Senator Embarrassment

Senator Embarrassment
By Ben Johnson | June 28, 2007

During his appearance yesterday on The Sean Hannity Show, Sen. George Voinovich displayed a rare public trifecta of vices: he was ill-mannered, ill-informed, and condescending. In other words, he was the perfect image of those who oppose securing our borders, winning in Iraq, and keeping our economy out of recession.

In the most elegant and dignified talk show appearance since Lester Maddox walked off The Dick Cavett Show, Voinovich demonstrated profound ignorance, indicted an entire communications medium, and told his constituents not to trouble their political masters. (You can listen to the audio here.)


Sean Hannity opened his program by asking the Republican senator’s position on the free speech-stifling Fairness Doctrine. Voinovich replied, “I’m all for the Fairness Doctrine, whatever that is.” The move to censor talk radio has been in the news since its revival was first broached by Dennis Kucinich, a member of Voinovich’s Ohio Congressional delegation and his predecessor as mayor of Cleveland. It gained infamy all week long, as Senators Feinstein, Boxer, Kerry, and Clinton openly or covertly pledged their support. To Voinovich, it was a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma.


He then insisted the Hutchinson amendment to the Senate immigration bill passed the Senate that morning. When confronted with the fact that it failed 53-45 – and a talk show host knew more about Senate proceedings he’d participated in that morning than he did – Voinovich responded, “I thought it passed, because, frankly, I voted for it.” When asked if the failure signaled this is an amnesty bill, Senator Fiat responded defensively, “Well, the fact of the matter is that we are gonna continue to have more amendments, and we’ll see how that all works out.” How reassuring.


The interview’s defining moment, though, came when Voinovich lashed out at Hannity specifically and talk radio generally, demanding they stay in their place:


I’ve had people at my back calling because of programs like yours saying, “If you vote for this bill, then it’s the end of your political career.” And I just want you to know, and I want everyone else to know: You. Do. Not. Intimidate. George Voinovich. This is my 40th year in this business. (Emphasis in original.)


… I’ve gotten calls from people that, basically, are intimidating me. They’re saying, “If you do this [vote for the bill], I’ll do that [vote against you].”


The senator’s words were noteworthy, because they were as contemptuous as they were imperious. He placed his 11 million constituents on par with loan sharks because they dared express their opinions to their elected representative. In the same breath, he characterized his public service as a “business” and asserted his superiority to talk radio hosts. It’s no secret that most, if not all, Congressmen consider themselves above their representatives; however, few see the virtue in giving the majority of their state’s voters a chest-thumping, collective order to sit down, shut up, and leave the governing to the elites.


If the senator’s plea won few converts, his competence won fewer yet. As he had with other points, the “former construction worker” Hannity showed his superior knowledge of the bill’s contents and arguments against its passage. Pressed for specifics, Voinovich confessed he hadn’t “read every page of” the bill, though he had seen “most” of the summaries. Whenever Hannity exposed a hole in his knowledge, Voinovich defended himself by laughing – too loud, too long, and with all the warmth and charm of John Kerry.


Hannity pressed forward. Doesn’t this bill provide 400,000 guest workers a year the chance to be come “permanent residents”? Wouldn’t it set 12 million people on path to citizenship, rewarding their lawbreaking and inviting more of the same? The senator made a half-hearted attempt to argue “Social Security has really been ahead over the years,” because illegals have not collected their payments. He failed to explain why he supports saddling taxpayers with a net bill of $2.6 trillion to rectify this oversight. Then, he hung up on his host:


I really don’t think it’s worthy to talk to you right now because you’ve got your mind [made] up, you’re not really interested in hearing the other side of the coin. All you just want to hear is somebody agree with you. And I’m disappointed in you, because I had more respect for you. I wouldn’t even have gone on this radio program with you if I hadn’t thought that you’d give me an opportunity…You haven’t even given me a chance.


“You’re running away because you can’t answer a simple question,” said Hannity.


Voinovich clicked the receiver, whimpering, “I hope next time around we have another subject that we can be more rational about.”


That is, other issues where you’ll more readily genuflect before your superiors.


And thus Voinovich revealed the insolent face of those who oppose sealing the borders, winning the war against al-Qaeda, and keeping our economy strong.


The Buckeye State’s Teary-Eyed “Maverick”


Yesterday’s outburst came one day after Voinovich echoed Sen. Richard Lugar’s comments that the Iraqi troop surge had failed. Although General David Petraeus and other military brass have stated our number one enemy in this war is al-Qaeda in Iraq, and though they have begged Congress to withhold judgment until at least September, the Midwestern Republican duo aped the rhetoric of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and undermined the troops’ morale. With increased media coverage of Iraq, Americans are increasingly skeptical about victory – Pavlov had a theory that explains why – but most Americans want us to prevail. They certainly don’t want to see Iraq become a regional haven for terrorism. Instead of allowing the policy he voted for to work, Voinovich advised President Bush in a letter Tuesday to “gradually and responsibly reduc[e] our forces and…begin a transition where the Iraqi government and its neighbors play a larger role in stabilizing Iraq.” (Emphasis added.) 


Last September, Voinovich had a different take on Iran. In a fit of maturity, the septuagenarian said on the Senate floor:


Ahmadinejad. I call him Ah-Mad-in-the-Head. I think he’s a Hitler-type of person. He has made it clear that he wants to destroy Israel. He’s made it clear he doesn’t believe in a Holocaust. He’s a – he’s a – well, we all know what he is.


Nine months later, Voinovich urges the president: catch the next train to Munich. What could be more logical than calling in “a Hitler-type of person” currently waging proxy war against us as a powerbroker – after insulting his family’s name and honor? This is the great independent voice the American people are supposed to heed?


The senator is calling for diplomacy, but he refused to give the president the diplomatic team he requested. Voinovich wept on the Senate floor in 2005 at the notion John Bolton might be confirmed as UN Ambassador. (Bolton later, graciously, defended Voinovich after the “mad-in-the-head” comment.)


Voinovich has shown similar arrogance on economic policy. He wavered on each of Bush’s tax cut proposals (before supporting them) and opposed making those tax cuts permanent. He voted against eliminating the marriage penalty, supported the death tax, and helped kill efforts to permanently ban taxes on the internet. In September 2005, Voinovich introduced a Social Security bill eliminating private retirement accounts and said the idea “is not going anywhere.” A week before the midterm election in which his Republican colleague, Mike DeWine, went down to defeat, he proposed “a temporary increase in our taxes” to pay for the War on Terror. Of course, the widespread collection of federal income tax began as a “temporary measure” to finance WWII; Ohio voters’ desire for a tax hike is zero; and the Bush tax cuts dramatically increased government revenues, like the Reagan and Kennedy tax cuts before them.

 Voinovich was singularly outspoken in telling his state’s voters to take a hike. But any politician across the nation who favors these policies is making a stealthier version of the same plea.

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