“If you set out to lead a band of cannibals, you better be sure to check the menu every day.” —Mosby’s Rule of Ambition.
ROLLING FORK — There is no doubt that the atmosphere in Washington these days is a poisonous one for the few intelligent life forms whose sorry lots in life center around wandering in and out of the place, and the natural tendency to interpret that atmosphere as the worse ever is quite understandable.
But folks, the fact is that some propagated nostalgia notwithstanding, the invective and the cajoling and the backstabbing and dueling cussing matches have been going on at the least the last 30 years.
I wasn’t around for the thrilling days of sho-nuff yesteryear and its tales of duel challenges and House members conking each other on the heads with canes, but I was around in 1989 to witness the decline and fall of one Jim Wright, so for the edification of those who weren’t and to perhaps jog a few memories of some others, allow me to share the “only in Washington” shabbiness of prelude to where we are today.
It is early summer, 1989, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives is a Democratic polecat from Texas by the name of Jim Wright:
Now, Jim Wright may not have been the first Speaker of the House nor the last forced into resigning in midstream, but he was one of Washington’s more ostentatious hypocrites. Think Jimmy Swaggart in a better suit.
Hence, the very idea of Jim Wright piously pontificating on the way out the door about how “enough is enough,” and how there should be an end to such partisan “cannibalism” as he blamed on his one-way ticket back to Texas was an act of hypocrisy equivalent to Ted Cruz’s in snuggling up to Donald Trump after the man had called his wife ugly and suggested his daddy might have been in on the Kennedy assassination.
There isn’t all that killing much water in Texas, but there must be something in it.
Though he tried, Wright had neither the old standby “liberal media” nor the suddenly adopted Mr. Clean postures of his peers to legitimately blame for being run out of arguably the second most important job in the country on a rail because, to his chagrin, far too many folks had come to find out that he was crooked as a spastic snake with sunstroke.
The House Ethics Committee, after all, is not exactly famous for paying a whole lot of attention to ethics violations, but Wright’s laundry list of them was so dirty, it was serving to make the whole institution smell bad.
There was, as example, the business about a Texas oil well deal that netted him a cool $340,000 and then there was the unseemly fact that his wife received a whole heap of money from another developer for working for him even though she never quite managed to show up at the job — even once.
And there was some other stuff, all of which showed Wright to be more than a little shady in the shadiest town on Earth with so few trees.
And, of course, it didn’t help the ole boy one bit that he was one of the most partisan souls in the entire Congress. One doesn’t after all, rise to the speakership without eating, drinking and sweating out the party line, all day, every day.
It is with some vividness that I recall the ex-speaker waxing poetic about every perceived element of perceived sleaziness within the Reagan administration and crying most foul when his best efforts to put old Ronnie between the sheets with every scoundrel on the planet never quite made the grade.
Why, Jim Wright’s calling for an end to partisanship in Washington was like Def Leppard calling for return to the classics — apt to raise an eyebrow or two.
And maybe worst of all was the way his majority members allowed the jerk to turn his own departure into some not ready for prime time episode of “Let’s Make a Deal,” saying in his most Nixonesque piety “I have done no wrong,” only to be be all too quickly followed by his being forced to say, “well, OK, so maybe you caught me doing a little something wrong, but I am going to show you by resigning so you will quit looking until to find the really bad stuff.”
If was not the republic’s most shining moment, folks, but I think it does prove instructive as we try to find some context into which we might put the tribalism that rules in contemporary America.
We have, after all, been here, before, albeit absent Trump and his catalytic crudeness.
At least back then, you could find some humor in the spectacle. Why, the only thing missing was Tip O’Neill strumming “Peace in the Valley” on a banjo.
Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.