“Suppose you were an idiot,” said Mark Twain. “And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”
That old joke has been floating around since 1870, when Twain spent a few months covering Capitol Hill as an already grizzled reporter of sorts. But I’m not sure that even a visionary like Mr. Clemens could have predicted the current idiocy emanating from the, uh, “leadership” of the House of Representatives. A recent telephone poll I conducted of concerned Rappahannock citizens showed that the approval rating of our Congress is now at 2.3 percent. To gauge how bad that is, approval of the brown marmorated stink bug is hovering just above 2.7.
Some say that my congressional career is a rural myth, but I must confess with a certain shame that I once served in that semi-distinguished body. So I do have a few hard-boiled opinions and half-baked suggestions that I would like to make to my former colleagues. When the government was unnecessarily shuttered last week, I did what I always encouraged my constituents to do back in the day when I was “The Honorable.” I called my congressman, a gent named Robert Hurt, who keeps a low profile around here.
I asked Sophie, who answered the phone at Rep. Hurt’s office in Washington, why the government was closed. “Rep. Hurt is not in favor of the government being closed,” she said in a very practiced way. “Then how come he voted that way?” I asked. Sophie was stumped on that one. So I asked her to have the congressman call me and she took the message.
Hurt called me back a couple of hours later. Since he was calling from our congressional office on our dime, I feel I can give you the gist of the conversation. I pointed out to him that our little county depends very much on tourism, and that October is by far the peak income season for our merchants and small produce farmers. With the Skyline Drive and the Shenandoah National Park closed, it was really going to lay a lick on us. Basically he said “Yeah, I know that’s not good, but I represent the whole country.”
No, I told him, you represent us folks in your congressional district. No, he told me, he represented the whole nation. Well, I told him, in this particular case you are “responsible” to the whole nation. He agreed and we left that issue there. He groused a bit about “Harry Reid” and I told him that I didn’t think ol’ Harry was the immediate problem. I begged him to show some independence. I quoted Thomas Jefferson, who lived in Hurt’s district: “One man with courage makes a majority,” the founder said.
On that there was silence. “Pass a clean C.R. [Continuing Resolution to fund the government],” I said, “and then fight your fights.” There was silence on that, too. I thanked him for his time and that was that. I felt good that I had put in my two cents worth and I think he felt good that the call was over.
Despite what we may think of those with whom we disagree politically, it has been my experience that most members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, are fairly intelligent folks. But intelligence does not bring wisdom. When the House GOP leadership blindly took the radical step of closing the United States government as an unexpected negotiating strategy, they were arrogant enough to demand a specific extortion for reopening “our business.”
They would accept only capitulation from the President and the Democrats on funding the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. They are using a wrecking ball against our country’s stability and our economy. And though these characters may be very smart, they are not very wise, for they are demanding the one prize that they surely should know the President cannot — and will not — give up.
Mr. Boehner and Mr. Hurt have hoisted themselves on the petard of Ted Cruz and the Koch Brothers. Unfortunately, they have taken the rest of us along for the ride.