Thaddeus McCotter steps out as an unlikely Republican leader.
Thaddeus McCotter is bored. His answers for what ails the Republican Party and the reasons he gives for why it came to its current minority status on Capitol Hill are thoughtful, even insightful. But this isn’t new territory for the four-term Michigan Republican. He responds to my questions with all the enthusiasm of someone who has been asked to repeat an old story for the hundredth time.
Until I ask him about his guitar. “George Harrison once told an interviewer that he picked up his first guitar and played it until his fingers bled,” McCotter says. “His mother asked him what he was doing and he said, ‘I’m learning how to play guitar.’” Does McCotter favor electric or acoustic? “Same six strings,” he replies matter-of-factly.
Most congressional offices are filled with mementos from the district and pictures of the congressman with important government officials. Republicans tend to favor photographs of Ronald Reagan and, until about 2005, George W. Bush. McCotter’s office has dark green walls and a picture of John Lennon hanging over his desk. There’s also a guitar, of course. It resembles a young rock fan’s bedroom as much as a quiet place to write constituent letters.
Thad McCotter is chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, a leadership position from which he will play a role in shaping the GOP congressional agenda. When the tall, lanky congressman isn’t jamming with the bipartisan rock band called the Second Amendments — he is known for being able to play Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” behind his back— he is being received like a rock star on a growing number of offbeat television and radio talk shows.
Dennis Miller is a McCotter fan — or likes “the cut of his jib,” as he puts it — and so is Greg Gutfeld, since the congressman’s dry sense of humor is a good fit for Red Eye, Gutfeld’s late-night show on Fox. Shortly after Barack Obama took office, Gutfeld asked McCotter the familiar question about whether the GOP was in “disarray.” His reply was typical McCotter, with carefully wielded pop culture references sending his co-panelists into guffaws as he dutifully pressed his party’s case.
“Well, when we were growing up we used to look at the Flock of Seagulls’ hair and we’d say that looks in disarray, but there was a whole lot of work that went into sculpting that — if not the music itself,” McCotter quipped. “It may appear to be disorderly, but we are going through a very intense period of reorganization, restructuring the Republican Party, we’re starting to see the unity come back, the message come back, the principles be expressed again, and we think you’re going to be very happy.”
McCOTTER IS A FUNNY GUY, but he’s also a serious man. The 44-year-old is as quick to quote Russell Kirk, Wilhelm Röpke, or even Hilaire Belloc as the Rolling Stones or the Beatles, an unusual combination of references, to put it mildly. “I think he is one of the few members of Congress who can quote philosophers, scholars, and theologians but still relate to blue-collar,working-class people,” says Congressman Peter King, a New York Republican friendly with McCotter. “He has a total sense of the ridiculous that allows him to laugh at himself, us, and the party but he takes his job very seriously.”
McCotter’s main job is representing Michigan’s 11th district, attending to the “all politics is local” adage he suggests too many Republicans forgot in the run-up to the 2006 and 2008 elections. It’s a heavily blue-collar district with its share of auto workers and union members. McCotter’s hometown, Livonia — his mother was the city clerk — is west of northwest Detroit. Barack Obama carried it with 54 percent of the vote in 2008; George W. Bush won it with 53 percent in 2004 and just 51 percent in 2000.
A graduate of Detroit’s Catholic Central High School, where he played football, McCotter went on to receive his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Detroit. He was elected to the Wayne County Commission in 1992 at just 27. There he led the charge to change the county’s charter to force a new tax to be approved by two-thirds of commissioners and 60 percent of the voters. Elected to the state senate in 1998, McCotter launched a political career based on appealing to traditional area Republicans and blue-collar conservatives.
“People forget that Ronald Reagan was a union worker,” says McCotter. “I showed a conservative friend a speech he delivered to a union as president and my friend was stunned at how well he could relate to that audience.” Despite the competitive nature of his district McCotter has compiled a strongly conservative voting record: pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, strong on defense, for tax cuts, and against the Obama administration’s $787 billion stimulus package — the last a popular Democratic talking point against him in an area of high unemployment.
But he does occasionally break with his party to represent his district’s needs, such as when he strongly supported aid to the embattled automotive industry. “He understands that not every part of the country is identical,” says King. “You can’t have absolute economic views, even though on 90 to 95 percent of issues he is as strong of an economic conservative as they come. He is more willing to give good, culturally conservative people a break so they can get back on their feet and feed their families.”
McCOTTER’S VISION EXTENDS FAR BEYOND his congressional district, however. He methodically walks through a five-point summary of the fundamental principles he says should guide the Republican Party: “Our liberty is from God not the government; our sovereignty rests in our souls not the soil; our security is through strength not surrender; our prosperity is from the private sector not the public sector; and our truths are self-evident, not relative.”
He has a similarly comprehensive view of the challenges facing the nation. “In their time, the Greatest Generation surmounted four transformational challenges: the social, economic, and political upheavals of industrialization; a global war against evil enemies; the Soviet Union’s strategic threat and rival model of governance; and whether the self-evident truths our nation is based on applied to everyone without regard to race,” McCotter says, without once saying “um” or pausing to collect his thoughts. “In our time, we must face and transcend four transformational challenges: the social, economic, and political upheavals of globalization; a global war against evil enemies; Communist China’s strategic threat and rival model of governance; whether we remain a nation based on self-evident truths or moral relativism.”
McCotter chastises “cosmopolitan conservatives” he says forget “we are a country, a people, not just an economy.” His is a conservatism informed by his Catholicism as much as the canons of free market capitalism. McCotter muses that some Republicans are too ideological about immigration and trade policy. Asked if this makes him a Kirkian traditionalist, he demurs: “I don’t get into all that. I’m a Republican.”
On immigration, McCotter defends the House Republicans’ enforcement-first position as a prerequisite for defending American sovereignty. But he acknowledges that the GOP needs to be more careful in how this viewpoint is expressed, so as not to alienate culturally conservative Hispanic voters. “I don’t think my Mexican wife thinks I’m a racist,” he says. “I don’t think my half-Mexican children think I’m a racist. My father-in-law gets this issue. It’s a mistake to treat Hispanics as a monolithic group, represented by La Raza.”
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online