November 27, 2007
The Spoiled Sports
By Mary Lyon
See how they run - with their ball, straight back home. The separate decisions by Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott and ex-House Speaker Dennis Hastert to bail out early from Capitol Hill has left me with visions of hot kitchens dancing in my head. Too hot, apparently, for either of these gents. Why am I not surprised?
What I haven't heard much of in the initial coverage of these announced departures (except for Keith Olbermann's "Countdown" on MSNBC and via OpEdNews.com) is an attempt to examine, fully, the reasons behind them and what we can and should learn from it all. What strikes me is what it says about guys like Lott and Hastert - as people, as men, as presumptive representatives of the public, as "patriotic" Americans. What it says about them isn't very good.
These guys were on the same team as those esteemed fellows who roared into Washington on the Hubris Express, starting in late 2000, boasting that "the adults are back in charge" as eight years of the Clinton Administration were coming to an end. These "adults" were smug in their vanity and arrogance that they were somehow better, smarter, wiser, more professional, more mature. Adults. Yeah, sure. Lo these seven years later, some of them have decided they don't wanna play anymore.
I guess, with apologies to the great B.B. King, the thrill IS gone. For a bunch who so recently swaggered around the nation's capitol in such high haughtiness, they sure can't take the heat when the kitchen grows warmer than they prefer. Ever since last November, when the Democrats reclaimed the majority in both Houses of Congress, they added insult to the injury republi-CONS obviously felt the voters had delivered. I mean, how DARE the Democrats start running things? Who do they think they are, anyway?
I've become convinced by now that "The World's Biggest Entitlement Program" is not Social Security. It isn't Medicare or Medicaid. It isn't any form of welfare or Aid to Families with Dependent Children or food stamp "giveaway" by some imaginary monster Commie-government. "The World's Biggest Entitlement Program" is the GOP's attitude toward power: that they and they alone are entitled to run things, boss people around, and own all the marbles plus the only keys to the executive bathroom. The White House, by all rights, is supposed to be THEIR exclusive turf. Capitol Hill is their private country club. The Democrats - a mere formalized name for "the great unwashed" are hardly deserving of even the smallest piece of this pie (although they do make excellent doormats, servants, errand-runners, housekeepers, and whipping posts). Power and the wielding of it are the sole property of the GOP.
They'll somberly stutter, as Trent Lott did while announcing his imminent resignation, that it has nothing to do with being a spoiled sport. Perhaps they're still trying to burnish their phony "adult" image. A real adult, when faced with setbacks, would probably be more likely to try to soldier on through the adversities anyway. Why? Because the work is what's important. The sacred honor and great privilege in this case is being chosen by your fellow citizens of your state or your local area to represent them in Washington D.C. It's absolutely sacred work, because it involves acknowledging and living up to the trust that your constituents have shown you, the faith they've placed in you - to be their surrogates, protecting their interests, working for their betterment - on their behalf, being their voice - since they can't be there to do so for themselves. That's what representative government is all about. Our representatives are correctly classified as Public Servants. Even Prince Charles of England knows that - his personal motto as heir to the historic throne of his country is "I Serve." John F. Kennedy understood exactly that when he included in his inaugural address: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." It's about serving. Serving someone else - not just yourself. It's what any self-respecting parent would do for his/her child. When you play this game, you're playing by proxy - for SOMEBODY ELSE, NOT yourself. It's not about you anymore. It's about them - the ones YOU serve.
Nobody in Congress gets this anymore, the proof of which is their blindness and deafness toward the public's majority view that we must get out of Iraq. But people like Trent Lott and Dennis Hastert have offered us extra proof on a more personal scale. At this point, it's not just all about them, it's ONLY about them.
Any true "adult" representative on Capitol Hill who was abruptly shown to the cheap seats by the voters, and who had to watch the coveted trappings of power being handed over to the opposing side would still try to make good on that covenant with the voters back home. Those republi-CONS who survived last November's midterm elections were still sent back to work to do their constituents' bidding. They were still beholden, still obligated, still in The People's employ, still serving at The Public's pleasure. Real "adult" representatives would still feel compelled to do the voters' bidding, to try to make it work, to try to find a way to do business with their victorious opponents. But Lott and Hastert and expanding handfuls of GOP legislators are turning their backs on this. Instead, like so many spoiled brats who suddenly are being told they're not getting their way now, they've decided they simply don't wanna play anymore.
Sure, it's hard to swallow - walking in there and taking one of the places toward the back of the room. Watching YOUR gavel being held by other hands, and your speeches being emitted from other mouths. Watching somebody else set the agenda and run the show and readjust the priorities - when you used to enjoy those privileges. Well, sometimes that's what happens, and any mature professional would know to suck it up and slog ahead and try to make it work anyway. Especially when they've been given contracts for fixed periods of time by (AND a sacred bond of trust from) their constituents - their employers. I wonder if the people of Mississippi and of that one spot in Illinois realize their trusted representatives have just sent word back home: "well, the hell with YOU, then!"
The proof is in the bailing. What also hasn't been much covered in the national media has been that other little footnote - about the laws concerning lobbying by former government officials that take effect in 2008. As of this writing, that change in the rules is only a few weeks away. For now, it's still the law of the land that such officials must wait one year before switching from working on the public's dime to taking money from lobbying concerns. As of January 2008, that time-out doubles - to two years. If what you really wanted when all was said and done was the gravy train, better jump now, 'eh? That's what Lott and Hastert, in particular, have thus done.
Let's keep in mind that what they've done, specifically, is bail - immediately. They still have time left on their contracts? Tough. Hastert's constituents rehired him until NEXT November? Sorry, chumps. Looks like you're fresh outta luck. Lott's term doesn't end for ANOTHER FIVE YEARS? Well, that's just too damned bad. They're not content to fill out the complete terms to which they were faithfully entrusted by their bosses back home. I guess they never heard of the slogan "I Serve." If by chance they did, clearly nothing registered.
What we have here, and to whom the voters back home are only now sadly being introduced, are grown men who are acting like whiny, tantrum-throwing toddlers, selfish little weenies, and spoiled sports. Dare we throw in "Sore Losermen"? Poor babies - not getting their way anymore. Looks like the chaff has been separated from the wheat, and the boys from the men. After all, it is awfully hard on an overinflated ego, to have to play the joker position when you're used to being king. And who gives a flying leap about making good on the rest of your contract for the sake of your constituents? The hell with them anyway. Just take care of yourself and go for the gold then. Lott and Hastert insist that this has nothing to do with money-grubbing. But if so, then why aren't they sticking around until their terms formally end? Why are they jumping ship now, rather than simply announcing they won't run for yet another term when this one finishes? You really wonder about this? You can't hear the ka-chings over there behind the curtain?
The people of the state of Mississippi and of Illinois' 14th Congressional district will certainly hear that - especially considering what extra tax money it will cost them to continue having their interests represented in Washington. After all, there are now costly special elections to arrange, and months of disorganization, disconnect, and catch-up that any hastily-hired temps will have to grope and struggle through. You can safely bet that the likes of Lott and Hastert won't be offering any extra help here. With what they stand to rake in as lobbyists - or, excuse me, trusty Trent calls it "consulting," which doesn't have anything to do with this dontchaknow - you'd think they could afford to make a contribution to help defray the extra, unneccessary expenses their early departures will leave with the folks back home. Don't hold your breath. Perhaps, aside from a few altruistic months in the beginning of their careers in public "service," it was never about the folks back home anyway. For guys like Lott and Hastert, particularly given their demonstrated behavior at this late date, it was probably always about being a spoiled sport.