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The Issa Man Cometh

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   On Wednesday evening October 9, 1946, Eugene O'Neil's The Iceman Cometh had its Broadway premiere at the Martin Beck Theatre.  Undoubtedly O'Neil's most ambitious -- and most difficult -- masterwork, The Iceman Cometh is set in Harry Hope's sleazy Greenwich Village saloon and boarding house in the year 1912.  With the exception of three women -- all of whom are prostitutes -- Harry's male patrons are all devoted alcoholics who spend virtually the entire 4-hour production seeking oblivion in each other's company while attempting to cadge free drinks from Harry and the bartenders .  Written out of what was obviously a profound sense of despair, O'Neil's characters express the playwright's disillusionment with the American ideals of success and aspiration and, as one critic noted, "suggests that much of human behavior is driven by bitterness and revenge."

   The original Iceman, which starred James Barton, Dudley Digges and the 36-year old E.G. Marshall, would have a run of 136 performances; it would not be mounted on Broadway again for nearly a quarter century. . .

   Nonetheless, it represents a watershed event in the history of "The Great White Way."

   On Tuesday January 4, 2011, the 112th Congress had its world premiere on Capitol Hill.  Included in the Republican cast were dozens of new members whose victories hinged on both voter dissatisfaction with the nation's economy and candidate pledges to change the way business is done in Washington, D.C.  Among those named to chair committees in the House were such consummate insiders as:

  • Wisconsin's Paul Ryan (Budget -- replacing John Spratt who lost his seat)
  • Kentucky's Harold Rogers (Appropriations -- replacing the retiring David Obey)
  • Alabama's Spencer Bachus (Financial Services -- replacing Barney Frank)
  • Michigan's Fred Upton (Energy and Commerce -- replacing Henry Waxman)
  • Michigan's Dave Camp (Ways & Means -- replacing Charlie Rangel) and
  • California's Darrell Issa (Government Oversight -- replacing Eudolphus Towns) 

    Darrell Issa, the new Government Oversight Committee Chair, is beginning his sixth term representing the people of California's 49th Congressional District -- Northern San Diego County.  Issa is a native of Cleveland.  The grandson of Lebanese Christian Immigrants (Issa is an Antiochan Orthodox Christian), the family name means "Jesus" in Arabic. Following college (Sienna Heights) and a stint in the United States Army where he served as a tank platoon leader, Issa headed out to California, where he made a fortune through his company, Directed Electronics, which became most famous for its flagship product, the "Viper" car alarm. (The "Viper" has a siren that is actually a recording of Issa's voice saying 'PLEASE STEP AWAY FROM THE CAR!').  Today, Issa, with a net worth in excess of $300 million, is easily the wealthiest member of the United States Congress. 

   Issa made an unsuccessful bid for the United States Senate in 1998.  Despite spending $10 million of his own money, he lost the Republican primary to California State Treasurer Matt Fong; he then turned around and won his House seat two years later.  Issa first came to national prominence in 2003 when he contributed more than $1.6 million to help fund a signature-gathering petition for the recall of then-California Governor Gray Davis.  (Davis was successfully recalled and eventually replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger.)

   In taking over the Government Oversight Committee, Representative Issa is now poised to become chief congressional watchdog over the Obama administration.  Under Republican control, Issa's committee will be in a position to subpoena reams and reams of documents from an administration he recently told Rush Limbaugh was "one of the  most corrupt in modern times."

   (I'm sure the ghost Richard Nixon will be pleased as punch with Issa's characterization. When Issa was challenged by CNN's John King on the use of the word 'corrupt' the congressman went after the entire network, and, namely, their understanding of the word.)

   Issa has pledged to identify and cut at least $200 billion in waste "on such things as Medicare misspending." For years, politicians have promised, like Issa, that they can and will bring spending under control by cutting "waste, fraud and abuse" from the federal budget.  Again, Issa is in good company in making this pledge.  However, for years, politicians have been wrong; if every dime of "waste, fraud and abuse" were pared from the federal budget, it would still be horribly out of kilter.  In this Issa is still in good company.  The big difference is that even if he cannot identify $200 billion in misspent money, he can make life absolutely miserable for the administration.  As one Democratic staffer said of Issa "His only goal in life up there is to make trouble for the Obama administration and the Democrats."

   The Issa Man Cometh!

   Now admittedly, Issa is not unique.  Whenever 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee (its official name) are in the hands of opposing parties, subpoenas fly like swallows to Capistrano.  During the Clinton years, when Indiana Republican Dan Burton (who referred to the president as a "scum-bag") wielded the committee gavel, the panel spent more than $35 million issuing more than 1,000 subpoenas.  Likewise, when he was committee chair, Democrat Henry Waxman was the George W. Bush administration's worst enemy, hauling in everyone from Condoleezza Rice and Valerie Plame to Donald Rumsfeld and Roger Clemens.  As writer Nick Baumann noted in a " Mother Jones" article , "Issa's got the potential to be the Republican Henry Waxman -- on steroids." 

   Following the 2010 election, Issa sent a letter to "more than 150 trade associations, companies and think tanks" including "the oil industry, drug manufacturers and other trade groups and companies" asking them "to tell me which Obama administration regulations to target" in the 112th Congress.  In political/economic terms Issa's letter is a prime example of what is known as "regulatory capture," which occurs when a governmental regulatory agency -- created to act in the public interest -- instead advances the commercial or special interests of the very industry or sector it is charged with regulating.  If indeed Issa's motive in sending out the 150+ letters is  for him to determine how various industries and interests wish to be regulated (or not), then we are in for at least two years of unbridled, unfettered non-regulation of  industry and big business, and a couple of years of administration brow beating.

   Yes, the Issa Man Cometh.  And with him comes an agenda, a gavel, and a big committee budget.  He's going to do everything in his power to make the sins of the administration look worse than Teapot Dome. Keep your eyes peeled on CSPAN, for I predict that Darrell Issa, his subpoenas and his committee hearings, are going to become a cable staple.  Sadly, the more we see of -- and hear from -- the Issa Man in the next couple of years, the more the acerbic words from the O'Neil's Iceman are going to resonate:

   "To hell with truth!  As the history of the world proves, the truth has no bearing on anything.  It's irrelevant and immaterial, as the lawyers say.  The lie of a pipe dream is what gives life to the whole misbegotten lot of us, drunk of sober."

-2011 Kurt F. Stone

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Kurt Stone is a rabbi, writer, lecturer, political activist, professor, actor, and medical ethicist. A true "Hollywood brat" (born and raised in the film industry), Kurt was educated at the University of California, the Eagleton Institute of (more...)
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