April 1, 2012
Virginia's Sixth Congressional District has been one of the safest Republican strongholds for the past two decades, during which time one man has served this area in the U.S. House of Representatives: Bob Goodlatte. In most recent elections, he has faced little if any serious opposition from the Democrats. But with all the turmoil of the past two years on Capitol Hill, and a very annoyed and anxious electorate, nothing can be taken for granted.
So perhaps it should not be surprising the Rep. Goodlatte is being challenged not only by the Democrats this year, but by the libertarian wing of his own Republican Party. I happened to attend recent political events at which two of the challengers were speaking: Karen Kwiatkowski on February 12, and Andy Schmookler earlier on Saturday afternoon. I was motivated to attend the latter event in part because of the paid advertisement in Friday's News Leader, which read in part:
To the Good, Decent Conservatives of Our Area
The Gang That's Hijacked the Republican Party Has
Betrayed Your Trust.
I Challenge You to Come to the Town Hall Meeting...
Because I Can Prove It!
For someone like me with extensive first-hand knowledge of how the party (or at least major parts of it) was hijacked in recent years, that was simply too intriguing for me to ignore. So, I took the bait and went. Here's what I wrote on Facebook about yesterday's event:
I spent a very worthwhile two-plus hours at the Staunton library this afternoon, listening to Democratic congressional candidate Andy Schmookler, and talking to him afterwards. He is keenly aware of many of the things that are wrong with American society, and the Republican Party in particular, and I was very impressed. I disagree with him about several key issues (such as health care), so it's not likely that I would vote for him, but I am glad he entered the race, to raise public awareness and give voters more of a choice. Likewise for libertarian Republican Karen Kwiatkowski, who is challenging incumbent Bob Goodlatte in the primaries. I'm looking forward to an interesting race for the Virginia Sixth Congressional District seat this spring and fall.
To elaborate on that, Mr. Schmookler was introduced by Bruce Elder, a member of the Staunton City Council who ran for the House of Delegates against Chris Saxman in 2005 (scroll down). He talked about the books that Schmookler has written about sharpening divisions in society, and related issues. Schmookler began by saying someone in his line of work (seeking truth) is not usually well suited for the world of politics, but said that the country is in a profound crisis and needs a new kind of leader to fix things. His basic point was that there is a Big Lie: the Republican Party is pretending to be conservative and patriotic, but in practice is actually something quite different. Rather than venerating existing norms and institutitions, he says, they are trampling on democratic norms, blocking governmental action, and seeking to delegitimize the opposition. He took particular umbrage at the slogan of John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, "Country First," lumping all Republicans into the same wicked category, and I later challenged him on that, insisting that McCain was a sincere patriot and deserved more credit. But Schmookler's take on last summer's debt ceiling debacle was convincing: The threat by some of the GOP radicals to meet their demands or else they would shut the government down was deeply irresponsible and unpatriotic. During the Q & A segment, I expressed agreement with some of Schmookler's points and praised his effort to focus attention on what is wrong with the GOP, but I also took issue with his position on health care and a couple other issues.
After the questions and answers were over, Mr. Schmookler came over and we had a lengthy, very friendly talk. You can find a thorough set of policy position statements at andyschmooklerforcongress.com. I noticed that he lists "individual liberty" as being among his core principles, which is a good sign, but for me that is impossible to reconcile with a single-payer health care system, which he expects will eventually come about. His first name certainly has a positive ring to it, and his last name reminds me of a certain company that produces fruit preserves, which led me to suggest the following campaign slogan:
With a name like Schmookler, he has to be good!
UPDATE: Today's News Leader had an article on page two covering that event. It quoted one of my remarks, though without identifying me by name:
And among Saturday afternoon's crowd at the library he had one conservative listener, if not a convert, who holds the same view that the Republican party is not quite what it tries to portray itself to be, stating its fetish for loyalty "makes them impervious to reason."
Schmookler had a very good response to my comment, arguing that loyalty ought to be a "two-way street." In other words, the leaders of an organization in a free society ought to be just as loyal to their members as the members are to the leaders. I heartily agree with that. And just to clarify, the misplaced obsession with loyalty (exemplified by those who cry "RINO!") is not characteristic of all Republicans, but it is the prevailing tendency these days, which I believe cripples the party's ability to function properly and fix its own problems. The Democrats, meanwhile, must cope with a whole different set of internal problems. Schmookler did not talk about that, however.
Back on February 12, I attended a screening of the movie Farmageddon in Harrisonburg, at which the featured speakers were nationally-known organic farmer and author Joel Salatin and GOP congressional candidate Karen Kwiatkowski. The movie included many horrifying images of poultry and livestock being subjected to miserable and filthy conditions prior to being slaughtered. It also showed how corporate lobbyists have succeeded in pushing for legislation that systematically I bought Salatin's newest book about artificially modified foods, Folks, This Ain't Normal; you can probably find it and that movie at the Web site farmtoconsumer.org.
But the main attraction was probably Karen Kwiatkowski, who is challenging Bob Goodlatte in the primary election to be held on June 12. Ms. Kwiatkowski is a retired Air Force colonel with clear libertarian views on many policy issues. Instead of relying primarily on the Federal government to regulate the safety of the food we eat (a policy which is not working very well), she would rely more on word of mouth and the old fashioned norm of "let the buyer beware." I was quite delighted that the small-farm agricultural reform movement and libertarian activists have begun working hand in hand. Many After the movie screening, I had a nice conversation with her about the Tenth Amendment, nullification, and related constitutional issues. For more, see karenkforcongress.com.
Just as most people expect that Bob Goodlatte will win in November, it is widely believed that he would be almost unbeatable in the primary election. Well, if he actually met his opponent in a one-on-one debate, it might be more of an even match. There was an online poll by the News Virginian, last month: "Should incumbent 6th District Rep. Bob Goodlatte consent to a debate series with challenger Karen Kwiatkowski?" By an almost two-to-one margin (64% to 35%), the 721 people who voted said YES. I sincerely hope that Rep. Goodlatte gets the message.