I don’t know if he was drunk, just irate or both, but the frustration of at least some American voters might well have been caught up in a graying man only steps behind me as I strolled into Republican Congressman Bill Flores’ summer town-hall meeting at Texas State Technical College last week. The guy seemed to be spoiling for a fight.
Actually, the gentleman — who proved anything but as the evening unfolded — might have been a few steps ahead of me except that, in pulling into the parking lot, he stopped, rolled down his window and insulted protesters holding up a banner about climate change. Among other things, he claimed that climate change was a hoax and that scientists have been bought off by billionaire financier George Soros.
After parking, he paused, turned their way again and hurled one final insult: “Lying fruitcakes!” Then, heading for the hall, he told another man that he sure hoped he hadn’t fallen for silly climate-change arguments.
Yep. Democracy in action. His opinion counts — and nobody else’s.
Republicans inside found themselves more put out with him than the climate protesters were. (The latter are well accustomed to such vitriol.) At one point, while low-key Flores was talking of President Obama’s being intractable, the fellow who hated climate-change protesters blurted out: “Why do you not impeach him?” And when Flores began talking of Lyndon Johnson’s failed War on Poverty, the man loudly stole his punchline: “It hasn’t worked!”
And when Flores listed issues that his otherwise well-mannered audience of about 75 might want to discuss and cited climate change, the gentleman shouted: “Non-issue!”
Finally, after the man complained how nothing ever gets done, even with Republicans in control of the House and Senate, two fellows in the hall older than he was strolled up and made it clear it was time for him to pipe down. One constituent quietly said that he too could yell if it was absolutely necessary.
Two security officers then appeared and the man decided that, well, yes, maybe it was time to pipe down.
The town-hall meeting went on, but it was impossible for Flores or any of the rest of us to forget the man, who, true to his word, remained silent the rest of the evening. But his remarks betrayed the truth about politics today: Even when we elect Republicans to power, nothing much seems to get accomplished.
Flores spent much time during the meeting blaming the failure of one initiative or another on President Obama (who, let’s face it, will soon be out of the White House, despite right-wing zealots who once claimed he would never forsake power — any conspiracy buffs still up for that bet?). Flores also attacked the Republican-led Senate with its filibuster rule, which will likely remain in effect if for no other reason than both parties know they might one day need it if they wind up in that chamber’s minority.
Flores is right about the filibuster but only in the narrowest sense. It’s nowhere in the Constitution. But then neither is the House of Representatives’ destructive “Hastert Rule,” named for the former Republican House speaker whose misdeeds as a serial child molester landed him in prison: The rule only allows legislation to progress if it’s stamped for approval by a majority of the majority party in control (rather than a clear majority of the entire House). This means Republicans must cater to the extremists in their party. That in turn guarantees tough sledding for any bill in the Senate, where some consensus is required between parties.
It’s wildly disingenuous for Flores to fault the Senate for the filibuster rule while tolerating the Hastert Rule in the House. If Flores wants to end gridlock, he must start by pressing fellow House leaders to scrap the Hastert Rule.
Flores left one other thing unsaid that evening. One reason nothing gets done in Washington is because we regularly elect people who promise to “fight” for our values and never compromise. That’s terrific — except other people in other parts of our nation who feel very differently on issues such as immigration, tax reform and climate change also elect lawmakers with the same instructions. So everyone convenes in Washington, a lot of grandstanding goes on for the benefit of the folks back home — and nothing of consequence gets done.
If we want change — progress in which we get something by giving something — we better look inward before blaming Flores, Obama or the Republican-led Senate. And we might start by forswearing such behavior as popping off and calling people with whom we disagree “lying fruitcakes.”