Oh democracy, you resplendent purveyor of joy. Only in a country like ours could a guy like this, a perennial last place dodgeball pick, get elected and rise up to be a respected, influential figure in government. Is there any doubt that Henry Waxman is the most powerful moustachioed man in history? (Disclaimer: Previous statement omits figures that were not leaders of totalitarian regimes or U.S. Presidents Grant, Arthur, Cleveland, Teddy Roosevelt, or Taft.)
He may not be nerdier than he looks, but he is a bit older than he looks. At 69, Waxman is a statesman, having served in the House since 1975. That’s right: 34 years of uninterrupted service to the country and fuzzy upper lips from sea to shining sea. He’s so money he ran completely unopposed in 2008.
Surprisingly, this glitz-less, glam-less guy is the hometown Congressman for the swank and superficiality that is LA. He represents California’s 30th district, which includes Hollywood, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, and Malibu. Yes sir, you are correct sir: he is literally a Hollywood liberal.
Though, he defies that stereotype in many respects. He has a fair amount of street cred, because he grew up Straight Outta Watts, nearby cousin of Compton. He probably has more childhood reference points in common with Dre and Snoop than Michael Douglas and Elizabeth Taylor.
God, it must be great when he gets a call from Gary Busey in the middle of the night asking why the minimum wage is so low. And he has to take the call because Gary says those 3 words that no elected official can ignore: “I’m a constituent.”
Waxman’s the Sgt. Slaughter of Congress, not the Jackie Earle Haley you think he would be. Once, in a tiff, he took off a tie that was given to him as a gift from a senior Republican and threw it back at him. Bet you didn’t read that in your parliamentary procedure pamphlet! Oh, snap!
As The Associated Press wrote of him on Friday, “What endures with those who have tangled with Waxman… is his deft handling of such to-the-brink-and-back moments that have made the diminutive, balding representative one of the most effective negotiators in Congress.”
Politico carried that further in saying, “The chairman is a hard-nosed negotiator who hates giving ground. But he’s also a political pragmatist who showed a willingness to make concessions when necessary, giving the Blue Dogs one of their top priorities by de-coupling the public plans from Medicare.”
For those who are not all that versed in Congress, it’s more than just a horde of 435 people. Well, it is… but there is some semblance of order and hierarchy. The real power lies within the committees and your stature and seniority within said committee. In the wake of the Democrats’ takeback of Congress in 2006, Waxman rose to be Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Among other things, you may have seen him questioning Roger Clemens over steroid allegations. (By the way, as a committee member in 1994, “he forced the chief executives of the seven major tobacco companies to swear under oath that nicotine was not addictive.”)
Early this year he pulled off a coup to become the Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. It was a coup because he won the chair in a secret ballot of House Democrats, despite not being the most senior member on the committee. This committee has its hands in a broad swath of high profile issues, chiefly the current health care reform and global warming bills. Perhaps you’ve heard of them.
He got the health care bill got out of the 59-person committee, which is no small feat when the Republicans are stonewalling and the Democrats are doing the job of two parties by staking out two different sides of the same issue.
Moreover, he ushered the global warming bill, a.k.a. the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), through to passage in the full House. It entails a cap-and-trade approach to the problem, and also seeks to improve the electrical grid, increase energy efficiency, and boost electrical vehicle production.
Waxman also put out a book last month that tries to explicate “How Congress Really Works”. The Washington Post even called it “fun to read.” Better than the review was its title: “Moustache of Justice.” Imagine how many copies he would have sold if the book had that title, and not just the book review. To have a title as good as “Moustache of Justice” and to not use it, it’s worse than holding in “The Jerk Store” line. Luckily, you can buy a mug with his mug on it.