What’s The Matter With Eastern Washington?

Catherine Umbridge-Rogers

I don’t know about you, but I found the “official” Republican Party response to Pres. Obama’s State of the Union address by Representative Catherine McMorris Rodgers more than a little creepy.  As I listened, patiently waiting for anything resembling either a response to the President’s speech, or, as unlikely as it might be, a new idea to emerge from the party of “just say no”, I had an unsettling feeling that she reminded me of someone.

Finally it hit me, Representative McMorris Rodgers has all the malevolent mannerisms of Harry Potter’s Delores Umbrage. I am guessing that many would find this characterization a bit harsh. Most of the national commentators, while critical of McMorris Rodgers “speech”, saw it as a combination of vacuous, benign platitudes along with a sanitized “rags to riches” story. Charlie Pierce, for example, dismissed it with the following comment:

And then there was Cathy McMorris Rogers, who was not nutty, but who, I believe, was attempting to sell me a dinette set. Also, can I just say to the nice furniture lady that I’m happy that she and her retired Naval commander husband both had that sweet government health-care so that their newborn son’s pre-existing condition wasn’t the kind of hardship it is for parents who are only now, through the Affordable Care Act, able to stave off financial disaster in similar circumstances.

I guess I saw her speech as more malevolent because I’m aware of where she’s from and who her constituents are. She represents Eastern Washington, the poorer side of the state. Her home is in Stevens County which had an unemployment rate 30% higher than the national average last year. One in six people live below the poverty level and 20% are on food stamps. The leading employer is government, providing 3,023 of the 9,580 non-agricultural payroll jobs last year.

So, what is McMorris Rodgers legislative record? She voted to drastically cut food aid last year, and led her party in rejecting emergency benefits to the unemployed. And, of course, she has been in the forefront of the Republican attempt to kill the Affordable Care Act. And yet, as Timothy Egan points out,

…in her district, people are flocking to Obamacare — well beyond the national average. Though she has been screening town hall meetings to highlight only critics of the new law, her constituents are doing something entirely different in making their personal health decisions.

McMorris Rodgers clearly votes against the welfare of her constituents, so why is it that she continues to get re-elected? Egan suggests that it is the “What’s the Matter With Kansas” premise, based on the Thomas Frank book documenting how poor whites choose cultural and social issues over economic ones at the ballot box. It is true that McMorris Rogers beats the anti-abortion drum incessantly. As was the case in her Republican response, her unrelenting message is to blame the “liberal elite” for attempting to limit our freedoms. In the logic of this “frame” Progressives/Democrats/Liberals are “Un-American”.

Thomas Frank claims:

In order to explain to the “Cons” why no progress gets made on these issues, politicians and pundits point their fingers to a “liberal elite,” a straw man representing everything that conservatism is not. When reasons are given, they eschew economic reasons in favor of accusing this elite of simply hating America, or having a desire to harm “average” Americans.

This gambit of the Republican Party is not new and certainly pre-dates the time frame Frank identifies. The Republican hypocrisy was solidified when it became obvious their “answers” to the Great Depression were bankrupt compared to the New Deal. They became the party of the wealthy who pretended to side with the working class.  For example, Harry Truman said of them in 1948,

Republicans approve of the American farmer, but they are willing to help him go broke. They stand four-square for the American home–but not for housing. They are strong for labor–but they are stronger for restricting labor’s rights. They favor minimum wage–the smaller the minimum wage the better. They endorse educational opportunity for all–but they won’t spend money for teachers or for schools. They think modern medical care and hospitals are fine–for people who can afford them. They consider electrical power a great blessing–but only when the private power companies get their rake-off. They think American standard of living is a fine thing–so long as it doesn’t spread to all the people. And they admire the Government of the United States so much that they would like to buy it.

For some reason, many average Americans continue to fall for the same Deloris Umbrage double speak. And so it goes….

UPDATE Here is the lowdown on “Bette in Spokane” who was the one example McMorris Rodgers cited of the ACA not working.


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