Some people have said Rep. Tom McClintock is defensive, thin-skinned and humorless.
They're wrong, I think. He is witty and loves practical jokes. Why else would he take time from his busy schedule to play a prank on someone like me?
It all started a few weeks ago when I wrote a column that began: "Never one to build bridges, Rep. Tom McClintock has spent the better part of 30 years in office deriding the government that gives him his paycheck."
McClintock penned a straight-faced response, which my boss printed on these pages. I would have thought that would have ended the prank. Cut-up that he is, though, McClintock wrote a 1,200-word satire, hilariously titling it, "Deconstructing Dan Morain."
I recall English classes in which students much smarter than I deconstructed great authors. How silly to think anyone would deconstruct a hack like me. But there I was, deconstructed by the important, busy and, yes, funny Tom McClintock, on the front page of his tax-supported congressional Web page.
"Morain obviously believes the role of a Congressman is to plunder the national treasury," the congressman wrote, as if it were true. "Indeed, it is precisely this philosophy that now threatens to bankrupt our nation."
Some people took it all seriously, sort of like how the Chinese and Iranians are forever reprinting as serious those articles that run in The Onion about how handsome and dynamic their leaders are.
San Diego County Republican Party Chairman Tony Krvaric tweeted that McClintock's deconstruction "obliterates" me. Obliterated? Tony, I've never been more famous.
I do, however, think I should have been more respectful of McClintock. After all, he was Assembly whip for a few years in the 1980s, whereas I had written that he had never risen to a leadership position during his decades in the Legislature. Any student of the California Assembly can tell you that minority party whips wield great power.
McClintock wasn't done, not by a long shot. He spread the joke further by sending an email to his "dear friends," telling them: "If you want a textbook example of how the radical Left thrives on disinformation and distortion, behold Dan Morain."
Radical? Left? That is funny, though I did have shaggy hair for a while when I went to college up at Humboldt State. Truth be told, I've always thought I was kind of cool, though my kids seem to think I'm a dork, and don't get my wife started.
Professional that he is, McClintock concluded the email by seeking payment for his work: "Your generous contribution of $250, $100 or $50 or even the legal limit of $2,500 will help us to go around the liberal media and reach voters directly." Good comic that he is, McClintock was making a point. He was not merely trying to raise money for selfish political reasons, but rather for the cause of what is right.
Still, on the off chance that he wasn't playing an early April Fools' joke, I spent a few evenings last week in his presence, at town halls in Rocklin and Sonora. He filled the joints both nights, and worked them like the master he is, quoting Churchill, Lincoln and Jefferson, denouncing illegal immigration, Obamacare and government spending, and pledging fealty to the Constitution, the Second Amendment and God-given liberty.
He inserted laugh lines like this one: "I think (President Barack Obama) sincerely believes that somehow the European collectivist model is going to work better here than it worked in Europe." At least, the crowd in Sonora laughed.
For 90 minutes on both nights, McClintock did shtick, taking questions, some of them serious, and some odd.
In Rocklin, a woman asked what he knew about a large building under construction in Utah to "store all our information," an army being raised by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Obama's plan to declare martial law.
"Don't believe the rumors you hear on the Internet," McClintock said, his timing perfect.
In Sonora, John Flynn, 55, asked McClintock how he might respond "if the president decides by fiat or by supreme executive order that he is going to dissolve the Constitution and nationalize the police force nationwide."
Ever the voice of reason, when he's not cracking jokes, McClintock said he didn't think Obama would take such steps, but went on: "It is the policies that he has embarked upon that I do believe ultimately are destructive of our freedoms, are destructive of our economy and, if allowed to continue, are destructive of our Constitution."
In other words, Obama probably won't impose dictatorial rule, but his policies could destroy our reason for living. Hmm, that wasn't funny.
McClintock is a busy guy. He is chairman of the important water and power subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee, and serves as a member of the very important House Budget Committee. He cares about California water and national debt, and hopes to revive the Auburn dam, a many-billion-dollar project that has been stalled for decades. Like all good House Republicans, he is committed to confronting Obama's policies.
So I understood why he didn't have time to talk with me before the column ran last month. But I thought that he surely would chat if I caught up with him in Sonora, and waited until he was done with his constituents. Seeing that he was getting ready to leave, I tried to strike up a conversation about how he had been having some fun at my expense and wondering how much money I helped him raise.
"In order to have a discussion with Dan, we have to treat each other civilly, and Dan doesn't do that, and so I don't talk to Dan," McClintock explained to me, I think.
He grinned as he spoke. But I began to think he wasn't joking, and that his skin might be as thin as people say. Still, I hope he proves me wrong by sending more of those funny fundraising pitches based on this column. I figure the more time he focuses on me, the less damage he can do back in Washington.