Rep. Ann Wagner used to be U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg. Not exactly diplomatic hardship duty, but the Missouri Republican was still responsible for embassy budgets, staffing, security and a range of other serious responsibilities.
Rep. Bill Johnson served in the Air Force for 26 years, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. The Ohio Republican was recognized as a distinguished graduate from the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps, Squadron Officers School, and Air Command & Staff College, among other accolades.
Journalist Carl Bernstein helped bring down a president of the United States. As a junior Washington Post reporter in the early 1970s he and Bob Woodward doggedly pursued malfeasance by President Richard Nixon and his minions, which ended in the only White House resignation ever and a batch of prison sentences.
Yet the federal government shutdown that began on Oct. 1 has forced these otherwise accomplished people to act like children.
Reps. Wagner and Johnson spoke at a recent rally on the Capitol steps slamming Senate Democrats and President Barack Obama for fomenting the budget standoff. They used the same tired cliches as have been trotted out in recent days. Obama will talk to the president of Iran but not House Speaker John Boehner, Wagner said. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is at fault for not bringing the Senate into session on Sunday, Johnson charged.
Then there was Bernstein's Wednesday morning statement on MSNBC's Morning Joe comparing House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to red-baiting Sen. Joe McCarthy.
The Virginia congressman "and his Republican Party are the most dangerous, demagogic force in politics since Joe McCarthy," Bernstein said. "What we're seeing is a redefinition and understanding of Barack Obama's presidency, which is to protect America's security from this precipice from having the kind of power that's ruinous to this democracy."
Bernstein ignited a nearly eight-minute fight - epic by cable news standards. "That's an incredibly cheap shot," Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol replied, noting Cantor and House Speaker Boehner (R-Ohio) supported Obama over Syria last month.
Host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman from Florida who served through the last rounds of government shutdowns, in 1995-96, made a pox-on-both-their-houses argument that Senate Democrats had yet to pass an appropriations bill, Mediaite reports.
"I agree with you totally, except in terms of proportionality," Bernstein. "The proportion of what we're talking about here in terms of what one force is willing to do is quite different. A lot of the Democratic Congress is brain dead. But that is different from the kind of demagoguery that we have seen to the kind of oppositional politics to undermine Barack Obama and undermine American interests."
With the Oct. 17 debt ceiling deadline fast approaching, it's unlikely the rhetoric by elected officials and prominent journalists is likely to get high-minded. That's unfortunate for a group of people who used hold positions where they had to behave like grown-ups.