Dave Helling

The car wash follies

Updated: 2013-04-23T05:25:57Z

By Dave Helling

The Kansas City Star

This might be an age of dysfunction in politics, but it’s a golden age for political art. In books, plays, movies and especially television, political observations have never been funnier, scarier or more accurate.

My favorite is “Veep,” the HBO series. Its satire, cynical and hilarious, isn’t for the faint-hearted, or anyone under 18. “Veep” exaggerates for effect, of course, but the jokes are genuine, firmly grounded in recognizable characters and situations.

Mostly, though, I like the show because it reveals an important truth about elective public service: It can be thoroughly humiliating. From poorly-timed bodily functions to a phone call from the president that never comes, fictional vice president Selina Meyer (portrayed to perfection by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) bravely struggles each week to maintain a shred of dignity against an onslaught of slights, put-downs and public embarrassments.

And don’t we recognize that struggle? Think of then-prosecutor Claire McCaskill explaining the pot arrest of her then-husband, David. Or Sly James responding to his son’s antics, or Chris Koster’s ex-wife donating nearly $200,000 to his opponent.

Or any day with Mark and Gloria Funkhouser.

Last week, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver reached an uneasy peace with Bank of America over his debt for the purchase, a decade ago, of a car wash business. We don’t know the precise details of the still-lingering loan deal, only that Cleaver still owes the bank more than $1.2 million.

The specifics of the agreement aren’t public records. And to my knowledge, Cleaver has never fully, publicly explained how the car wash business turned into such a fiasco.

His opponents see something sinister in that, but I see “Veep.”

I’ve covered Cleaver for parts of four decades, so I’m entitled to this guess: he won’t talk about the car wash because it’s embarrassing for a man who’s highly sensitive to criticism. Better to stay quiet about what he sees as a private matter.

Here’s the thing, though: Cleaver, by choice, is a public figure. And public figures trade some privacy rights for the ability to make the laws the rest of us have to follow.

Lots of folks are worried the Small Business Administration may end up absorbing part of Cleaver’s loan. But perhaps we should be more concerned that a member of the House Financial Services Committee is still in serious hock to one of the biggest banks in America.

Too cynical? Then let’s see the debt agreement.

Then we can all get back to “Veep.” Fictional embarrassment is funny; the real thing, not so much.

To reach Dave Helling, call 816-234-4656 or send email to dhelling@kcstar.com.

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