Editor’s note: John P. Avlon is a senior political columnist for The Daily Beast and author of the new book "Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America." 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.
By John Avlon, Special to CNN
This week’s wingnuts include Virginia’s governor issuing a Confederate History proclamation that ignored slavery and a Georgia congressman confessing his fears that Guam might tip over.
The ugliness and absurdities in American politics continue, but they were belied this week by a moment of grace from a conservative senator who stood up to his audience’s expectations by complimenting Speaker Nancy Pelosi and standing up for civility. He gets our Profile in Courage Award for the week.
Virginia’s newly elected Gov. Bob McDonnell managed to resuscitate more than a century’s worth of bad feeling and distrust by deciding to issue a Confederate History Month proclamation – without mentioning slavery. It was a doubly odd decision, apparently made with an eye toward scoring subtle political points with “heritage, not hate” home state conservatives. The proclamation had been suspended by the two previous Democratic governors, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. But the previous GOP Gov. Jim Gilmore had inserted language excoriating the evils of slavery into the proclamation.
McDonnell and/or someone on his staff apparently thought it would be a good idea to not only re-open that wound, but also made the proactive decision to remove any mention of slavery – not that slavery had anything to do with the Civil War in the first place. This neo-Confederate hat-tip did not go unnoticed and by Wednesday night McDonnell was offering voluminous apologies, but little by way of explanation.
Of course, it was southern conservative Democrats who presided over the post-Civil War segregated South, but the continuity is with conservatives, and for that McDonnell is this week’s right-wingnut.
Awkward humor and congressional hearings – they’ve rarely gone together as well as in a clip that went viral this week. Congressman Hank Johnson of Georgia became an internet sensation after an inter-change with Admiral Robert Willard, head of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. At issue was the stationing of 5,000 more U.S. troops on the island. Congressman Johnson’s concerns were more geologic than logical, as he methodically worked his way toward his ultimate concern: “My fear is that the whole island will become so overly populated that it will tip over and capsize.”
The admiral’s respectful response was a classic in understatement: “We don’t anticipate that.”
The congressman’s office subsequently released a statement saying that he was only joking, but the lack of a smile on his face, and the strange stage for stand-up comedy, either means that he has an unusually dry sense of humor or his explanation is all wet. He gets this week’s wingnut award on the left for absurdity, not extremism.
Civility is a dying art on Capitol Hill and so it makes news when a committed partisan refuses to pander to the lowest common denominator for applause. But this week, Oklahoma’s conservative Senator Tom Coburn earned a Profile in Courage Award for his defense of Nancy Pelosi the person, not the politician.
Coburn was speaking to a home state crowd when he stated that while he is “180 degrees opposed” to Pelosi’s policies, she is “a nice lady.” This drew a chorus of boos and prompted Coburn to offer his constituents a lesson in civility: “Come on now. She is nice – how many of you all have met her? She’s a nice person. … Let me give you a little lesson here. I hope you will listen to me. Just because somebody disagrees with you don’t [sic] mean they’re not a good person. … What we have to have is make sure we have a debate in this country so that you can see what’s going on and make a determination yourself … So don’t catch yourself being biased by Fox News that somebody is no good. The people in Washington are good. They just don’t know what they don’t know."
It’s a pleasure to end on something positive, in the hopes that rewarding rare signs of civility might actually encourage more of it, instead of the cynical bitterness of scorched earth play-to-the-base politics.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.