Lawmakers Abandon Congress – Maybe That is a Good Thing

A record number of Congress members will leave government come November, so many that the New York Times published an article May 30 bemoaning the phenomenon. But maybe it’s not so terrible. Maybe we’ll be better off without the people who gave us the Select Committee on (bashing) China, the (anti) Patriot Act, the trillion-dollar (to nowhere) military budget. Besides, look who’s staying: “I don’t think the country is fixable,” Kentucky GOP representative Thomas Massie said June 4, “but I’m here in case it is.” You may not like many of Massie’s policy positions, but he’s got one humongous thing going for him: he doesn’t slither along the crooked byways of the bi-partisan war party. In fact, he ain’t part of it at all.

Fifty-four House members won’t run again in November. That’s not an earthshaking number, but it’s big, and, the Times complained, these drop-outs are reliable, long-time, imperial hacks (“seasoned” legislators in Times parlance), you know, the people who voted to send roughly $100 billion to the Ukraine abattoir, or for crushing Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights by expanding warrantless surveillance, or for a wildly unnecessary and extravagant 10-year, trillion-dollar upgrade to our nuclear arsenal, or who remain mum about the desperate need for a Gaza ceasefire, or who recently and unpardonably voted to bring back the military draft, against which Americans, in very large numbers, revolted in the 1960s and ‘70s. Folks like that. Well-greased cogs in the war machine. People who, in war-criminal Samantha Power’s memorable quote praising another war criminal, Henry Kissinger, “get shit done.” Yes, like voting to smash Iraq and Afghanistan to smithereens, or ramping up hostilities with China so they could become incandescently nuclear. Nice people of that sort.

“What is striking,” the Times whines, “are the names on the list. There are rising stars [Mike “Sinophobic Rampage” Gallagher, for instance], seasoned legislators [seasoned in a military industrial marinade over decades] and committee chairs [those fine people who stripped us of our rights through the Patriot Act]. But not a single bomb thrower.” The bomb throwers, you see, hold their explosives aloft with one hand, while with the other they swim against the current. Though they include reactionary fanatics, sometimes those nutcases get something right. And among the bomb throwers lurk legislators, some on the left, who simply commit the shocking congressional crime of – dum, da, dum, dum, da – thinking for themselves!

Would you really care if GOP House speaker Mike Johnson, the moral midget who roared into authority with oaths never to fund the Ukraine slaughter, then sank a knife in the backs of all peace lovers by betraying that vow – would it truly matter to you if he resigned? Thinking for himself is not something a person of Johnson’s caliber does. Groveling before the military-industrial behemoth and licking donors’ boots is what such people do. They do not arrive in Congress to champion ordinary Americans; they come to get rich and never, ever to make waves.

It’s no accident that so many congress members are multi-millionaires. First, your average citizen cannot fund a campaign, so such have a “rich people only” sticker slapped across them. Second, if they’re not uber wealthy to begin with, once they zip into the capitol, the new legislators get heaps of inside info, which they use to boost their stock portfolios. Rarely does any such “lawmaker” receive a reprimand. Even more rarely does one land in the hoosegow.

You have to be stupendously brazen and shameless, like New Jersey Dem Robert “Gold Ingot” Menendez or Texas Democrat Henry “Money Under the Table” Cuellar or former New York GOP representative George “I Landed on the Moon (and Should Have Stayed There)” Santos. But speaking of shameless, nothing, not one iota of censure has tarnished California Dem Nancy “My Husband’s Stock Trades Are His Business” Pelosi, who raked in millions of dollars investing in tech stocks, while privy to related legislative developments. Come back, Al Franken! Run for senate again! Defy those Me-Too moralists! I guess it’s no accident that all the great senators are not, well, in the Senate.

Without doubt, every senator looks in the mirror and thinks, “I could be president.” This rampant narcissism has been the norm for decades, but its probably worse now after Joe “Prefers Public Napping” Biden’s dementia display in his June 27 presidential debate. After all, every entitled senatorial ego became more insufferable with the epiphany of just how low a bar Biden sets. So don’t expect mass exodus from the senate, after that terrifying display of incompetence by the man who controls the nukes. Senators doubtless think that if Biden, who can’t cobble a sentence together, can sit in the oval office, so could they.

But thirty-one members will walk out on the House this autumn. They include, the Times reports “Mike Gallagher, 40 of Wisconsin…Jake LaTurner, 36, of Kansas…Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington.” The Times then quotes retired House speaker Kevin McCarthy, who lost his top-of-the-line sinecure over the Ukraine funding fracas, among other things, lamenting that these departures signify “losing your brain trust.” Welp, judging by congress’ record in recent years and the down-in-the-ditch esteem with which Americans regard it – for most of our countrymen and women, your average legislator ranks somewhere between a serial canine abuser and a swindler who preys on little old ladies – maybe that so-called brain trust lost its IQ. Maybe we need a new one, one actually with brains. Common sense and basic human decency would help, too. Add a little courage – standing up to donors and shady entrenched powers and voting against military bloodshed or refusing to stuff cash into billionaires’ pockets – and you’ve got yourself a legislator an ordinary person might truly admire.

Maybe we in the hoi poloi are wrong thus to disparage Congress. Doubtless there are some genuinely acceptable people there and maybe they’re the ones the Times is talking about. But if so, how to explain their ghastly handiwork, year in, year out? Since the beginning of the century, Washington has been on a rampage all over the globe, invading nations, overthrowing governments, butchering the innocent. Those who could stop this, outside the white house, reside in Congress. They didn’t and they don’t. They all learned the wrong lesson from California Dem Barbara Lee’s lone, brave vote against the Iraq War, namely, if you stick your neck out, you’ll be shunned, never rise, and possibly lose donations. There should have been 100 Barbara Lees back in 2003. That there was only one and that her colleagues regarded her like Typhoid Mary tells you all you need to know about the “good” people in Congress.

So any legislator who DOES think for him- or herself will be tarred in the mainstream media as a “bomb thrower.” Independent minds are looked on askance inside the Beltway and by our vaunted free press, so it’s difficult to wade through the verbiage in the news, attempting to discern if someone is just a blow-it-all-up maniac or in fact pursues a course whose uniqueness offends our pusillanimous media mandarins. Such a course often receives news-blackout treatment. Alternatively, such lawmakers come in for smears about everything from their sanity to their attire to their way-out position on the political spectrum. GOP libertarian GOP senator Rand Paul is a good example. You may disagree with him on many subjects, but it’s impossible to claim he doesn’t have a mind of his own. He does. The camouflage for attacks on him from a supposedly liberal media is that he’s a raving reactionary. He’s on the right, yes, but group-think does not afflict him. For instance, he regards the Ukraine War as the fiasco it is. That alone is enough to snag any congress member the career-killing moniker “bomb thrower.”

Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Busybody. She can be reached at her website.