Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post’s “The Fix” tries really, really hard to be a nice guy.
A ham on Twitter, Cillizza does what many journalists can’t do: he pokes fun at politics while also taking it far too seriously. For one, he despises the Netflix series “House of Cards.” As a journalist, he hates the idea that Washington is run by a bunch of overpaid narcissists driven by “self interest, money, power or some combination of all three.” He believes there are plenty of good people in D.C. who work in the shadows, running the country while glory hogs take all the credit. That’s a cute notion, but totally detached from the disease-filled swamp that is the nation’s capital.
Cillizza isn’t just blind to the depravity that exists in and around Washington, he’s an active apologist for the worst kind of behavior. Recently, Mississippi senator Thad Cochran announced his marriage to his long-time aide Kay Webber. The two were rumored to be in a relationship last election cycle, as Cochran fought off a primary challenge from State Senator Chris McDaniel. During the race, a McDaniel supporter snuck into a retirement home to snap a picture of Cochran’s then-bedridden wife, Rose Cochran. The would-be photographer and amateur gossip hound wanted to prove that Sen. Cochran was involved with his aide while his wife suffered from progressive dementia. The late Mrs. Cochran had been living in the home since 2000.
The idea that Cochran was boinking someone who wasn’t his wife didn’t lack merit. He brought Webber along with him on nearly 30 overseas trips between 2011 and 2013. Cochran also lived in a Capitol Hill rowhouse she owned. So, clearly, it wasn’t a stretch to assume there were some outer-office shenanigans going on between the aging senator and his assistant of over three decades.
That didn’t stop Cochran supporters from denying that any affair was taking place. When allegations cropped up during the heated primary race, a campaign spokesperson told the press, “[Webber] is a member of the staff and a trusted aide, and any other suggestion is silly gossip.” Silly gossip, indeed. And frankly, who can blame Cochran’s office for denying the relationship? The senator was in the midst of a campaign in a deep-red conservative state. The scandal of an extramarital affair would have sunk his reelection chances.
Cillizza wants everybody to forget all that. Cochran’s wife sadly passed away last December. He married Webber five months later. Cillizza admits that it’s common sense to suppose “that sometime over the past decade or so, as his wife slipped further into dementia, Cochran and Webber became something more than just professional acquaintances.” But that’s exactly what Chris McDaniel supporters said last summer. And yet, mainstream media voices dismissed the allegations as conspiracy mongering. The charge was seen as distasteful and undignified.
A year later, that has all changed. We know something was going on, but now we’re to proceed as if nothing is amiss. The good senator is marrying someone his age, near the end of his life. He’ll find a last bit of happiness before departing this earthly realm. To all that, Cillizza asks: “Who cares?”
Well, people who care about honesty and the sanctity of marriage care. While Mississippi has a higher-than-average divorce rate, the culture is still relatively conservative. Cochran hid his infidelity because it was politically expedient. It’s as simple as that. Cillizza pretends to be empathetic, but he is really just covering up the sad truth: Thad Cochran committed adultery and lied about it to win reelection. Only Frank Underwood is more conniving.
Finally, Cillizza comes clean: “Lying about a relationship is bad. It’s worse that they felt compelled to do it.” The earnest blogger wishes that politicians weren’t put into positions where they have to deny their inner, sinful humanity. “Politicians are, after all, people too,” he reminds us.
Yes, pols are people too. No one is denying that. The issue here is that in a democracy, or representative republic, normal people run for public office. They are held to a higher standard than the rest of the population because public servants are afforded greater responsibility. They are supposed to be stewards of the nation. Hence, they should reflect the best virtues of the country. It’s hard to say Senator Cochran exemplified the best values of his constituents.
Cillizza’s attempt at defending Cochran reveals how desperate he is to excuse the inherent immorality so prevalent in Washington. The prominent journo has no problem participating in the grandiose, all-important pageantry that Washington embodies. He’s a regular at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. His entire job revolves around promoting the who’s who of D.C. Given the media’s closeness, and at times unctuous familiarity, with government, it’s not a stretch to say that Cillizza helps aggrandize the state. He is, as Lew Rockwell says, “part of the regime.” That doesn’t make him part of the Other, now. It just means his interest lies in perpetuating the nasty, power-wielding culture in Washington. His motives are questionable, at best.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with having sympathy for people who try to find a bit of happiness in their life. And there’s nothing wrong with having compassion for those who violate sacred trusts and vows. Lord knows we’re all sinners. But there are standards of decency that should be upheld. Just as we punish criminals for breaking the law, we can censure people for misconduct. Cheating on your wife is still infidelity, even if she is bedridden and lacks the mental capacity to understand what’s going on around her.
Ron Unz is correct that many of the folks involved in national politics are hiding sordid parts of their past. As we see with Senator Cochran, you’re never too old to be unfaithful. Or to prove that once again, Washington D.C. is where morality shrivels up and dies. The fact that Chris Cillizza defends rotten behavior for the sake of saccharine pity shows just how far some people will go to justify their decadent lifestyle.
I’ll end by posing Cillizza the following question: why is it OK to demonize former Speaker of the House Denny Hastert for allegedly sexually abusing a young high school student but it’s cool that Senator Cochran used taxpayer money to fly his mistress across the globe? Love is love, right? Wasn’t Hastert just looking for a bit of happiness by fondling a teenager?
If he paid me any mind, Cillizza would denounce Hastert while ignoring the truth of the issue: pleasure doesn’t excuse perverseness. And love doesn’t excuse lying. Cillizza should reconsider his sanguine outlook on D.C.’s most filthiest and famous. Rose-tinted glasses don’t excuse shoddy journalism.
(Full Disclosure: at the time of Thad Cochran’s heated primary election, I worked at a conservative organization that backed Chris McDaniel. The revelation of Cochran’s affair doesn’t make that loss feel any better.)