Capitol Idea: Stay Classy, Eric Massa

Just three weeks ago, Eric Massa was a scrappy freshman congressman, rallying liberals to fight for single-payer health care. Now, as I write this, it’s just a day after he resigned the House seat that he worked so hard to win, and he’s on right-wing talker Glenn Beck’s show as a friendly guest.

It’s a turn of events that is equally bizarre and sad to contemplate.  It proves the old political adage that any fool can get elected to Congress but the trick is to be able to get re-elected. It is also a reminder of how much we never know about the people we send to Washington, and how the wooden dais that sets us apart from them in a Capitol Hill hearing room isn’t as separating as we often believe.

On their face, though, Massa’s accusations that Democratic bosses in Congress or the White House somehow set him up and forced him out over his health care reform stance are simply too ridiculous to be believed.  If Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, or Rahm Emanuel made it a habit to conspire against every liberal lawmaker that crossed them, they would have tossed Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio overboard years ago.

In reality, if not for his strange public meltdown and the personal behavior that apparently set it all in motion, Massa could have been on track to become a Democratic Party superstar.  Massa first tried to get elected in 2006, and lost, but he came back two years later not only to defeat an entrenched Republican, he did so in an upstate district that simultaneously went for John McCain for president.

What made Massa truly unique is that he was no conservative Blue Dog Democrat. Although he represented a district that tilted Republican, Massa was unapologetically liberal, especially on on the lightning-rod issue of health care reform.  If Massa could have sold his swing district on his progressive populism, and had he been re-elected this year to a second term, he would have discovered a new Holy Grail of Democratic politics.  Massa would have become the Democrats’ new rock star. Not only would he have had countless others of his party nationwide asking him to coach them how to replicate his success, Massa would have had the ears of the very congressional leaders he now despises.   None of that is now to ever be.  He told one story, and then backtracked and told another, and then still another even as he headed for a shocking, abrupt resignation of the job he had fought so hard to win.

Those on the right who hate Barack Obama, and all things Democrat, were more than happy to buy into Massa’s wild allegations that he set up and forced out by the president and his allies.  Now a whole secret life is emerging, complete with allegations that the congressman had been groping male staffers all along. Massa appears to be nothing more than a mirror image of Rep. Mark Foley, the Florida Republican who quit just as quickly as Massa, after it came to light that he had sexually harassed young male House pages.

Well, conservatives, you want to claim Eric Massa, you can have him. Maybe Rush Limbaugh will invite him on next to talk about his weird escapades.

All of this would be freakish if it weren’t so sad. Sad, because of what Massa could have accomplished. But, yes, sad, too, to watch this man once so full of promise just fall apart in front of us.

The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered government and Washington for more than a decade. Capitol Idea is his regular column from Washington.

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