Capitol Hill Rituals, Strange and Not-So-Strange

New York Times reporter Dan Barry has an “outsider visiting the Capitol” piece (8/3/11) about the strange things one encounters in the legislative sausage factory. In some rooms you are required to wear a necktie; others have no such rules. The place is confusing in other ways, too: “To reach the third level from the first, walk down, not up.”

Barry watches the behavior of reporters, scrambling around to get a quote from this or that lawmaker. Not that they’re interested in all lawmakers equally. After John Boehner spoke at one lectern, for instance:

A few minutes later, representatives of the Congressional Progressive Caucus appeared at the Boehner-warm lectern to deplore the plan as an assault on working families and the result of a hostage situation created by Tea Party Republicans. But fewer reporters remained to listen.

Whatever the strange rituals of the Beltway, this is one that isn’t surprising at all.

I suspect one of the reporters who stuck around was Dana Milbank–because he had to write a column making fun of the complaining leftists, who apparently should be grateful that budget cuts aren’t as deep as they might have been:

Republicans received only a third of the $6trillion in cuts over 10 years that they proposed in Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget. But liberal lawmakers are convinced that Obama gave away everything–big spending cuts, probably including Medicare, without any tax increases–all because of a few dozen tea party House members who, defying even House GOP leaders, were perfectly willing to see the government default. In essence, the progressives had been out-crazied by ideologues on the other side–and that drove them mad.

“Oooh!” Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) screamed when asked about the compromise. “Oooh!” she cried again, as if witnessing a ghastly accident scene.

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) reported a crime by the Republicans. “A minority within the Congress of the United States has held up the president,” he told reporters.

“You have this small element,” added Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), “which is basically willing to hold Congress and the nation hostage.” Cummings read a complaint he received from a constituent calling the deal “a total capitulation.”

Democratic leaders made no attempt to calm their pitchfork-wielding backbenchers, such as Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), who described the deal on TV as a” Satan sandwich.”

“It probably is–with some Satan fries on the side,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told ABC News.

That left nobody to counter the likes of Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who called the deal “bizarre” and said it would lead to old folks in his state losing medical care. “It’s all about cutting, cutting, cutting!” he shouted at reporters.

Mocking left-wing members of Congress is a staple of Milbank’s columns; one of the few pieces about the People’s Budget of the Progressive Caucus was Milbank’s red-baiting mockery of their press conference. Perhaps that’s the choice in the corporate media: Ignore progressives–or laugh at them.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.