04/12/2011 08:46 am ET Updated Jun 12, 2011

Should Members of Congress With Shoddy Finances Lecture Us on Fiscal Responsibility?

A question for you: A poor woman of color arrives at the office of her member of Congress to ask for help, explaining that she is nearing a financial breaking point. Barely able to support herself, she is finding it nearly impossible to support her family of seven, comprised of six kids -- including one newborn infant -- and her partner who has only worked sporadically in recent years, due to a combination of the economic downturn and their family's desire to have at least one parent available to provide hands on childcare for their growing brood.

Now if her member of Congress happens to be a conservative Republican what reaction do you think she will be met with? My guess is she will be given the number to a local food pantry and a tough love lecture on the importance of "personal responsibility," as it pertains to having more children than you can afford to support. But what if the member of Congress giving the lecture happens to be in the same boat? Only instead of being a poor woman of color from a background of limited opportunity, he is white, male and well educated -- and as a member of the governing body of our country has far more power than this poor woman ever will.

Welcome to the world of Sean Duffy.

I couldn't help but laugh when I read that the freshman Congressman has emerged as one of the GOP's "Young Guns" with fiscal responsibility being cited as one of his signature issues.

Duffy has taken quite a beating in progressive circles lately, but from my vantage point for all of the wrong reasons. Progressives had a field day when video surfaced of Duffy lamenting how tough it is to raise a family on his congressional salary, which happens to be three times the salary of the average family in his Wisconsin congressional district. I felt that those targeting Duffy actually missed an opportunity to target him for something much more egregious than whining: being a hypocrite.

Contrary to the criticism, I don't believe Duffy was whining at all. I believe him when he says his family is struggling to make ends meet. His financial disclosure forms certainly seem to confirm this. But much like Newt Gingrich, Bob Livingston and others who criticized President Clinton for an affair, despite having had their own, Duffy and some of his conservative cohorts are attempting to lecture the rest of us on our lack of financial discipline, poor personal choices etc., when they are far from fiscal role models themselves. (Click here to see the most financially challenged members of Congress.)

See, Sean Duffy is financially strapped because he made the choice to have a vacation home and six children -- children that, financially speaking, he is not prepared to care for. If goodness forbid he lost his job tomorrow or was rendered incapable of working, as things stand now, we taxpayers would be left subsidizing his family, in the form of federal programs and that doesn't even include their college educations. (It's worth noting that one of Duffy's fellow conservative congressmen, Rep. Denny Rehberg, has likened Pell grants to welfare yet Duffy's children will most likely have to rely on them to obtain college degrees unless Duffy hits the lottery in the next few years.)

Which brings me back to the imaginary mother introduced at the beginning of this piece. Rarely do I hear of poor parents celebrated for the decision to have families, particularly large ones, or for their decision to "choose life" and most of all, forgo birth control. Instead they seem to be under constant attack for their lack of "personal responsibility." (And if a poor woman were to say publicly that she wishes to forgo work to be a full-time, stay-at-home mom -- forget about it. She would immediately become the poster child for the next Republican Revolution.)

Yet for some reason when members of Congress -- white, male, educated members of Congress -- make the same decisions, they are celebrated, even though in both cases we taxpayers will be the ones left footing the bill. The only difference is Duffy, and others like him, actually know better, or rather should, and yet they sit around lecturing the rest of us on fiscal responsibility despite it being something many of them seem to know very little about.

Here's my question. Is living a fiscally responsible life something that is supposed to be limited to poor, uneducated people? The ones conservatives are convinced are responsible for their own foreclosures, and bankruptcies (even those caused by medical emergencies), and who are supposedly bleeding us dry through "entitlement programs?"

Does Duffy believe that members of Congress should be exempt from practicing what they preach?

He and his buddies remind me of those hairdressers who try to charge you an arm and a leg for their styling expertise despite their own hair looking jacked up.

What's even more confusing is that Duffy opposes federal funding for Planned Parenthood, despite the fact that, to put it bluntly, he is one kid away from living in a cardboard box himself.

I guess this is yet another example of conservatives, from Newt Gingrich, to Larry Craig--the list goes on--wanting us to do as they say not as they do.

This post originally appeared on for which Goff is a Contributing Editor.