cohorts turned to the millions so far spent for documents provided, Cummings thought it important to note (a) that the investigation had turned into a farce and (b) the autocratic manner of Issa’s performing the chairman’s duties. An infuriated Cummings told Issa he “cannot run a committee like this. You cannot just have a one-sided investigation.” Cummings called Issa’s tactics “un-American.”
Having run for and won elective office after becoming a wealthy businessman, Issa likely thinks the narrative of yesteryear, with his episodes running afoul of the law, should no longer come to bear on what defines him today. The congressman should think again. In furtherance of which we commend to him this sobering thought among many the Mighty Sparrow, Calypso King of the World, rendered years ago: “You send a pig to college, it still remains a hog.” Issa may have convinced himself otherwise, but his many millions can’t change the coarse, classless individual he evidently is at his core.
Unfortunately, politics in the country has evolved to where characters like Issa sitting in responsible positions has become more the rule than the exception – a change that has been responsible in no small measure for an exodus of genuinely dedicated public servants, especially on the GOP side, from this reconfigured arena. One media report anonymously quoted a senior Congressional aide, Republican to boot, expressing frustration at having to smooth over the crappy stuff Issa routinely does. Maybe Issa is just an equal opportunity hater, but it of course couldn’t be lost in last week’s ugliness that his detestable tactics were directed at a person of color. That this did not give Issa pause probably tells us all we need know about the congressman and sensitivity. A letter that Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus fired off to Speaker John Boehner demanding Issa’s removal as chair of the Oversight Committee predictably went nowhere in the GOP-controlled House.
And what else can one say of Boehner, who once in a blue moon simulates annoyance at the unrelenting excesses of his tribe, only to swiftly and effortlessly walk again in lock step with the wildness? Boehner’s wishy-washy handling of the speaker’s role seems the perfect metaphor for a Congress whose approval ratings range somewhere between the teens and single digits.
Issa reportedly apologized to Rep. Cummings for his behavior, although the genuineness of that remains suspect, given how stoutly Issa, in the aftermath of his actions, defended them. So here’s California doing itself proud with representation in the Senate by two outstanding Democratic women. From one pocket of California there’s also an Issa, a man who, had he been in place back then, would likely have set about obstructing what would eventually enable a Congressman Cummings to speak his mind last week…with or without Issa’s turned off microphone.