As we confront the challenges to public education that focus only on its failings, it is extremely important that we recognize who is leveling the criticisms and why. In many instances, the fact that public education has become a target reveals more about the political ideologies and the personal obsessions of those attacking it than the actual, complex issues that we face. At the very least, we need to be willing to point out the ways in which such politicians have undermined their own public credibility and, by extension, the credibility of the political positions that they support.
Allen West and Joe Walsh have been defeated in their re-election bids, and Michelle Bachmann has announced her retirement. But the Far Right seems to have no lack of very strange characters who are all too willing to fill any openings in the public air space with some of the most outrageous and incoherent things ever said by members of the U.S. Congress.
Consider Louie Gohmert, who represents Texas’ First Congressional District and has been described a blogger at Penigma as “possibly the stupidest person ever elected to anything.”
Before providing selective illustrations of the things that Gohmert’s has said, I think it is worthwhile to highlight some of the bills that Gohmert has introduced in the House of Representatives:
HR1536 (112th): Proposing the Congressional Hope for Uniform Recognition of Christian Heritage (or CHURCH) Act of 2013.
HR 4322 (112th): Proposing the Fracturing Regulations Are Safe in State Hands Act [To prevent federal regulation of the fracking industry].
HR 3731 (112th): Proposing the No Taxation without Representation Act [Another attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act].
HR 211 (112th): Expressing support for designation of the first weekend of May as Ten Commandments Weekend to recognize the significant contributions the Ten Commandments have made in shaping the principles, institutions, and national character of the United States.
HR 920 (112th): Proposing the Zero Baseline Budget Act.
HR 143 (112th): Directing the Speaker, or his designee, to take any and all actions necessary to assert the standing of the House to defend the Defense of Marriage Act and the amendments made by that Act in any litigation in any Federal court of the United States.
HR 1510 (111th): Prohibiting United States assistance to foreign countries that oppose the position of the United States in the United Nations.
HR 4408 (111th): Proposing the Within Our Means Budget (or WOMB) Act [Strangely suggestive of a link between Gohmert’s obsessions with eliminating President Obama’s deficit spending and with outlawing abortions].
HR 3478 (111th): Proposing the Patient-Controlled Healthcare Act [As an alternative to the Affordable Care Act]
HR 6615 (110th): Proposing the Giving Inmate Terrorists More Opportunities (or GITMO) Act.
HR 4896 (110th): Social Security Trust Funds Investment Act of 2007 [Allowing SS trust fund revenues to be invested in the stock market].
HR 4893 (110th): Penalizing states that prohibit oil and gas exploration within their borders by denying them the use of any oil or natural gas produced domestically elsewhere.
HR 1503 (110th): Amending the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to compel candidates for federal office to provide their birth certificates and supporting evidence that they are eligible for the offices that they are seeking.
HR 74 (110th): Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States relating to marriage [Defining it as the union of one man and one woman].
Gohmert has introduced most of these bills repeatedly, year after year, which makes him something of an outlier even in the House GOP. But you would never know it from the general silence about him among other GOP members of the House.
Although he has issued many public statements that have made him and, by extension, his party the target of ridicule, no one in the GOP House leadership has regularly disavowed his statements, never mind regularly rebuked him for making them.
And for a congressman with such a thin legislative resume, it is quite a collection of public statements.
Gohmert is one of the original “birthers” and remains convinced that President Obama is, if not an openly practicing Muslim, someone inherently sympathetic with Muslim extremism and therefore inherently anti-American.
In 2010, Gohmert announced on the House floor that an unnamed F.B.I. agent had told him that Muslim extremists have been entering the United States illegally and raising children who are being programmed from birth to be “sleeper” terrorists in our midst. He himself has described this conspiracy as a “terror-baby plot” to destroy the United States from within.
When pressed to provide supporting evidence, Gohmert has shifted gears and has talked about “birth tourism” packages being offered in Islamic countries so that babies can be born in the United States and be American citizens, return with their mothers to Islamic nations and there be indoctrinated against everything American, and then, as young adults, return to the United States as citizens in name only who are bent on our destruction.
Gohmert’s unusual theories have not been limited to foreign relations. They have extended to intimate relations within the animal kingdom.
In 2012, while speaking on the record at a meeting of the House Natural Resources Committee, Gohmert dismissed the environmental concerns surrounding the construction of another trans-Alaska pipeline—and, by extension, the expansion of oil and gas exploration in the Arctic–by asserting that the heat generated by the oil flowing through the current trans-Alaska pipeline has encouraged caribou to mate and is responsible for a dramatic increase in the caribou population.
If that summary seems so stupid that it must be grossly unfair to Gohmert, here is what he actually said, “When [the caribou] want to go on a date, they invite each other to head over to the pipeline. So my real concern now [is] . . . if oil stops running through the pipeline . . . do we need a study to see how adversely the caribou would be affected if that warm oil ever quit flowing?” As you can see, it is very difficult to make this sort of thing sound more stupid.
Predictably, Gohmert dismisses climate change as a theory and, in his less temperate moments, as an outright hoax. Without bothering to offer any specifics, he has often repeated the assertion that the data presented to support climate change is simply “fraudulent.”
Having gotten into the habit of issuing rambling statements in favor of gun rights and Christianity after each new mass shooting, Gohmert more succinctly summarized his beliefs on these issues in a gun-rights conference call in which he somehow argued that because both gun control and gay marriage are antithetical to Christian beliefs, any attempt to limit gun purchases is tantamount to bestiality.
In early 2013, Gohmert nominated Allen West to be Speaker of the House, even though West had lost his bid to be re-elected to his House seat in November 2012.
The one time that Gohmert has been publicly rebuked by GOP leaders in the House and Senate occurred when he took up West’s charge that the legislature is full of communists. Gohmert gave the charge a more current turn by claiming that Muslims have, with President Obama’s knowledge and tacit approval, infiltrated many executive departments related to national security and law enforcement. He made the mistake of trying to make Huma Abedin, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s chief aide, the illustrative example of this infiltration. Although Abedin’s husband, Anthony Weiner, had few friend in Congress and, in a bizarre episode of online exhibitionism, was forced to resign his office in disgrace, there has never been any hint of scandal around Abedin herself. Several prominent GOP senators and finally John Boehner were provoked to repudiate Gohmert’s characterization of Abedin, but did not repudiate the general charges. Indeed, the Right-wing media and some other prominent Republicans tried to sustain the general charges while asserting that the charges against Abedin simply could not be proven one way or the other.
In this past year, Gohmert joined the ranks of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock by arguing that even if a fetus is medically found to be brain dead, a woman should be prohibited from getting an abortion. That’s right, Gohmert is so extremely Pro-Life that he is Pro-Life even when the fetus is already dead and being sustained only by its umbilical connection to the mother.
This is not a matter of being Pro-Life or Pro-Choice. It is a matter of being sensible, of being rational, of upholding in the most basic way the dignity of the office to which you have been elected.
But, as if to save Louie Gohmert from the self-inflicted ignominy of being the most ridiculous Texas member of the House of Representatives, this past week Rep. Michael Burgess argued for a national ban on abortions after twenty weeks by asserting that the scientific evidence that fetuses do not have a nervous system capable of feeling pain until the third trimester must be inaccurate because he has observed a fetus, on a sonogram, that appeared to be “pleasuring” itself.
Yes, he could make this ridiculous public statement but could not bring himself to use the word “masturbate.” (And I could not help but notice that he has pointedly attributed masturbatory impulses only to male fetuses, and not to female fetuses.)
Since the purpose here is to define life, what it means to be human, Burgess has essentially reduced Descartes’ dictum, “I think; therefore, I am,” to something along the lines of “I masturbate; therefore, I am viably human.”
It’s like something that Daniel Tosh might say—but knowingly.
One wonders what it would have been like to be in the room with Burgess when he noticed—or thought that he noticed—that the fetus in the sonogram was masturbating.
Then one attempts, unsuccessfully, to scrub that scene from one’s imagination.
Again, whether one is Pro-Life or Pro-Choice, this sort of thing has to be recognized for what it is–absolutely ridiculous. In fact, it may be more important for Pro-Life advocates to disavow this sort of thing because not disavowing it reduces their cause to caricature by making their underlying religious or ethical convictions seem unthinking—rooted in a stridency that verges on idiocy.
Astonishingly, in his previous career, Burgess was a practicing ob-gyn—a physician like Paul Broun of Georgia, who has declared that much of the precepts of modern science are “lies from the Pit of Hell.” And Broun chairs the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.
It makes one wonder, literally, what in God’s name is going on in medical schools.