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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Jim Bunning's Just a Dick

After the 1998 congressional elections, [Bill] Clinton bemoaned the fact that GOP Rep. Jim Bunning had narrowly won a Senate seat in Kentucky. [Taylor] Branch writes, "He said Bunning, a former baseball player, was so mean-spirited that he repulsed even his fellow know-nothings. 'I tried to work with him a couple times,' said Clinton, 'and he just sent shivers up my spine....I know you're a baseball fan and everything, and you don't like to hear it, but this guy is beyond the pale.'"
-David Corn, Mother Jones, 2009

Jim BunningLast night, Jon Stewart opened his show with a clip of Sen. Jim Bunning refusing to talk to reporters in the rudest, most imperious way possible. Was Bunning's hold on unemployed Americans benefits a protest of the budget deficit, Stewart wondered? Was it a principled stand for fiscal conservatism? Stewart had an answer for his audience; "Turns out, he's just a dick!"

Normally, that'd be an opinion. Maybe you don't like someone, but plenty of other people do. It may be your opinion that "he's just a dick," but that doesn't make it true. This isn't the case with Sen. Jim Bunning, Republican of Kentucky -- he is demonstrably a dick. In fact, he's such an insufferable ass that he's currently in the process of being fired from the Republican Party. It's a de facto firing -- they didn't support his reelection, handing him a guaranteed loss -- but a firing nonetheless. If you're too big of a jerk for the Republican Party, then call Guinness. You might be able to claim some sort of record.

By January of 2009, Bunning was the most vulnerable senator in the nation. First elected to the Senate in 1999, Bunning basically coasted on the fact that he was a Republican in a red state. Bunning could do or say anything he wanted, because he'd always wind up against an unelectable Democrat. Or so he thought.

By September of 2008, he'd raised $175,000 for his reelection campaign -- a pittance. By April of 2009, his approval rating was a Cheneyesque 28%. Rumblings began to be heard that the GOP wouldn't support his reelection. Bunning's response was to get pissy about it. He threatened to sue the National Republican Senatorial Committee if they didn't support him (it was bluster, he had no case). Finally, Jim Bunning dropped out, blaming Republicans for his poor fundraising.

So Bunning blocking a bill that would've extended unemployment benefits for 1.1 million people is widely seen as just being pissy again. Republicans won't support him, because Democrats were trying to steal a seat he thought he was entitled to. As Stewart pointed out, Bunning is just a dick. Republicans tried -- for about a minute -- to blame Bunning on Democrats, but quickly gave that up. Jim Bunning may be a dick on the way out, but he's their dick.

Mike Madden, Salon:

Bunning's relationship with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, also from Kentucky, is extremely hostile. A senior Senate GOP source tells Salon Bunning gave Republicans no advance warning before he launched his stunt last week. McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had already agreed on how to move forward with temporary legislation extending unemployment benefits (and other federal spending), but Bunning -- taking advantage of the Senate's sometimes preposterous rules -- objected, blocking the whole thing. The GOP, though, says Reid should have been able to avert the problem in the first place. Instead of passing a tourism bill last week, Republicans say Reid should have filed for cloture on the unemployment extension; that way, Bunning's delay wouldn't have pushed the bill past Monday, and no deadlines would have been missed.

"All these problems could have been avoided with better management on the leadership side," the GOP aide said. "They all blame it on Bunning, but they could have got around Bunning. They could have made Bunning moot, but they didn't do it." It's all Harry Reid's fault for not assuming some rogue Republican would grandstand on the issue to punish all of America for slighting him. It wasn't the best argument.

Of course, Bunning finally relented. But not before he became the most hated man in America. His office was flooded with calls, faxs, letters, and emails. One Bunning-supporting blog (yes, there is one) reports that the senator received death threats -- I can't say I approve of that, but it's hard to believe that Bunning's not used to it by now.

A lot of people on the left have been using this as an example of Republican obstructionism and, as much as I hate to say it, that's unfair. Reid and McConnell were going to work together to get this done, they thought they had a deal to do it, but Jim Bunning suckerpunched them both. Because he's a dick. Technically speaking, it is Republican obstructionism -- Bunning's a Republican who was obstructing -- but it wasn't strategic on the GOP's part. In fact, it very well may have hurt them.

It was just one man being a dick about it.


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