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October 23rd, 2009
06:15 AM ET

Avlon: 'Wingnut' literally locks out Republicans

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.

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Rep. Edolphus Towns (left) and Justice Keith Bardwell (right)."]

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.

Filed under: Wingnuts of the week
soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Vance

    "As I recall, it was southern Democrats that opposed desegregation and civil rights for blacks"

    You are correct, Glenn, but after LBJ got civil rights legislation passed in the 60s, those southern Democrats went on to become Republicans.

    December 14, 2009 at 12:06 am |
  2. Glenn

    How is being racist considered "right wing"? As I recall, it was southern Democrats that opposed desegregation and civil rights for blacks. If there is ignorance and intolerance in this country, it is overwhelmingly from the left.

    December 10, 2009 at 10:02 am |
  3. scott in il

    But if I boo Obama am I a racist wingnut?

    Your lame attempt to include both left and right wing extremists falls way short of being objective. Maybe you should just write for

    December 3, 2009 at 11:29 am |
  4. Franny

    Yes well, It has been proven that many in this Country are still racists regardless of how much they're in denial. Just read some of the horrible statements by some of the wingnuts on this discussion board. Sadly racisim is not dead, and as long as we have ignorance, and intolerance of others in this Country? It's here to stay.

    Those that don't like others that are different from themselves? I'd be careful accusing God of making a mistake with his creations.

    November 27, 2009 at 8:57 am |
  5. Rodney Bliss

    The difference between a DR and a Justice of the Peace is who they work for. The DR works for a hospital, HMO, himself, etc. The JP works for US. Anyone can choose to be racists. It's ILLEGAL for a public official to do it.

    Big difference.

    November 18, 2009 at 1:07 pm |
  6. Rob Keith Johnston


    The first two stories show what I call "Stupidity At It's Finest."

    In re; The first story–
    It should really never matter whom you choose to marry. As long as both partners are of legal age, that the marraige is not "inter-species," that both partners are legally able to wed (ie: both partners are not already married), and that all other legal requirements are met?
    Then issue the license and be done with it!

    The second–
    Political dirty tricks belong in the past! if you want to act stupid, you are going to get called out for being stupid! No if's, and's, or hairy butts about it. Both sides of the aisle need to start acting their chronlogical ages and settle differences like adults...not like twelve-year-old punks on a power trip!

    As for Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize:
    The process is a done deal, folks–get over IT and YOURSELVES! Whomever the Nobel committee in Stockholm votes for is their concern...and it should rightly remain so.
    After all, there's always next year–and the winners will provoke yet more controversy...much like Time does when it picks their "(Insert) Of The Year"!

    Just more grain for the mill to grind!

    October 27, 2009 at 9:17 pm |
  7. Edyth

    My statement is that the 'family values' people have always been for 'judicial activism' when it gives them what they want which is the denial of things they consider 'bad'. I didn't hear them protest when Terri Schiavo's parents tried to overturn her husband's decision to take her off of life support: where was the support for 'sanctity of marriage' that these people now cry about having to 'protect' when gays want to marry? I might add the same people who wanted to keep Terri Schiavo alive allowed a young boy in Texas to be pulled off of a respirator because his mother couldn't afford to pay for his medical care.

    October 26, 2009 at 6:30 pm |
  8. Pam Louisiana

    I'm from LA and Vitter's stance doesn't surprise me. His slanted views and hypocritical bantering on divine rights of 'family values' is hilarious. He had to be coerced to pay umbrage to the law of the land. And yes, he is PANDERING to bias, politico puppeteers that control his strings. This is our representation in Louisiana!!!! SAD

    October 26, 2009 at 9:53 am |
  9. PNUT

    I'm not surprised at all by David Vitter, he's typical of the hypocritical republican "family values" pusher that sleeps with prostitutes,or men, does drugs etc. That he would be racist or pander to racists is no surprise at all. I'd be more surprised if he did the honorable thing and condemned racism. Seeing as how the typical republican voter fits that shoe, he doesn't want to offend his deluded wingnut racist,evangelical freak base by speaking out for the right thing.

    October 25, 2009 at 11:33 pm |
  10. Marzipan

    As noted above, the state can not prevent people from getting married on the basis of race based prior precedent. As an official of the state Justice Bardwell is required to follow that precedent and not decide what the law should be based on his own personal beliefs.

    What I find interesting is that this is as clear example of what many on the right call "Judicial Activism" i.e. judges substituting their own opinions for precedent. The fact that Senator Vitter choose not to speak out strongly against this judges actions which fly in the face of 40 or so year of clear Judicial precedent shows how feckless he is – and how how little he truely cares abut "judicial activism".

    October 24, 2009 at 9:21 pm |
  11. Luke

    John P. Avlon seems to be insinuating that somehow being racist as the justice of the peace clearly was is, somehow, a partisan act or some how putting party politics above the good of the people. I understand John P. Avlon strives to not be openly partison, but perhaps his insinuating that being racist is a "right wing" partison act is an underhanded (or staight-forward for that matter) way of doing what he condemns as being a "wingnut". In no way is being a racist a partison act by a republican. Perhaps next week, John P. Avlon can be the "wingnut" of the left. Oh, and you can also give Obama another "profile in courage" award while your at it for attacking a "news" network that some argue does not align with his political views. Probably not the best non-partison reporting John.

    Those that live in glass houses would do well not to throw stones.

    October 23, 2009 at 11:15 am |
  12. Nick

    a Dr. can refuse to perform a service because they're not agents of the state. A justice of the peace cannot refuse because he is acting as the state in his role.

    October 23, 2009 at 10:48 am |
  13. MS

    A doctor cannot withhold service because of their beliefs.

    October 23, 2009 at 10:34 am |
  14. Tony

    I don't think it's ok for a Dr. or pharmacist to withhold serivce because of their beliefs. If their beliefs conflict with their job, they should quit or be fired.

    October 23, 2009 at 9:09 am |
  15. patrick murphy

    Good Morning,
    It is clear that what the justice of the peace in Louisiana did is offensive. But I've a question, If it is okay for a DR. to withold service because of their beliefs why is it not okay for a justice of the peace to withold service because of their beliefs ?

    October 23, 2009 at 6:58 am |