By Anne-Marie J. Leake
Earlier this week, I considered the slightly paranoid-sounding theory that VA07 Representative David Brat’s second Facebook Live “Town Hall” in a two-week span would be something of a set-up. Turns out that was not off the mark.
Brat kicked things off at the inconvenient 4:30 p.m. start time by announcing that he would finally be holding an in-person Town Hall, this coming Tuesday, February 21 . . . in Blackstone. Nottoway County. After nearly two months of earnest lobbying by Henrico and Chesterfield constituents who live an hour or more away. We get it, they’re new to the 7th District, got to make them feel part of it. And really, no surprise that Brat would timidly pick a more conservative county to test the choppy public waters since Trump’s electoral college victory. Perhaps a little more eyebrow-raising was the choice of venue: a private establishment with seating for only about 150, when nearby schools have room to accommodate several hundred more. Concerned by the public safety aspect of the insufficiency of this site, a group of constituents is currently working with town officials to encourage Brat to consider a more appropriate space, in the best interest of the community and all those who are interested in attending, and to support the “civil discourse” that Brat emphasizes the importance of often.
Oh, HELL No
With that out of the way, Brat’s aide announced that they would start by taking some questions, not from the audience online, but that they pulled earlier from Brat’s Facebook page. You could almost hear the chorus of “Oh, HELL no!” resounding throughout the district. But to my surprise, he started by addressing a question related to his ongoing false claims that the “women up in his grill” are paid protesters. He has made this accusation a number of times, both in print and on conservative talk radio, yet now claims he never said, or at least he never meant, that “all” of his protesters are paid (the media, of course, being the supposed culprit in that li’l misunderstanding). Which does mean he still believes – or wants his conservative constituents to believe – that some portion of us fed up, ordinary citizens trying to hold politicians accountable are not fueled by our own unprecedented dissatisfaction with our government, but are paid to do so by some left-wing Godfather.
Brat perpetuates this myth with the flawed logic (tsk, tsk, Professor!) that organized grassroots resistance = paid protesters. He wants his conservative donor base to believe that “organized” is a dirty word, and anyone employing tactics described in the Indivisible Guide (“GOOGLE IT!” is his battle cry) are hard left, out-of-district progressives funded by billionaire philanthropist George Soros. Indivisible describes itself to CNN as a group of 100 volunteers that has had non-profit status for about four weeks, and has been accepting donations for about three, none of which has come from Soros. Any meager funds the gang at HQ is making is certainly not trickling down to those of us showing up for marches and General Assembly protests and suburban street corner demonstrations and Town Halls.
The fact that he finally addressed this false claim at all is less a testimony to Brat’s character than it is evidence that the viral impact of our peaceful protests and #GrillTheBrat imagery has been very successful in making a significant nationwide impression. Any credit given for attempting an apology, half-assed as it is, is negated by the fundraising email he sent less than 24 hours later, in which he was back to riling up his base by depicting liberal protesters as violent, Soros-funded thugs.
More Matter, Less Art
For the most part, the questions Brat addressed in the remainder of the video seemed to have been preselected to give him a platform for uninterrupted pontification, as if back in the classroom giving an endless econ lecture. But Brat’s rambling yields little in the way of substantial answers. When he fielded the obligatory ACA repeal question next, his answer, which clocked in just shy of 5 minutes, amounted to: I was in academia for 30 years, and we’re doing it for the kids, because kids don’t have their own lobbyists.
Question 3: A constituent expressed her concern with the potential insolvency of Social Security, and asked how Brat supports Trump’s wall fiscally when it won’t balance the budget and won’t help Social Security. Three full minutes later, all we knew was that Dave is on the Budget Committee (being an economist and all); it’s a great question; and we need to answer it . . . you guessed it, for the kids.
Question 4: “With your vote to nullify the Stream Protection Rule, why did you think it was more important to protect the coal mining industry than the cleanliness of our air and water?” Brat’s answer: I taught economics for 20 years. The best way to protect the environment is to grow the economy, because “rich people like clean air and clean water.” Dave’s a self-professed “data guy” who “follows the best science.” But I don’t think Science ever said, “Go ahead and pollute everything, the rich people can make the dirty air and water go away.” But Science did say, “Correlation is not causation.”
Mark His Words
I was pleasantly surprised that this question about the former National Security Advisor made the cut: “Now that Michael Flynn has resigned because he lied to Mike Pence about the dealings with Russia prior to inauguration, will you be calling for a congressional investigation into who else was told and who knew about it?” Citing the shared concern of his House Freedom Caucus cronies, Brat said, “We will be taking a look into oversight and address that breach of Flynn and others who may have similar behavior issues.” You heard him, and we are going to hold him to it.
In answering a question about defunding Planned Parenthood, Brat opened a wide door by citing the “liberty” of taxpayers to decide how their money is spent as justification for his support of defunding. As one online commenter pointed out, “I don’t want the government to make me pay for a wall between the United States and Mexico. Since we’re allowed to cherry-pick, can I hold my tax dollars back from that program?”
We all have our personal triggers from Alt-Town Hall #2, and the moment I most wanted to leap through the screen was at the 28:30 mark, when Brat’s aide blithely read the question, “Is Congress pursuing charges against Hillary and Obama for their pay to play activities?” ARE. YOU. FREAKING. KIDDING. ME. After ignoring in his previous video event the dozens and dozens of questions from constituents about Betsy DeVos’s millions in donations to Republicans and her subsequent cabinet appointment, THIS is the question that he chooses to address in the few minutes remaining? A plant if I ever saw one, and a petty one at that. The giveaway is the bad acting when Brat asks his aide to repeat this very brief, simply-stated question, leaning in reflectively like he is reeeeally having to concentrate on this question that he has never heard before this very moment, really, I swear. Brat is living up to his claim of transparency, just not in the way he means it. (For more on Brat, DeVos, and education, read this.)
I felt a last-minute glimmer of hope when his aide presented a final question about the “Russia entanglements” of the administration. First Flynn, now this – maybe he really is trying to listen to our concerns! The ensuing word salad included Al Qaeda, ISIS, China, Iran, Adam Smith, James Madison, and the South Pacific Sea, but no real statement on the administration’s interactions with Russia, whether those interactions were inappropriate, what that means to national security, or how it should be dealt with. Hopes dashed.
The Big (Word) Salad
The big disadvantage to Brat of the Facebook Live format is that the video is out there for all to see, analyze, and dissect over time. This is a boon to the audience, who often need to listen to his rambling, TL;DR non-answers two or three times before they are decipherable. Brat’s syntax is somewhat more coherent than Trump’s, mainly because his sentence completion ratio is higher. But after Trump’s first solo press conference yesterday, going to 11 won’t cut it – we need an entirely new scale of outrageousness: