The Wisdom of Cao

Wise is the man who learns from his mistakes.  Congressman Anh “Joseph” Cao (R-LA) fell into line with fellow Republicans in opposition to Obama’s economic stimulus package despite his stated reservations regarding his party’s position.  If his ‘yea’ vote for the House Democrats’ health care reform legislation is an indicator of anything, it’s that his stimulus vote was a mistake.  Indeed, Cao has demonstrated a capacity to learn by bucking the GOP’s monolithic negativity.

Despite House Minority Whip Eric Cantor’s declaration that no Republican would vote for the Democrat’s plan, most beltway dwellers were well aware of Cao’s fence sitting on the measure.   That the Obama Administration was courting him was common knowledge.  However, blow back over his stimulus vote was likely the most motivating factor for the Louisiana Republican.

Cao’s Stimulus Filp-Flop

Cao supported the Obama economic proposals as late as Feb. 12. “A lot of the provisions in the bill will be good for the district, because we need almost everything,”  Cao said.  His potential support for the Stimulus drew harsh criticism from right wing pundits, leading the congressional freshman to change his position. posed the question, ‘Can New Orleans Area Republican Cao Survive?’ following his February ‘nay’ vote on the Stimulus:

The offices of The Louisiana Weekly were besieged last Thursday and Friday with complaints over the Congressman…

“His district supported Obama.  He should support Obama,” one lady declared.

“Cao said that he was Independent.  Is this Independent?” another caller noted citing the new Second District Congressman’s decision to vote in lockstep with his fellow Republicans against the Stimulus.

And the emails and telephone calls continued in that vein through the weekend.    In retrospect, the vehement public response is not so surprising.   That a predominantly African-American newspaper would be receive a negative reaction from its mostly Black readers when the latest Rasmussen poll put President Barack Obama’s support amongst Black voters 98%-2% hardly shocks.

The public response was justified considering his district — of which only 15 percent of the population is Republican — was among the most adversely effected areas by hurricane Katrina.  Turning away money from any source was bound to leave his constituents wondering if Cao had their interests in mind.

Consequences of the Lone Republican ‘Yea’

Little has changed since February.  Certainly the demographics of Cao’s district have remained the same, as has its myriad of economic needs.  He made it clear, however, that he couldn’t vote in favor of the House Democrat healthcare reform bill without a stronger anti-abortion provision.  Much to the dismay of Obama’s progressive base, the majority leadership — already needing to shore up the votes of socially conservative Democrats — allowed the contentious amendment championed by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) to come to the floor.

Once the Stupak provision passed, Cao was out of excuses.  Despite this, the Republican leadership kept the pressure on until the last minute, but to no avail.  Cao was content to absorb the persuasive efforts of his Party until the 218th ‘yea’ vote was cast, ensuring the House bill’s passage.  After that, Cao registered his affirmative vote and has since become the man of the moment among purveyors of news media.

No doubt, in the short run Cao will suffer the petty retribution of the GOP.  The racist proclivities of some within the conservative right-wing have already presented themselves, as Matthew Yglesias reported in a Nov. 8 blog post.  Apparently, conservatives fail to recognize the irony in what Cao’s wise decision has wrought upon the Democrats.

The irony here is that if Cao had anything to do with the House majority leadership allowing Stupak’s anti-abortion language into the bill, then he has done the Republicans a huge favor.  Stupak’s contribution has the Democrats at each others’ throats, and should it survive conference, Cao will have participated in the largest infringement of the reproductive rights of women in recent memory; something Republicans have sought since Roe v. Wade became the law of the land in 1973.

Does Cao’s Vote Secure His Political Future?

The question remains:  will Cao’s vote be enough for him to retain his seat in 2010?  Probably not.  His election to congress in 2008 was widely considered a fluke; the product of low voter turnout and an electoral opponent under scrutiny for keeping $90,000 in his freezer.

In 2010, Cao will remain a prime target of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and at present, it looks as if he won’t be able to count on the GOP for support.  Short of switching parties, the former problem would present itself no matter how Cao voted on health care reform.

The latter problem, however, becomes meaningless when you consider that the demographic makeup of his district can make GOP support into an electoral hindrance.  In sum, when faced with no good, politically safe option, Cao opted to go with what his district’s residents wanted and, arguably, needed.

Cao said:  “I have always said that I would put aside partisan wrangling to do the business of the people.  My vote tonight was based on my priority of doing what is best for my constituents. “

Such a statement is often uttered by politicians, but seldom is it acted upon.  Though his political future is uncertain, Cao’s decision was wise, indeed.

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Sandy V.
Sandy v8 years ago

He also stated that his district was Democrats and minority and they needed health care worse now than before. I believe he has a true heart as he really got it from the Repubs for his vote. I love New Orleans and the people. It is a poor district and imagine they still need all the help they can get after Katrina. I believe he IS thinking of his people.

Jim Steve
Jim Steve8 years ago

"....bought out by the health care giants", and "behest of Corporate political donors".????? I am a registered Independent and haven't voted for a Republican in decades but those who believe that it is only Republicans that are influenced by Corporate money are misinformed. Of the 50 Industry contributors to the current Congress, 43 are listed as a DEMOCRATS being the top receiver of campaign "contributions". In Pharmaceuticals / Health Products Democrats get more "contributions" than Republicans by 6 to 4. In Health Services it's 7 to 3. Democrats are and have been getting more from Corporations for years now. Source: But Democrats are immune to being influenced by this massive infusion of cash, right?

Is it any wonder that this Bill is so pro Corporate? Not a surprise since the Health Care Lobbies essentially WROTE THE BILL.

Audrey L.
Audrey L8 years ago

So there is actually one Republican who isn't bought out by the health care giants. One Republican who does what he is paid to do, vote for what the majority want even if it means crossing party lines. One Republican who isn't acting like a spoiled brat and think it is funny to vote NO to everything. One Republican who doesn't act like a JERK. I am sure the little schoolboys are now snubbing him.

Craig Chmiel
Craig C8 years ago

Wrong another one bought out he received $1.2 billion from the man in charge, how is doing that right, he was hounded for some time because of his district period. And what five years later after Katrina its still a mess guess thats the rebubs fault also. Oh wait he lives in a demo district, lota help they have been huh.

Bruce Anderson
8 years ago

Cao showed good character tinged even with a bit of valor in his vote and in his reason for his vote.

Whether he remains GOP fodder or strolls to the Dems side, really is irrelevant, if for but one time, he voted his conscious and as an Independent, I can muster a little respect out of that, for it is very rare today in a politician with a GOP label pinned to his lapel...

James D.
James D8 years ago

He will attempt to defect to the Democratic side, but if the voters of his district have any sense they will not accept him in Dem clothing and will, instead find and elect someone who was truly a Dem to begin with.

Barbara V.
Barbara V8 years ago

I hope one of the things he learned was what his party is all about.

Aaron Pendell
Aaron Pendell8 years ago

Well said, Glenna.

Unfortunately for Cao, the GOP will punish him for straying, and will almost certainly produce a primary challenger in 2010, even if that challenger has little chance of winning. They don't tolerate dissent. It's a sad state of affairs.

Conversely, many criticize the Dems because of their inability to act as a unit resultant of allowing for divergent opinions within their ranks. Personally, I find this to be an attribute, but this & the 2 party system can be damn frustrating.

Glenna Jones-kachtik
Glenna Kachtik8 years ago

If Cao was doing what those he represents wanted; then why should he NOT be re-elected. It is amazing to me that in America we have a party or even parties who want their elected officials to do what the party wants or the big businesses want or even what the President wants at the expense of those persons who elected them to congress.
We have some congress critters who when 60% of those who elected them wanted a public option and flooded their offices still wanted not to choose one (pressumably because that 40% who didn't were the parties base).
This has come about because we the people have become complacent about sitting back and not demanding that our elected officials do our business. It has also come about because people do not actually read up on any issues and look at both sides but just vote what some idiot tells us to. Some of us succumb to lies and fear and we vote for dumb things that are against our better interest .
I hope that this district can stand up to the party machines and re-elect Cao. He should be able to remain a Republican and not have to become a Democrat in order to do what his constituents want!

Lloyd H8 years ago

This story brought a big "Wow", to my lips. Not because Cao is Repugnican and not because he is from Louisiana, but because a living American elected politician actually said, 'I have an obligation to do what is right for the people who elected me to office.' as in being a true elected public servant actually working for the public good not at the behest of Corporate political donors for the good of their profit margins to the detriment of the common good nor at the command of Political party ideologues to further their partisan power at the expense of bettering the future prospects of Americans for life, liberty and the pursuit of their happiness. Well done Mr. Cao! I hope that you survive the slings and arrows of the outraged religious, corporate and political ideologues of the Repugnican party, attacks you most surely expected and will experience for your audacity of actually acting as the elected public advocate for the good of your constituents .