John Avlon Independent Nation
11.03.12 1:00 PM ET
Vote the Bums Out: the Eight Worst Members of Congress
This divided and dysfunctional Congress has earned its record low-approval rating. Luckily we have the remedy in our hands on Election Day: vote the bums out. Here is my brief list of the eight worst congresspeople in 2012 from both parties and the reasons they deserve to get the boot on Tuesday. Consider it part of the mission to civilize, a necessary part of the process to start solving problems again in Washington.
Cataloguing all of Bachmann’s conspiracy theories, loopy misstatements, and outright lies is difficult to do in one place, but a few useful articles have attempted to do just that. Now Bachmann has her first serious opponent—self-made businessman and centrist Democrat Jim Graves, He accurately says that Bachmann “epitomizes everything that’s wrong with Congress and this country—a lack of civility, a lack of bipartisan or nonpartisan approaches to problem solving.” Graves would be a great addition to Congress, committed to constructive problem-solving from day one.
Iowans are noted for their civility, intelligence, and common sense—which is why Steve King has been such a discordant congressional representative for the Hawkeye State. Whether it’s claiming that Joe McCarthy was an “American hero,” being the sole congressman to refuse to recognize the role of slaves in building the U.S. Capitol, defending Joe Wilson and dog-fighting, doubled down on claims that State Department aide Huma Abedin is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, voting against Katrina-relief funding, or—already!—speaking out against Hurricane Sandy-relief funding, Wilson is an affront to reason. Four years ago, he also predicted that if President Obama were elected president, "then al Qaeda, the radical Islamists, and their supporters, will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on September 11th because they will declare victory in this War on Terror.” He’s running against Christie Vilsack (wife of former Iowa governor and current Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack) who is running as “a problem solver, not a partisan fighter.” And would be a far better addition to Congress.
Sometimes political goodbyes are said with pity and disgust rather than anger. That applies to Laura Richardson, who is just not very good at her job. She seems to have a hard time keeping her own life in order let alone looking out for the best interests of her constituents. She got a sweetheart deal on a house then failed to make payments or provide basic upkeep, provoking complaints from neighbors and taking an undisclosed loan from a strip-club owner. She raised just $7,000 in the last quarter and was reprimanded by the House Committee on Ethics for using congressional staff to try and infiltrate an opponent’s campaign and then obstructing the investigation, which she claimed was racially motivated. Her staffers have accused her of “attempts to intimidate them on a regular basis.” Richardson is running against a fellow Democrat, Janice Hahn, thanks to California’s top-two primary format. She should lose.
This truly terrible congressmen is better for laughs than legislation—but you better have a dark sense of humor to follow his howlers, ranging from birther conspiracies and “death-panel” fantasies to talking about “terror babies” and comparing the president to Hitler. Gohmert’s fellow travelers in Congress are Michele Bachmann and Steve King, but sadly his Texas district hasn’t put up the kind of serious competitors those two have earned this year. But Gomert is facing a brave Iraq war vet named Shirley McKellar. The rigged system of redistricting hasn’t made McKellar’s uphill race any easier, but Gohmert’s insult-comedy routine is an embarrassment that the independent-minded people of Texas should reject.
Hypocrisy is the unforgivable sin in politics, and freshman Rep. Scott DesJarlais from Tennessee rocketed himself to the top of the sleazebag list when it was discovered that the anti-abortion advocate had in fact pressured a mistress to get an abortion while he was still married to his wife. What makes it even worse is that the one-time doctor met his mistress when she was his patient. When tapes of their incriminating conversation came to light, DesJarlais immediately played the victim, calling the information an attempt at “character assassination.” Stay classy, Scott—but do it somewhere else, and not on the taxpayers’ dime.
Jesse Jackson Jr.
This Chicago congressman clearly needs help and he’s entered a second stint at the Mayo Clinic to receive it. What’s unclear is why he should be reelected to what has become a no-show job. The political scion has been MIA from work in Congress for months. His treatment for bipolar disorder is no laughing matter—the healing process requires time and space and respect—but the treatment he needs shouldn’t detract or distract from his constituents’ right to active representation. The possibility that he was wrapped up in the Rod Blagojevich scandal doesn’t do much to increase confidence in his capacity. But Jackson is nonetheless cruising toward reelection without campaigning because of a safe district and a famous last name. His place on this list is not made with rancor, just driven by a common-sense request: get the help you need and then run again for your seat if you still feel you can actively contribute to Congress. Otherwise, do something else. There’s a world of possibilities outside Washington.
Some congressmen just aren’t ready for prime time, and while the loquacious Joe Walsh loves to be in front of TV cameras, his loose lips keep getting the Tea Party freshman in trouble. For example, his opponent, Tammy Duckworth, lost both legs serving in Iraq—but Walsh has criticized her for talking too much about her war record, questioning whether Duckworth is “a true hero” because she speaks so often about her wartime service. (It’s hard to imagine a conservative candidate ever being criticized along the same lines.) This advocate of personal responsibility found himself in contradictory waters when he finally settled with his ex-wife who claimed he owed more than $115,000 in child support. He also took heat for defending his opposition to abortion in all cases by saying that “There’s no such exception as 'life of the mother'”—citing advances in science and medicine to absurdly claim that “'health of the mother' has been, has become a tool for abortions any time and for any reason.” Doctors disagree. Walsh has become a personal lightening rod who’s the wrong fit for his Illinois district.
This former congressman is running for his old post after being unceremoniously dumped in the 2010 midterm elections, so we’re including him on this list based on seniority. Grayson is beloved by some on the far left as a no-holds-barred fighter, but his steady string of ugly incitements (such as comparing Republicans to Neanderthals and Nazis, and referring to a senior official at the Fed as a “K-Street Whore”) and far-over-the-line ads (calling his opponent “Taliban Dan”) are part of the problem in our politics, a poisonous influence who will only further polarize the next Congress—precisely the opposite direction we need to move in as a nation, no matter who is elected president.