U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister earned himself a prominent spot in the annals of Louisiana scoundrels last week, but before that, he was just a rookie trying to figure out the ways of high-level politics.
And while he clearly relished all the attention that came with his unlikely victory over the GOP establishment — not to mention his friendship with those “Duck Dynasty” guys — he found a lot to dislike in his new environment.
“I think it is very frustrating. I think it’s everything that people think it is but a little bit worse,” he said in one interview. “It’s a lot about self-preservation.”
McAllister, the married father of five who ran on his alleged Christian family values, may be discredited beyond repair now that he’s been caught on video kissing an aide who’s also the wife of an old friend, but you’ve got to admit he had a point. Over and over, politicians appease powerful interest groups, refuse to compromise out of fear of retribution, jockey for the upper hand, misrepresent facts, demonize dissenters and apply situational outrage. It’s just ugly out there.
Which brings us to the reaction to McAllister’s budding scandal by a couple of players who never had much use for him anyway.
Gov. Bobby Jindal declared Thursday that McAllister’s infamous smooch inside his Monroe district office, which was later leaked to a north Louisiana paper, makes him ineligible to remain in Congress.
“Congressman McAllister’s behavior is an embarrassment, and he should resign,” the governor said in a statement.
State GOP Chairman Roger Villere issued a similar condemnation and the same demand.
“Mr. McAllister’s extreme hypocrisy is an example of why ordinary people are fed up with politics,” Villere wrote. “A breach of trust of this magnitude can only be rectified by an immediate resignation. He has embarrassed our party, our state and the institution of Congress.”
That sounds like a principled stand — until you consider the context and until you contrast it with the party’s reaction back in 2007 to the discovery that U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who also embraces so-called family values and who also trotted out his kids and wife in his campaign ads, had patronized a Washington, D.C., call-girl operation.
Sure, McAllister’s embarrassing, but he’s also awfully inconvenient for Republicans, who hope to make big gains in the fall elections, including with women. They don’t need him to keep the conservative 5th District in GOP hands, and his presence in the fall election might actually hurt if he gets into a runoff with a Democrat. And they don’t have any reason to like him, not after he trounced Jindal ally Neil Riser in last fall’s special election and not after all the criticism he’s heaped on the governor for refusing to accept federal money to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
Vitter was embarrassing, too, but he was necessary — the only thing that stood between his hard-won Senate post and whichever Democrat then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco would have appointed to fill a vacancy. Just consider how much tougher the party was on wide-stanced Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, who was arrested that same year in a Minnesota airport bathroom. He, too, tried to hold on to his job, but his colleagues made it clear he was no longer welcome, and his state’s Republican governor simply sent a new GOP senator.
In fact, look past those high horses Jindal and Villere are riding, and you’ll see just the sort of self-preservation that McAllister described in action, not to mention the sort of extreme hypocrisy they say the congressman embodies. It’s so blatant that another top GOP official, state party Treasurer Dan Kyle, struggled to spin the divergent responses. Asked why the party hadn’t demanded Vitter’s resignation as well, Kyle said, “I can’t answer that.”
Such calculation is hardly confined to the Republican Party, of course. Democrats, for example, have been noticeably quiet about the re-emergence of one of their own infamous rogues, former Gov. Edwin Edwards, who plans to run for Congress in the 6th District this fall. U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, whose name will appear on the same ballot, said last week that she’d run her race and he’d run his but stopped far short of condemnation. From a practical perspective, some Democrats seem to hope Edwards’ presence will drive turnout (although they’re probably dreaming) and help Landrieu survive her tough challenge.
The point is, as McAllister suggested during more innocent times, voters have all sorts of reasons to be cynical about politics and politicians. Behavior like his really is just the tip of the iceberg.
Stephanie Grace can be contacted at email@example.com. Read her blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/gracenotes.