Monday, April 13, 2009

Is Alabama GOP Congressman Losing His Grip?

Have Republicans become so bereft of constructive ideas that they are on the verge of, shall we say, losing it?

If the recent behavior of U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL) is any indication, the answer must be yes.

In a speech at the Trussville Civic Center in the Birmingham suburbs last week, Bachus said he has hopes for President Barack Obama but is concerned that certain members of the Democratic Party will pull the president too far to the left.

"Some of these guys I work with, the men and women in Congress, are socialists," Bachus said.

When a reporter asked him for clarification after the speech, Bachus provided some critical detail. He said 17 members of the U.S. House are socialists, but he could produce only one name--that of Vermont's Bernie Sanders, who is a U.S. senator.

But get this: Mary Ann Akers of The Washington Post conducted some research and discovered that Bachus collaborates with socialists! Writes Akers:

That's right. In 2003, Bachus co-sponsored a measure with then congressman Sanders and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), which Sanders called a "tripartisan amendment." It sought to prevent credit card companies from jacking up interest rates on cardholders who have bad credit reports because of late payments and loans and such.

What could explain Bachus' strange comments before a home audience?

It certainly isn't fear of losing his seat in Congress. He is so ensconced in the House, serving his ninth term in Alabama's 6th District, that Democrats have pretty much given up running against him.

It also isn't that Bachus is your standard-issue Republican nut job--at least he hasn't been in the past. As Akers reports, Bachus has, at times, tried to help consumers. He has shown interest in hunger and poverty issues, including debt relief for Third World countries. He sponsored legislation to expand the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge. He even expressed some mild alarm about the prosecution of former Alabama Democratic Governor Don Siegelman.

I've heard it said more than once, in hushed, whispered tones, that Bachus is a RINO--Republican In Name Only. He has the heart, some say, of a Democrat. And Alabama suburbanites usually don't say that with an approving nod.

On a personal note, I once had a fascinating conversation with Bachus' cousin, Larry, who is founder of Bachus Company Inc. of Nashville, Tennessee. Larry Bachus is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), and before I was cheated out of my job at UAB last May, I once interviewed him for an article in one of our alumni magazines.

Larry Bachus, it turns out, is an expert on pumps and apparently has made a nice living with his company. Bet you had never pondered the critical role pumps play in making the world function--in everything from cars to refrigerators to air conditioners. Larry Bachus is known as "The Pump Guy," and he even has written books about pumps. He likes to say that pumps help produce everything from "Viagra to Ex-Lax."

I had a great interview with Larry Bachus. He speaks Spanish, lived in South America, worked in radio, even served as a foreign correspondent. We talked quite a bit about Spencer--and Larry didn't seem at all like a Republican whack job.

So what caused Spencer Bachus to spread paranoia about socialists to the fine citizens of Trussville, Alabama?

I suspect it indicates that semi-intelligent Republicans are fatigued after eight years of trying to defend George W. Bush. When your mind is drained, you probably are more likely to talk like a fruitcake. After all, what is Spencer Bachus going to say to a conservative Alabama audience? "Hey folks, isn't it great that we've finally got a competent president in the White House?"

That probably wouldn't go over well with "wingers" in the audience. So in searching for something to say, Spencer Bachus wound up stepping in doo-doo. Bachus probably stained his tightie whities when he realized there was a reporter in the crowd to hear his inane comments.

Also, I suspect that Spencer Bachus got a little too comfortable with his Trussville audience. Trussville once was a sleepy bedroom community east of Birmingham. But it has become a boom town as white folks who once lived in East Lake, Huffman, and Center Point have fled an encroaching black population.

Trussville is a lot like north Shelby County, where I live. It's a classic "white flight" area, populated largely by what I called DARs ("Dead Armadillo Republicans"). DARs would vote for a dead armadillo scraped up from a highway, if it identified as a Republican, over any Democrat.

Before that audience, I suspect Bachus got mentally lazy and decided to toss them some red meat.

A conservative icon, Pat Robertson, used to do the same thing. I can recall Robertson giving an interview on a mainstream network--I think it was CNN--and sounding amazingly rational and measured. A few days later, I saw him on his own network--preaching to the choir--and he was ranting like a mad man.

Spencer Bachus would be well advised to dial it back a little the next time he speaks to the converted.

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