Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Weighed and Found Wanting?

Guest blogging: Hayes McNeill

Many, maybe most, of our choices for political office must boil down to "character." Since none of us can know exactly the problems with which our elected representatives will have to struggle, we must select our representatives based on what we know, or can perceive, of their characters. After all, this is how we evaluate car salesmen or surgeons, correct? This is certainly how the experts tell us we cast our presidential ballots: "personally."

So maybe our votes this November should be similarly based -- from School Board on up. For example, let us consider our incumbent 5th District Representative Foxx. What do we know that informs about her character? Her biography gives us a few basics: she was born Virginia Ann Palmieri in New York during WWII. She has stated publicly that she grew up poor. We know that 40 years ago she enrolled in our University system, that she did her academic work in Education, that she eventually headed a small community college, that from there she moved on the NC Senate, and that, after a contentious primary with Vernon Robinson, she was elected to the Congressional seat given up by Richard Burr, and before him, given up by Steve Neal.

Now, after three terms in Congress, her voting record reveals more details of her character and testifies about what to expect should she be reelected. She has voted consistently against education at all levels, against programs to help the poor and those struggling with unemployment, against all varieties of health-care reform, against clean air and water protection, and against helping Katrina victims and 9/11 first responders. So what, then, has she been for? She has been consistent in her support of the insurance companies, the credit card companies, the big banks and big oil. Despite inveighing against Wasteful Spending, she has voted for pork projects like the infamous "bridge to nowhere" and the Teapot Museum.

The companies and groups she has supported have returned her favors with generous campaign contributions, providing her with millions which insulate her from 5th District voters: she does not have to come home to the district to explain herself in open forums such as colleges and universities or town meetings, nor does she interact with voters except in tightly controlled, safely photo-friendly opportunities. She has instead preferred to deluge 5th District postal patrons with a ton of political junk mail sent at taxpayer expense -- more than any other NC Representative -- full of red flags cunningly designed to distract us from the fact that her votes do not represent the values held by most of us in the district. What would Thomas Jefferson say about a Congressperson who raised more than a million dollars from sources outside the district and who seemed afraid to face the voters to explain and defend her record?

Whether or not Virginia Ann Palmieri Foxx has a good character is obscured by this isolation from 5th District voters: we cannot judge character by the activities of her dozen-and-a-half staffers or from the slick junk mail she hides behind. We can only judge her motivations by what we can discern of her character. Just like that car salesman who wants us to buy the hot car or that high-priced surgeon who can make us better for sure. We must decide.

This year, many voters are taking a longer, historical view of politics. This evaluation means that Character Matters. It is only fair then to consider that 150 years ago, when citizens thought a lot more about sin than we do nowadays, character was much on the public mind. Emerson marveled that "people seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of their character." As to the poor and the unemployed in this historical context, it was Abraham Lincoln who reminded us that "you cannot build character by taking away man's initiative and independence."

Those public servants we revere, those whose examples we hold up to our children, are the ones whose political careers illustrate good character and who represented the best in us as citizens and as Americans. If there are those who would so memorialize Ms Foxx, they are unknown to me.

It is true that all of us are flawed, that we all fall short. In the historical view, sin was held to be inevitable, in public affairs as well as in private life. But previous generations did consider the kinds and degrees of sin. One of our greatest writers pondered the Unpardonable Sin -- the sin so bad that it could not be forgiven. Hawthorne concluded that it was not lust, or even murder, but rather Hardness of Heart. It's difficult for me not to see that this is this sin of which Ms Foxx -- by her actions -- stands guilty.


BikerBard said...

Mr. McNeill:
What an eloquent and spot on post! Thank you.

brotherdoc said...

You know what started the entire Tea Party movement don't you? The Madam didn't get that Teapot museum she wanted the government to pay for?! lol