Congress feasts on your delicious Congressional ethics
Fans of the Bravo cable network’s Top Chef were treated last night to a cringe-inducing exercise as Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle literally dined against a background of Congressional ethical misdeeds.
The TV competition, which pits a group of chefs against one another in a variety of cooking contests, is set in Washington, DC this season. Setting the competition in the nation’s capital has led to all manner of ham-fisted competitions – ‘bipartisandiwches,’ ugh! But at least when they brought the White House chef in, he put an emphasis on healthy food for school kids. Bring a junior Congressman and a first-term Senator in for the show, however, and all they want to do is get fat at the teat of toothpick-sized lobbyist meals and theoretical ‘power lunches’ with their campaign cash patrons.
First up was Rep. Aaron Schock, an Illinois Republican who is Congress’s youngest member (and well known for not wearing a shirt). He judged the show’s ‘quickfire challenge’ in which he made light of the peculiar rules about how lobbyists can serve food to Members of Congress and their staffs. You know, the rules that make it harder for people with deep pockets to wine and dine their way into legislative victory. The infamous ‘toothpick rule’, which states that lobbyists can only serve bite-sized morsels and not full meals to Congress members, formed the basis for the competition. Schock, alongside Padma Lakshmi, effectively encouraged the chefs to jam as much pricey, fancy food as they could on a toothpick, so that lobbyists can still subtly buy nice meals for their good friends on Capitol Hill.
But it wasn’t only a Republican who was snacking in the shadow of prior unethical behaviors in Congress (such as the Charlie Rangel ethics committee hearing that’s going on today). No, Top Chef’s producers kept it bipartisan. Senator Mark Warner, freshman Democrat of Virginia, was a guest judge in the elimination challenge. He lunched with NBC media types like Joe Scarborough at The Palm, a DC steakhouse that could have been the inspiration for scenes you might have watched in the film ‘Thank You For Smoking.’ The chefs raced to cook their guests ‘power lunches’ – the kind where lobbyists talk Senators like Warner into relaxing some regulations and easing off on oversight if they’re hoping to get re-elected next time around.
The scenes were made ickier by the real life conflicts of interest posed by the two members turning up on an NBC Universal program. Senator Warner sits on the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet, which oversees the FCC, which regulates media companies like NBC Universal. Rep. Schock sits on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in the House. Last year, the committee subpoenaed Tareq and Michaele Salahi, the scurrilous fameballs who crashed a White House party at the encouragement of their mercenary ‘Real Housewives of DC’ producers – a show that also airs on Bravo.
I hope that the cost of the meals the two Congress critters enjoyed are properly accounted and paid for. No good ever comes from the toxic mix of our political system and reality television’s simulacrum of American life. Especially when Congressional ethics are involved. Our political system is not a prop. A conflict-of-interest-free Congress is a bedrock goal of America’s constitutional dream, not a snack to be noshed on.