Conservatives need to take a deep breath, relax, and stop bashing Joseph Cao. The man never claimed to be a fully committed economic conservative. He represents a district that is about 75 percent Democrat and 62 percent black (or thereabouts). He SAID ALL ALONG, FOR MONTHS, that he would probably vote for health care reform if it included strong pro-life language such as the Stupak Amendment. He stuck to his guns, even though his district is not majority pro-life. He is a traditionalist Catholic, former Jesuit seminarian, and he stands up for the principles he holds dear, one of which is the sanctity of innocent life. He is willing to lose his office on behalf of that pro-life stance. And he has taken a leadership role in anti-Communist measures, meeting with the Dalai Lama when Obama wouldn’t, and calling out the Vietnamese Communist government when too many these days refuse to recognize that Vietnam’s mostly free market does NOT mean it is a free society. He is a thoughtful, principled, well-intentioned public servant. He also represents a district that is fundamentally liberal. Congressmen have two roles: they are delegates, meaning their voters delegate to them the ability to use their judgment on complicated policy matters; and they are representatives, meaning they are there, specifically, to represent the will of their constituents. Serving in Congress is often a balancing act: When your district slightly favors one course of action but you strongly favor the opposite, you do what you believe and try to explain to your constituents why you bucked their wishes. That is being a delegate. But when you are ambivalent about an issue, even slightly against a course of action but only slightly, and your constituents STRONGLY favor the course of action, then your responsibility is to accurately reflect — to REPRESENT — the will of your constituents and vote in favor.
As Cao is no expert on things economic, and believes that something has to be done for the uninsured, and is neither convinced that the Pelosi bill is the right approach but ALSO not convinced that it is wrong, he then felt an obligation to act as a representative. There is no shame in that.
Meanwhile, note that Cao did not hold out for just some ridiculous pork project favored by big-money lobbyists; he instead asked for help with local issues caused by THE GREATEST NATURAL CATASTROPHE THAT EVER HIT THIS NATION. These are not roads to nowhere; they are health issues for a still-recovering population. Agree or disagree with his request, it is not outlandish.
Ronald Reagan understood that sometimes local issues prevail. He played the game brilliantly. Remember that to pass one of his big initiatives — either the Reagan-Kemp-Roth tax cut or the major Gramm-Latta spending cuts, I can’t remember which — it was Reagan’s willingness to horse-trade that led Democratic then-Rep. John Breaux of Louisiana to boast about some protection he got for the sugar cane industry. Asked if his vote had been for sale, Breaux cracked: “No, of course it isn’t for sale, but it is for rent!”
What Cao did was nowhere near as cynical as that; but conservatives loved it when Breaux did it, because it brought him to Reagan’s side on a key vote.
But again, ALL ALONG, for months, Cao had said his line in the sand was abortion financing, and openly said he would likely vote for a bill that blocked such financing. In short, he did the honorable thing by saying where he stood and sticking with it. No, of course I don’t like his vote. But give the man a break: He’s an honorable, incredibly hard-working, inspirational young representative who is doing his darnedest to do a good job in a district ordinarily incredibly hostile to conservatives and Republicans of all stripes.
More power to him.