Tuesday, July 12, 2011


A story that developed in the last few days is endemic of the state of political discourse in the US today.   Congressman Paul Ryan was having dinner with two friends at a restaurant called Bistro Bis.  An assistant professor at Rutgers (Susan Feinberg - who teaches a course on Love and Money) was having dinner at a table near his and saw that Ryan's table was having a bottle of wine.   She snooped and found it be a bottle of Jayer-Gilles 2004 Echezeaux Grand Cru.  That goes for $350 per bottle in the restaurant and the professor was incensed.  She immediately tattled to a lefty blog called Talking Points and yammered "We were just stunned," said Feinberg, who e-mailed TPM about her encounter later the same evening. "I was an economist so I started doing the envelope calculations and quickly figured out that those two bottles of wine was more than two-income working family making minimum wage earned in a week." (not sure why her economics background -actually a PhD in Business Administration from Minnesota- was necessary to do the calculations) So the fussbudget clicked off a couple of pictures of the wine bottle and sent them to her post.    She immediately assumed the worst, perhaps based her disagreements with the Ryan budget proposals.  After all she fumed, why should he spend money on expensive wine when the "safety net" is being ripped out for the less fortunate.

But even the Tabloid mode of Ms. Feinberg was not enough.  As she was leaving the restaurant after consuming an $80 bottle of wine at her own table, she decided she should lecture the Congressman on his companions and his dinner choices.   That resulted in a confrontation between the Ryan table and Feinberg and her husband.   Her judgement about the events seems to have been at least mildly impaired  "I wasn't drunk, but I was certainly emboldened to speak my mind."

First to the facts.   Ryan did not order the wine but did pay for one bottle of it, although according to friends he would have been embarrassed at the cost of the wine.  He is notoriously cheap.    But second, why would this fussbudget believe it is appropriate to interpose herself in this private dinner?   Indeed, she has a right to snap photos with her cell phone.  But if she decides to become a public scold, wouldn't the based standards of decency require her to discover the facts before spouting off?

Feinberg is obviously not the only one. When you look at her CV she has a credible research record.  But her political bias, if indeed it was not the booze speaking, violated good taste.  Bloggers on the right have shown a similar lack of sense of decorum.    Wouldn't the public policy process be improved if we did not spent more time on the substance and less on the personal lives of political figures?   Evidently the Assistant Professor never learned the rule - just because you can does not mean you should.

1 comment:

Tony's grand daughter said...

This reminds me of that dinner with my grandfather, in the very early 70's in Washington DC. Our dinner group was talking about all the things a young person had to face in that time, and what turned out to be an Episcopal minister from Berkeley felt he needed to talk to us on his way out of the restaurant. He said, " I hope you people all join the 20th century soon." My grandfather, aged 70 plus, charged out of the restaurant after him, as we all sat in stunned silence at the table. When Tony came back, he said they had had a nice chat outside, and besides " if he'd know how old I was, he would have just started running."
I miss my grandfather.