Somehow I am not on Bob Goodlatte’s (R-VA-06) email list, but a fine letter to the editor in the Northern Virginia Daily alerted me to my “representative’s” latest foray into the realm of rankest hypocrisy.
The letter, by my fellow Shenandoah County resident, Mary Gessner, quoted Goodlatte’s email — sent in the wake of the Republican victories in the recent election — as declaring that “division will do nothing to benefit our country,” and then proceeding to express the hope “that we will now have an avenue to move bipartisan legislation that has been stalled over the past eight years.”
No word from Goodlatte about how such “bipartisan legislation” got stalled for the past eight years. But letter-writer Gessner provides that missing word: “The Republican led House and Senate spent the last eight years refusing to do anything.”
Nor is there word from him about the prominent role that Goodlatte himself has played in making sure that nothing moved forward. No word, that is, about how, for the past four years, Goodlatte has been chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and used that plum position to make sure that bills supported by a majority of Americans — on immigration reform, on reasonable laws to keep guns out of the wrong hands — went nowhere.
The best word to describe Goodlatte’s present plea for progress is hypocrisy. Second place in the apt-word contest might be chutzpah.
The famous story used to illustrate the meaning of “chutzpah” is about the young man who murders his father and mother and then throws himself on the mercy of the court, for he is but a poor orphan. So now we have Goodlatte, willing accomplice of stalling the very progress he now celebrates the opening of an avenue to achieve.
But hypocrisy hits the nail on the head. What Goodlatte really stands for — and this seems the consistent guiding principle of his political conduct — is serving purely partisan interests. (And it is likely not incidental that being a reliable party hack brings rewards from the party for the ambitious politician– like heading an important House committee.)
Stripped of the hypocrisy, Goodlatte’s real message is, “Now that my Party is calling the shots, let’s get things done.” When the other Party was in the driver’s seat, his position was across-the-board obstructionism.
We’ve seen this kind of hypocrisy from Goodlatte before– on his signature issue. Goodlatte has long been an outspoken proponent of a Balanced Budget Amendment. Let us set aside that his signature idea is an awful idea, one that would cripple the nation’s ability to deal with the ups and downs of the business cycle, one that if it had been in effect during the recent economic collapse would have turned the Great Recession into a Great Depression. (But perhaps we should not be too hard on Goodlatte about this: the economic insights that his signature issue ignores are only 80 years old.)
The merits of the idea aside, Goodlatte’s history on the issue would be wonderfully strange, would be inexplicable — unless, that is, we understood that “hypocrite” and “partisan” are the organizing principles of Goodlatte’s politics.
The history is this: Goodlatte started advocating for his Balanced Budget Amendment in the 1990s; he went silent on the issue in the period from 2001-2009, during which time he seemed to have no trouble voting for budget after budget that cumulatively more than doubled our national debt; and then from 2009 onward, he was again a full-throated, piously righteous advocate of his proposal to require that the federal budget always be balanced.
If one were looking for principle, one would be puzzled by the contradiction. But the puzzle is solved as soon as one realizes that principle has nothing to do with it.
Just as with obstructionism vs. moving forward, so also with deficit-spending vs. balanced budget. The rule is, partisan interest is paramount, and “principle” is just a hypocrite’s window dressing.
The rule for Goodlatte has nothing to do with fiscal responsibility, but rather, the rule is: when the Democrats are in power, wave the flag of fiscal restraint, the better to keep the opponent from instituting their programs; when the Republicans are in power, spend whatever it takes to do what we want to do.
That such a man is able to win election now 13 straight times, and seems secure in being able to continue being returned to office until he chooses to retire, is a sad commentary on the state of our democracy.
The people are so far from understanding who really serves them, and who exploits them, that one fears that the day might eventually come that they would elect a truly terrible person — a liar, a con man, an unmitigated self-server — even to the White House.