The case of the clueless congressman


It might be called the photo op from hell. A group of veterans were allowed to enter the World War II Memorial in Washington despite the fact that it had been closed by the government shutdown on Oct. 1. Texas Rep. Randy Neugebauer was trolling amongst the now elderly participants in World War II with an American flag sticking out of the pocket of his suit in case anyone suspected him of anything more devious than pandering for votes. Usually politicians settle for those little metal emblems that they pin to their lapels. Mr. Neugebauer wasn’t taking any chances because the eyesight of his intended audience probably wasn’t as good as it once was.

The congressman evidently thought he might give his home state, widely noted for its wide-open spaces, a plug by demonstrating that he carries a little piece of Texas with him wherever he goes -- lodged securely between his ears. To that end, he approached a park service ranger and, making sure that all the cameras were pointed in his direction, launched into a tirade about how ashamed the ranger should be that people who put their lives on the line for their country were being denied access to a memorial intended to honor their service.

I’ll bet the headlines were running through Neugebauer’s mind even as he confronted the dumbstruck ranger: "Heroic congressman defends veterans against big government oppression." It had all the ingredients for a lead story on Fox News! And you have the ever-present flag in case anyone wondered if this was just another example of an officious bully attacking someone he perceived as vulnerable.

A man, who had recently voted to shut down the United States government, had the almighty gall to blame the park ranger for denying veterans admittance to the memorial. A member of the least productive congress in the nation’s history, with a consistent approval rating just slightly higher than the average annual rainfall in the Gobi Desert, belligerently confronted this poor woman and, with his Southern Baptist sneer firmly in place, asked her if she wasn’t ashamed of herself!

The ranger meekly told Neugebauer that she wasn’t ashamed. "Well, you should be," he huffed turning away and walking straight into the icy glare of man who asked the congressman why he was hollering at a person who was only doing her job, a reasonable question to pose, even to a legislator from Texas. When Neugebauer, with his ingrained "shift the blame" sensibility, told the 30-year former federal employee that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was at fault for his out of work status, the man shot back, "No, it’s because the government won’t do its job and pass a budget."

Like all windbags, Mr. Neugebauer deflated easily and slunk into the crowd. His flag, I imagine, was at half-staff, if you get my meaning. Unbeknownst to the clueless congressman, however, was the fact that he had just provided the American people with an opportunity to witness an act of breathtaking arrogance that can serve as a prime example of just how far out of touch the GOP is with reality these days. It isn’t bad enough that they wreak their havoc with gerrymandered impunity, now they are blaming the victims of it.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren expressed it best: "In a democracy, hostage tactics are the last resort for those who can’t otherwise win their fights through elections, can’t win their fights in Congress, can’t win their fights for the presidency, and can’t win their fights in courts," Warren said. "For this right-wing minority, hostage-taking is all they have left -- a last gasp of those who cannot cope with the realities of our democracy."

House Speaker John Boehner, who can shift from crying to huffing in a matter of seconds, was in his huffing mode at a press conference the other day. Mr. Boehner snapped that the shutdown of the federal government was "no damn game." It was another instance of Mr. Boehner being exactly wrong. The Republicans are playing the same kind of games that have become the party’s operational trademark since Newt Gingrich sauntered into Washington and engineered the shutdown in 1995.

Passing a federal budget, even a temporary one, has nothing whatever to do with the Affordable Care Act; It should never have been associated in any way with it. The conniving minds that concocted this scheme, one that adversely affects both the lives and the livelihoods of tens of thousands of Americans, did so with the implicit understanding that what they were foisting on the democratic system of government was anathema to everything it stands for. They didn’t care because political blackmail had worked in the past.

The Republicans are obviously counting on the public’s unquestioning acceptance of the party’s skewered rationale for its epic temper tantrum, which is hardly nobler than a spoiled brat pitching a fit at Toys R Us for not getting what he wants. By and large, they aren’t fooling anyone. Whether it suits the future plans of the Koch brothers for amassing more millions or not, the Affordable Care Act, with all of its flaws and all of its promise, is the law of the land now. Get used to it.

Alden Graves is a Banner columnist.


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