A visibly upset Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) took to the House floor late Thursday night to express his frustration over Republicans’ opposition to the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation bill. The bill would have provided $7.4 billion in free health care for 9/11 recovery workers. Weiner spoke before the final vote, urging Republicans to vote yes on the bill if they, in fact, actually were in favor of it, rather than vote no to object to procedures necessary for the bill to move forward.
Emotional outbursts are nothing new to the House floor. This past March, Congressman Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) decried the media’s attention to the Eric Massa scandal rather than focusing on the war in Afghanistan. Kennedy said: “We’re talking about war and peace, $3 billion, a thousand lives and no press?” He went on to decry the fact that there were only two reporters covering the House during that particular session, and that the lack of attention paid to the war by the media made the American public cynical about its government.
In 1995, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) made a reference to a famous passage by Rev. Martin Niemöller, an anti-Nazi theologian, during the welfare reform debate.
“Read the Republican contract,” Lewis said, “They’re coming for our children. They’re coming for the poor. They’re coming for the sick, the elderly and the disabled.”
Back then, it was simply taken as heated debate, one that would only help then-President Bill Clinton and score points for the Democrats. There was no media firestorm, no calls for Lewis’ firing. And, while times may have changed since then, with political pundits on both sides angling for television time anytime anyone says or does anything, there isn’t much of a difference in reaction. The fact that there weren’t as many political pundits 15 years ago as there are now means there were fewer people complaining publicly about what they didn’t like to hear. People may see a large difference in attention to outbursts by congressmen, but that’s only because there are more people in the press to pay attention to them rather than something else, like, say, the war in Afghanistan.
Because of the never-ending tension and division that defines American politics today, such outbursts are not surprising. When Kennedy made his speech about war coverage, he had already announced he wouldn’t run for another term in Congress. Lewis is still in Congress, and Weiner isn’t going anywhere. Aside from a couple media stories and news clips, they won’t amount to anything more than heated momentary blips in politics. At the most, those running for reelection may land a couple of swing votes they otherwise might not have had, but nothing else will come of them. This is a media-drenched society filled with news clips and headlines that come constantly; people have already moved on to something else. Major sex, bribery and extortion scandals are the acts of late that undo politicians, and hissy fits about governmental policy do not a scandal make. Until there is more behind an outburst than the person’s political beliefs, they’re not going to amount to too much.
Greg Sargent, “The Plum Line- Anthony Weiner’s Rant captures Dem’s impotence”, the Washington Post
Errol Louis, “Dems, embrace the fighter within: Anthony Weiner & Alan Grayson know how to cut through clutter”, the Daily News
Nancy Krause, Melissa Sardelli, “Patrick Kennedy Angry Outburst on the House Floor”, WPRI
Jeff Poor, “Media Then and Now: Rep. John Lewis Given Pass for House Floor Nazi Reference in 1995”, Newsbusters