On last weekend’s NPR quiz show "Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me," host Peter Sagal recalled the resignation of then-Governor Elliott Spitzer who got caught up in a high-end prostitution ring. Sagal commented, "Who know that would be the high water mark for moral conduct among New York politicians," or words to that effect.
Full disclosure: I think "Wait, Wait" is the best highbrow humor since the libretto of "Candide." My estimation of the news quiz show went up considerably, however, when they made one of my ideas the answer to a news question. During the Trent Lott mess, when he said the country would be better off if we had elected segregationist Strom Thurmond as president in 1948, one of the customers at Kramer’s and I came up with the idea for a special drink: The Trent Latte, separate but equal parts of coffee and milk. When "Wait, Wait" put the Trent Latte on their show, I was mighty proud.
Back to the plot. After the Charlie Rangel scandal and the David Peterson scandal, it seemed things could not get worse. Then along comes Eric Massa. First he was quitting for health reasons. Then he was forced out because the Speaker of the House wanted to lower the margin for passing health care, which Massa, like the perennial goofy left exhibit A Dennis Kucinich, opposes because it is not leftie enough. Finally, it took an hour on the show of Father Martin’s hero Glenn Beck to get to the bottom of things. Massa admitted groping male staffers but insisted it wasn’t sexual. He said he had not made the transition from Navy life to civilian and congressional life. (Don’t Ask! Please, of please, Don’t Tell!) In short, even Beck, who is crazy but not dumb, realized Mr. Massa was a fraud, a self-absorbed, "not my fault" whiner. Please Mr. Massa. Leave now!
I commended Gov. Spitzer at the time of his resignation because I was tired of politicians saying "I take full responsibility" for a given scandal but then doing nothing. The verbal taking of responsibility had become a way of dodging actual responsibility. And, to remind, in this context, the use of the word "responsible" is a technical, government term that means, in effect, if it happens on your watch, you must go. This is especially the case when the office holder is the source of the mess-up. When Massa announced his resignation, I was hopeful we were going to see a similar moment. Instead, we saw a spineless wonder who managed to besmirch the reputation of the Speaker of the House and the White House Chief of Staff on his way out the door. Good riddance.
Michael Sean Winters