Editor’s note: John P. Avlon is the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics and writes a weekly column for The Daily Beast. Previously, he served as Chief Speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.
This week’s wingnuts feature a racist judge (as well as the home-state senator who refused to condemn him) and a Democratic congressman, who literally locked Republicans out of committee in an attempt to block a vote on a financial scandal. Plus, a bonus round Profile in Courage award for President Obama, who calmed a crowd heckling a Republican governor. Take a spin through the World of the Wingnuts from the Big Easy to the Beltway.
If you thought that any lingering sense of scandal about interracial marriage had been erased by the presence of a biracial president of the United States, you haven't visited Louisiana Justice of the Peace Keith Bardwell.
When Beth Humphrey and her boyfriend Terence McKay called to collect a marriage license they were told to take a hike because the judge didn’t approve of the colors of their skin.
When the media came knocking, Justice Bardwell was unrepentant. “It's kind of hard to apologize for something that you really and truly feel down in your heart you haven't done wrong," he told CNN affiliate WAFB.
But in case you were wondering, he isn’t racist. He was doing it for the kids.
"I'm not a racist," Bardwell told his hometown Hammond Daily Star. "I do ceremonies for black couples right here in my house. My main concern is for the children."
Maybe he’s worried they might grow up to be president.
Louisiana’s Republican Governor Bobby Jindal was quick to call for Bardwell’s dismissal: "This is a clear violation of constitutional rights and federal and state law. ... disciplinary action should be taken immediately - including the revoking of his license." Democratic Senator Mary Landreau called it “an example of the ugly bigotry that divided our country for too long."
But self-styled conservative Senator David Vitter – who’s best known for letting ‘les bon temps rouler’ with a DC Madam – decided to withhold both judgment and comment for five days. He dodged reporters’ questions on the subject and finally, on Wednesday, his office put out a statement saying “Sen. Vitter thinks that all judges should follow the law as written and not make it up as they go along.”
This is conservative boilerplate – the rubber-stamp equivalent of name, rank and serial number. It leaves open two options: either Vitter isn’t offended by Judge Bardwell’s stand or he’s pandering to the racist vote.
Here’s a Supreme Court decision both Vitter and Bardwell might want to dust off before hiding behind judicial philosophy or personal bias – 1967’s wonderfully named Loving v. Virginia, which states: “Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.”
On the left, Government Reform Committee Chairman Ed Towns (D-NY) found himself looking like an obstacle to reform when he literally locked Republicans out of the committee room. It's not an act of extreme partisanship as much as extremely silly partisanship.
At issue was California Republican Rep. Daryl Issa’s repeated attempts to subpoena the records of Countrywide Financial, a firm that has been accused of giving Democratic Senators Chris Dodd and Kent Conrad (as well as congressmen and officials from both parties) sweetheart deals on home mortgage loans at rates far below market value. Dodd and Conrad have since been cleared of wrongdoing by the Senate Ethics Committee.
When Republicans were poised to force an open vote on the issue late last week, the Democrats disappeared, denying them a quorum. Republicans retaliated by filming the empty seats and posting video of Democrats sneaking out a back door to the tune of “Hit the Road, Jack.”
Ed Townes was not amused – and he changed the locks on the door in a punishment more suited to a domestic squabble than the halls of Congress. He copped to the stunt under questioning from Politico, saying he did it “Because they [Republicans] don’t know how to behave.”
To most Americans, pushing for further investigation into a financial scandal that reaches Congress is exactly how the Government Reform Committee is supposed to behave. We have a right to expect problem-solving, not partisan games.
Finally, we’re going to go back to the Big Easy to end on a high note for a bonus round Profile in Courage Award.
President Obama was giving a speech at the University of New Orleans when he mentioned Governor Bobby Jindal’s name and received a chorus of boos from the crowd. Obama tried to calm the audience and then said: “Bobby's doing a good job. … Bobby, first of all, if it makes you feel any better, I get that all the time. … And the second point is, you know, even though we have our difference politically, one thing I will say is, this person's working hard on behalf of the state and you have to give people credit for working hard.”
Governor Jindal has been a critic of President Obama in the past and is considered by some conservatives a potential candidate to run against him in 2012. But the president rose above partisan politics as usual to set the right tone of civility and mutual respect.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.