Rep. Joe Walsh: He'll say anything, which is why he's interviewed everywhere.

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
May 26 2011 6:30 PM

What Did He Just Say?

Meet Rep. Joe Walsh, the biggest media hound in the freshman class.

Joe Walsh. Click image to expand.
Joe Walsh

Joe Walsh, who has made more TV appearances than any other freshman in the House, is running late. It is not his fault. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's address to a joint session of Congress ran long—something to do with the 29 standing ovations he got—and as soon as it ends, Walsh bolts out the doors for his scheduled appearance at a Heritage Foundation luncheon.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

He arrives a little bit after 12:25 p.m. He kisses the receptionist's hand. He trips on a partially furled carpet, and turns the trip into a sort of Buster Keaton two-step, as if he'd planned it. The host, Robert Bluey, tells the audience that Walsh is just arriving from Netanyahu's speech.

"Woo!" says Walsh, slapping his hands together and hot-footing it to his seat. His own energy level is at least 100 volts higher than the rest of the room. "It was a masterful speech! He taught us all a history lesson, like he taught the president last week. And is so refreshing to hear a leader"—he pounds the table—"a giant, in that room." He gives the crowd a preview of a column he's just written about how President Obama is "not Israel's friend"—that's its headline when it is published the next day—with some eye-popping words about why American Jews are so liberal. It's sensational and it gets plenty of attention.

Just about everything Walsh says is sensational and gets plenty of attention. In the week I talked to him, he challenged the president to secure the border even if took "moats and alligators," and had a one-way spat with Sen. Scott Brown after Brown said he wouldn't support the Ryan budget. When I interview Walsh in his office—it wasn't hard to schedule—the Illinois Republican explains that he really didn't have a choice.

"I know there are Republicans who are afraid of the politics, but this is the call of our generation, to do something about this," he says. "It's profound! And that's why when I hear that guys like Scott Brown or any Republicans …" He trails off and pumps his fist. "I just wanna hit them. Politely. A nice, soft elbow to the guts. Come on, what are you thinking?"

Advertisement

It doesn't hurt Walsh at all to talk about punching people in the gut. It's how he won his seat. It's probably the only way he'll keep his seat. Since being sworn in less than six months ago, Walsh has appeared on prime time cable news or Sunday shows 28 times. When Congress is in session, he can appear more than once a week. What the cable bookers get is an excitable, handsome freshman who will say anything.

On MSNBC, after the State of the Union, asked whether there should be a social safety net:

"No. It's not in the Constitution."

On ABC News after voting for the House GOP's funding bill—the one about three times larger than the compromise that passed:

"Keep cutting, baby."

How come he's on TV more than any other freshman?

"I think it goes to this," he says. "A big freshman class comes to D.C., and here you've got one guy that said a lot of things during the campaign and he's doing everything he said. He's doing things that strike some people as unusual. Sleeps in the office. Turns down health benefits. Turns down pension benefits. Believes in term limits. Comes home all the time, holds more town halls than anybody. And then he's not at all afraid to talk about these things he believes in. So he's not afraid to go on MSNBC or CNN and get into a good jostling." He racks his brain for any more reasons he's on TV. "I mean, I'm a white male freshman congressman. There are a lot of those! I don't know."

There are other clues. Nobody thought Walsh would win. He'd worked for the libertarian Heartland Institute for a while, run for Congress in 1996, lost, run for state assembly, lost, then gone into the private sector but didn't make too much money. (His net worth, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, is negative $317,498.) Before doing this, he'd taken acting lessons—"stage, film, a little TV." He raised only one-quarter as much as his Democratic opponent, Melissa Bean, who had seemed to turn the Republican-leaning district into a blue zone, even though a third party candidate kept splitting the vote. In mid-October, the Rothenberg Political Report confidently assessed that Walsh was not "good enough to take advantage of a strong Republican year." He got no money from national Republicans—not even the third-party groups that poured in cash for other longshot candidates.

He won anyway. In his office, he's framed a gift from a Tea Party supporter that commemorates his victory.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 21 2014 8:00 AM An Astronaut’s Guided Video Tour of Earth
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.