Friday, June 17, 2011

Who the Hell is Mark Cusack?...

Put Another Way: Tragedy May Not be in Resignations...

As you may or may not know, New York Congressman Anthony Weiner has resigned.  His resignation is an ominous sign beyond the destruction of an otherwise promising political career and a recent dust-up in Massachusetts (we cannot really call it a scandal).

Rep. Cusack (Facebook)
Despite the best efforts of moral outrage, State Representative Mark Cusack’s lapse in judgment back in April has not risen, even statewide, to the level of the controversy that has destroyed Cong. Anthony Weiner.  The story, however, slogged its way across the Boston media and appeared in AP stories throughout New England.  Even London’s Daily Mail had the story on its website.

Cusack, a Braintree Democrat, was caught with a female aide to one of his Republican colleagues in the House Chamber early in the morning after the lower house of the General Court finished up its budget.  Accounts differ, but it appears that he and the aide had not been in the chamber very long, were clothed and were not supposed to be there.  However, the catch all for objectionable behavior “inappropriate” leads us to suspect what they intended.

Also among unconfirmed details was that Cusack, likely in the heat of panic, identified himself as a fellow freshman colleague.  Like the Weiner roast, the local organization for Righteous Indignation pounced.  Many of these objections poured from quotes in news stories and from the ever-unreliable comments sections of news sites.  First they attacked him for his inappropriate behavior.  Then they began to zero in on his lie, attempting to draw parallels to Weiner’s claims of innocence early in that sordid affair.

House Chamber (
However, Rep. Cusack is not Weiner.  The former’s was a lapse in judgment no question.  The details of the story implicate alcohol, but nobody has alleged the near-debasement of the House chamber was not consensual.  Cusack, and ostensibly the aide, are unmarried and young.  Does that excuse using the House rostrum as the world’s worst privacy curtain?  No, but we would be naïve—to be kind—to think that nothing like this has ever happened in other supposedly solemn areas of the State House.  Indeed,  considerably worse debauchery has likely occurred within the US Capitol itself. 

As for the lying?  Well, the connection to Weiner’s transgressions simply do not hold water.  Weiner engaged in a ten day media blitz sticking to this hacking story and lying to his colleagues and friends in public until Andrew Breitbart, whom he should have known would ravenously pursue this nonsense, left him with no other choice.  Cusack’s lie, though crummy and certainly a violation of the politically incorrect axiom “Bros before hoes,” was not an extended exercise in deception.  It was simply a panicked, likely intoxicated kid (those most indignant about this situation, are undoubtedly old enough to consider Cusack, 26, a kid) blurting out something his booze and testosterone addled mind thought might make the situation go away.

Were both Weiner and Cusack seeking to escape a problem?  Yes, but fundamentally Cusack’s actions are, at best, a parallel to Weiner’s still too-late deletion of the original photographic lewdness.  Even that connection is tenuous, however.  Sooner or later, even if the incident had gone unreported, the guard would have figured out that Cusack had misidentified himself.  Surely soon after whatever official actions were taken by the guard, Cusack’s identity was discovered and any escape was as good as dead.

Speaker DeLeo in Springfield, June 3 (WMassP&I)
This blog has never been particularly kind to Speaker Robert DeLeo, however, his handling of this situation was entirely appropriate.  While Cusack went underground, DeLeo investigated the matter and found that indeed, there was no there, there.  While DeLeo probably lit into Cusack for engaging in such juvenile carnal antics, he did not expose the young lawmaker to any further public humiliation and apparently did not press for him to resign.  Neither would have been helpful or particularly corrective.

The investigation probably consisted of interviews with Cusack, the aide and the guard.  Additional background may have been gathered from the lawmakers who were imbibing in DeLeo’s office after the speaker left for the night.  Frankly, this (and locking the Speaker's entrance to the chamber) is all that was needed.  You better believe  Cusack will delay any similar, future crimes of passion until he makes it to some otherwise less historic realm, one out of the public eye.

That a London paper felt it necessary to report that a state legislator in his late twenties can get a little randy only shows how low our discourse has fallen as a nation.

While Anthony Weiner’s historic fall is of his making and no doubt the result of hubris, it did cause some to worry aloud about the scrutiny our officials do receive.  Sex, drugs and rock and roll have been used against politicians for time immemorial.  However, the increasing reliance on gotcha journalism folded into the 24 hour news cycle and an army of character assassins like Breitbart does spell trouble for public service.  Even the innocent and squeaky clean have something to fear as Shirley Sherrod can no doubt tell you.

Protests in Wisconsin Capitol (wikipedia)
The result will be more people cashing out of public service—especially for elected office—where the better and the brighter, if the best and brightest, are often needed the most.  Fifty years ago public service, be it as a teacher, librarian, researcher, attorney, mediator, and even politician was a noble calling.  Now it has become, in the public eye it seems, a den of iniquitous sloth, an insatiable maw for tax dollars.  Public service carries precious little public respect unless epaulats adorn your shoulder pads and a fruit salad snuggles your lapel.

Before this incident, Mark Cusack was little more than an insignificant name scanned over by the nerds (guilty!) that frequent Wikipedia’s “Massachusetts House of Represenatives” page.  Now, with the heightened media scrutiny, albeit brought on by himself, it could serve to poison whatever zest for public service he had had before.  This would be terrible. 

This blog does not know Cusack, but if he is decent, halfway honest and truly interested in using his position to further a public good, it may be a tragedy to lose his voice in the public forum.  Embittered by this, Cusack may opt not to run for reelection.  When the Boston Herald caught up with him, it is not hard to sense the potential for that sullenness in his response to their questions (Cusack emerged from hiding yesterday and was at the State House).

Cusack with his Family (Facebook)
Too often we are a nation that frets about the chronic voyeurism and exhibitionism (which predates Weiner) spilling out from television, Youtube and Twitter.  Ironically, many who would decry this voyeurism  would be among the first to encourage plying through the personal lives of politicians for any hint they fail to exemplify a moral paradigm.

Indeed, the legions of the righteously indignant, do not largely populate Anthony Weiner’s district just as they do not likely populate Cusack’s.  Had Weiner been forthright from the beginning, he would not spared himself embarrassment, but he could have easily maintained the support of his colleagues and possibly even spiked the ball back in Breitbart’s direction.  Cusack’s errors were uncovered and undone too quickly for the result to have been much different. More to the point, when made public, he owned his mistakes immediately.

He says he has "moved on" from this episode.  While he will undoubtedly be low-key in the coming weeks, the best he can do is simply do his job and not let himself be consumed by an error in judgment.  The last thing we need in these trying times is for somebody, good, bad or indifferent, to quit public service over a minority’s indignation at that individual’s sin of being all too human.

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