We're begging you, Joe, put down the camera.EXPAND
We're begging you, Joe, put down the camera.
Jonathan Ernst/Reuters/Newscom

U.S. Rep. Joe Barton Can Take Penis Selfies and Still Be Homophobic. It's a Free Country.

If there is ever to be an autobiography — I, Joe — the moral issue to be addressed in it will be whether Joe Barton, a 32-year member of Congress from Ennis in the 6th Texas Congressional District, was a hypocrite.

Somehow, a woman not his wife got her hands on what seems to be a self portrait of Barton, apparently naked, staring down in the direction of his penis, which is blacked out in the only version of the picture I have seen. (Praise God.)

Barton is a flamboyantly self-professed champion of something called Republican family values, and he is an arch-foe of LGBT rights. Is it hypocritical, then, for a champion of family values to “take a selfie” (new meaning for the phrase?) while staring at his penis and then give or otherwise allow the photograph to come into the possession of a woman not his wife?

At least I think that’s the question. I know people have a lot of other questions. I am old, so the question about  Barton that I hear from people my own age is, “Oh, my God!” I work with a lot of younger people, and the Barton question on their minds seems to be, “Oh, ick!”

I’m not impressed by either question. People my age say, “Oh, my God!” about everything. Most of the time it means, “Would you say that again, a little louder?” And young people say, “Oh, ick!” every time an old person walks down the street. I think it’s encoded in their DNA and has something to do with the propagation of the species.

Lots of people say Barton must be stupid. So what? We’re all stupid. Sex is stupid. Sex is only smart in the movies.

We also need to stipulate to something about sexual hypocrisy, while we’re at it. Sexual hypocrisy is not against the law. In fact, it may be the law. And most of the time, anyway, people just need to mind their own damn business. We’d be so much better off in this country if we were French.

On the other hand, Barton is a public figure and a lawmaker. He has made a career of his stand on so-called family values. The good people of Ennis and the 6th Congressional District have been sending him to Washington to guard the nation’s morals for more than three decades. This business of his making a photograph of himself staring at his own penis and then allowing it to fall into the hands of a woman not his wife must mean something. But what?

In his career in Congress, Barton has voted against any federal family planning assistance that includes abortion. He has voted to ban all federal health coverage that includes coverage for abortion. He has voted in favor of a ban on transporting minors to get abortions. He has voted in favor of a ban on partial-birth abortions.

Barton has voted to exclude all funding for family planning from U.S. foreign aid. He has voted yes to make it a crime to harm a fetus during commission of another crime.

Barton has voted to ban gay adoptions in Washington, D.C. He has voted in favor of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. He has voted in favor of a constitutional amendment defining marriage as one-man-one-woman. He has voted against prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation. He has voted against including anti-gay crimes under federal hate-crimes protection.

Closer to home, in 2005, Barton created the Joe Barton Family Foundation, a tax-exempt nonprofit with a stated goal of providing “substantial support to select charitable organizations within Texas’s sixth congressional district to enable them to achieve aggressive goals that would have been otherwise unattainable.” He announced right off that he would use his foundation to provide almost a million dollars to a local Boys and Girls Club and a local Meals on Wheels program.

Four years later, the conservative Washington Times reported that from 2005-07 the Barton foundation had ponied up only a 10th of the promised pledge to the two charities, about $90,000, while spending more than that, about $130,000, on a staff that consisted mainly of Barton’s daughter-in-law.

Barton still took credit for the much larger donation amount, but the Washington Times found that the donations were made by corporations over which Barton had legislative oversight. As chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, for example, Barton first vociferously opposed the sale of TXU Energy in Texas, then appeared later to soften his view. In the interim, TXU was one of several large companies under Barton’s dominion that felt called upon to make donations to Meals on-Wheels and the Boys and Girls Club in Barton’s district. Barton later took credit for the donations, giving the impression his foundation had made them.

Barton’s press spokesperson at the time said that nothing illegal had taken place and that the donations were attributable to Barton because it was his power of persuasion that had made them happen. Apparently, that was a good thing.

The corporations didn’t complain. The word “shakedown” never even came up.

Barton has drawn attention for saying and doing things that, in the pre-Trump era, were considered odd or even outlandish. He accused the Obama White House of a shakedown for trying to hold British Petroleum responsible for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

He opposed wind energy on biblical grounds, warning, “Wind is God’s way of balancing heat.” Wind turbines, Barton said, “would slow the winds down” and increase global warming. He once barked at congressional colleague Nancy Pelosi, “You can’t regulate God!” which is probably true.

Things like that aren’t outlandish anymore. They’re not even interesting. Given what comes out of the White House on Twitter every night, what would someone in Washington have to say or do to shock anybody? Please forget I asked that question.

That’s not the question anyway. I think we sort of agreed at the top that the question was about hypocrisy and that even then the question was only worth discussing because Barton is a lawmaker. So is there something in his track record as a legislator — against family planning, against families for gay people, against abortion, against hate-crime protection, against windmills — that is significantly contradicted by his taking a picture of himself staring at his penis and gifting the penis photo somehow to a woman not his wife?

I don’t think so. I don’t think there is a necessary contradiction of the one by the other. The penis picture does not mean that he is not a gay-hater. Maybe this requires the ability to hold more than one thought in mind at one time (not sure), but I think we should be able to see that one can take a picture of one’s self staring at one’s penis and also hate gay people. The penis does not contradict the homophobia although I can see how one might get confused.

No, I think the real point is that everything works for Joe. It’s like the Joe Barton Family Foundation. I don’t know how good a thing it is for families in general, but it’s a real good thing for Joe Barton’s family, especially his daughter-in-law. It’s good for him politically because he gets to take credit for enormous philanthropy within his district where he runs for re-election ad infinitum, and he doesn’t even have to give the money himself.

He gets credit for defending good, old-fashioned, small-town, Texas, church-going, Christian, family values, and he gets to give pictures of his penis to women not his wife. That’s not hypocrisy. That’s slick. Or it was for a long, long time. Now everybody says, "We'll see what happens next." I'm afraid to look. Aren't you?

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