Although we registered online to attend Rep. Vern Buchanan’s March 18th town hall meeting, and therefore believed that we had reserved two seats, every seat in the hall was taken, and we were left standing outside the 1700 seat performing arts hall with 100s and 100s of others. But an outdoor speaker system broadcast the questions and answers from inside and so we stayed with the crowd, listened, and reacted.
Today’s Herald Tribune featured an article with the title “Buchanan wary of health plan.” Whether his office had salted the news or not, this article foreshadowed the issue that would dominate the questions: health care, and more specifically, the ramifications of overturning the Affordable Health Care Act (better known as Obamacare.) Buchanan suggested it was too early in the game, “just the third inning,” to know what the final health care product would be.
On the one hand, Buchanan seemed to know his constituents, vowing support for Social Security, Medicare, and Veterans Affairs, but on the other hand, we believe he has underestimated the anger among constituents that has energized them to become politically active and vocal as never before.
A telling theme was present in the questions asked by at least three people: how can Buchanan, who is generally acknowledged by voters from both parties to be a person of integrity and decency, live with the contradiction of offering support to a president who lacks both attributes?
His response was that people needed to give Trump a chance and it was too early to judge him. A majority of the outside crowd booed loudly in response; and the speaker system picked up on the same response from inside the hall.
So how does one explain this contradiction? Does loyalty to party “trump” all other considerations? Is Buchanan really taking a wait and see strategy? Does he feel his seat is safe in 2018 and he need not engage in intra-party opposition?
Jack suggests another explanation: that Buchanan and other Republican members of Congress see an advantage in letting Trump be Trump. When the President draws attention to pseudo-issues, like the accusation that Obama had Trump’s phones “tapped” or that the media is the “enemy of the people,” attention is deflected away from an agenda with items that many Republicans actually do believe in and are actively pressing. There is the moral agenda that supports attacks on reproductive rights, Planned Parenthood, and the LGBT community. There is the national security agenda that is anti-immigrant and pro-military industrial complex. There is the economic agenda of protecting corporate interests, cutting programs that serve the poor, and undermining regulations (e.g., environmental protections) viewed as a hardship to business interests. And there is the conservative political agenda that big government must be dismantled to ensure “liberty.” With Trump and Bannon taking the heat, representatives can choose which of their pet issues to press forward.
So Buchanan’s “wait and see” approach sounds fair and cautious, even as the issues he does in fact support (like defunding Planned Parenthood and restricting immigration) move forward.
However, the majority of the crowd, ourselves included, would have none of it. Basically, what we were telling Buchanan is that his “wait and see” approach makes him complicit–and therefore vulnerable in 2018.