(This piece is self-indulgent and motivated solely by disgust. Next week I will endeavor to do something of interest to all.)
There would appear to be few members of the United States Congress for whom the good of the country is their primary concern. Rather, being reelected comes first, which means soliciting huge amounts of money, which is hardly likely to be handed over without some promise of a payback in the form of legislation. This is tacit and apparently acceptable corruption. Adding to the abysmal quality of our legislators is the recent appearance of Republican extremists, such as Sen. Ted Cruz, who are willing to threaten the welfare of the nation if they do not get their way. There are also growing numbers of anti-science ignoramuses, such as Rep. Paul Broun, who wish to make legislative decisions on the basis of beliefs plainly contradicted by fact. That men like Cruz and Broun are complete buffoons does not seem to bother their constituents, perhaps because they represent southern states.
There are indeed many disgusting individuals in Congress who seem to be doing their best to injure the country, whether from self-interest, extremist ideology or simple stupidity, but my pick for the Worst Legislator Who Actually Has a Brain Award is Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida’s 27th congressional district, which includes Dade county. She is an American of Cuban extraction, who has served in the House of Representatives continuously since 1989. She is best known as Israel’s woman in Congress, a significant distinction given that most all of Congress is inclined to give the Jewish state unqualified support, but she is also an enthusiastic supporter of the security state that America is turning into.
Ros-Lehtinen’s legislative activities on the domestic front suggest a person who might be comfortable with the Stalin administration. It must be said, however, that her positions on social legislation are not extremist, but rather simply conservative. She supported the Defense of Marriage Act, an implicit anti-gay stance, but later became a champion of gay rights, presumably because her eldest child turned out to be transgender. (There seems to be a lot of this going around among conservatives who discover they have gay or lesbian children.) She singlehandedly scuttled the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act, concerned that funds might be used for abortions. She opposes stem cell research and any estate tax and supports drilling in the Arctic National Wild Life Refuge. She supported the disastrous Bush tax cuts and opposes the Peace Corps, although it is not at all clear why.
These are standard conservative positions, and while they are increasingly out of step with the majority of Americans, they are not extreme or particularly detrimental to the country. The same cannot be said for her positions regarding the emerging security state. She supported the Military Commissions Act, which was created to provide a replacement for the Combatant Status Review Tribunals, which were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Besides circumventing the Geneva Convention this act was so worded that an American citizen could be denied habeas corpus, for which it was also declared unconstitutional. She has advocated that the Patriot Act, which was passed by an intimidated Congress in response to a (bogus) state of war, become permanent. This would make what were presumably temporary and extreme measures, to wit, dramatic increases in the power of the Presidency and the security services, permanent fixtures of the federal government. That legal scholars have seriously questioned the constitutionality of many of the provisions of the Patriot Act is apparently unimportant. One is reminded of the emergency Enabling Act of 1933, which also gave the executive enhanced power and became permanent, establishing the basis for the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler.
In the area of foreign policy Ros-Lehtinen is, in my opinion, seriously misguided and is injuring American interests abroad. She of course voted for the utter catastrophe that was the Iraq war, but then again, virtually everyone did, abandoning rationality for the satisfaction of revenge – against anyone. Whether the target was actually culpable was unimportant, as Ros-Lehtinen boldly declared: “Whether or not there is a direct link to the World Trade Center does not mean that Iraq is not meritorious of shedding blood. The common link is that they hate America.” Now, that is a reasoned policy. Of course, no hawk can ignore domestic politics, and having declared that harsher penalties should be imposed on Libya, she balked at the NATO airstrikes, presumably because they were initiated by a Democratic President: “I am concerned that the President has yet to clearly define for the American people what vital United States security interests he believes are currently at stake in Libya.” It seems there is no problem that President Bush failed to do this in the case of Iraq.
Born in Cuba and living in south Florida, Ros-Lehtinen is understandably, if not rationally, an extremist when it comes to the communist left-over in the Caribbean. The half century embargo of Cuba is probably the most obviously failed policy ever implemented by the United State. It has not brought about regime change, and indeed communist Cuba has already survived the Soviet Union by a quarter century. The major impact has been the impoverishment of the island and the complete absence of the sort of interaction that might soften or even change the regime. Inasmuch as Cuba is a threat to no one, and certainly not the United States, continued support of this failed embargo can only be understood in terms of emotion and revenge. Ros-Lehtinen is Cuban and represents a district that is packed with Cubans, many old enough to have fled when the revolution took place. In fact, it would seem that the continuation of this now silly embargo is due to the fact that as a Presidential candidate, if you oppose it, you lose south Florida, and if you lose south Florida, you lose Florida, and if you lose Florida, you lose the election. This may not be true, but politicians think it is.
When Obama dared to shake the hand of Raúl Castro at the Nelson Mandela funeral, Ros-Lehtinen exploded with rage, ranting about exchanging greetings with this bloody dictator. Well, Castro is indeed a dictator, there are political prisoners in his jails and Cubans enjoy very few freedoms, but the guy is a lightweight on the authoritarian stage. I have not heard her or other anti-Castro zealots complain about China, which is at least nominally communist and certainly more bloody. They still have a gulag, they have shot people in the streets and they are methodically turning Tibet into a Chinese province, yet the policy here is engagement. Incidentally, in their fulsome praise of Mandela American politicians and media had virtually nothing to say about Mandela’s close relationship with Castro and Arafat.
Ros-Lehtinen has of course worked against every attempt to end the embargo and open a dialogue with the Cuban government and tried to block President Carter’s visit to Cuba in 2002. This is of course all stupid but hardly radical, but she has clearly revealed her extremism. She defended Veletin Hernández, who was convicted of murdering a Cuban who advocated talking to Cuba, and she worked to obtain a pardon for Orlando Bosch, who was convicted of terrorism and is suspected of complicity in the bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people. She has publically advocated assassinating Fidel Castro and apparently anyone else she deems an oppressor. Most rational people would consider defending convicted murderers and supporting the assassination of foreign heads of state to be extremist.
But it is Ros-Lehtinen’s unqualified support for the state of Israel that seems most inimical to American interests and is certainly for me the most disgusting part of her political activity. She has authored a seemingly endless stream of bills seeking to tie the United States financially and militarily even more closely to Israel and impose more restrictions on the Palestinians. Any criticism of Israel, even if rooted in established American policy, will bring an immediate condemnation from her. When the State Department expressed concern about growing Israeli settlement activity in Palestine, she demanded that the administration stop such attacks on our ally, even though the United States has opposed the settlements for decades and they are blatant violations of well-established international law.
She opposes American support for the Palestinian Authority and any agency that works with the Palestinians, even if the work is simply humanitarian aid. The Palestinian Authority certainly has its problems, but it is the recognized government of Palestine and the only authority that can engage in negotiations with Israel (pointless though they may be). The fifty year old United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East has been frequently accused of malfeasance, generally by Israel and its supporters, who oppose any public discussion of the conditions in the occupied territories, but many of the accusations have been shown to be groundless. In any case, while there are likely problems associated with UNRWA’s operations, most of its work has been manifestly humanitarian. She has also attempted to deny American funds to any UN agency that recognizes Palestine as a state, no matter how important that organization’s efforts are in helping distressed people. A major source of her campaign financing comes from Irving Moskowitz, a notorious supporter of the settlement program and annexation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Regardless of how one estimates the value of Israel as a US ally, Ros-Lehtinen is clearly an extremist when it comes to the Israelis. She has defended Israel when it violates international law (not that international covenants mean anything to America anymore), but more seriously, she has rushed to Israel’s defense even when it is blatantly opposing established American policy, embarrassing us and undermining our own national interests. While most politicians are terrified of angering Israel and its American organizations, this crosses the line into anti-Americanism, of putting the interests of a foreign state above our own.
One wonders why. As a radical opponent of the Castro regime, you would think she would feel some sympathy for the Palestinians, who under the Israeli occupation are suffering a more oppressive regime than even the Cubans. Is it Moskowitz’s money? Is it her Jewish constituents? Is it some deep-seated hatred of the Palestinians? What could bring her to be essentially the agent of the Israeli government in Congress? Who knows? Congress is filled with a lot of strange and loathsome people.