Unlike lightweight media chided by Rep. Patrick Kennedy on the floor of the House yesterday, you won’t find AT LARGE piling-on when a politician’s personal foibles fall victim to a fourth estate feeding frenzy.

This noble attitude is due in part to self-preservation, the realization that I could be next due to misinterpretation of some perfectly innocent remark.  Recently, for example, a seemingly stable woman I ran into over martinis at the Palm Restaurant bar flew off the handle for no discernible reason.

The unseemly behavior took place when The Little Woman (TLW) arrived for dinner a half hour late, as is her wont.

Overjoyed at glimpsing the love of my life enter this prime capitol cholesterol kingdom, I ululated loudly and cried out, as is my wont:

“Don’t let me see that ‘nekkid’ on payday!”

TLW, well aware that there are no new jokes, just new wives, took this in stride, slapping me soundly about the head and shoulders with her Kate Spade handbag. Beauteous bartenders Mary Pat and Danielle – neither of whom has been immune from such deserved and heartfelt compliments in the past – understand that keeping a trophy wife’s humors flowing is an essential element in curbing the aging process.  They, too, reacted with both aplomb and a plum, accidentally spilling a sloe gin fizz on my nether parts. (Washington is a tough town!)

Case closed?  Not exactly.  My cocktail companion – out of sisterly solidarity, I guess – went off, accusing me of verbal spousal abuse and worse.

Fortunately, no media jackals were in the area to trumpet her embarrassing behavior in mainstream publications like the National Enquirer or Washington Post.

With the scars from such an experience unhealed, AT LARGE initially planned to skip dinner when it came to feeding on the political carcass of now former-Rep. Eric Massa (D, NY).  He’s the salty solon who left Congress amid charges that he sexually harassed staffers, the chap who – proving that a lawmaker who defends himself has a fool for a client – gleefully recalled on Fox News ‘tickle parties’ at a house he shared with several congressional aides.

But serious journalists learn to look beyond the prurient to provide their beyond-the-beltway readers with insight into the backstage machinations of the political elite.

So duty calls.

The Corning Conspiracy

When I first heard about the Affair Massa, alarm bells went off:  Was the whole thing the result of some vast – or half-vast – right wing conspiracy to embarrass the administration and retake Congress? (If you live long enough in Washington where everything is political, this sort of thinking becomes inevitable.)

It’s not hard to picture: Someone – my guess would be Newt Gingrich: this sort of long-range thinking is right up his Machiavellian Alley – approaches a wannabe congressman. Persuades the life-long Republican, Naval Academy graduate and retired Navy captain to ‘take a round’ for The Cause…switch parties…run for congress in a year when even a Megan’s List enrollee could win as a Democrat…vote against the programs he supported during the election…pick a fight with the White House chief of staff and House leaders…get involved in some kinky behavior…resign and trash former colleagues…remind Middle America that Democrats are a little, well, weird and want to insert the evil government in your Medicare.  Pure genius.  Pure Newt.

It’s not a hard-to-buy scenario in an ongoing political silly season in which loony tunes Democrats whispered that John McCain may have been a Manchurian Candidate under control of his former Vietnamese captors and Twilight Zone Republicans continue to proffer ‘proof’ that the president was born in Indonesia.

Most reports would stop there, but once AT LARGE’s little grey cells get to work, there’s no stopping them.

Upon further reflection, AT LARGE now believes that Eric Massa is a prophet who should be honored in his own time for showing us the way to restore comity to the American political scene.

Comity or comedy?

Comity?  That’s Washington-speak for acting like real people, folks who can disagree without being disagreeable…without calling their rivals communists, fascists or smokers.

Once upon a time, the halls of power were a much friendlier place. Legislators disagreed on issues, but were often personally close. When legendary liberal Hubert Humphrey faced a tough Senate race in Minnesota, arch-conservative Mississippi Senator Jim Eastland, it is said, offered to travel north and campaign ‘for or against Hubert,’ which ever would help Humphrey most.  Democratic Leader Mike Mansfield dined daily with rock-ribbed Republican Senator George Aiken, despite spirited philosophical battles over policy and later became friends with President Reagan.  

(This sort of friendship still continues:  As a senator, Vice President Joe Biden became close friends with by no means liberal Senate icon Strom Thurmond. Speaking first at Strom’s 100th birthday party, Biden preempted all the good lines in then-Majority Leader Trent Lott’s staff-prepared speech, leading Lott to wing it and make the ‘unfortunate remarks’ that cost him his post.) 

Somewhere along the line came the transmutation of policy disagreements into politics of personal destruction.

Lowlights:  The Ds falsely tarred and feathered Ed Meese and labeled former John Tower a grumpy drunk when the ex-Texas senator was nominated as secretary of defense during the Reagan years.  The GOP went for payback during the Clinton years beginning with future speaker Newt demanding that all his troops call all Democrats ‘weird’ in every speech and culminated with the impeachment of you-know-who. Then came Florida, with the Democrats, who long portrayed themselves friends of the mentally challenged, dubbing G.W. Bush ‘moron-in-chief,’ scurrilous attacks on nominees and Shiite Republicans trying to grab Sen. John Kerry’s medals. It continues today on both sides of the aisle.

Bonding over cold eggs

Worse yet, the venerable collegial cocktail hour succumbed to the breakfast meeting/fundraiser. This was a revolutionary, perhaps cataclysmic development.  Once a sacrament at the Senate sides’s Monocle Restaurant, Speaker Sam Rayburn’s Board of Education, the Capitol Hill Club’s weekly Poet’s Club session, the National Democratic Club, never-ending evening fundraisers that featured local cuisines, copious hooch plus a chance to get to know colleagues as people, not one-dimensional political caricatures, stiff drinks were the lubricant that kept government gears grinding – while now and then sending legislators to rehab and/or bathing in the Reflecting Pool.

Even if they disagreed, say, with former Senator John Breaux, or Senator Margaret Chase Smith, players got together for a cup of kindness, chat and compromise over Louisiana gumbo or Maine lobster and appropriate beverages.

No more! The only way one can make friends over breakfast is to nudge a single guest awake and call room service! Cordial, congenial confabs over dried out scrambled eggs, day-old fruit cocktail greasy bacon and lukewarm coffee at 7:30 am? Now way!  With the breakfast meeting/fundraiser, Washington insiders forsake firsthand knowledge and get to know each other through Fox News, Saturday Night Live and ‘slam book’ press releases.

A ticklish situation

As in all fast-breaking news stories, many questions remain unanswered.

Did Midshipman Massa first learn of tickle parties at the Naval Academy?  Did his fellow Annapolis graduate Jimmy Carter hold tickle parties to fight malaise?  (AT LARGE may take a bye on researching this angle:  Some pictures are too disturbing to contemplate, even mentally!) Did Capt. Eric Massa ever have a tickle party with cashiered Captain Holly Graf?  Did Massa’s nude encounter in the Congressional gym locker room with the White House chief of staff go south because no one was inviting the president to tickle parties?

And most importantly:  If everybody who doesn’t get along with Rahm Emmanuel were driven out of Congress, who would be left to turn off the lights?

But, lingering questions aside, Eric Massa may be regarded by historians as the harbinger of a new spirit of comity, congeniality and cooperation in Congress.

Only time will tell, but in this long day’s night of the long knife, the body politic would be far better off with a lot less character assassination, fewer breakfast meetings and a lot more tickle parties!

Where do I sign up?


  1. 1 Miss M
    March 12, 2010 at 10:22 am

    Who needs Jon Stewart? Or Bill Maher? Or Colbert? At-Large tickles me.

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Jared Cameron

It is better to smoke a single candle that to curse the darkness

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