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.


Brennan Objects to the Use of Waterboarding in CIA Confirmation Hearing

NPR O.K. Don’t explain to me what the NPR headline writer “really” meant just yet. Let me spend a few more minutes with that lovely image. Yes, I see it! Idaho Senator Jim Risch laid out while water is poured over a cloth covering his face until he confesses that he has no business being on the Senate Intelligence Committee. From the sidelines, John Brennan objects, claiming that, based upon his experience, water boarding is not an effective interrogation technique.

Back to reality. Here, according to Charlie Pierce, is what really happened.

They never laid a glove on him — not, I suspect, that many of them wanted to do so — and John Brennan looked very comfortable in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee during his extended job interview to become the head of the CIA. After all, they were all members of the national-security priesthood, one way or the other, and if they had to discuss their deadly private liturgies (in however cursory a fashion) in public (however briefly), well, that’s just the price of doing business. And if Senator Jim Risch felt the need to bluster about a leak, Brennan got to bluster back, so the call-and-response ritual of the liturgies was adhered to in public as it would have been in private. But there was about the hearing a feeling of pure show, because both sides were operating under a tacit agreement that there are things that the American people must not, and should not, know about what it being done in their name. Once that agreement is struck, once that private communion is joined, the fundamentals of self-government are left behind.

A Tale of Three Headlines

When Raul Labrador decided to challenge John Boehner’s re-election as Speaker, he effectively eliminated any influence he might have hoped to have representing Idaho in Congress. Of course, Labrador is just one more in a long line of Idaho Congressmen whose behavior so marginalized them that they were pretty much impotent. As I stated after his vote against the fiscal cliff legislation, Labrador has been neutered.

What does this mean for Labrador’s political career? Well, three headlines this week tell the story.  First, this headline from “The Hill”.

Boehner defector Rep. Labrador won’t talk about his vote for Speaker  

The second-term lawmaker told The Hill he’s “not talking to the press” on his rationale behind not voting. He was among 12 House Republicans who didn’t back Boehner.

The Tea Party favorite, who also refused to comment when The Hill asked him right after the early January vote, said he hopes his pointed refusal to discuss the Speaker votes would help him smooth things over with GOP leaders.

“John Boehner is my Speaker at this point and I want him to be successful,” he said. “One of the reasons I did what I did is I want my party to be successful, strong and do what we were elected to do. This is absolutely one issue where we’ll work together.”

Unfortunately for Labrador, his “no comment” came a little too late. The senior Idaho Congressman from Idaho, Mike Simpson, did a have a comment, and it wasn’t favorable to Labrador. In what the Idaho Statesman called a “rare public feud” between Idaho Congressmen, Simpson called Labrador’s vote against Boehner “irresponsible”. The headline in the Statesman read,

Mike Simpson rips Raul Labrador for trying to oust Boehner as Speaker

Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson says fellow Republican Rep. Raul Labrador has forever undermined his effectiveness with an “irresponsible” role in plotting to defeat GOP House Speaker John Boehner.

“I think there are 15 or 16 members of our conference that have substantially lost credibility,” said Simpson, one of Boehner’s closest friends in the House.

Labrador was one of three leaders among conservatives upset with Boehner, R-Ohio, for making the Jan. 1 fiscal cliff deal. The dissidents tried to muster enough Republican votes to slow down or stop re-election of Boehner as speaker. They called off their plan a half-hour before the Jan. 3 vote.

Customarily, combatants put aside their differences once the majority picks a leader behind closed doors, joining their party mates for a unanimous public vote on the House floor.

But Labrador let his disloyalty be known publicly as one of 12 Republicans who either didn’t vote for Boehner or didn’t vote at all. Labrador twice ignored the clerk calling his name — and even received one vote to be speaker from fellow ringleader Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich.

“He just didn’t vote,” Simpson said, shaking his head in anger. “Which, as anyone who’s ever been in a legislative body will tell you, you got one thing going for you and that’s your credibility. And once you lose that credibility it’s gone and it’s gone forever.”

Wow! Labrador’s credibility is gone forever!  That sounds like Labrador’s political career is over, but not so fast. His credibility in Washington may be gone, but to his Tea Party constituents back in Idaho, he has just reinforced their belief that he is a man of principle. Which leads us to the last headline.

Labrador mulling race for Idaho governor, but insists he’s not decided

Hmmm- that is exactly what an ineffectual Idaho Congressman did eight years ago. Yes, Clement Leroy “Butch” Otter’s career path took him to the Governorship after two terms as an ineffectual Congressman who initiated zero legislation.

Otter will be 72 when his second term is over and it is likely that he will not run again. Thus, the door is open for Labrador.

Standardized Test Boycott

education over everything

I think this might be unprecedented. The whole staff of a high school refuses to administer a state required standardized test. The teachers at Garfield High in Seattle, Washington have voted to support a boycott of the required “MAPS” test. Soon after, the teachers at Ballard High school agreed to join the boycott.

Opponents of the nation’s relentless push for standardized testing in public schools have new champions in Seattle this week as teachers at one high school and now another have refused to issue such exams to their students, calling them a waste of “time and money” amid “dwindling school resources.”

The entire teaching faculty at Garfield High School (with only three abstentions) voted to support a boycott against administering the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) this week or ever again. Garfield is the largest of thirteen high schools in the Seattle Public School (SPS) system.

In a press release, Kris McBride, Garfield’s academic dean and testing coordinator, said the test “produces specious results, and wreaks havoc on limited school resources” during the weeks the test is administered.

On Friday, teachers at Ballard High School said they would join the boycott as well. National support for the teachers was also growing online, as a petition circulated and a facebook page for the teachers materialized.

Following some fear that the Garfield teachers could face disciplinary action, well-known education policy expert Diane Ravitch was among those using social media to garner additional support for their cause on Saturday

If you would like to support these teachers, you can sign the petition here.