Obama backs debatable candidate for Congress

At first glance, it should not be particularly noteworthy that President Obama should choose to make an appearance in a political ad on behalf of Cedric Richmond, the Democratic challenger to Republican Joseph Cao’s seat. The 2nd Congressional District is a heavily Democratic district which encompasses New Orleans. It is also where the President can help his party displace an unusually vulnerable Republican in the coming election.

In fact, if not for the perfect combination of circumstances, Cao likely wouldn’t have become the first Republican representative of this district in more than 100 years. Cao was also the first ever Vietnamese American congressman. In his brief stint in government, Cao has proven himself to act with the integrity which is always promised by campaigns and rarely delivered. His consistent allegiance to his own district and principles has caused him to frequently cross party lines.

Cao was the sole Republican to cast a vote for health care reform. The ire he earned from conservatives for the move was matched by what he suffered from the left for changing his vote on the final bill when abortion provisions failed to adequately reflect his pro-life convictions.

I don’t imagine there are many who agree with Cao across the board, even I sometimes don’t. Regardless, it’s difficult to dispute the fact that he has conducted himself with unwavering dignity and concern for his constituents. Perhaps this is why Obama’s endorsement of an ethically questionable Democrat who had his law license suspended should be discouraging to anyone who believed Obama’s call to “resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.”

Ari Melber noted Cao’s initial vote on health care and wrote, “[by] prioritizing the race and making a personalized endorsement, Obama is showing that partisan alliances matter more than the signature domestic policy achievement of his first term.” Andrew Malcolm of the LA Times mockingly wrote a blog entry titled “Republican Rep. Joseph Cao reaps the rewards of bipartisanship; Obama thanks him the Chicago way.”

A few weeks ago Neil Weinberg, of the Eastern Echo, wrote about Obama’s failure to change Washington. He rather kindly attributed it to Obama’s lack of experience. Perhaps inexperience is the fundamental cause. Then again, Obama has long reminded me of a character from Dostoyevsky’s “Demons”, Yulia Mikhailovna. In one passage she is thusly described: “She was fascinated at the same time by the aristocratic element and the system of big landed properties and the increase of the governor’s power…and the correct tone of the aristocratic salon and the free-and-easy, almost pot-house, manners of the young people that surrounded her. She dreamed of ‘giving happiness’ and reconciling the irreconcilable, or, rather, of uniting all and everything in the adoration of her own person.”

Now that the adoration of Obama’s person is fading, his presidency can be judged solely on its own terms. It would be silly to proclaim it a failure or a success so early on. We should all hope it goes on to be tremendously positive. Even if Obama goes into recorded history as the greatest president of the last century, it would be because a man like Cao could never win a presidential election.

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