Congress’s Behavior Is Getting Worse, With Brawls Breaking Out All Over Capitol Hill

From a Wall Street Journal column by Peggy Noonan headlined “So You Think You Want a Political Fighter?”:

The crisis of comportment on Capitol Hill is getting worse. Two months ago it was an argument over whether senators should be allowed to wear children’s play clothes on the floor, because one senator felt this was emotionally necessary for him. His emotions were overridden and the old dress code restored. Now it is how members feel free to act in public. If you follow the news you’re familiar with most or all of the instances.

The former House speaker, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.), was walking through the halls with his security team when he was charged with elbowing a kidney of Rep. Tim Burchett (R., Tenn.), who’d been part of the successful effort to remove him as speaker. NPR’s Claudia Grisales was there and saw it all. “Have NEVER seen this on Capitol Hill,” she tweeted. “McCarthy walked by with his detail and McCarthy shoved Burchett.” Mr. Burchett lunged forward, and a chase ensued, followed by a verbal confrontation.

Did this happen? Of course. Former Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R., Ill.), in a memoir published earlier this year, wrote that Mr. McCarthy had twice gotten physical with him in almost exactly the same way. “As he passed with his security man and some of his boys he veered towards me, hit me with his shoulder and then kept going.” Mr. McCarthy denied Mr. Burchett’s charge, at first allowing that “I guess our shoulders hit or something,” and later growling, “If I kidney-punched someone, they would be on the ground.”

Mr. McCarthy is someone who’d want to avenge himself on a foe, and what’s he going to use, his wit? He is an odd man in that as soon as he became a figure of some height and sympathy, after wrongfully being taken down last month, he decided to remind everybody why nobody liked him.

Also this week, in a public hearing, Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R., Okla.) challenged Teamsters President Sean O’Brien to a fight. Mr. O’Brien had gotten lippy on Twitter, calling Mullin a “moron” and “full of s—.” Why not fight it out here, at the hearing? Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) stopped it—“God knows the American people have enough contempt for politics, let’s not make it worse.” Afterward Mr. Mullin told an Oklahoma podcaster how he fights and what we missed. “By the way, I’m not afraid of biting.” “I’ll bite 100%. In a fight, I’m gonna bite. I’ll do anything, I’m not above it. And I don’t care where I bite, by the way.”

The same day in the House, Rep. James Comer (R., Ky.) called Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D., Fla.) a “Smurf” and “a liar” after Mr. Moskowitz accused Mr. Comer of personal corruption. And Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) said Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R., Ga.) lacks the “maturity” to understand the implications of her political actions, which prompted her to reply with a tweet saying Mr. Issa lacks—and here she posted emojis of a football, a basketball, a baseball and so on. In June she was picked up calling one of her competitors, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R., Colo.), “a little bitch” on the House floor.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D., N.Y.) didn’t do anything at all this week, which is amazing because he is a one man death-of-comportment unit, but two weeks ago he pleaded guilty to falsely pulling a fire alarm in a Capitol Hill office building, which had to be evacuated. Earlier he had denied it and likened his Republican critics to Nazis. In March he distinguished himself by standing in the halls and screaming, of Republicans, “They’re freaking cowards, they’re gutless.”

What is wrong with these people? Why do they do act this way?

Some part of it is surely psychological—a working out, in public, of the fact that they have low regard for the institution because it is populated by people like them, and no regard for the political process because it allows people like them to rise. Here is a rule of life: Deep down mooks always know they’re mooks, the shallow know they’re shallow, the dumb know they’re dumb. Their constant attempts not to let you see what they know leads to much bad behavior.

A larger part would be that they’re certain the people back home like it. Mr. Mullin was sharply dressed, in a crisp white shirt camera-ready for his moment. He didn’t expect to be outfaced by the union guy: “You stand your butt up.” Mr. Mullin was showing his base how rough, tough and macho he is. He’s not gonna let any fancy deep-state rules on decorum dictate to him; he’s real, authentic, a man. Which he can show by punching and kicking people. Here, watch! I wonder if he’s right that the people of Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain, like that sort of thing. It isn’t really a compliment to them that he thinks they would.

I think the biggest reason for Congress’s behavioral deterioration may be simply that all Americans now, especially people in politics, are media-addled. Lawmakers don’t experience themselves as political figures doing the business of the nation but as actors in a streaming series called “Populism!” on some tacky cable network, and they have to keep it lively and keep the action going. They are celebrities back home, like Real Housewives, famous for being famous and eager to do selfies to show how salt-of-the-earth they are. Once I talked to the producer of a weekly TV drama and told him I found it interesting that his actors, in their scenes, always seem to show they’re thinking. Before answering a question they linger and take time, as if they’re trying to show how thinking looks. He smiled and said no, it’s just an actor’s trick, they’re trying to keep the camera on their face.

That’s what the members are doing, keeping the camera on their face.

Here we point out why all this is bad for America. It makes democracy look cruddy and small, like something shrinking before our eyes. It makes our leaders look second rate and insubstantial. It disheartens parents, who are trying to create rules for the road for their children. It disheartens normal Americans who are worried for their country and see in its increasing wildness and lack of dignity a sign that we may not be able to hold together in the long term.

And of course it pleases our competitors in the world. They think we’re a sinking nation, poorly educated, riven by race, seeking refuge in drugs. The embarrassing behavior of our political leaders is, to them, more evidence of our breakup. Do you wish you knew Chinese president Xi’s thoughts this week as he traveled through a San Francisco bedecked in Chinese flags? I’ll tell you. He thinks we are on a long slide, our time is over, America was the 20th century but this is the 21st.

We have to look at ourselves here. Why do we accept this? Do we think this is all just a show called “Populism”? How’s it going to end? Aren’t these questions earnest? It’s embarrassing to be earnest, isn’t it?”

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