Monday, February 26, 2007

Jeff Fortenberry: Thin-Skinned, Congressional Con Artist

by Kyle Michaelis
After accusing a student newspaper of being biased against him and writing a series of letters to the editor (1, 2) whining in similar fashion whenever anyone takes him to task for his voting record, it's becoming clear early in Congressman Jeff Fortenberry's second term just how sniveling and thin-skinned a politician he actually is.

In his first term, Fortenberry generally went unchallenged on the issues - getting a pass from Democrats and the media - and that carried over into his election match-up with Maxine Moul. Well, there's still a long ways to go, but there are definitely signs that things are starting to change and that Fortenberry is going to have to start answering some tough questions - questions he clearly does not feel comfortable with anyone asking after his weak attempts at intimidation and accusation to silence his critics.

This weekend, Fortenberry was at it again. After the Lincoln Journal-Star - the largest newspaper in the First District - published an editorial charging Fortenberry with "march[ing] lockstep to the Bush administration’s drumbeat" on Iraq and calling on he, Lee Terry, and Adrian Smith to rethink their blind support of party and President, Fortenberry again complained about this unfair and unfamiliar treatment better known as accountability.

Acquiescing to Fortenberry's paranoia, the Journal-Star agreed to publish the floor statement Fortenberry had made during debate of the House's non-binding resolution opposing the Bush plan for escalation of the Iraq War. In preface, the editor of the Journal-Star wrote:
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry took issue with the Journal Star editorial criticizing his vote against the House resolution opposing the Bush administration’s troop surge in Iraq. With his agreement, we are publishing his statement on the House floor as his reply to the editorial.
Although the New Nebraska Network doesn't like to see such easy buckling to political pressure by the press, we're always happy to see a politician's actual words and record reported. So, in this case, we have little trouble with letting the baby have his bottle:
Madam Speaker, when I left home this week for Washington, my 6-year-old Kathryn was very sad. She has big beautiful brown eyes, and they had filled with tears at the prospect of my leaving again. And she said to me: “Daddy, why do you have to be a congressman?” And my thoughts went to the words of Thomas Paine, the Revolutionary War author, when he said: “I prefer peace. But if trouble must come, let it come in my time, so that my children can live in peace.”

Madam Speaker, this is a pivotal moment for our nation and a very grave and solemn policy debate. We cannot afford to allow the ups and downs of the daily news cycle to set the course for our deliberations. The stakes in Iraq are too high....

We must provide meaningful and vigorous congressional oversight. I commend Chairman Lantos for taking the lead on this in the House Foreign Affairs Committee and for his commitment to a substantive and reasoned debate. I would have liked to have had the opportunity to support a constructive bipartisan initiative, drawing upon the substantive resources, like the Iraq Study Group, to enhance congressional oversight and set out meaningful benchmarks to measure progress toward stabilization of Iraq and drawdown of our troops.

While it would be politically easier for me to vote for this resolution, I cannot....

If we flinch now — regardless of the goodwill behind our motivations — if we are perceived as weak and divided and eager to throw up our hands in frustration, we will pay a heavy price. And every nation that counts upon us as a friend and an ally will pay a heavy price. None of us wants to see a repeat of the last helicopter out of Saigon. I urge my colleagues: Let’s find constructive ways to get the job done.
With a line of BS like that, I have to join Fortenberry's daughter in asking "couldn't we find a better Congressman than this?" Seriously, I can not believe this man would have the audacity to quote Thomas Paine while making such a self-serving argument intended to stifle the freedom of dissent that is and forever shall be Paine's legacy as both a writer and a patriot.

To be honest, while I completely support the Journal-Star publishing Fortenberry's statement, I think they have a duty to do more than hand Fortenberry the microphone and let him say anything he damn well pleases. They have a duty to provide the context readers require to be less easy prey to Fortenberry's manipulation.

For starters, Fortenberry should not get away with perpetuating the myth that the troubles we're seeing in Iraq somehow result from the media's negativity. What a slap in the face to logic and the American public to suggest that four years of directionless death and destruction, at the cost of hundreds of billions of dollars, has made for an unpopular war only because of how the media has presented it.

Sorry, Fortenberry...we're not that stupid.

I would also love to know when Fortenberry suddenly started supporing "meaningful and vigorous congressional oversight." In his first two years in Congress, he certainly wasn't challenging his party's totally irresponsible dereliction of their constitutional duties as a separate but equal branch of the federal government. No, Fortenberry stayed silent - like a good little rubber stamp Republican - and he would still prefer to stay silent on Iraq if it were not for the new Democratic majority forcing the sorts of debates we should have been seeing for the last four years.

Fortenberry claims he wants a "constructive bipartisan initiative." Sounds great, but what the hell did he do in the last Congress to actually make it a reality? NOTHING!

This is nothing more than empty rhetoric to hide the entire Republican Party's four years of failure and incompetence behind an illusionary call for compromise that they did everything they could to prevent when they were in power. Now that they are out of power and the people again have a voice, they make these sorts of disingenuous and insulting declarations that every voter in this country should see right through.

Sorry, Fortenberry....we're not that stupid. Not anymore.

With his record of being nothing more than a rubber stamp, it's also hard to understand what Fortenberry's talking about claiming it would be "politically easier" for him to support the resolution. All he's done on this latest vote is continue his two year record of voting as told by Tom Delay, Dennis Hastert, and various other string-pullers in the Republican Party. Being a good little puppet seemed like the easiest thing in the world for Fortenberry in his first term, and it's just plain ridiculous for him to suggest that still isn't easier than being the actual representative Nebraska's First District deserves.

Probably the saddest and most revealing of Fortenberry's comments is his warning us to avoid the perception of weakness and not to flinch in Iraq. He knows as well as anyone that the pereception of our weakness is not the problem - it's the reality of our weakness and our inability to establish any sort of control that makes our situation in Iraq so perilous and perhaps even hopeless.

Fortenberry's talk of not wanting to see "a repeat of the last helicopter out of Saigon" is also quite troubling. If that was an instance of America "flinching," what would he have honestly preferred happen? Would he prefer that we still be in Vietnam - that we still be losing soldiers and sapping resources in a vain attempt to save face? Is that really better than realizing this isn't our war to fight, this isn't a war we can win, and we were probably wrong to have ever thought otherwise in the first place?

If Jeff Fortenberry's main worry is the appearance of weakness, then he is a far weaker man and representative than I'd previously feared. He offers platitudes like "Let's get the job done," but he shows no understanding and little concern for what that job is and what it truly entails. He seems to imagine that by will and stubborness alone, there's some victory that is ours for the taking. But, if he's wrong, all he's done is invited even greater catastrophe and more horrific tragedy - seemingly without reason and without end.

Sorry, Fortenberry....we're not that stupid. Not anymore. And, hopefully, never again.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Be careful Kyle, or Phoneyberry or one of his lackeys will be calling you...

Anonymous Dave Sund said...

I'd love to see a race in the 1st District that rivals the sort of things done in the 2nd and 3rd Districts in 2006. The grassroots are important - and the Democratic campaigns that exceeded expectations this time around used them well.

Fortenberry has to go in 2008.

Blogger John said...

But who could run?
Another state senator?
a City Councilman?
Beautler himself?

I'd love to see a truly transformational candidate take on Fort... but I have no idea who.

Furthermore, I just don't see the grassroots infrastructure in place yet. No offense to my wonderful friends in the 1st, but when I look at the grassroots there, I see pretty fragmented anti-party interest groups. If someone could unite the peace-niks (I use that term lovingly), women's groups, YDs, Unicam-Staffers/Bureaucrats, UNL-AAUP, Steel-Workers into a unified grassroots, then the 1st could be the host to a better grassroots campaign than the 2nd or 3rd could ever support.

But I just don't see it happening without an amazing change in culture, or one or two groups taking an amazing lead on the issue, or a transformational candidate somehow related to one of those groups stepping up.

...but I don't know why anyone would listen to me on the issue, I'm far far from an expert on 1st Dist. politics.


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