Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Future is Cao - some political musings

On December 7, 2008, House Minority Leader John Boehner wrote a memo to his caucus about Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao (pronounced "Gow"), who beat a thoroughly corrupt William Jefferson in a House race in Louisiana. An excerpt:

As House Republicans look ahead to the next two years, the Cao victory is a symbol of what can be achieved when we think big, present a positive alternative, and work aggressively to earn the trust of the American people. Joseph Cao is a Vietnamese immigrant whose experience in America drew him to the Republican Party and its traditional commitment to freedom and reform. Working with like-minded Republicans such as Governor Bobby Jindal, he took an aggressive stand against corruption, offering a principled alternative to what voters were offered by the local Democratic establishment. Shrugging off conventional wisdom, he ran as a reformer in a district hungry for new representation in Congress. And he won.

Mr. Boehner got more than he bargained for. Mr. Cao supported the House reform bill passed in 2009, saying that he had considered it carefully and that it would benefit his constituents, who are very poor. A former Jesuit seminiarian who apparently worked with the poor in Latin America, Mr. Cao said that he required fairly strict anti-abortion language in order to be able to support the bill. Nonetheless, many Republicans excoriated him.

Mr. Cao has said that he can't support the Senate bill's abortion subsidies language. However, President Obama talked personally to Mr. Cao, as reported by Nola:

President Barack Obama on Wednesday asked Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao, R-New Orleans, to take a fresh look at the language on abortion in the Senate health care bill to see whether he could, in good conscience, support landmark health care legislation now days from a final vote.

Cao, the only Republican to vote for the health care bill in either the House or Senate, said he would take another look.

"He's asked if I would restudy the Senate language and that I would approach it with an open mind. And I promised that I would go back and study the Senate language again," Cao said after meeting with Obama in the Oval Office for about 10 minutes Wednesday.

Cao said he appreciated the president's sensitive approach in seeking his vote on an issue that many observers say could make or break Obama's presidency.

"He fully understands where I stand on abortion, and he doesn't want me to vote against my conscience because he, like me, believes that if we were to vote against our conscience, our moral values, there is really nothing left for us to defend," Cao said. "I'm glad that the president is very understanding. He really shows his own moral character."

I very strongly disagree with Mr. Cao on abortion. Furthermore, even the Senate bill's language on abortion is very likely to reduce the availability of abortion coverage in insurance plans on the exchanges. Even if the Bishops are correct that the Senate bill will have taxpayer subsidies going to abortion services (they are absolutely wrong), the substantive result is probably in favor of the pro-lifers. I would strongly urge Mr. Cao to take that into account when reconsidering his vote.

However, regardless of which way Mr. Cao votes - in other words, even if he votes against health reform - Mr. Boehner's sentiment is correct. The future is with people like Anh Cao (who goes by Joseph). He is willing to listen to the evidence and possibly to make a decision that bucks the will of his political party, but is good for the country.

My political science professor once contended that political parties are inherently polarizing - any candidate has to first get vetted by the party "base". The Democrats are a more diverse party and have been willing to elect candidates who are anti-abortion, for example. The Republicans have been much less willing to elect pro-choice candidates - Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are notable pro-choicers, but Maine is an unusual state. The inherently polarizing nature of political parties is something that we will have to guard against. One small step would be to take a broad tent approach in constructing a political party - and the Republicans are notably failing at this.

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