A venal Senator, seeking to put his name on as many public monuments as possible, is bad enough. The United States Senate is full of that kind. (So, too, are most State Senates.) But a demagogue who would harm the interests of his own constituents to satisfy an ideology is worse. Such a Senator is Frank Lautenberg, the senior Senator from New Jersey.
Frank Lautenberg: history
When Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-WV) died in 2010, Frank Lautenberg succeeded him as the oldest member of the Senate. And Frank Lautenberg has not aged gracefully. His physical condition is good enough. He hasn’t had a serious medical problem since he accepted treatment, also in 2010, for MALT lymphoma in his stomach. But his moral condition should repel anyone.
His Senate career began in 1982, when he succeeded Nick Brady. In 2001, he left the Senate for what turned out to be a two-year hiatus. Jon Corzine succeeded him, until he became Governor and appointed Bob Menendez to the seat.
Robert G. Torricelli held the other Senate seat. Then in 2003, Torricelli ended his re-election campaign in disgrace, after stories emerged about him taking improper gifts (which is to say, bribes). Torricelli stopped his campaign with less than 60 days left before the election. But the Supreme Court of New Jersey let the Democratic Party substitute Frank Lautenberg as their nominee, this although New Jersey’s election law clearly said that a party had to have its nominee in 60 days in advance. Lautenberg has been in the Senate ever since. He will next stand for re-election in 2014, if he lives that long. (He is 88 years old today.)
Like Byrd, Frank Lautenberg cannot resist putting his name onto a public facility. His most famous named landmark is the Frank R. Lautenberg Terminal at Secaucus Junction.
Frank Lautenberg on gun control
Frank Lautenberg is one of the loudest voices in the Senate for gun control. On the day of the Midnight Movie Massacre, the senator, true to form, got ready to introduce, yet again, a gun-control bill that failed earlier. After someone, using a gun with a high-capacity magazine, shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ-8), Frank Lautenberg introduced a bill to ban that kind of magazine. No one took it up. Now he will introduce it again.
New Jersey, contrary to popular belief, is home to several gun owners and sport hunters. They all know that Frank Lautenberg would as soon have no person own a gun, except a law-enforcement officer or military service member. His latest action will do nothing to endear him to such voters. (Whether he would have done it if, like Bob Menendez, he faced re-election this year, is not perfectly clear.) But now they know that he cannot resist exploiting the deaths of twelve people for political gain, before so much as an autopsy, let alone a funeral, has taken place.
Frank Lautenberg and the Koch Brothers
Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). Portrait: The United States Senate
But even before then, Frank Lautenberg did something that prompted local activists in New Jersey to ask him to resign at once. On July 17, 2012, he spoke to the Senate to support the “DISCLOSE Act.” That bill would force tax-exempt political groups, under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, to show the public a full list of all who give them money. The only purpose that could possibly serve is to lay those donors open to intimidation.
But then the Senator accused two wealthy businessmen, Charles and David Koch, of some kind of secret plot against the people. Specifically, he accused them of wanting to
take away the ability of the American people to decide how they vote and who gets into office.
Lautenberg went further:
These two brothers are putting together a secret group of donors, and they are going to put $400 million in the pot to subvert the upcoming election—$400 million. The Koch brothers and their secret group will use those millions of dollars to flood the airwaves, but when we see the ads, we will not see the names of the Koch brothers or members of their secret group of millionaires.
Whenever conservatives say any such thing about George Soros, liberals suggest that they are drunk and overwrought. Yet Frank Lautenberg says such things with impunity. And then:
Now, while we may not notice, their products are everywhere. In fact, their products are in many American homes today. For instance, all of these everyday products are sold by Koch Industries. These Dixie cups are cups that kids drink out of, and they are sold by the Koch brothers. Paper plates that often serve birthday cakes are sold by the Koch brothers. Brawny paper towels that we use to clean the floor when our kids spill things are also sold by the Koch brothers.
Frank Lautenberg also named the maker of StainMaster carpets and Lycra fabric.
Naming these products was bad enough. A United States Senator told American consumers not to buy products that enriched their lives. But the stunning part was that Georgia Pacific, who makes Dixie Cups and the other paper products he named, does business in New Jersey. Thus this Senator is so overwrought that he would harm businesses that put people to work in his own State!
Senator Jerry Moran (Republican of Kansas, the headquarters State of Koch Industries), defended the Kochs two days ago. That same day, someone must have told Lautenberg what he suggested. He hastened to deny that he wanted New Jerseyans, or Americans elsewhere, not to buy Koch Industries goods or services. That did not satisfy Steve Lonegan, head of Americans for Prosperity New Jersey. As he told CNAV yesterday afternoon,
Dixie Cups put food on New Jersey tables!
And in his press release, he spoke more bluntly:
In his political hatred of anyone who disagrees with his left-wing radical vision for our country, it is clear that Sen. Lautenberg has gone to such an extreme that he can no longer adequately represent New Jersey in the United States Senate.
Lonegan is correct, of course. Frank Lautenberg sounded like the Democrats in the 1950′s talking about the “secret fund” of Richard M. Nixon in 1952. Of course, the real reason that the Democrats hated Nixon so much was that he had helped put away their favorite Communist in the State Department, Alger Hiss. And in the ultimate irony, Frank Lautenberg managed to sound like another Senator whom liberals universally despise: Joseph McCarthy (R-WI). Replace “Communist Party” with “Koch Brothers,” and you have the essence of Frank Lautenberg’s speech on the floor of the Senate.
True enough, Lautenberg is not much worse than several other Senators that CNAV could name. But New Jersey voters must decide, two years from now, whether they really want someone with such a poisonous ideology, and an equally poisonous devotion to it, to represent them in the United States Senate.