Upset of the Century?
By Jerry A. Kane
It’s hard to say what Marine Corps Captain John Murtha thought of the people of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, when he took command of the 34th Special Infantry Company Reserves back in 1959.
The world-weary Cap’n wasn’t the natural born world-shaker type to take a pipe-cutter to the heads of parking meters just for something to do in the evening, so he went on to complete a tour in Vietnam, serve a few stints in the state House of Representatives, and run in a special election for Pennsylvania’s 12th District. The former Parris Island drill instructor narrowly won the seat to become the first Vietnam veteran to serve in Congress. But that was over thirty-four years ago, and now the 17-term Congressman has openly maligned western Pennsylvanians and his 12th District constituents.
The outpourings of discontent over the Capn’s remarks lead him to revise them and to clarify their meaning. What the Cap’n had said was, “There is no question that western Pennsylvania is a racist area,” but what he meant to say was, the history of southwestern Pennsylvania is teeming with racism, and “there’s still folks that have a problem voting for someone because they are black,” as “[t]his whole area, years ago, was really redneck.”
Given that some Western Pennsylvania residents and District 12 constituents are still stinging from his revised remarks, it looks as if what we got here is failure to communicate. Perhaps the Capn’s detractors are simply a bunch of thin-skinned, back-sassin’ hard cases who don’t know one boss’s ditch from another boss’s dirt, but polls are showing that some of his long-suffering supporters are a wee-bit angry for their being made a national laughingstock.
Although the standard rhetoric from the political punditry is that the Cap’n of Pork is invulnerable for his years of bringing home the bacon in the form of government projects to the depressed area, the immigrant melting pot is still boiling over remarks made by Barack Obama during the Democrat primary pronouncing that Pennsylvanians are clinging to their religion and guns on account of failed government policies and poor economic conditions. The usually resigned constituents are beginning to recognize the Capn’s and Obama’s arrogant, elitist, disconnect as overt prejudice against the hard-nosed, down-to-earth people who live and work in Western Pennsylvania.
In a district heavily gerrymandered specifically for the Cap’n, where Democrats outnumber Republicans two-to-one, Republicans have never gotten more than 42 percent of the popular vote during the Capn’s time in office, but his cancellation of the only debate with his Republican opponent, retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Bill Russell, coupled with a recent slide in the polls suggest a chink in Abscam Jack’s impenetrable armor.
The latest firestorm is just one more issue added to the list of controversies that is ticking off a lot of constituents in an area that has the highest percentage of veterans per capita of any district in the nation. In 2006, the Cap’n said that a Pentagon investigation would show that Marines murdered “innocent civilians in cold blood” in Haditha, Iraq. However, when 14 of the 15 Marines charged in the killings were cleared, the Cap’n did not apologize for levying false accusations against the innocent soldiers.
Actually, the Cap’n seemed to suggest that his false accusations were beside the point, and his condemnation of the innocent Marines was really helpful because expanded engagement rules were produced whereby American troops are “no longer just breaking down doors” when they engage with Iraqis. Clearly the end justifies the means for the Cap’n even if an acquitted Marine now sues him for slander.
Another problem for the Cap’n has been his unrelenting call, which began in November 2005, for the withdrawal of the troops from Iraq, even though victory now looms large and the troop surge has been working. The Cap’n hasn’t backed away from criticizing the war or the surge, but he has admitted that “the war effort is going a bit better.” Nevertheless, for the Iraq war to end the way he wants, Obama has to become president.
Even though Pennsylvania’s 12th district has the nation’s largest coal and natural-gas reserves, the Capn’s Kingdom of Pork has not created a solid base for economic growth. In fact, its economy and adult population have steadily been in decline, and his federal handouts have effectively driven small businesses away, having caused them to bear the tax burden for the infrastructure of the multi-million dollar non-profits he brings into the district.
He’s waning and even trailing in the polls, but the overarching possibility is that the shameless spreader of unprecedented levels of federal pork, the earmark magnet of Murtha’s corner, and one of the most unethical members of Congress will once again grin like a baby.
However, given the Capn’s general disregard for his district, his condemnation of the Haditha Marines, and his recent insulting comments, it’s possible that the dark-horse Republican might pull off the “the upset of the century.”
After all, it’s not that the Cap’n likes reminding his constituents of who they are anymore than they like hearing it; but he says it for their own good, at the behest of those who see oppression and racism lurking in every dark shadow. However, come November 4, they just might wish the Cap’n would stop being so good to them.