Friday, February 13, 2009

Calling Anh "Joseph" Cao: Switch Parties and Join the Democrats

Since I'm pretty sure that Anh "Joseph" Cao's office apparently checks out The Huck Upchuck, I would like to use this blog to exhort Cao to take a long hard look at his partisan affiliation with the GOP and to consider switching parties and joining with the Democrats. There are plenty of good, pragmatic reasons for his doing so. For one, if he hopes to have any chance at re-election in two years, he'll have to compete as a Democrat. He and everyone else, including the GOP, know this. It is also true that his social justice views align much more closely with progressive Christian liberalism than they do with reactionary Christian conservatism. But I would like to emphasize another point to Cao: the Republican base loathes him. If he thinks that he can be Louisiana's 2nd Congressional District representative and win the favor of the Louisiana state GOP over some more reliably partisan Christian conservative, he's got a rude awakening coming to him. Sure, he just voted to oppose the stimulus package and to snub President Obama in a very Obama-friendly district, after giving very strong assurances of his likelihood to support the stimulus package. That's not very wise politics, even if one gives Cao the benefit of the doubt that this decision was more the result of hewing to conscience rather than to partisanship. And Jeffrey over at the Yellow Blog does have an excellent point that Cao could have actually done something by way of inserting measures into the stimulus legislation to ensure that the stimulus legislation actually did serve his district in ways that would have elicited his support. But here's the thing ...

I like Cao. I think he is, at core, an honorable politician and, more importantly, an honorable, empathetic person. He is someone who I believe really does have the best interests of his district at heart. I think he finds himself attracted to the GOP because of a few other issues, some of which he says shaped the basis for his opposition to the stimulus measure. I also think he feels some loyalty to the GOP for sticking with him and helping to get him elected in the first place in a very Democratic district. I can understand that. I want to remind Cao, though, that, whatever the GOP might have done for him, it was Democratic voters like me that made the difference. He should consider some loyalty to that as well. So, if Cao does read my blog, I want to appeal to his sense of intellectual honesty and decency to realize that the Democratic Party is also filled with people who are progressive pro-lifers, who are concerned about "family values" of all kinds, including fiscal responsibility, and who welcome diversity of opinion and even ideological disagreement within the party enough to have helped put him in office. We Democrats scrap amongst ourselves and might disagree mightily over policy issues, but we tend not to vilify any kind of pragmatic politics within our ranks. His election is a testament to that.

On the flip side, though, I wonder if Cao, when he really looks at the current GOP, can find the same kind of welcome? In today's GOP, crossing party lines for reasons of conscience is anathema to acceptance. Which is odd, because the GOP fashions itself as a party that respects the calls of conscience. In fact, I think it's pretty clear that not buying into right-wing party orthodoxy is actually cause for vilification and outright hostility. Just look at what happens to intellectually honest conservatives like David Frum, or Andrew Sullivan, or Charles Buckley, or Douglas Kmiec. I find it hard to believe that the GOP didn't twist Cao's arm in some way regarding his vote on the stimulus package. Now, Cao may feel some loyalty to the GOP and may be drawn to the GOP on certain issues, but I can assure him that the GOP's base despise folks like him. I regularly look at some of the more popular conservative blogs and I can assure Cao that he is considered at best a RINO and at worst a stealth Democrat. Here I am, a liberal Democrat who voted for Obama and who is also a cheerleader for Cao. And yet I challenge Cao to visit conservative blogs and find out what the GOP base thinks of him. The fact is that, all the hoopla about Cao being the future of the party, the conservative base does't like Cao and doesn't trust him. Example 1: That "Resume of a Democrat" meme I have been associating with Cao? That's not mine. That's what a FREEPER said about Cao. Example 2: A conservative reader of my blog wrote in a recent comment to one of my previous posts about Cao, and the prospect of Cao's switching party affiliation:

"I agree he should switch parties. He fits in with the looters and exploiters -he's absolutely perfect for your state!"
Cao should take a long, hard look at where he stands on issues, especially when those issues challenge GOP party orthodoxy and really consider where he would find a more welcoming reception. Immigration. Cultural and Linguistic Diversity. Public Education. Poverty eradication. Foreign aid. The reality of structural inequality. Environment. I have a pretty solid idea where Cao, the empathetic person and compassionate Christian, if not the cynical politician, falls out on all of these issues; and I can guarantee Cao that his allies on these issues, issues that resonate with the core of his human character, are to be found within the Democratic Party. It is crystal clear to me that Cao's conscience as well as his social justice inclinations really do align him more with progressive liberal values; and it is also equally crystal clear to me that the pressures he faces as a member of the GOP to compromise his core values as a human being will chip away at his soul, as much as they will chip away at his electability.

Cao can be a pro-life Democrat in the FULL meaning of being pro-life and find more of a welcome in the Democratic party than he can if he were to be a FULL pro-life advocate (i.e. oppose war, capital punishment, etc.) in the GOP. Cao can promote fiscal responsibility and lower taxes as a Democrat and find that his positions on such issues are not deal-breakers within the Democratic Party as much as voting FOR a fiscally responsible tax increase would be a deal-breaker within the GOP.

I consider myself to be a progressive liberal Democrat, and I don't fault Cao for voting against the stimulus package. I myself worry about the long-term fiscal impacts that this package will have on the country. But I certainly don't feel unwelcome in the Democratic Party for having this view. Furthermore, on questions that are really infinitely much more important to me as a person and human being, questions such as eliminating structural violence and endemic poverty, the integrity of the family in the face of assaults on it from globalization and neoliberal economic policies, solidarity with the poor, giving equal voice to the dispossessed and marginalized in shaping our social contract, treating all people with respect and dignifying their beings regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, national origin, etc., the Democratic party and its social policy positions are infinitely much more aligned with my core values than the GOP is. If Cao is the kind of person, as I believe him to be, who shares these core values with me, he should join with me as a Democrat.

In fact, I am part of a Maryknoll Affiliates group in New Orleans. We meet monthly to discuss these issues and our roles in society as those committed to being in solidarity with the poor. And we plan actions on behalf of justice based on our values. I invite Cao to come to our meeting to see how his values align with ours and with progressive Christian liberalism.

I am part of a local non-profit called LatiNola, which seeks to empower and serve the local Latino Community and which is rooted in a commitment to justice, freedom, and equality. We meet monthly to plan events that seek to serve this community, regardless of the immigration status of the members of this community. I encourage Cao to join us and to see how his values align with ours and with progressive social liberalism for immigrant communities.

Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao, with the same intensity and earnestness that Monsignor Archbishop Oscar Romero implored those in his country who would scoff at the principles of justice, equality, and human solidarity, I implore you: If you are really committed to serving your district, don't condemn yourself to being a one-term Representative by sticking with a Republican party whose fundamental positions on the critical, human issues of our day are much more at odds with what I believe, at the gut level, to be your positions on these issues.

Care about us enough to give yourself a chance to serve the 2nd Congressional District for more than two years. Join us.

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