Three months ago, when Evan Bayh announced he was retiring and gave the standard-issue condemnation of the special interests and the money chase senators have to endure, I wrote this:
Here's what I'd really like to see: a retiring politician go to town on the constituents. Instead of saying what an honor it has been representing the people of Whereverville, what if he said, "If there's one thing I'm not going to miss, it's pretending to care about the bunch of ill-informed, fickle, whiny constituents I've had to endure in my time in Washington. You, the woman who told me to 'Tell the government to take its hands off my Medicare!' I nodded knowingly, but you know what? You're an idiot. I wish I had told you then, but I didn't have the guts. But now I do: You're an idiot. And you, the people who complain about your taxes (and believe they went up even when they went down), but then raise hell when you're not getting the services you want? Grow up! And you, the people who voted for my last dipstick opponent because he said he was 'a businessman, not a politician?' You're a bunch of rubes. If I said I ought to fix your car because I'm a veterinarian, not a mechanic, you'd laugh in my face. Yet somehow you think that all you need to do this job is 'common sense,' which is another way of saying, 'I don't know what the hell I'm talking about.' I've had enough of all of you, and the best thing about retiring is that I won't have to listen to you anymore."
If there was anybody who might actually do that, it was David Obey. The longtime Wisconsin congressman was known not only for his commitment to social justice and his detailed policy knowledge but also for his limited patience with some of the niceties of politics, like the need to treat everyone he encountered as his best friend. Obey at times seemed to find the American people to be a giant pain in the ass. For instance, see this video, in which some anti-war activists talk him up in the hallway of a House office building about their desire to defund the Iraq War. Though he was a passionate opponent of the war, Obey finds their demands absurd, and he grows more agitated, referring to "these idiot liberals," opening his jacket and saying, "You see a magic wand in my pocket? How the hell we gonna get the votes for it?" and eventually telling one of the activists, "If that isn't good enough for you, you're smoking something that ain't legal."
The confrontation was unusual because Obey reacted in a way most human beings would like to, but politicians aren't allowed to. Constituents really are unreasonable sometimes. And some of them really are idiots. But congressmen aren't allowed to tell them to go jump in a lake, even if they deserve it.
So when Obey announced his retirement, did he come through? Almost. The statement he made included this passage:
At the end of this term I will have served in the House longer than all but 18 of the 10,637 men and women who have ever served there. The wear and tear is beginning to take its toll. Given that fact, I have to ask myself how I want to spend the time I have left. Frankly, I do not know what I will do next. All I do know is that there has to be more to life than explaining the ridiculous, accountability destroying rules of the Senate to confused, angry, and frustrated constituents.
I guess in the end, Obey decided that that was as far as he wanted to go in expressing his frustration with his constituents. So disappointing!
-- Paul Waldman