Washington, ever so humble

Al Kamen
Columnist October 3, 2012

Everyone knows that Washington is a town of egos. An Acropolis of arrogance. A hamlet of hubris.

But wait! Those old stereotypes, it turns out, are wrong. The city is actually a capital of humility. Humble is the new pinstripe.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Witness the staggering outpouring of extreme modesty from politicians on both sides of the aisle (excessive meekness knows no party label these days).

Perhaps making the bowed-head pose stylish was Mitt Romney, who upon clinching the requisite number of delegates to be named the Republicans’ presidential standard-bearer back in May, declared himself to be “honored . . . and humbled.”

The humility hasn’t stopped flowing since. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was “humbled” to be chosen as Romney’s running mate.

Rep. Connie Mack was “humbled” by Romney’s endorsement in the Florida GOP primary. Senate hopeful Linda McMahon in Connecticut gushed on her Facebook page that she was “humbled by the overwhelming support” from fellow Republicans.

But if you really want to humble a politician, write him a big check. Seems much of the humility emanating from campaigns is closely tied to donations.

In an e-mail thanking supporters of his Senate bid in Virginia (and seeking still more dough), Tim Kaine (D) said he was “humbled by the breadth and depth of the grassroots support.” Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), seeking to drum up a few more donations to meet a fundraising goal, said in a campaign e-mail that she was “so amazed and humbled” by the money flowing in.

A hefty war chest prompted Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) to say: “I’m humbled by the number of individuals and families who believe America can still be great.”

And the list goes on. Of the “support” (also known as “donations”) they’ve gotten, candidates had this to say:

Rep. Louise Slaughter (D- N.Y.): “one of the most humbling experiences of my whole life.”

Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.): “humbling.”

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska): “humbled and honored.”

Minnesota Democratic House candidate Rick Nolan : “truly humbled.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), through a spokesman: “humbled.”

In fact, we found dozens of instances of candidates declaring themselves humbled by one thing or another — usually money.

The results of our quest, we should say, left us both humbled and amazed. Did we mention humbled?

Not just blowing smoke

Sometimes “out” is in, and sometimes “in” is out?

President Obama recently noted that “you can’t change Washington from the inside. You can only change it from the outside.”

Not so, says Stephen Buyer, the former nine-term Republican lawmaker from Indiana who unsuccessfully challenged federal anti-tobacco regulation when he was on the Hill. (And received more than $100,000 in donations from the industry over the years, according to a report Tuesday from ProPublica.)

“To be an agent of change,” Buyer told the Indiana General Assembly’s Health Finance Commission on Sept. 19, “you can do it from the outside and attack tobacco manufacturers like many anti-tobacco organizations do or you can do it from the inside. I have chosen to be an agent from the inside.”

So now he’s inside — the industry, at least — as a consultant and lobbyist for a subsidiary of Reynolds American Inc., the parent of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, ProPublica reported.

Buyer famously took to the House floor in 2009 to liken smoking cigarettes to smoking lettuce: “It is the smoke that kills, not the nicotine.”

And he is still working hard to promote smokeless tobacco — such as chewing tobacco and snuff — as a safe alternative to smoking. (The Food and Drug Administration disagrees about the safety part.)

Well, inside or out, we trust the lobbying world provides a decent standard of living.

Booze. Eggs. Nog?

The crime wave on Capitol Hill continues, and this time there’s missing booze.

A thief or thieves hit the office of Rep. Mike McIntyre last month, National Journal is reporting — another in a string of heists from House offices this year.

Among the booty purloined from the North Carolina Democrat’s office: two bottles of Scotch, three presidential Easter eggs, two bottles of cologne and 10 pairs of collector’s cuff links valued at $100 a pair.

Other items missing from congressional offices include Rep. Elton Gallegly’s prized collection of license plates and Rep. Jerry Lewis’s set of Easter eggs signed by first ladies.

Capitol Police again told National Journal that they’re on the case. Perhaps they should be looking for an egg collector with a taste for fine single-malts.

Fasten your seat belt

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said last year that he definitely wouldn’t stick around for a second Obama term, if there was one. But we’d been hearing lately that he was reconsidering that decision.

And now, speaking at an air-cargo conference in Florida, he indicated publicly that he’s not so certain about quitting after all. “I’m going to sit down with the president, figure it out and see where it takes me,” he said, according to the trade pub DC Velocity. Though he’s a Republican, LaHood said he didn’t think he’d be asked to stay on in a potential Romney administration.

After 14 years in Congress and four in the Obama administration, LaHood might find some allure in the private sector, where he’d surely command a bigger paycheck.

But it looks as though the transportation chief is still . . . up in the air.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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