I am a huge fan of Senator Elizabeth Warren. I believe that she does need educating on some issues, but she is highly admirable. Anyone who is concerned with the plight of the working poor, or has something of a feminist bent, should read her book. A Fighting Chance. Any proposal for replacing Obamacare must first address the question, “During Elizabeth Warren’s childhood, would her family have had access to health care under this policy?”
But — well, call me quaint if you wish — fair is fair, and rules are rules. A few weeks ago, when Warren tried to denigrate then-Senator Jeff Sessions during the hearing on his appointment as Attorney General, she was asked to take her seat, as a Senate rule forbids personal criticism of fellow senators. The Democrats howled! Yet just weeks later, the Democrats in the California State Senate did the same thing.
State Senator Janet Nguyen, a Republican Vietnamese-American whose Orange County constituency includes a large number of ethnic Vietnamese, stood up on the Senate floor to castigate her fellow legislator Sen. Tom Hayden, who died recently and had been the subject of a Senate memorial just two days before Nguyen spoke out. She too was violating Senate rules in doing so, not to mention violating an unwritten rule of decency concerning those recently passed away. She finally had to be “escorted” out of the room by guards (see the lower left of the video a couple of minutes in), more dramatic and humiliating than in the Warren incident. And this time the Republicans howled.
The actions taken in both instances, against Warren and Nguyen, were correct. And frankly, I side with Hayden on this issue. But like millions of people, I am concerned with the total lack of civility, and extreme partisanship, in current U.S. politics. I would accuse Nguyen of lacking civility, but I am most concerned with the partisanship. What next? Fist fights on legislative floors, as happened frequently in Taiwan in the 90s? We are in absolute gridlock, to the tragic detriment of the American people.
To be sure, the Democratic leadership of the State Senate did later indicate regret for their action against Nguyen. But the incident brings up other issues.
First, there is the disturbing trend here in California of treating the words minority and immigrant as synonymous with Latino. As George Skelton of the LA Times wrote,
Many of the same politicians, after all, seem to be spending every waking moment trying to protect Latinos who, unlike Nguyen, migrated to this country illegally. Good for them. But where’s the compassion for a legal immigrant colleague who was living the American dream until Democrats briefly turned it into a nightmare?
Since the issue of refugees is so salient today, Nguyen’s example shows that often refugees, and indeed other immigrants and foreign guests, not only bring with them a desire for a better life but also bring the politics of their homelands. My recent report on the Chinese foreign students protesting UC San Diego’s choice of the Dalai Lama as a commencement speakers comes to mind immediately. And to some people, Nguyen’s choice to deliver the first part of her tirade against Hayden on the Senate floor in Vietnamese may be troubling.
As I have said, if nothing else current politics is making for good theater. But the price of this theater ticket is steep.