In Politics, Obscenity Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Quick, what's more obscene: Anthony Weiner's obsession with sending crotch shots of himself to female admirers or the Republican House of Representatives, seeking to gut a host of social, environmental and arts programs in America to take revenge for Barack Obama's health care plan?

I'm not fond of either, myself, but my vote isn't close. Watching the House of Representatives is obscenity in the making.

Of course, many more Americans are paying attention to the story of Weiner, a liberal Democrat who used to represent New York in Congress. It's more salacious, weirder and easier to follow. What moves a powerful man to "sext" with his admirers, even after being forced to resign from the House of Representatives? Why would the same man put his bizarre behavior back in the news by deciding it's time to run for mayor of New York? Why on earth would his wife, a smart woman who was a close aide of Hillary Clinton, stand by this pathetic excuse for a man? And are New Yorkers seriously considering making this man their mayor?

Everyone loves a circus. It is, after all, a way of avoiding reality, which sometimes is uglier.

And that brings me to the House Republicans. They may not be as weird but they're a lot crueler. First let's set the context.

Tucked inside today's New York Times is a graphic titled "A Shifting Economic Tide." It shows that while the income of the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans has increased more than 11 percent since 1995 and that of the top 10 percent more than 5 percent, the income of the other 90 percent of Americans has declined 1.5 percent.

What it doesn't say is that those who've lost jobs, cobbled together multiple part-time jobs, or had their homes foreclosed are hurting a lot worse, or that those relying on food stamps have increased sharply -- by 70 percent since 2008 alone.

Even a responsible conservative might see this as an argument for keeping social programs at current levels. The problem is, today's conservatives are anything but responsible (or, for that matter, conservative). They simply obstruct and destruct. The Times provided a good overview for this in Wednesday's paper, under the rather innocuous headline, "House GOP Sets New Offensive on Obama Goals." The first paragraph, however, didn't mince words:

WASHINGTON -- Congressional Republicans are moving to gut many of President Obama's top priorities with the sharpest spending cuts in a generation and a new push to hold government financing hostage unless the president's signature health care law is stripped of money this fall.

How does the author, Jonathan Weisman, back this analysis up? Here are but a few of the facts he offers:

  • Republicans will push to cut education grants for poor students by 16 percent, GOP aides said.
  • They'll push to cut funding for the Labor Department by 13 percent, the aides said.
  • And a House Appropriations subcommittee already has drafted a bill that cuts financing for the national endowments for the arts and humanities in half and funding for the EPA by more than a third.

Just how deep such cuts will eventually go depends on which political party blinks and whether the president is willing to shut down the government to shed light on the extent of Republican hostage-taking.

The Times articles notes that, "In the Senate, Republicans are circulating a letter to Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, warning they will not approve any spending measure to keep the government operating after Sept. 30 if it devotes a penny [emphasis added] to put in place Mr. Obama's health care law."

We, the American people, pay these "leaders?" Never mind that Congress passed the health care law and the conservative Supreme Court upheld its constitutionality. Never mind that it provides health care to those who've been denied it in the past for pre-existing conditions or that in at least some places it will substantially lower costs of insurance. Politics is no longer about representing anyone or anything but ideologues and ideology.

As for Mr. Weiner, I don't know what's more pathetic: his pathological need to show his manhood to anyone willing to look or his brilliant wife, who should have dumped him years ago. I don't care what his politics are. I'd personally never vote for him for any elected office.

But while he's a lurid and at times entertaining sideshow, Congressional Republicans are eroding this country's fiber in ways from which we won't easily recover. And they will continue to do so as long as they retain control of either house of Congress.

That's all the more clear now, in the aftermath of Obama's re-election.