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The Magic Loogie

Back when I served on City Council in Cumberland, Maryland, there was an incident that is now worth recollecting. After a meeting where there might have been a contentious issue on the agenda, I returned to my vehicle in the City parking lot to find that some disgruntled citizen had apparently “hocked a loogie” on the front of my truck windshield. I calmly entered the vehicle, pumped the window washer a few times, ran the windshield wipers, and watched the large wad of snot and spittle at first resist and then swish back and forth until it broke into smaller pieces and slithered downward to the grill. After less than a minute, everything was spic and span again.

Over a political career of nearly eight years, I probably encountered a dozen or so similar incidents: trash dumped in the yard after a fluoridation vote (probably the closest we ever came to mandating universal health care coverage), anonymous letters and e-mails with hateful messages, a few taunts, and one threatened punch-up. After my resignation, I received a lovely little thank you card that read on the outside “Thank You” to reveal upon opening “for leaving” signed by the pseudonyms of a dozen or so malcontents.

All in all, you learn to take the occasional insult, veiled threat, and gesture of ill will in stride and recognize that it comes with the terrain of political representation. You’re never ever going to satisfy everyone. Moreover, people often have strong reactions to public policy issues. Some citizens can even be a little cantankerous. But it never escalated to the level that it required publicity or law enforcement action. End of story.

Beginning of story for some Congressional politicians who would have us believe that they’ve never been on the receiving end of an insult or taunt. In the past week, a dozen or so Congressmen have come forward with stories of harassment surrounding their positions on recently passed health care legislation. Some serious. Most not. Whether revelations of the latter are just peculiar demonstrations of political thin skin, lame attempts to gain sympathy, or coordinated efforts to demonize public demonstrators is still open to question. What is quite clear, however, is that many of the incidents either didn’t happen as told or involve ordinary, run-of-the-mill insults of a kind that merit no public controversy whatsoever.

As evidence of the latter consider the following. Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak charged that one constituent lectured that “You will rue the day you did this, Mr. Stupak.” Not to be outdone in the victimization department, a Republican Congresswoman retorts that she received an ugly call wishing that she had broken her back in a recent accident. And, of course, there were the “really gross expressions to young, Congressional staffers” telephoned to Congressman Anthony Weiner’s office. For goodness sakes, folks, call in the Marines.

And, then there is the spitting incident. Exhibit Congressman Emmanual Cleaver. In headlines that evoked images of the Selma to Montgomery marches, news headlines blared that a black congressman, Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver, was subject to racial taunts and spat in the face by an angry and vindictive teaparty activist in a tumultuous crowd. Fortunately, the entire incident was captured on video. What the tape clearly shows is a rather orderly crowd of demonstraters and a gentleman cupping his hands, shouting, and inadvertedly releasing a spray.

Fortunately too, Americans long ago became inured to conspiracy theories involving saliva projectiles. We can thank Jerry Seinfeld’s debunking of Cosmo Kramer for that.

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