God, Guns, Gays, Gummint: the Career of Rep. Bad Bob Goodlatte

Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service | CC BY 2.0

Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service | CC BY 2.0

Ralph Nader, in his most recent piece in CounterPunch, titled “Bad Bob Goodlatte Blocks Your Day in Court”, drew increased attention to a Republican politician many of us who reside in southwest Virginia know only too well for his long and unsparing support of policies detrimental to the public good.

Incidentally, some of us who don’t admire him pronounce the last part of Goodlatte’s name as “Good-latte” (chiming with the invariably overpriced milky coffee purveyed by underpaid baristas in some much-disliked cafe chains, including one which last week refused to sell a cup of tea to a patron who wanted to donate it to a homeless person).

Bad Bob Good-latte has been a member of the US House of Representatives for Virginia’s 6th congressional district since 1993.

Such are the in-built advantages of incumbency in the US political system that in the elections for his 13 congressional terms, Good-latte has been unopposed by the Democrats on 7 occasions, and has only twice faced a challenger in the Republican primary.  Virginia is of course notorious for its gerrymandered electoral districts.

Bad Bob has chaired the powerful House Judiciary Committee since 2013, and Nader rightly skewers him for his attempts, often without hearings and behind closed doors (this being Good-latte’s modus operandi as judiciary committee chair), to introduce legislation capping awards for medical malpractice at a meagre $250,000 for the victim’s lifetime.  Anyone can see, except for Bad Bob himself, that a child born with severe brain damage from an obstetrician’s botched delivery will probably exhaust this sum in the first years of their life.

Good-latte is also sponsoring legislation making it more difficult for individuals to join together in class-action lawsuits against fraud-perpetrating banks, rapacious pharmaceutical companies, corporate polluters, manufacturers of defective vehicles, and so forth.

Another Bad Bob bill requires asbestos victims to wait longer for their compensation, and given that they are on an unescapably truncated lease of life, is thereby ensuring that more victims and their families will not be compensated before they die.

Good-latte did make a bit of a splash recently when, in a secret meeting, he spearheaded an attempt by House Republicans to reduce the scope of the independent Office of Congressional Ethics. The OCE was created in 2008 in response to the far-reaching bribery scandal involving the Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, which led to jail-time for 3 House members.

Bad Bob wanted to give the House Ethics Committee, consisting of partisan elected officials, direct oversight of a greatly scaled-down OCE.   The HEC, with its increased powers, would be able to direct the OCE to terminate investigations leading to potential criminal charges.  The OCE’s staff would also be barred from speaking with the media.

A huge public outcry, largely on social media, ensued when news of the OCE’s proposed gutting became public, and led to the proposal’s immediate scrapping by an alarmed Bad Bob and his overreaching Republican colleagues.

Bad Bob has also supported Trump’s Muslim travel ban, which is hardly surprising, since he’s been a steadfast backer of the Orange Swindler.

When not promoting nefarious legislative items of the kind mentioned above, Good-latte is an assiduous blocker of legislative causes having a considerable degree of bipartisan support.

Bad Bob recently blocked a bill giving September 11 first-responders suffering from illnesses, and their families, long-term healthcare and financial assistance.  He did this by sponsoring a rival bill which slashed funding for the 9/11 first-responders programme and limiting its duration to 5 years.  This was especially distressing for those 9/11 emergency workers with long-term, and even permanent, conditions such as cancers and amputations.

Other highlights from Good-latte’s curriculum vitae include his key role in killing legislation to amend the Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court gutted one of its major provisions (saying he did not see it as “necessary”), as well as ensuring that immigration reform did not get to the House floor (claiming that immigration reform would have “too many unintended consequences”).

Good-latte voted for Dubya’s invasion of Iraq (duh) while voting repeatedly afterwards to cut funds for the support of war veterans.  He voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, and voted against ending job discrimination based on sexual orientation. He supports the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

Since 1993, Bad Bob has voted, consistently, against environmental protections, and in favour of fracking, carbon-based energy, and increased pollution. He also votes against reducing carbon emissions and addressing climate change.

Good-latte, an unstinting supporter of the all-powerful National Rifle Association in return for their substantial donations, refused to conduct hearings on gun control when the TV reporter Alison Parker, and her cameraman Adam Ward, were gunned down on air while broadcasting for a TV station in Bad Bob’s district.

Bad Bob, in the now customary bad-faith gesture of Republican politicians when US shooting tragedies occur, offered “prayers” for the victims and their families, and said he’d be willing to meet with the Parker and Ward families.

Alison Parker’s articulate father, Andy, rejected this meaningless gesture from the malevolent Good-latte.

Andy Parker shows he is familiar with Bad Bob’s campaign money trail.  In 2016, approximately 80% of his donations come from outside his district, half of these coming from outside Virginia. Good-latte’s contributions, overwhelmingly, are from Political Action Committees (which can conceal the identities of their original donors).  Only 1-2% of his donations come from small donors.

According to the website MapLight: Revealing Money’s Influence in Politics, in the period between July 1, 2014 – Jun 30, 2016, Bad Bob’s primary donors were from sectors impacted, actually or potentially, by the House Judiciary Committee’s decisions:

Lawyers/Law Firms ($113,608), TV/Movies/Music ($98,133), Electronics Manufacturing & Equipment ($91,600), Telecom Services ($64,250), Lobbyists ($56,500), Internet ($56,350), Securities & Investment ($51,500), Insurance ($48,000), Real Estate ($47,800), and Oil & Gas ($47,200).

The primary issues addressed by Good-latte’s judiciary committee involve malpractice lawsuits; the sale of internet personal data; the regulation of patents and copyrights; financial, insurance, and real-estate (FIRE) sector legislation; and oil and gas drilling permits.

Lo and behold, this is where the bulk of Bad Bob’s campaign money has come from!

Republican politicians in Virginia know they can get voters to vote against their legal rights, adequate healthcare and public education, the little “welfare” they have left, greater scrutiny of the use of force by police officers, and so on, as long as the pols harp on the 4 Gs:  God, guns, gays, gummint (gummint = always too big and often very bad).

“Gummint” of course works just fine for Bad Bob and his ilk:  corporations and lobbyists are their happy donors as long as they ventriloquize the 4 Gs to their electorates, and pass the necessary laws in Congress.

In his presidential campaign the Orange Swindler duped the rubes who voted for him by promising, among other things, to “drain the swamp”.   Unlike Trump, the corporate Democrats didn’t even attempt to sucker this potential constituency– the exclusive focus of the Dems was on Wall Street fat cats, Hollywood celebrities, and pop stars, and they had nothing of practical import to say to those from rust-belt towns in Ohio and Pennsylvania who flocked to the Swindler’s rallies.

However, there is absolutely no way “the swamp” will be drained as long as Bad Bob, and the Orange Swindler along with his cabinet of unqualified billionaires, remain in power.

As Andy Parker has said, Bad Bob is himself the archetypal “indigenous swamp dweller”!

The Republicans learned their lesson after choosing Mitt Romney as their presidential candidate in 2012.  Romney, an unabashed plutocrat who only seemed comfortable attending $20,000-a-plate fundraising dinners at the mansions of the Koch brothers, and who replied to a question about his “love” of popular American sports by listing the billionaire owners of professional teams who were his friends, never seemed to “connect” (as the saying goes).

Trump was at least able to confect a connection of sorts with Tom Brady, the star quarterback with a history of cheating who has won multiple NFL championships for the New England Patriots.  Trump craftily avoided mention of the team owners who are his friends.

So, this time the Republicans, some hiccups and momentary scruples notwithstanding, went for a racist and xenophobic comb-over huckster, who, with relentless sneers and bombast directed at his opponents, was able to project the impression of caring for screwed-over Americans.

Meanwhile, the Democrats are entirely rudderless.  Such is their cluelessness and ineptitude that Oprah Winfrey is being touted as their possible 2020 presidential frontrunner.

In the early 1990s I told my American students the basketball superstar Michael Jordan would probably be the first black American president.  Jordan however was more interested in making mega-millions from his brand of basketball shoes (“Republicans buy basketball sneakers as well”), and then Obama came along to prove me wrong.

Now that the US presidency is another species of reality TV, I may place a small bet on Oprah becoming the first woman president.   As the Americans say, “she knows how to press the right buttons”.

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.