You know you’ve hit the big time when the New York Times does a front page hit piece on you. That’s exactly what happened to Darrell Issa (R-CA) the day before we were scheduled to meet for an interview. While the NYT story contained nothing more than recycled lies and smears, there have been misperceptions about Issa for a long time. In fact, our relationship began that way.
Darrell and I first met after his failed U.S. Senate race in 1998, but I started to take a greater interest in him when he became a Congressman in 2001. The Jewish community, as well as the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC, had a problem with him because of his perceived positions on Israel. The Jewish Forward, a national publication, thought he was a Muslim. I decided that it was time to start asking some questions.
It turns out that everybody had it wrong. Darrell is a Lebanese Christian by background who grew up in Cleveland Heights, Ohio 10 minutes from where I did. We were born less than a month apart. He has two siblings married to Jews, and jokingly referred to himself as a “Shabbos Goy,” which is a term for a Gentile who assists Jews with tasks from which they are restricted on the Jewish Sabbath. I found Darrell to be an extremely sharp person, capable of grasping the big picture as well as the details – a combination rarely found in elected officials on either side of the aisle. We have developed a strong friendship, and both of my children have worked as summer interns in his Washington office.
Issa has since risen up the ranks to now chair the Committee on Oversight and Government Relations. While the Committee’s responsibilities include management of the Postal Service, the Civil Service, and the District of Columbia, its biggest task is oversight of the Executive branch. When the House is of the same party as the President, as it was during the first two years of the Obama Administration, oversight can become lax and ineffective. So all eyes were on Issa as the Committee and its staff transferred to Republican control.
Issa took over the Chairmanship with a focus on three matters: 1) The Postal Service, 2) Countrywide Financial and its ties to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and 3) The Obama Administration’s activities, in particular TARP and ObamaCare. Then life and politics got in the way.