NEWPORT NEWS, VIRGINIA - The tale of the 13 gentleman that make up the Virginia Congressional delegation is a study in reaction and the lack thereof to the biggest policy issue in the country. Half of my family is in Virginia and I follow VA politics closely.
Nevermind that these things are trivial theater the importance of which is dubious. Any Congressman taking the stage for one of these shows need have only two concerns: their safety and their image. The jokers disrupting these events have only one concern: image. Specifically: Producing the most sensational YouTube video possible. With their fake “homemade” signs and their instructions from Freedomworks.org they have effectively unlocked the door to press coverage using the biggest key to local TV journalism: The more sensational the video the more it gets played. Repetitively. If you can create sensational video you win. At this moment in the debate the video politics reality… for now. I think it’s unlikely we’ll look back on the August of 2009 as a time of deep thinking. Nevertheless to look at how the 13 members of the Virginia delegation are handling a tricky situation is useful.
Bob Goodlatte is having three town halls. Rick Boucher has already had two. Naturally the Republicans have an advantage: All they have to do is show up, declare opposition to HR 32oo, receive the cheers and depart.
Five members of the delegation are effectively doing absolutely nothing. This is either because they have no expertise on the issue or are just running scared. They are Glenn Nye, Frank Wolf, Randy Forbes, Jim Webb and Mark Warner. Let’s face it: None of these five can stand flatfooted in front of a large audience and take random questions on the American health care system. If they could they would. None has held a public town hall, a small format round table, a closed controlled conference call or a e-town hall on the issue. Nothing. Jim Moran was savvy enough to have Howard Dean standing next to him at a raucous Reston, Va. town hall on Aug 24. Though it had the effect of bringing fourth more tomfoolery, including the ever-shouting Randall Terry (at least be accurate: abortions are NOT funded in HR 3200), Dean answered several questions in detail and provided an intelligent buffer for Moran. The best performance of the summer by a Virginian so far has been Tom Perriello. Who would have guessed he’d hold 26 town halls and come out on top. The worst performance so far has been Glenn Nye. Who would have guessed, as a new Congressman on a crucial issue, he’d run and hide. Nye’s absence, along with Forbes, and Wittman have put a ton of attention on the fact that no Hampton Roads area Congressman has held a town hall. Bobby Scott has 3 town halls scheduled on Sept. 1,2, and 3. Wittman is finally holding an event at Christopher Newport University in Newport News on Aug. 31. Since Wittman is a Republican against the bill this should be a quiet ride.
With Webb, Warner, and Nye doing nothing and Moran and Gerry Connolly finally doing one event each last week a ton of attention swings to the only Democrat in Southern VA holding (3) town halls: Bobby Scott. With Nye doing zip and then even intimating he’s against public option at a weak event with Wittman last week, Scott becomes the only member South of Richmond to be in favor of the House version of the health care bill. He’s it. Nye’s “I’ll-say-anything-to-win” routine is a stunner — particularly when compared to Perriello’s performance. Thelma Drake may yet be motivated to throw down. This is my eleventh year covering the U.S. Congress and occasionally you run across someone who simply has no reason for being present other than that they ran for office and got lucky. There is no theme to their career, no plan, no ideological purpose giving them direction. Glenn Nye. Do you really want to say anything to get re-elected? There are four town halls Monday to Thursday next week in VA. Stay tuned. (photo: Bobby Scott holds a roundtable with local health care professionals in Newport News, the first of four health care events he’s having in seven days).