Congressional Profile: North Carolina’s Virginia Foxx

This may be no big deal to her. In fact, Virginia Foxx, a Republican representing the far northwest corner of North Carolina in Congress might be delighted to be criticized by a San Francisco liberal. If so, get ready for  the waves of delight, Ms. Foxx.

Representative Foxx was one of only 11 members of Congress to vote against the aid package to help Gulf Coast victims of Hurricane Katrina. She was one of only 33 Republicans to vote against extension of the Voting Rights Act in 2006. Both are extraordinary positions, the first is inhumane to those who were suffering, but the second is particularly sad because of North Carolina’s long tradition of support for Civil Rights. Its former governor, Terry Sanford, was among the most active southern governors supporting civil rights. She is also confused about who worked to pass the act initially. Here, she reveals her ignorance on the floor of the House of Representatives and is called out by another Representative.

Representative Foxx asserted that Matthew Shephard’s murder was not a hate crime committed because he was gay, but rather a robbery gone bad. She went on to say that the use of the crime to pursue hate crime legislation was a “hoax.” All police evidence shows clearly that the crime was, in fact, directed against Shephard because he was gay.  Here is Foxx’s statement on the floor of the House of Representatives.

Representiative Foxx perpetuates the fiction that the president (that is, the Democratic president) can have an effect on gasoline prices in the United States and can create “energy independence.” Nothing can be further from the truth. Energy independence is but a conservative wet dream. The very notion has been discredited by every knowledgable and responsible energy analyst, even many within the energy industry itself, including the then-CEO of America’s second largest energy company. Here is Foxx’s statement on the floor of the House of Representatives.

Representative Foxx has said she “has little tolerance” for people who had to accumulate debt (i.e., take out student loans) in order to pursue their educations. Here, she discusses how things were back in the dark ages when she and her husband went to school. She is apparently unaware how expensive higher education has become, the cost of which forces many to accept large amounts of debt in order to obtain education. This is especially startling when one remembers that, before she entered politics, Foxx was president of a community college.

To stand out as an exemplar of ignorance and stupidity in an organization like Congress takes hard work; by her own record and words, Virginia Foxx proves herself more than up to the task.

Why You Should Care About May 6th

Lucas Papademos is not a disgraced football coach. He isn’t dating a Kardashian. Nor is he starring in the latest Bond movie. Not even a last-minute entry into the race for the GOP’s presidential nomination.

If he were any of those things, of course, you’d be much more likely to recognize the name and face. Lucas Papademos is, in fact, the interim prime minister of Greece. He has been desperately trying to construct an economic recovery out of his nation’s financial collapse.

I care deeply what happens to Greece because, for one thing, I happen to be Greek. I have relatives and friends who are struggling and face the prospect of struggling much more. But I also see no small measure of risk to the world economy if Greece’s economic restructuring, which Papademos has so far led, is allowed to slow, reverse or, God forbid, completely collapse.

Papademos has received the president’s permission to dissolve parliament and hold elections on May 6th. Much – close to everything, perhaps – hangs in the balance for Greece, for Europe, for the world’s economy.

We should all offer Papademos, and Greece itself, our heartfelt blessings.

Goodbye, Rick

I’m a dad myself, and I’m deeply sorry Rick Santorum is wrestling with all that comes with having a sick child. I sincerely wish his daughter a speedy and complete recovery. And I wish him well in his life.

That said, I hope he now goes to a dark and private place. I hope he is never offered a television soap box of the type given to Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and all of their ilk.  I hope American political life is never again required to deal with Santorum. He was a divisive candidate, deliberately so, because it served his personal political interests. He expressed the desire to run our country on the basis of his particular and peculiar interpretation of the Holy Bible, which I find to be both frightening and profoundly un-American.

He was both smart and capable enough to inflame his slice of the Republican electorate and unethical enough to actually do it. He made the venerable Republican Party teeter on the edge of a terminal abyss, from which it may yet never recover.

So, I’m sorry for the personal challenge your family is dealing with, Rick. Now, please do our country a favor and just disappear.

But I Don’t Love Him

Republican voters in Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia gave majorities to Mitt Romney today in their primaries. He is now more than halfway to gaining a majority of convention delegates, the number necessary to secure the party’s presidential nomination.

Each state’s results tell a story I’ve written about before; namely, the Republican party, as well as the country as a whole, is deeply divided. Urban and suburban dwellers tend to favor a candidate like Romney, who is fiscally conservative, corporate, almost painfully mainstream. Rural and exurban Republican voters care much more about “values” issues articulated by Rick Santorum and others: same-sex marriage, abortion, creeping “socialism.”

With victories today in these three primaries, the other remaining candidates have fewer realistic opportunities to prevent Romney from winning the nomination outright at the convention – although, they’ll keep trying. There is certainly a Republican constituency that will keep after them to keep trying. The “values” wing of the GOP has never warmed to Romney, thinking him a rich fake, not truly committed to their causes. These voters want the convention deadlocked, all the better to force a back room coup or a compromise candidate who might share their positions on the issues that interest them most (Ready in the wings, Governor Palin?).

Romney may win his party’s nomination but it’s become clear he will never win its complete love.

What Kinda Country Is This, Anyway?

The results from this week’s Illinois GOP primary tell a story. The one major candidate who has campaigned primarily on economic and policy issues, Mitt Romney, won majorities in areas of high and dense population. The other, Rick Santorum, who campaigns primarily on his Christian fundamentalism and social conservatism, won in areas of less dense and lower population.

In other words, Romney won cities and suburbs and Santorum won farms and exurbs. Here’s the map; it’s especially illuminating if you know Illinois but even if you don’t, the pattern is pretty obvious.

As much attention as so-called ‘values-voters’ are getting in the media these days, demographics and history indicate they will continue to recede in electoral importance. Over 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas now, and the percentage continues to grow.

The GOP’s Illinois primary is a story of the entire country, writ small.  All the campaign talk about self-reliance, and ‘taking our country back,’ and fighting socialism, and same-sex marriage, and banning abortion, and basing national policy on literal interpretations of the Bible are salient to a smaller and smaller proportion of our citizens.

Where the American people live in increasing proportion, how our neighbors choose to live their lives is something of very little relative electoral concern.

What’s Important

Reflecting the GOP’s current plunge from major political force to laughingstock, there are essentially now only two ‘serious’ active candidates for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. They are, at this moment, shooting at each other in baldly personal ways, trying to capture for themselves the position of most-high arch-conservative national overseer of faith, while simultaneously plotting for the increasing likelihood of a party convention that finds itself unable to select a presidential nominee in the usual fashion.

The prospect of a brokered Republican Party convention is something that should cause paralyzing fear in the hearts of all good Americans. What as-yet-unspoken attacks might be unleashed? Who might emerge as the compromise candidate to break an electoral stalemate? What promises might be made to whom in order to secure enough votes to win? How low can these people go in their pursuit of our nation’s highest office?

You don’t want to know.

Or maybe you’ve seen HBO’s ‘Game Change‘ and you already do.

‘Game Change’ is the story of Sarah Palin’s selection as John McCain’s running mate and her preparation for and participation in the campaign. A couple of things become obvious fairly early in the film. First, McCain was headed to certain defeat without a dramatic choice of running mate; he had become almost irrelevant to the presidential election. Second, Palin was a completely irresponsible choice for Vice President (Only one 72-year-old heartbeat away from the presidency, one wag says in the film.); she was totally unprepared for the job and jaw-droppingly ignorant of governance, diplomacy, finance, or really anything about the nation she sought to govern. Furthermore, Palin was both proudly and willfully ignorant; she was deliberately deaf to experts who were brought in to help her prepare.

All this is, of course, old news. What’s most striking about the film is the fact that McCain’s campaign people knew Palin was a bad choice on so many levels, but kept working to elect her anyway because, hey, that’s the job. John McCain’s presidential campaign communications director, Steve Schmidt, said in a recent interview about the film, “When you have to do things necessary to win…” shit happens, or words to that effect.

So Schmidt and the rest of McCain’s campaign team would have put Sarah Palin in the next chair from the president despite the fact that they knew she would have been a complete disaster for our country. They even had the nerve to wrap their work in the star spangled banner of patriotism, much as today’s generation of Republican candidates continue to do.

Why should we fear backroom deals at the GOP convention? Here’s one reason: Schmidt et al. are still around and still pursuing their ‘profession.’

Now What, GOP?

Let’s lay some things on the table to start. I’m not a registered Republican. I’m not professionally involved in any political campaigns. I don’t expect to be offered a job come November, no matter who is elected. I have no skin in the game, except as an American.

I know a great many Republicans; I’ve worked for some, others are close friends, former classmates, neighbors, colleagues, and so on. Most of these are from what is called now the corporate wing, as opposed to the social conservative wing, of the party.

I value the Republican Party, its contributions, its historic leaders. Further, I believe, and I’m not afraid to say it out loud, that our country is better off with healthy political parties of diverse philosophical stripes.

Now, let me say, I am concerned for the Republican Party.

What’s become clear to me is a growing, unhealthy and emotional division in the party between (1) the good-government, main street and corporate, power elite, fiscal conservative party establishment, and (2) the evangelical, social-conservative, grass roots party rank-and-file. And this division is not only unhealthy for the Republican Party, but also unhealthy for the country.

Super Tuesday results show that it is increasingly unlikely there will be a first-ballot selection of a presidential nominee at the convention. This opens the door for all sorts of bad outcomes: back-room deals, drafting another candidate (e.g., Sarah Palin anyone?), swinging the party platform even farther to the right – especially on social issues.

There’s irony here: yesterday’s exit polls, cited in The Hill, showed that voters are most concerned with economic issues. In other words, by staying with what has been the successfully established Republican identity, the party could conduct a campaign with a reasonable probability of connecting with the issues that matter most to Americans. This could be an absolutely winnable election for Republicans.

Instead, Republicans are allowing their primaries to be swallowed up by inherently divisive candidates and the social issues they crow about, like the New Testament foundations of American government, contraception, same-sex marriage, etc.

Who benefits from any of that? Neither Republicans nor our republic.

A Super Tuesday? Not So Much.

Today, of course, is Super Tuesday, when Republican presidential primaries are being held in Ohio, Georgia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Oklahoma, Idaho, North Dakota and Alaska. We’ll know soon enough whether the eventual nomination of Mitt Romney will be again delayed by the fringe of his own party.

Let’s check in about that tomorrow.

Last night, I re-read Choose Me, a wonderful late-night book (lots of pictures, few words) by brilliant photographer Arthur Grace. Grace captures the major presidential candidates of 1988 – you may remember: Bush (senior), Dukakis, Gephardt, Dole, etc. – in searingly truthful and completely revealing portraits.

Look carefully at these photos and see precisely what candidates work so hard to hide: boredom, disdain, insecurity, surrender to the inevitability of loss, lack of focus, immaturity. Grace’s work is an eye-opener, all the better for a bit of chronological and emotional distance from the campaign and the candidates.

Especially in this era of over-produced events, pre-packaged candidates, and sound-bite communication, you can see that plain old still photography gives us a way to see inside someone’s character and intellect that we in the general population don’t often have; short of being on the inside of an actual campaign, this is as close as most people are ever likely to get.

What might unguarded photos of today’s candidates tell us? What do these tell you?

Newt Gingrich

Ron Paul

Mitt Romney

Rick Santorum

Real Insanity

I take back everything I said.

Mitt Romney is not a lock to win the Republican nomination for president. According to many polls, including this one from The New York Times, he and Rick Santorum are now in a statistical tie for first place in the campaign to be the GOP’s standard-bearer against Barack Obama.

Now, this may be a temporary blip. Public opinion polls are notoriously time-sensitive. They accurately capture attitudes and opinions for a very brief window of time. It may be that Mr. Santorum enjoys this time at or near the top among Republican voters for a short period, then sinks to join Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Gingrich and the others.

But it may signal a disturbing and longer-lasting trend for one of America’s great political parties. Remember, Republicans have, in the past, elected Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower to the presidency and Robert La Follette, Nelson Rockefeller and George Romney (Mitt’s dad) to governorships. We may be watching the Republican party permanently evolving away from its Main Street, corporate, fiscal conservative roots, into the exclusive party of socially authoritarian, evangelical Christians.

[Sorry, I guess “evolving” was an inappropriate word to use in the previous sentence; after all, this new style of Republican doesn’t believe in evolution.]

Here’s Santorum, talking about the necessary (not advisable, not preferable, not ethically important, but necessary) connection between his understanding of God’s law and American civil law.

This is what Republicans want their political party to be about, to stand for? They must be insane.

A March to Nowhere

Last night, Mitt Romney won the GOP’s Nevada Caucus. Someone else finished second. A completely different person finished third.

On February 7, Colorado and Minnesota will hold their caucuses and Missouri will hold its non-binding primary.

On February 28, both Arizona and Michigan will hold primaries.

On March 6, primaries or caucuses will be held in Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Ohio, and a whole bunch of other places.

Later in the year, there will be other primaries in different states that will mean about as much as the color of the housecoat my 86 year-old mother will wear today to clean up her kitchen.

Let’s be honest. The other candidates may cobble together enough resources to continue (or not) but the race for the Republican presidential nomination is over. We know who will win it. Why, then, are we all behaving as if any of this Kabuki theater had any relevance to anything? Why all the breathless TV punditry? Why the handwringing over misstatements and their effects on polls?

These questions are rhetorical, of course, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t answers. The problem isn’t that we don’t know the answers but rather that we can’t face them.

In American politics today, money wins – not just for candidates and officeholders (obvious – look at the data), but also for the politics industry (campaign managers, pollsters, advance people, speechwriters, lawyers) and for the political media (pundits, columnists, networks, advertising). And all these stakeholders, whose livelihood depends on the continuation of and interest in campaigns, will do everything they can to make sure this essentially meaningless march not only continues but does so in a way that is as entertaining as possible. Their incomes depend on the fact that you’ll continue to watch.

So, send out the memo:

  • Cue today’s gaffes…
  • Show new polls…
  • Make mountains out of molehills…
  • New hairstyle on the spouse…
  • Wicked-cool 3-D graphics…
  • Find scandal…must find scandal.

End of the day? Means nothing.

Money has already won. End of story.

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