Ask Matt Labash

Ask Matt Labash Vol XXIV: Obama vs. Rangel smackdown, show business for ugly people, and a fly rod buyer’s guide

Matt Labash Columnist
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EDITOR’S NOTE: Have a burning sensation? Consult your doctor. Have a burning question for Matt Labash? Submit it here.

Dear Matt: I always enjoy your columns. I have your book and truly appreciate your ability to focus on the human aspects of your topic. Your articles on Donald Trump and Al Sharpton made them seem genuinely “normal” and, with Mr. Sharpton particularly, like a pretty decent guy. I was wondering, Charlie Rangel seems like basically a pretty decent guy who could use one of your column make-overs right now. Any chance of this? And did you nominate any of the DC locals recently recognized as Hot People in The Hill? And what is your favorite weight and brand of fly rod? (I’m hoping with the multiple questions and compliments at the start, you’ll go for something and publish my question.) Your friend, John Locke

Dear friend,

There are few things more punishing than advice columnists who gratuitously include heaping shovels of reader praise before getting on to the question. But I’m including yours now to provide a helpful lesson for other readers, which is: if you go out of your way to flatter me, it’s that much less time I have to dedicate to idle boasting and plugging my own products. So it works out. Though I do hope you purchase my Ask Matt Labash souvenir beer-can koozies by placing your order at We accept most major credit cards and even Goldline coins if you insist on paying in Glenn Beckerands.

I’ll now take your questions in alphabetical order.

Charlie Rangel — Is it possible to humanize him?

Of course it is. Think about it. Does Charlie Rangel need this? Does he need to be a member of Congress? I’m sure he could’ve made a lot more money on the outside working as a Tone Loc impersonator at bar mitzvahs, or using his distinctive vocals to do cartoon voiceover work as Spongeob SquarePants friend, Emphysematous, the Smoker’s-Coughing Sea Urchin. Instead, Rangel has given nearly 40 years of selfless service to the good people of Harlem. And that was after he won the Purple Heart and Bronze Star in Korea, while the current president was dodging the draft by joining the National Guard and smoking dope at Oxford {note to Daily Caller fact checker, Nexis this — I sometimes get my presidents and Asian wars confused}.

Now, as Rangel faces 13 counts of violating House ethics rules and federal laws, our president decides to pile on, saying it’s time for the 80-year-old Rangel to “end his career with dignity,” something Obama might want to start working toward himself with only two more years until 2012. I’m sure a part of Rangel would like to step down and avoid the unpleasantness so he can spend more time cheating on his taxes with his family. But he’s fighting it. Because that’s what fighters like him do. They fight for you, if by “you,” you mean “themselves.” And also, because who wouldn’t want to rent four expensive Manhattan apartments in a building owned by your campaign contributor for about half of what they’d go for on the open market? Even by sweetheart deal standards, that’s a pretty sweet deal. Rangel clearly believes in paying as little as possible to derive maximum benefit. While as president, Obama clearly believes in spending as much money as possible to derive next to no benefit. So it’s pretty clear what’s motivating Obama to call for Rangel’s resignation: jealousy. Maybe Obama shouldn’t be asking for Rangel to step down. Maybe he should be asking him for pointers.
Did I nominate anyone to be one of The Hill’s 50 Most Beautiful People?

No, though I was pleased to see The Daily Caller’s own Jon Ward was one of the chosen few. You know what they say about Ward: that he quotes imaginary friends on deep background, that he tried to have sex with Helen Thomas to get her front-row briefing room seat, that rather than beating the bushes for scoops, he’d much rather be combing Amish markets to add to the kissing Dutch children hummel collection that he keeps on his desk. But if that smoldering bastard got any sexier, he’d have to carry a burn permit for lighting the flame of desire in ladies’ hearts.

Besides Ward’s well-earned honor, however, I cannot, in good conscience, support such displays of Washington objectification. And not just because I can’t pretend for a second that I possess movie-star good looks. Even on my best day, I’m no Kirk Cameron. Though to show you the rather low standards to which D.C.-centric lists sink, even I have made these lists before. Not The Hill’s list, mind you — I never go to the hill, since all they do there is talk about boring legislation, which I find hard to follow. But I most notably finished second on Mediabistro’s Most Well-Endowed Print Reporter list, circa 2006. This was before the  reduction surgery, which I had to get to alleviate the lower back strain. (First place, incidentally, went to David “The Anaconda” Broder — again.)

Still, while most on The Hill‘s list are at least moderately attractive, there is something sad about turning Washington mopes into celebrities. The same way you feel pity when celebrities try to turn themselves into wonks. The sexiest legislative assistant in the Blue Dog Coalition and the wonkiest celebrity policy expert at the Creative Coalition have something in common: they’re both being celebrated for something they wish they were, but aren’t quite.
What is my favorite weight and brand of fly rod?

Though I don’t have as many rods as most typically obsessive fly fishermen, I still have enough for every occasion, about a half-dozen — everything from my 3 weight for throwing dry flies to trout on small streams, to my overpowering Sage Bass Rod (the equivalent of an 8 weight with an 11-weight line) for throwing heavy hopper/dropper combinations long distances and to pull feisty bucketmouth out of thick hydrilla beds in the summer without snapping them off. But my one-gun solution is the 6 weight. I can go heavy or light, flies-wise. It allows me to roll-cast and mend line with ease. It feels at home on nearly all water, be it still farm ponds or fast-flowing rivers. I go through stages where I use the others, depending on conditions and season, but my 6 weight is the Labrador Retriever of rods, trusty, true, and always reciprocatory when I scratch its belly.

Brands? I couldn’t care less about them. I catch over 1,000 fish a year on a fly rod — every year — and the one thing I’ve learned is that fish are not  impressed by what you catch them with, only other fishermen are. And I don’t fish for other fishermen. I fish to catch fish. Consequently, I fish almost cartoonishly low-tech. Other than for my saltwater rods, where bigger fish mean reels come into play as something other than a place to store line, I buy cheap Pflueger Medalist reels, which I turn backwards because I’m too lazy to convert them to left-hand retrieve. I like the dull black design, and feeling the vibration of its hard clicks when I reel up. As my fishing sensei/life coach, the Cool Refresher says (a name he insists I use in public to keep his true identity secret so he can continue fighting crime), a Pflueger Medalist looks like what your grandfather fished with, something he could strike a match off of to toast up a Lucky Strike after coming home from whipping the Nazis. If you don’t see the beauty of it, then you don’t see the beauty of America.

Rods-wise, I generally subscribe to fly fishing great Lefty Kreh’s admonition that with the uniformity of quality in modern fly rods, any rod much over one hundreds bucks is probably more rod than most fly fishermen can take advantage of. Which is why my favorite is a beat-up L.L. Bean rod with plumber’s tape around a cracked ferrule, and a reel-fastener that I had to Gorilla-glue after it came loose from overuse. I’ve caught more fish on that thing than I have on “better” rods that cost four times as much. The Cool Refresher outlined the simplicity ethos in an email to me once, which I periodically consult like the Proverbs, since it contains just about as much wisdom. His missive was composed in praise of a cheap Cabela’s Stowaway travel rod:

I like the Stowaway because it’s egalitarian and a
good hunka plastic. I like things that the Army would
dispense to suit a particular purpose; government issue, if
you will. If the US Army had to give all their
soldiers a fly rod, for some reason, they would give
them a Pflueger Medalist and a Cabela’s Stowaway. If
they had to give soldiers a shotgun, it would be a
Remington 870. For golf, a set of Wilson Irons. The
point is that this object meets 100% of the required
functionality with no frills. Any follower of Thoreau
would know that you simplify so that you can
experience. Anything beyond required functionality is
a distraction and is probably deeply tied to your ego.
I have a couple of high-end fly rods and really like
them (they’re good, they’re legit), but they make me a
little nervous.

Also, I tend to think that manufacturers have made
plastic fly rods about as good as they’re gonna get
(like the #2 pencil) and it’s all marketing at this
point. Instead of saying that you like Sage rods,
perhaps you should say that you prefer Sage’s posters
about bonefishing. Or the Loomis font and branding is
cool, so you buy their rods. Capiche? Motor oil is
motor oil.

Learn it. Live it. As the fishing sages say, flies are for catching fish. Overpriced  gear is for catching fishermen. Though if Orvis wants to send me their $1,400 Teton River Helios just to prove me wrong (hint), I’ll think hard about retracting this column.

Matt Labash is a senior writer with the Weekly Standard magazine. His book, “Fly Fishing With Darth Vader: And Other Adventures with Evangelical Wrestlers, Political Hitmen, and Jewish Cowboys,” was published this spring by Simon and Schuster. Have a question for Matt Labash? Submit it here.