Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Holy Cao! 

A favorite Harry Caray quote:

"There's a high foul ball... and it lands right in that woman's Busch!"

Anywho, da Paper wrote an overglowing profile on Dollar Bill Jefferson's Republican challenger, Joseph Cao. Weeks ago, YRHT (probably prematurely) endorsed Cao, but many prominent political nolabloggers remain skeptical of Mr. Cao, which is fair enough. I don't know everything I'd like to know about him either, but I believe I know enough to endorse him over Dollar Bill. On Sunday, Da Paper felt similarly, and endorsed Cao. However, the city's top alternative weekly chose not to endorse Cao over Jefferson, or anyone else for that matter.

I found the rationale behind their non-endorsement to be a bit thin and curious.

[Rep. William Jefferson's] leading opponent, Cao, strikes us as a Republican analogue to Obama — a self-made man with a fascinating history and an impressive determination. His time in the Jesuit seminary, his work with immigration law, and his service to New Orleans' Vietnamese community all demonstrate the marks of a man who can embrace nuance and various points of view.

So far, so good.

But in our conversation with Cao, he was too nuanced. On topics such as embryonic stem-cell research, he preferred to treat controversial social issues like abstract philosophical questions.

Cao gets philosophical. Heaven forfend!

More troubling to us is his enthusiastic endorsement by the Baton Rouge-based Family Research Council, the ultra-conservative organization headed by former state Rep. Tony Perkins. In 1996, Perkins paid David Duke more than $80,000 for his mailing list of bigots; as late as 2001, Perkins was addressing the Louisiana chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens, which is classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. When asked about this endorsement, Cao claimed not to know about it, a position we found hard to believe, as it's listed on his campaign's Web site. While he's clearly the most intelligent candidate in the race and has an admirable record of service, Cao's equivocation on social issues does nothing to dispel our fears that he will take a hard right turn in Washington.

Let me say at the outset that it's entirely possible that Cao doesn't know anything about the history of the Family Research Council, and didn't realize it was on his web site. Aching for any semblance of a "win", national elements of the GOP have coalesced in support of Cao's campaign. The last few weeks have no doubt been somewhat overwhelming for the candidate. And I believe none other than Greg "Muppet" Meffert re-designed Cao's campaign web site. To be sure, these are not untroubling developments. However, using a guilt-by-association dig on Cao is a bit much. Cao to FRC to Perkins to David Duke... I mean, c'mon! What are we supposed to conclude here, that Cao is in bed with bigots? And is the Gambit Weekly only going to endorse Republicans who either don't get the FRC endorsement or who reject that endorsement? When precisely did this policy commence? [Update: In the comments, Kevin Allman points out that the Gambit has a new editor. I should've noted this.]

Anyway, to explain Cao's ignorance of the FRC endorsement, I can easily imagine a phone call between Cao and Muppet going like this:

Ring Ring

"Hello, this is Joseph Cao."

"What up, bro? It's Greg Meffert, your new tech-guru. I don't want to go over your head with geek speak, so I'll make my Cao for Congress web site status report a model of shortness and sweetness. The bottom line is that your new web presence is almost finished and I'm going to transfer the content from that old site and put any new endorsements on the front page. Sound good? It's gonna look wicked coo-- "

"Yes, but just please itemize your invoice. [Overpriced dollar amount] seems like a lot to pay for a new site."

"Aw, don't worry about nothing, dude. You're working with a professional. I always take care of my peeps and cross all the eyes and dot all the teas, just ask Ray Ray. "

An uncomfortable silence follows, so Meffert puts on his sales hat:

"Mr. Kay-oh, I'm sure you understand how important it is to invest in successful new paradigms to move this campaign to a new level of forwardness, right?"

"Uhh, yeah, sure. I have to go to a campaign event."

"Alright. Later days, my brother from another mother. Meff out."

Cao hangs up, and mutters "Who recommended that douche?"

In sum, the Gambit Weekly wouldn't endorse Cao over Dollar Bill Jefferson because Cao's excessive "nuance" worried them that, once elected, Cao would tack "hard right" on social issues. Surely Cao can't be any harder "right" than Gov. Jindal or Steve Scalise, whom they previously endorsed in other elections. But against an (allegedly) corrupt Congressman, fears about Cao's potential "hard right" ideology somehow entered the forefront. Cao might[!] be too "hard right", and is therefore too risky to endorse over William Jefferson.


Here's how I see it: if Cao somehow wins, he will be under incredible pressure to perform heroically in order to (somehow) win re-election in two years. That's the political filter through which I analyze the situation. So, if Cao votes "hard right" with meaningless oppositional votes in a Democratic Congress, he'll ensure his status as an ineffectual one-term political aberration. Hint: no candidate wants that.

But there's plenty of evidence that Cao is not a trojan horse of the far right, and is instead a moderate or progressive on many issues. The environment is one example. Cao led the opposition of the landfill in N.O. East, and having had his house flooded twice, he is mindful of the importance of coastal restoration. Most revealing of all, Cao's willingness to express progressive illegal immigration views on the campaign trail indicates that he's not merely a complaisant GOP tool. (Being a sensible moderate on illegal immigration is a huge "no no" in today's GOP.) Cao doesn't strike me as a partisan who is willing to thoughtlessly adopt hard right talking points simply to get elected. But don't take my word for it. In an important and informative post, Huck Upchuck reviewed Cao's performance at a candidate forum that took place about a month ago. Here's an extended quote, but please read the whole thing:

The questions posed to the candidates at the forum dealt with immigration reform, language access, health care, housing, and education. As an immigrant himself for whom English was, and is, a second language, Joseph Cao's answers to just about all of the questions posed were extremely progressive -- I thought even more progressive than [Democratic candidate] Helena Moreno's answers. Cao supports comprehensive immigration reform and he does not think a security first policy is appropriate as a rational and feasible and even humane approach to the issue; he supports the DREAM act that would allow undocumented children of immigrants the rights to temporary (and perhaps permanent) legal status; he supports legislative initiatives that would provide access to information and documents in the native languages of non-english speaking peoples; as a lawyer himself, he has an impressive knowledge of federal immigration and citizenship laws; he supports bi-lingual education and was personally instrumental in establishing a language immersion public charter school in New Orleans east in the Vietnamese and Spanish languages; and he projected a commitment to the principles of social justice in ways that one would simply not expect of a Republican.

Regarding that last "social justice" bit, I want to highlight a snippet from the aforementioned overglowing profile of Cao in yesterday's T-P. This really speaks to me:

Cao's entrée into politics followed what he called a "faith crisis" during his time at Jesuit seminary in the early 1990s.

After witnessing dire poverty during mission trips to Mexico and Hong Kong, he questioned how a loving God could abide such misery. After much contemplation, Cao concluded: "God does address the issue of human suffering by sending good people" to alleviate it.

The resolution led to him leave the Jesuits and pursue another path to social change: politics.

Now, I've struggled with the problem of evil co-existing with an omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipowerful Godhead. Intellectually, it stands unresolved for me, and is a strong argument against our organized metaphysical comforts. (To put it charitably.) I think it's an important philosophical problem with which all serious believers should struggle. However, if you think an immigrant who grew up in Saigon in the 1970's and who has seen "human misery" up close and personal, is suddenly going to change his core values because some fundagelical GOP puppetmaster lectures him on the evils of the fascist "gay agenda" and why comprehensive immigration reform only appeases the great unwashed Mexican invaders at our borders... well, that's too much for me to swallow. In other words, I'm very willing to bet against that.

And I haven't even discussed Cao's opponent. How "hard right" would Cao have to go to make him less preferable than Dollar Bill? What's the dealbreaker here-- an inconsequential anti-choice vote on an abortion issue? Really? That's why the Gambit can't endorse him as the preferable alternative in this election?

[An aside: in their non-endorsement, the Gambit Weekly says Cao is "clearly the most intelligent candidate in the race". That's not so clear to me. In fact, I'd be very reluctant to take that bet. I'm sure Cao is incredibly intelligent, but I wouldn't be surprised at all if William Jefferson had a higher IQ. Make no mistake, Jefferson is a damn smart man. Problem is, he's a greedhead.]

So where are we at? I expect Jefferson to get re-elected and to have his day in court, and be found guilty on some charges, and have to resign his Congressional seat in disgrace. Knowing that a very desirable challenger is waiting in the wings for this eventuality, I suppose I could get "strategic" in my thinking, and vote for Jefferson with my ultra-preferred candidate's future in mind. But these sorts of cockamamie "strategic" political rationales are dangerous and infectious. Basically, they're an elaborate cop-out; a slippery slope to idiotic political decisions... and excruciating political results. [Update: and the Gambit Weekly rightfully pointed that out, as well.]

A lifelong liberal Democrat, I'm comfortable in my endorsement of Joseph Cao for Congress.

Update: some slight improvements in clarity and composition have been made to this post since its initial publication.
Update #2: The Weathers Report has a fever...

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I'm not normally one to say anything like this but:

there has been too much debate about this race.

jefferson is likely to win reelection easily and there are lots of reasonable justifications for any position one might take on any of the alternative candidates. or on a strategic vote FOR jefferson.

there has been a lot of really important shit going down at city hall over the last few weeks. i think it's way more compelling, way more outrageous, and way more consequential.

i appreciate the take down of gambit's non endorsement though, because their concerns about cao's ties to the far right make no sense given their enthusiasm for jindal.

By Blogger E, at 2:07 PM  

The Gambit is a Joke. At this moment the only articles that I would bother reading are those by Alford.

To criticize Cao for connections to the FRC while previously endorsing Jindal and Scalise... it is just insane. It makes no sense.

By Anonymous Daniel Z, at 2:32 PM  

Hey, Oyster -

Thanks for the read and the critique. Just a couple of points:

1) Gambit called for community input into the questioning for all the candidates. We got lots of good questions and we used them. Heavily.

2) Mr. Cao's Web site and position papers are near-blanks when it comes to many social issues that matter(ed) to our readership, so we attempted, naturally, to draw him out on those positions where his beliefs are ciphers.

3) If you're going to cite past endorsements (Jindal and Scalise in particular), I think it's only fair that you note that the paper has a new editor who wasn't in place when those recommendations were made.

To me, it's a sign how weird this race is when a "lifelong liberal Democrat" is criticizing the local alt-weekly for not endorsing the Republican -- but I understand your reasoning.


By Blogger Kevin Allman, at 2:35 PM  

Sorry about #3, Kevin. You're right. I've updated the post to note that a new editor is at Gambit. (And I think he does good work, too.)

By Blogger oyster, at 2:52 PM  

Kevin: Are you saying that one editor would have made the difference in voting of the editorial board? Are you saying that the editorial board was so evenly split with only the slightest of majorities supporting the candidacies of Jindal and Scalise that the addition of one editor would have made a difference and the Gambit would have endorsed someone else in those elections?

Are you saying that since you replaced Clancy as an editor that Clancy was the vote that made the Gambit endorse Jindal and Scalise?

Because unless you are saying those things, your argument does not hold water.

(And also, if you are saying that, then my earlier criticism of him was valid.)

By Anonymous Daniel Z, at 3:36 PM  

Daniel - I have no idea how the board arrived at any previous endorsements; I don't even know the questions that were put to the candidates in previous races.

"Are you saying that since you replaced Clancy as an editor that Clancy was the vote that made the Gambit endorse Jindal and Scalise?"

Not just no, but hell no. I have no idea how those interviews went. I don't mind taking flak (and if a paper endorses, or chooses not to endorse, any candidate, flak is certain to be incoming), but I wasn't part of those decisions.

By Blogger Kevin Allman, at 3:47 PM  

I think Gambit hiding for previous endorsement is a little thin.

Personally I'd take an Honest Socialist or Republican over a crooked, politici9an every day. Integrity is more important than anything else especially here.

By Blogger mominem, at 3:57 PM  

Kevin: My point is this. According to Clancy (in the link I provided), the editorial endorsement process was done by committee.

You stated that the endorsements of Jindal and Scalise had been done before you became an editor. Why would that be relevant to state unless the result of such an endorsement would have been different?

Because unless you replaced Clancy's vote in the endorsement committee, and your vote would have been different than Clancy's vote in the endorsement process, and your vote would have then caused the Gambit to not endorse Jindal or Scalise, I fail to see the relevance of you being new to the Gambit in the discussion of the hypocrisy of the Gambit's endorsement Jindal and Scalise while rejecting Cao because of his conservative leanings on social issues.

By Anonymous Daniel Z., at 4:04 PM  

Pitiful so Gambit has essentially endorsed Bill Jefferson for Congress with their "non-endorsement." I'm a demoocrat and I'm shocked. Gambit lost all credibility with me.

The "committee" should be replaced at Gambit immediately for showing utter stupidity and being a detriment to the City of New Orleans for their underhanded endorsement of Bill Jefferson.

I'll read Where Y'at from now on because clearly Gambit has become just like the New Orleans Tribune in that both are stuck on stupid.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:59 PM  

Great post, oyster. Of course, I'm with you on the whole (and even in the particulars). Thanks for referencing my piece from a while back. One of the things that I've learned, especially about relatively unknown candidates like Cao, is that unless one actually hears such candidates speak on the issues, it is not quite fair to form an opinion about that candidate simply because of that candidate's party tag or because some third party (i.e. the FRC) throws their support his way. Who else is the FRC going to endorse? I've said it before, and I'll say it again, Cao is no fundagelical. He's honest and has integrity. I find him to be progressive on the rights of marginalized minority groups -- especially those who are particularly vulnerable because of the language they speak or because of their immigration status.

By Blogger Huck, at 8:21 PM  

Regarding Gambit, I'm disappointed in their "non-endorsement" because it is the same as an individual saying, "I'm not going to vote this time." If this was a razor-thin runoff between two equal opponents, I might understand. But we're in a situation where you've got a really rotten incumbent that must be ousted, so sitting on the sidelines is just not acceptable. I dislike the decision, but hey, let's not throw out the "baby" editor with the bathwater. So much good cannot be erased with one bad pencil.

Regarding Oyster's defense of supporting a Republican, good luck wit dat Ersta. If your golden boy gets to Congress, it will be because the party brought him there. And like you said, he will face the voters in two years. His Republibuddies will remind him every day how he got there and how the same party machine that lifted him up can knock him back down.

I remember another principled young Republican who rode to Congress on white horse. He had a reputation for speaking out and calling the ethics hotline in Baton Rouge. He shrugged off the party favors and legislative perks and instead talked about honor and service to community. His name was David Vitter, and we all know how his story ends up.

It didn't happen in a day or a month, but slowly over the years, sucking up power and getting sucked by the wending halls of power, Vitter completely fell into the Republican Party fold, voting and acting like an uber conservative twit.

You can hope your buddy Cao gets elected by Republicans but remains "independent." And I can hope President Bush goes to trial for launching a war of aggression. But the odds are pretty slight.

I'm voting for Malik because I know if he is elected he won't owe his heart/mind/soul to anybody but the voters. I'm voting for Malik because he will represent me.



By Blogger Tim, at 8:51 PM  

Oyster, I'm a little surprised that you didn't mention the entirely predictable Morrell endorsement. Kevin, I don't want to be too belligerent about this, because I understand the benefits of experience, but, honestly, it was only a lack of time that kept me from posting a prediction that city's change-advocating daily and its equally reform-minded alternative weekly would both endorse the political dynast. I know you can't speak for the Picayune, but is Gambit aware of the contradiction between its consistent advocacy for change as a matter of general principle and its equally consistent endorsement of the most experienced candidate in individual races?

Also, hand me a tin foil hat if you want, but I still find it suspicious the New Orleans city council hired a Jefferson parish political consultant to work with Cynthia Hedge-Morrell right before J.P. Morrell received the endorsement of her (the consultant's) Jefferson Parish allies and clients.

By Blogger bayoustjohndavid, at 7:28 AM  

On the other hand, I heard from a very reliable source that a prominent local Republican is considering a run for Morrell's House seat when he gets elected to the Senate. The same source told me that the good bishop wants the state GOP to finance his campaign, and I doubt that will happen. So, even though I believe my info., I doubt we'll see that race.

By Blogger bayoustjohndavid, at 7:43 AM  

Great post. Just wanted to make two comments:

1) Thank you for putting into much more *nuanced* language my objection to the Gambit's non-endorsement. Cao is too nuanced? Ok, because doctrinaire absolutes have worked out so well for us over the last eight years.

2) I'm about sick to death of the fucking "strategery voters" who think, again, that $Bill will somehow be forced to resign before the next two years are up. This is what they thought in 2006, and look were it got us. How many times has the trial been continued already?

I honestly don't see the Congressional Black Caucus throwing $Bill under the bus in the event of a conviction, until *after* his appeal is final. They don't want the heat from their constituents about an innocent man-of-the-people being set up by the Bushies. Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeit. His appeal won't be final before 2010. Thus, we'll get another two years of a completely worthless representative, *and* the further degradation of our pathetic national image. But hey, as long as some Couhig/Nagin Democrats can get to play armchair political scientist, that's what's REALLY important, right?

By Blogger Duff, at 9:46 AM  

Huck: "unless one actually hears such candidates speak on the issues, it is not quite fair to form an opinion about that candidate simply because of that candidate's party tag or because some third party (i.e. the FRC) throws their support his way."

If someone does not reject an endorsement once learning about it, it is a tacit acceptance of said endorsement. And anyone who accepts the FRC endorsement should be rejected. Period.

"Who else is the FRC going to endorse? "

I don't care. What I do care is that he has not rejected it.

Tim: I cast my vote for Malik as well (even though I typically view voting third party as a waste of time, I cannot vote for Jefferson and I cannot vote for Cao).

By Anonymous Daniel Z, at 10:06 AM  

All this handwringing. Who cares? Cao isn't going to make it. So I'll vote for Malik. Surely he can't be as corrupt as Dollar Bill?

By Anonymous matter, at 10:55 AM  

"...(the) city's change-advocating daily and its equally reform-minded alternative weekly would both endorse the political dynasty."

I'm probably biased because I'm one of Morrell's constituents who has been very impressed with his responsiveness and level-headedness (if that's a word) so far...but isn't this roughly the same argument that was used to help put Nagin back in the Mayor's Office? Forget about whether or not Mitch Landrieu might have been the better candidate for the office--he was part of a political dynasty! Can't have that!

Look, Morrell's not some buddy of mine, even if he lives in the neighborhood and is probably the officeholder I've had more personal contact with than any other...but do we always play the "sins of the fathers" game here? I know the guy's a relatively clean cut attorney, and that smacks of corporatism to some. Supporting someone like him gains no "street cred" (cyber cred?) when compared to supporting an activist for the oppressed. But I can't see not voting for the guy who (IMHO) will probably be the most likely of the candidates to hit the ground running, and, if he performs as he has so far as my State Rep, end up on what I feel is the right side of most issues. Now, bear in mind that I'm more of a pragmatist than an idealist...but after all, Morrell WAS one of the two whole Reps to vote against Jindal's Louisiana Family Forum-sponsored creationism bill. That's gotta be worth something on the "idealism" scale.

By Anonymous Puddinhead, at 11:30 AM  

"What I do care is that he has not rejected it."

I respect that position. I just don't tend to see politics in such absolutist terms. Of course, there are, indeed, some lines that, once crossed, would disqualify my support of a candidate. If the FRC were the KKK, then that would be different, and Cao's refusal to reject the endorsement would be one of those lines that would put me in opposition to Cao. Maybe you see it that way. I don't. The rejection of the FRC's unsolicited endorsement is not one of those lines. For me, what's most important is not whether the FRC likes Cao, but whether Cao is likely to be a tool of the FRC and its retrograde positions on social policy. I am very much assured that he won't be.

By Blogger Huck, at 11:51 AM  

I don't see the FRC as the KKK, but to be both cross a line that I wont.

Even if Cao would say "I appreciate the endorsement of the FRC, but here is where I differ from their policies" then I perhaps could give him the benefit of the doubt.

But he hasn't, so I can't.

And I am generally not an absolutist. I have defended Mary Landrieu to people who are to the left of me because I understand that the "perfect Democrat" could not get elected in Louisiana. And to me, it is better to have someone in D.C. who is fighting for many of the ideals we hold over supporting an extreme left wing candidate that won't get elected. I tend to be very pragmatic when voting. But people like Dobson and Perkins..... no thank you. If Cao is willing to take their help, I cannot stand by Cao.

By Anonymous Daniel Z, at 1:21 PM  

Isn't it funny that Muppet has re-surfaced as the local Repug's version of Karl Rove.

By Blogger Dambala, at 9:28 AM  

The best strategic vote is for Cao anyway. Then the desirable candidate you've been mentioning is a shoo-in for 2010. And Cao has a platform to run against Vittycent since there's nowhere else for him to go.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:04 PM  

Strategery aside, I asked Joseph Cao about the Family Research Council endorsement this morning. His response was lack luster to say the least.

By Anonymous Daniel Z, at 10:03 AM