Posts Tagged ‘Congress’

For the National Republican Congressional Committee, Anh “Joseph” Cao was a diamond in a shitpile.  The 41-year old Vietnamese lawyer, (pronounced “Gow”), knocked off scandal-plagued Democratic incumbent William “Dollar Bill” Jefferson in a bright blue, majority black district.  Cao’s three point victory made him the first Vietnamese-American in Congress, and the NRCC immediately trumpeted his success as a harbinger of better days.

So who is he?  Cao was born in Saigon, son of an ARVN officer.  His father was captured by the Communists, and spent seven years in prison as his mother fled with her children to the United States.  After being released, his father rejoined the family in America.  Joseph moved to Louisiana in 1997 for law school, and lives there with his wife and two daughters.  Thus, your template:  A refugee from a Communist country, member of a politically conservative ethnic group, also happens to be a convert to Catholicism.  On the surface, Cao has all the trappings of a far-right Republican.

Thing is, he’s not.  Cao has a fascinating background.  Following his Jesuit training and MA in Philosophy at Fordham (Go Rams!), Cao moved to Virginia where he worked with Boat People S.O.S. (BPSOS).  BPSOS is a community-based organization dedicated to helping Vietnamese refugees in America.  After earning his J.D., Cao took a position as BPSOS’ in-house counsel.  After Hurricane Katrina destroyed his home and office, Cao returned to New Orleans where he joined the board of the Mary Queen of Vietnam (MQVN) Church’s Community Development Corporation.  MQVN has earned a strong reputation for community development work in the aftermath of the hurricane.  Its leader characterized the situation:

“Before the storm, I guess you could call us libertarians,” Father Vien said. “Our attitude toward government was: ‘you don’t bother us, we won’t bother you.’ But Katrina changed all that. We had a responsibility to speak out.”

With MQVN, Cao fought to have utilities turned back on as quickly as possible in storm-damaged neighborhoods.  He also worked against a landfill project that would have dumped a quarter of Katrina debris in New Orleans East.  Eric Tang’s excellant Huffington Post profile notes praise for MQVN’s work from African-American leaders including local progressives.  Senator Obama visited the church in February.  Overall, Cao’s religious perspective informs a social gospel:

“When I was in Mexico helping the poor, I had a struggle with the issue of poverty and of evil in the world,” Mr. Cao said. “I told my spiritual director about my struggles, and basically he told me that God sends good people to help with human suffering – people like Gandhi and (the Rev.) Martin Luther King (Jr.). I thought the best way I could effect social change was to go to law school and into politics.”

Until 2007, Cao was registered independant.  He frequently cites Aristotle’s definition of virtue: “To walk in the middle line.” Cao says he “is not a hardcore conservative,” and there’s absolutely zero Republican branding on his website.  In an interview with the New York Times, the incoming Representative explained his overall view of things:  “Life is absurd but one cannot succumb to the absurdity of it.”  How often do Republicans channel Camus?

What about social issues?  Whither God and gays?  Cao spoke with U.S. News:

How important were traditional family values issues, like abortion and marriage, in your race?
Very little. I was focusing on the need to rebuild the Second Congressional District so the issues of abortion and marriage were not the focus of my campaign at all.

That’s refreshing, as was this follow-up:

Are those values issue high priorities for your first term in Congress?
My main priority in the first couple of years is to focus on rebuilding the Second Congressional District in Louisiana. Three and half years after Katrina, there are areas that remain devastated. The healthcare system is in need of reform. The educational system is in need of reform. We need to develop economically, need to look at the levies and at coastal restoration. Those are the issues right now that concern the majority of my constituents, so that’s what I’ll be focusing on.

As a devout Catholic, Cao will likely be a reliable pro-life vote.  That said, he strikes me as someone who would vote against gay marriage but might just oppose a Constitutional ban.

Most importantly, the tone of his campaign has been heavily focused on the needs of his constituents.  This might be a matter of necessity in the 29th-bluest district in the country, but his record does show a powerful commitment to community development.  Cao has expressed interest in joining the Congressional Black Caucus, arguing that he represents a majority-black district.  It won’t happen, (outstanding progressive Steve Cohen of Memphis already tried it and failed), but Cao’s record suggests this is a real, good-faith effort to strengthen the voice of his voters.

The incoming Representative is noticeably new to the political game.  He admitted to CNN that his victory was aided by low voter turnout due to Hurricane Gustav.  (Note to new members:  You are happy with turnout, you think it represents a strong mandate for change, etc. etc.)  Republicans have crowed about Cao with tacky headlines (“the future is Cao!“,) but he is unlikely to be re-elected if the Democrats offer a strong challenge.  Besides which, he’s hardly a useful model for future races.  All Cao’s victory proves politically is that Republicans can win blue districts if the Democrat has been caught with $90,000 cash in his freezer, is under indictment on election day, and if a hurricane drops turnout to approximately 1/3 of the 2004 vote total.  If that’s Boehner’s plan, well, good luck to you, sir.

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The story:

“Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) easily won a vote to remain chairman of a key committee today and will stay in the Democratic caucus despite his high-profile criticism of President-elect Barack Obama and his support of Sen. John McCain during the presidential campaign.”

My gut:

Lieberman can eat a dick.

The story:

“Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said that “Joe Lieberman is a Democrat. He’s part of this caucus.”

My gut:

Harry Reid can eat a dick.

The story:

“The deal was negotiated by Sens. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), as well as Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). The Democratic caucus voted 42-13 to accept it.”

My gut:

Christopher Dodd (D-Eat a dick), Ken Salazar (D-Eat a dick), Tom Carper (D-Eat a dick), and Bill Nelson (D-Eat a dick).  And the caucus can eat 42 dicks.

Normally we try to keep this blog PG-13, or at least a genteel R.  So to all of our 11-year old readers who have never heard that expression, my heartfelt apologies.  This was a shameful cave-in, a shameless cave-in, a cave-in so shame-filled that both of those seeming antonyms apply.  There’s plenty of blame to go around, so let’s start at the top:

Obama deserves a flick on the ear for backing Fredo.  Hopey was referring only to Lieberman’s place in the caucus, rather than his status as a committee chair, and mostly stayed out of it. However, his willingness to pass the buck to Reid amounted to an endorsement of the status quo.  This solution fits his whole post-partisan, Hope! Change! Ponies! kinda schtick, but it’s weak sauce considering the depth and breadth of Lieberman’s nastiness.

Reid deserves a flick on the motherfuckin’ face for this.  On the night Fredo delivered the keynote at the Republican National Convention, the gutless Mormon announced he was “very disappointed.”  Sorry Harry, that’s what you say when your toddler eats a crayon.  Reid fluffed his own indignation, adding “I defy anyone to be more angry than I was” with Lieberman’s attacks on Obama; he called it “a period of time in Joe Lieberman’s political career I will never understand or approve.”  Sorry Harry, that’s what you tell your kids about your six months doing blow as a roadie for Whitesnake.  Lieberman’s attacks on Democrats aren’t a bug; they’re a feature.  Reid said it was “not a time for retribution.”  When is?

But then, the broader problem:  the vote wasn’t 28-27.  It wasn’t 31-24.  It’s not like this was a close call where one person’s leadership and initiative could’ve swung it.  Nope, this vote reflects a fundamental truth about political parties in America:  They are an incumbancy protection racket.

It’s not incongruous to hold this view and still be a partisan Democrat who gets emotional when we win.  The fact is, only one of the two choices we have (chicken or shit?) is the party of Roosevelt, McCarthy (the good one), Wellstone, Feingold, and Leahy among others.  At the same time, the main purpose of the Democratic Party does appear to be maintaining the Congressional seats of sitting Members.  Witness the party’s refusal to get behind Ned Lamont, the actual, nominated Democrat in Lieberman’s most recent race. (Reid himself reportedly asked Lamont to back off.)

People on both the left and the right have problems with a system that produces a remarkably Soviet 95% retention rate in the House, and only slightly lower numbers in the Senate.  This isn’t simply a matter of funding, franking privilages, or structural problems.  Everyone spits this “Joe Lieberman / is / my friend” crap as though that has anything to do with the price of dope in Dhaka.  We elect you cats to draft policy, not host slumber parties.  Congress remains at its core a lifetime membership country club, expulsion based primarily on being caught with with a live boy or a dead girl.  The entire caucus faced a choice between propping up one of their long-time drinking buddies or acting with the voice of the people who elected them; and they told their constituents to go eat a dick.

Let me add: This isn’t a purge.  Lieberman could stay in the caucus.  The issue was having him chairing a really freakin important committee.  Other Democrats have conservative voting records, but they don’t make their careers trashing their party.  Dear uncle Harry told Democrats that Lieberman is with us on “virtually everything except the war,” but this is beside the point.  Mary Landrieu and Mark Pryor don’t vote the way Dick Durbin and I would, but they don’t headline the Republican convention.  So without further ado, a desperately incomplete list of reactionary tripe from Senator Lieberman:

-Goes on Bill “the gambler” Bennett’s radio show spitting “retreat and defeat.”

-Tells Glenn “I hate the 9/11 families” Beck that he “fears for the survival of the country” if the Democrats get to 60 Senate seats.  (P.S. hey asshole, that includes you!)

-Calls it a “good question” when a Fox News “analyst” asks if Obama is a Marxist.

-Supports Catholic hospitals denying contraceptives to rape victims on grounds that “it shouldn’t take more than a short ride to get to another hospital.

-Defends waterboarding on grounds that “it’s not like [using] burning coals.”  (He also has a bold, mavericky stance against the Spanish Inquisition.)

-Not only backs Senator McCain for President, but endorses other Senate Republicans as well.

This is the guy who’s “with us on everything except the war,” Harry Reid’s “friend” who just had a temporary blackout period of conservative vitriol, a man who apparantly deserves nothing more than losing a subcommittee position on polar bears.  For the millionth time, the Goldfinger quote:

“Once is happenstance; twice is coincidence; three times is enemy action.”

And so I ask our readers:  What in the name of Christ on a cracker is a firing offense in this town?

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…they just slink down into the dungeon.  With the Democratic House and Senate landslide, dozens of old Congresscritters are taking their pages and going home.  Sadly for them and their staff, they have to vacate their old offices as the new Members measure the drapes.  For the final month or two of their various criminal endeavors, departing Congressmen are housed in literally the Rayburn Building basement.  Mother Jones reports:

“In Capitol Hill official-speak, it’s called the “transitional suite.” In reality, the harshly lit warren of numbered cubicles in the bowels of the Rayburn House Office Building is the private purgatory of members of Congress who are no longer needed. Mere weeks after losing power, defeated or retiring US representatives move to this temporary basement setup from the comfortable office suites where they previously worked. Here they pass their final days in office, each soon-to-be ex-legislator and his or her staff issued a single work space measuring approximately 5’x5′.”

It resembles nothing so much as a bullpen full of temps doing data entry:

Welcome to Scranton, bitches

Welcome to Scranton, bitches

This basement are also serves as Ellis Island for incoming members, who shuffle through beforehand amidst their various orientations and welcoming briberies.  One staffer compared it to “Grand Central Station” when the newbies show up, and “Grand Central Station on Christmas Day” when the morose departures replace them. Former Republican Rep. Bob Beauprez (R-France?) described the mood:

“You go from being in the middle of the nation’s business to suddenly the phone doesn’t ring,” he says. “There’s no mail that goes through. There’s nobody to respond to.”

Waiting by the phone?  Congressman Beauprez, you’ve just won the Soul Asylum segue contest!

Anyway, as Snoop Dogg says, “back to the lecture at hand:”  Mother Jones is a solid magazine, especially their photo essays on completely unexpected topics.  Where else will you find an interview feature with the woman who sews the Klan robes?  They also have galleries of Mexican superheroes, phone sex operators, and an unbelievable, heartbreaking series on children born in prison.  I recommend subscribing while you still have that Congressional mailing address.

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