By now most readers of this blog have seen the video clip of Republican congressman Randy Neugebauer (from, where else, Texas) berating a U.S. Park Service Ranger at the now-closed WW II memorial in Washington. Liberals have rightly focused on it as an example of outrageous right-wing hypocrisy, since Neugebauer couldn’t wait to shut down the government, which, among other things, led to the closing of all national parks.
(By the way, just to give you an idea of the kind of reactionary freak Neugebauer is, not only does he have doubts about the President’s birthplace, but he was formerly famous for yelling “Baby killer!” on the House floor back in 2010, as Democratic congressman Bart Stupak was speaking during a debate on the Affordable Care Act. So this wealthy West Texas Republican hasn’t exactly been oozing decency during his career.)
In case you haven’t seen it, or to refresh your memory of the classlessness of Neugebauer, here is the video clip of the shutdown-happy congressman confronting the government employee just doing her job after the Republican Party made doing her job necessary:
SHUTDOWN HAPPY CONGRESSMAN: How do you look at them and… deny them access? I don’t get that.
DIGNIFIED PARK RANGER: It’s difficult.
SHUTDOWN HAPPY CONGRESSMAN: Well, it should be difficult.
DIGNIFIED PARK RANGER: It is difficult. I’m sorry, sir.
SHUTDOWN HAPPY CONGRESSMAN: The Park Service should be ashamed of themselves.
DIGNIFIED PARK RANGER: I’m not ashamed.
SHUTDOWN HAPPY CONGRESSMAN: You should be.
Now, we can all agree that this particular park ranger, by keeping her composure and maintaining her dignity, showed just how boorish the congressman is. And I submit that his very public exercise of such boorishness is based on a simple dynamic: the congressman believes that, since he is a powerful federal legislator and she a lowly park ranger, he is entitled to address her as if she were one of his minions, someone he can kick around whenever he feels like it, especially in order to make what he thinks is an awesome political point.
As I said, liberals have made much of this confrontation and to great effect. However, one liberal said something on Hardball with Chris Matthews that has bothered me ever since I heard it, and it sort of plays into the idea that politicians sit way up there on a hierarchy of importance compared to others.
On Thursday, Matthews’ guests for his segment on Neugebauer were two liberals, the excellent Karen Finney and the the sometimes-not-so-excellent Richard Wolffe. Matthews and Finney and Wolffe mostly got it right: the congressman was way out of line and should “be ashamed” of himself, while praising the park ranger for “standing up to him.” But then Wolffe, after noting that Neugebauer was “not a good politician” for doing what he did, said his mistake was this:
You don’t punch down. You know, you find your equal. Pick on someone your own size.
Okay, I understand that Wolffe is a political journalist and commentator. I understand that he was talking about the political stupidity of a congressman practicing bad politics by getting into a scruff with a park ranger, but something about the idea that Wolffe expressed just bothered the hell out of me.
Maybe it’s because I am a retired federal worker. Maybe it’s because I resent the fact that some people think that government service rendered by, say, a park ranger or a postal worker is inferior to government service rendered by a rich Republican congressman from Texas, who is rendering his government service by shutting down the government. But besides just bothering me, what Wolffe said is plainly wrong.
As it turned out, Neugebauer was not punching down at all. If he were punching down he would have knocked the hell out of that park ranger. But that’s not what happened. He was punching up. He was doing battle with someone who was bigger than he was, someone who was actually fulfilling her duties as a public servant, who had the dignity and courage to say with authenticity,
I’m not ashamed.
That park ranger stood there in triumph over someone who thought he was better than she was, who thought he could push her around. The congressman was the one who had to leave the scene in disgrace. And in that sense Richard Wolffe was right. Next time the congressman should find someone his own size to pick on.