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Naked Rahm now seared in our brains

A naked, wet and angry Rahm Emanuel?

That's the last image Americans need in our minds right now.

But it's been seared onto our brains — just like that weird wrestling scene from the movie Borat — thanks to former U.S. Rep. Eric Massa, D-N.Y., who resigned the other day amid allegations he sexually harassed male staffers.

"Let me tell you a story about Rahm Emanuel," Massa said on a recent radio program, talking about taking a shower in the Congressional Gym.

"I'm sitting there showering, naked as a jaybird, and here comes Rahm Emanuel not even with a towel wrapped around his tush, poking his finger in my chest, yelling at me because I wasn't going to vote for the president's budget. Do you know how awkward it is to have a political argument with a naked man?"

No. But I believe him because I've had a similar argument with Rahm before he was White House chief of staff, right here in the Chicago Tribune newsroom, Rahm jabbing his finger near my chest. Happily, Rahm was fully clothed.

Naturally, the White House denies the naked shower episode ever happened, and President Barack Obama's spokesman is basically calling Massa a nutball.

But can't both be true? The naked and the nutball?

Massa denies he sexually harassed anyone, but he now says he did engage in "tickle fights" with male staffers and may have sent inappropriate texts.

So of the nutball thing I am convinced, after watching his interview with Glenn Beck on Tuesday, one of the worst hours of TV in the history of the world.

Still, the Naked Rahm remains branded in the minds of my countrymen, like one of those horrible jingles that you hear in a commercial and gets stuck in your head.

But what the heck is with our politicians getting naked in our minds?

The Republicans are doing it too. Just the other day, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist went after his U.S. Senate campaign opponent Marco Rubio, alleging Rubio used a party credit card to pay $130 at a salon for a haircut, "or maybe it was a back wax."

A back wax?

Rahm is from Chicago, and plays Chicago politics, a fact that Washington journalists may have just discovered. But in Chicago, at least, our politicians keep their clothes on.

The late Mayor Richard J. Daley, boss of the Democratic machine, was said to wear a suit and tie even while walking on the beach at his Michigan vacation retreat.

And when his son, Mayor Richard M. Daley, takes fabulous free vacations — oh, I meant "working trips" — he can spend a weekend in the Bahamas and still come home without a tan. Why? The mayor keeps his clothes on.

The whole naked politician thing probably started with the famous pec pics of Obama in 2007, with Obama rising from the Hawaiian surf like Pegasus in Clash of the Titans, his skin glistening with sea foam.

Obama's pecs were deemed stupendous by many journalists who yearned longingly for his politics. They got tingles. And the nation began sliding down a slippery slope right then and there.

Our newest low is the shocking beach photo of the ethically challenged former House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel, D-N.Y.

The portly Rangel dozes, his hand dangling languidly upon some Dominican sand. At least he kept his shorts on.

As did Rahm in the Tribune newsroom. He was upset that I kept mentioning how he got elected to Congress — with the help of an illegal City Hall patronage army led by the now imprisoned corrupt city water boss Don Tomczak.

With his back to the newsroom, Rahm wagged that finger at my chest, and in my face, but he kept smiling and speaking politely. Other reporters — watching his back — thought he was really tearing my head off. It was a thoroughly devious trick, and I appreciated his crafty theatrics.

But a Stark Naked Rahm?

"He poked a finger in my chest while we were taking a shower," Massa said Tuesday. "Not only did it happen, I'll never forget it."

And now the nation can't forget it either.

Naked Rahm now seared in our brains 03/12/10 [Last modified: Friday, March 12, 2010 6:30pm]
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