Saturday, December 23, 2006

Holding up the mirror: Does Virgil Goode reflect the views of his constituents?

I am old enough to remember when George Wallace ran for president and one of the things I used to hear people say in admiration about Wallace was that “he says what he thinks.” This reflected in part the typical paranoia around the fringes of American politics that believed somehow all our leaders were all lying to us and it reflected in part the extremely frustrating habit of many politicians who were constantly qualifying every position they took on any given issue in order to offend the least number of people. Wallace’s bluntness seemed refreshing.

Of course, Wallace wasn’t necessarily saying what he really thought. He was a demagogue who was quite willing to say anything would lead him to power. He found his niche and played it up. His niche was reactionary, nativistic and racist. The reality was what he had to say wasn’t refreshing at all.

I am sure there are people in Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District who sincerely believe Congressman Goode “says what he thinks” and somehow that is a virtue. However, I’m sorry to say it is the same old demagoguery that’s been on the political fringes for a very long time – anti-immigrant, anti-cosmopolitan and Christianist. These are not the views of a great America but of American smallness and petty bigotry. The honorable Virgil Goode has found his niche that has paved his way to power in the state legislature for twenty-four years and a decade in the U.S. Congress. The one good thing about the publicity around the anti-Muslim letter Mr. Goode sent to constituents is that it holds a mirror up to the voters of the Fifth Congressional District. Does this reflect who they really are or not? In two years they have to decide.

The Roanoke Times weighs in with this editorial today:
Virgil Goode isn't about to apologize for his racist diatribe that equates Muslims with illegal immigrants and terrorists. He shouldn't apologize for his beliefs because that would just pile the sin of hypocrisy onto the heap of bigotry.

But his constituents in Virginia's 5th Congressional District should be hopping mad, because Goode now has the nation believing that they are as small-minded as he is.

Goode never intended for everyone to know that he fears now that one Muslim has been elected to Congress, illegal immigrants and terrorists will pour over our boundaries. His letter -- the one that has made national news for a few days running -- was intended to go out to only his xenophobic supporters.

One copy mistakenly went to a non-supporter in what Goode's office claimed was a "clerical error." Too late. They couldn't take it back or deny it. Instead, Goode defends his stance and claims it mirrors his constituents' views.

Would that include his thousand or so constituents of Arab descent? Or those of African descent who make up about 23 percent of his district?

They can keenly recall a Virginia that tried to bar them from entering "white" society with the same repugnant fears.

Do the residents of the 5th District share Goode's modern-day bigotry? If so, do they think Goode is one of them? Really, that affinity has been his appeal throughout his political career.

The people of his district look the other way when he gets wrapped up in a campaign finance scandal; they excuse him in Martinsville where the town is on the hook to pay back a substantial grant because of a Goode scheme with disgraced MZM officials. They have forgiven him so easily because they believe good-old Goode is "one of us."

Goode certainly seems to think he's among like-minded folks. As long as he insulates himself with people who reflect his thoughts and avoids those who would challenge him to rethink his biases, there's no reason for him to believe differently.

Every broad-minded thinker in the 5th District must cringe at the thought of outsiders believing Goode is representative of them.

Goode's got another two years in Congress, but his constituents will have little representation during that time. No one, other than of a handful of his bigoted supporters, will ever take Goode seriously again. Not that he'll notice.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A cost-benefit analysis, with lives being weighted the most, is the best way to approach Virgil Goode's sole policy proposal, which is a halt to muslim immigration.

Whatever the outcome of a cost benefit analysis, it will only be valid if it is actually acknowledged that muslim immigration, student studying, and tourist visits has a cost in treasure and lives, which September 11th, the Los Angeles El Al ticket counter shooting, the first WTC bombing, the London bombing, the Madrid train bombing, and numerous averted terrorist attacks show. Nearly every ledger has two sides to be acknowledged, and this is no exception. The outcome doesn't have to be all or nothing either. I believe that the optimal policy is reduced muslim immigration from the current ~40,000 per year to something like ~10,000 per year. We'd keep most of our international prestige and the psychic gain which a non-discriminatory immigration policy gives us, and US muslims wouldn't feel *quite* so hated as a complete ban would make them feel, but we'd have a far slower rate of growth in the sea in which terrorists swim and recruit. If we made sure that the reduced flow was more proportionately the cream of the crop than the current flow is, then we'd have less economic losses (they are highly educated) than pure reduced numbers of muslim immigrants alone would indicate.