by Carrie Pruett
If you’re paying attention to the news, you might think that Dave Brat, the Congressman from Virginia’s 7th District, is in a bit of trouble. In the wake of Conor Lamb’s special election win last week in Pennsylvania, CNN moved Virginia’s long-Republican-held 7th district to Lean Republican. Many are now wondering if almost any Republican seat is really safe.
So, what’s Dave Brat doing to reach out to his supporters and show them he’s got this?
Two days after the Pennsylvania election, the Congressman’s official Facebook page linked to an interview that Brat did with a Richmond-based podcast called “Reaching Out.” Now, it can be a fine idea for an elected official to speak with hyperlocal media. And the one-on-one podcast format can be great for providing a spin-free window into how politicians really think. The women at Persisters Podcast, for instance, provided a valuable platform when last year’s House of Delegates races were launching. Also working out of RVA, the Cheats Movement podcast is consistently terrific: I’m predictably a fan of this conversation Marc Cheatham had with Tom Perriello during last year’s primary season, even though they tragically never get to the end of that story about what Tom was doing the weekend 2Pac died.
In the interview with Dave Brat, Reaching Out’s host, Zack Carter, makes a respectable effort to get the Congressman to give real answers to his questions. But there’s no way to make a silk purse out of Dave’s trademark sow’s ear of a word salad. If this is a peek at the Congressman’s communications strategy during his re-election campaign, we’re in for quite a ride.
You can check out the whole thing for yourself, of course, but if you’d like to bypass that ordeal, here are some of the highlights of Dave Brat’s “thoughts” (using that word loosely) on “Moral Economics.”
1.The free market keeps restaurants from poisoning people by . . .letting restaurants poison people?
See if you can make sense of this hypothetical that Brat offers:
“The simplest kind of thing is to say you got two pizza joints. One is a greedy capitalist and the other is not. So one puts poison sausage on your pizza in order to have lower costs because it’s easier to make poison sausage. The other guy’s a good guy. He does healthy pepperoni, so you live. Well, rational people will figure out in about five minutes that if you go to this pizza joint, you die. Okay, so the so the free market is perfectly capable of sorting that out.”
Now, I’ll admit it’s been a while since I took econ. Still, I’ll go waayyyy out on a limb and say that, when a system leaves you with one non-deadly pizza joint and a dead customer or two, that’s a significantly worse deal than the system that produces two non-deadly pizza joints and no dead customers. Somebody with a Ph.D. in economics feel free to check my math, but I’m going to stick with that.
It would be bad enough if Brat were actually talking about food safety, but as far as I could tell, the pizza story was a metaphor for the health care system. Thus, in Dave Brat’s Ayn Randian “reasoning,” if pizzeria sausage is poisoning people on a regular basis, they can switch to the salad bar, or opt out of the restaurant consumer pool altogether. If the Congressman is suggesting that we just wait to see how many people die and then fix the health care market, that’s not going to fly with Virginia voters, who overwhelmingly named health care as their top concern in last fall’s elections.
- You can make a good living off of government benefits.
“People are leaving the labor force. 20 to 25 million able-bodied people. Then you’re eligible for up to $40,000 in welfare, just federal welfare payments. . .And if you’ve got two kids in school, that’s 24 grand and if you work under the table you can make 20 grand that’s non-taxable and you get free emergency room care . . . If you add those numbers up. . . you’re over average family income in Virginia for welfare and being out of the labor force.”
This is the kind of fuzzy math that our Congressman, who brags about his economics Ph.D,. loves to throw around. It sounds specific because he uses numbers but where is he getting them? I couldn’t figure out what specific programs the “$40,000 in federal welfare payments” were supposed to be coming from. I asked a friend who works in a public assistance agency and she couldn’t figure it out either. It’s way too high for SNAP, and of course unemployment benefits are temporary and income dependent. Social Security Disability isn’t available to the “able bodied,” and nobody who has ever gotten emergency room treatment they couldn’t pay for and then had their bills referred to collection feels like that they got something “free.” And that $20,000 a year under the table? That’s just something Brat pulled out of his…er, hat.
Of course, when Dave says things like this, the point isn’t for the numbers to add up. His intended audience is not made up of people who have to subsist on government benefits. He just wants to convince people who don’t — currently — rely on the social safety net not to worry about the people who do. How’s that for “moral” economics?
- Dave used to throw the best town halls and no one ever came.
“After Trump won, the left kind of just [got] very angry at that election. I used to have Town Halls. I’d go to all my counties every month. I’d have town halls everywhere yeah just normal polite back-and-forth dadadada Democrats, Republicans no big deal but when President Trump won, boom, I ignite it this thing on the left.”
Cue lots of complaining about women using “the f-bomb” at him.
This is one of my favorite Dave Brat chestnuts, for a lot of reasons. First, I’ll take any excuse to link the famous STAY IN DAVE BRAT’S GRILL post from the Wonkette blog. Any opportunity to revisit that post is also a chance to recall that Brat’s office originally swore they were going to hold town halls all over the district after finishing up the amazing accomplishments of Trump’s first 100 days. Eventually, this “promise” yielded a couple Facebook town halls and two in-person events, after which Dave’s office took the position that his constituents are just too dang loud. (To be fair, the first 100 days of Trump didn’t yield any accomplishments, either.)
Now, I could dive into the contentious and not entirely cut-and-dried conversation about how “civility” in discourse is defined, and how much respect is owed between lawmakers and constituents. I could get into the history of escalation that occurred after Brat’s office refused multiple polite requests for in person meetings, and Brat’s habit of insinuating that his constituents concerned about losing their family’s health care must be paid protesters.
But my absolute favorite part is how aggrieved he always sounds that none of these voters wanted to come to his (possibly mythical) town halls before Trump was elected. Dave either can’t get his mind around, or won’t admit, the truth that when we had a sensible president, nobody expected any of his House Freedom Caucus lunacy to make it into law.
Could/should the 7th District’s voters have been more engaged before Trump won? Sure. We’ve all learned that lesson. Should Dave Brat be surprised nobody bothered to show up and ask him and his HFC buddies to please not pretend to repeal the ACA from the 64th time? Not really.
- Right wing extremism is a serious problem in Europe (because of too much immigration, of course), but not in America.
“Go look at London right now. Look at Paris look at the Netherlands, Amsterdam. Go look at Sweden go look at Norway. They’re in a nightmare situation we’re not, due to immigration and having open borders. They’re having to reverse course . . .Italy, Greece, everybody. They’re having to reverse and they’re having big right wing and i mean hard right reactions. . . in this country, right wing just means follow the law.”
It is good to hear that, at the very least, Brat is able to pay lip service to the idea that European-style “right-wing” politics — i.e., fascism — is a bad thing that we should not want to emulate. (The implications are that: 1. Europe is a hellhole; 2. Europe brought neo-fascism on itself due to allowing too much immigration; and 3. The fact that “The Netherlands” and “Amsterdam” are different places is a discussion for another time.)
The part that is mind-blowing and not at all funny: Brat’s apparent belief that America’s home grown “alt-right” movement is nothing to worry about. It’s bad enough that, as late as August 7 of last year, Brat was describing Charlottesville “Unite the Right” architect Richard Spencer mundanely, as the leader of “an independent organization dedicated to heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States.”
Somehow, in March of 2018, sitting in a podcast studio less than an hour from Charlottesville, Brat still proved unwilling to treat homegrown extremism as a serious problem. That alone is a reason to vote him out.
- Then. . .well. . .then there’s this.
“It’s a common misperception. For all of human history just to put this in context people made $500 a year. For all of human history. Until 1750. What happened in 1750? We went toward freedom. The Founding Fathers. The documents. The declaration. The Constitution. Adam Smith. 1776 also was his book on free markets.”
I don’t even know what to do with this. What is it? The average peasant made $500 a year back in 1066 or whenever? What does it mean? Help?
Or for a better use of your time check out the Democratic candidates running in the June 12th primary, and then grab a clipboard.