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Profile: Spencer Bachus
Spencer Bachus was a participant or observer in the following events:
The US Senate votes 98-0 to bar burial and other veterans benefits for anyone found guilty of capital offenses. The measure is directed at former Army Sergeant Timothy McVeigh, recently sentenced to death for killing eight federal employees in the Oklahoma City bombing (see June 11-13, 1997), to prevent him from being buried in a military cemetery after he is executed. [Chicago Sun-Times, 6/19/1997] Six days later, the House of Representatives votes to approve a similar resolution sponsored by Spencer Bachus (R-AL). Bachus says his bill was motivated not only by McVeigh, but by another crime: the 1981 slaying of an African-American teenager by Ku Klux Klan members. One of those convicted in the slaying, Henry Francis Hays, was executed and then buried in a Mobile, Alabama, military ceremony with full honors. Hays served briefly in the US Army in the early 1970s. “In a military ceremony, we said to our children and our grandchildren, ‘We’re overlooking this [crime], this is a good soldier,’” Bachus says. The Hays burial caused people to ask: “Who is entitled to a hero’s funeral? Who are our heroes?” As a decorated veteran of Desert Storm, McVeigh could have asked to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. [Deseret News, 6/24/1997; Associated Press, 6/24/1997] McVeigh’s lawyer Stephen Jones calls the legislation a non-issue, saying his client has not asked to be buried in a military cemetery or to be buried with honors: “The controversy about Mr. McVeigh’s burial in a national cemetery is a classic straw man argument. Mr. McVeigh has not demonstrated any intent or desire to be buried in a national cemetery. The politicians are simply flogging this issue for votes when they should be concerned with the legitimate problems of the country. Mr. McVeigh hasn’t been formally sentenced to die yet. He has not lost his appeals, and moreover, he has not been executed yet.” [Rocky Mountain News, 6/20/1997]
Spencer Bachus. [Source: Chicago Tribune]US Representative Spencer Bachus (R-AL) tells a group of local leaders in Trussville, Alabama, “Some of the men and women I work with in Congress are socialists.” Asked to clarify his comment, Bachus tells a reporter that 17 members of the House of Representatives are socialists. [Birmingham News, 4/9/2009; Hill, 4/9/2009]
Only Names One of 17 - When pressed, Bachus only names one of his “socialists”—Representative Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who has repeatedly recommended that the US adopt a program of “democratic socialism” similar to some practiced in Scandinavian countries. He refuses to name the other 16. Sanders asks rhetorically: “Has Spencer released his list yet? Everybody’s waiting with bated breath.” He adds, “I think at the very least he has to tell people what his definition of socialism is—and I think, yeah, he should tell us who he was referring to, who’s on the list.”
Possible Reference to Congressional Progressive Caucus - Many Congressional staffers and advisers believe that Bachus is referring to some members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a left-leaning coalition of 77 House members founded by Sanders in the early 1990s. Although the caucus has not espoused socialism in any form, it does advocate reduced military spending, universal health care, and higher taxes on the rich. Right-wing groups have long labeled the caucus’s agenda as “fringe-left socialism”; one hard-right pundit, WorldNetDaily’s Joseph Farah, has called the caucus “Congress’s very own Red Army… marching the nation inevitably toward its self-proclaimed socialist ideal.”
Differing Definitions - Politico’s Glenn Thrush writes that the term “socialism” has different meanings for different people. “To many on the left, it’s a relatively benign—if outdated—term, representing an activist, interventionist government that prioritizes economic security over the unfettered freedom of the marketplace. To many on the right, it’s practically an epithet—suggesting a return to Soviet-style Communism or a leap toward a hyper-regulated European brand of capitalism that stifles innovation and hikes taxes. It’s safe to say that more people in Bachus’s suburban Birmingham district—the most GOP-tilting seat in the country, according to the Cook Political Report—view socialism as a bad, bad thing.”
Mixed Reactions - Doug Thornell, speaking for Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), says of Bachus’s accusation: “House Republicans’ solution to the current economic crisis is to launch head-scratching, ‘50s-style accusations against unidentified members of Congress. Next thing you know they’ll be going after beatniks and calling for the auto industry to bring back the Edsel.… With all the challenges we face, it’s stunning this is what Republicans are talking about. They sound like a broken record of GOP low points from the 2008 campaign.” Erin Kanoy of the Heritage Foundation is glad Bachus “called out” his colleagues, saying: “I think that people expressing where they see someone on the political spectrum has tended to be an off-limits thing and very politically incorrect—but sometimes I think you’ve got to call a spade a spade. If Bachus believes members of Congress are part of this movement, he should be able to say it.… He’s really reflecting a much larger frustration with the landslide of legislation that we’ve had coming at us that seems to be marching towards socialist government.” Conservative activist Grover Norquist agrees with Bachus’s position, but says he should not have gotten into the subject of lists. “We shouldn’t get into a labeling thing with the other side,” Norquist says. “We shouldn’t call them socialists—we should call them stupid because they are spending all this money we don’t have.” Sanders notes that conservatives tried to tar Barack Obama with similar accusations: “They said a lot of this stuff about Obama during the [presidential] campaign, calling him a socialist, and trying to instill fear in people” (see August 1, 2008 and After, October 10, 2008, October 27, 2008, and March 5, 2009). Many progressive and liberal bloggers have accused Bachus of launching an attack on Democrats worthy of the McCarthyite “Red scare” of the 1950s. [Washington Post, 4/10/2009; Politico, 4/14/2009]
Defending Socialism, Decrying 'Scare Tactics' - In an op-ed for the Huffington Post, Sanders writes: “I doubt that there are any other socialists, let alone 17 more, in all of the Congress. I also respectfully doubt that Spencer Bachus understands much about democratic socialism.… At its worst, Washington is a place where name-calling partisan politics too often trumps policy.… [B]randing someone as a socialist has become the slur du jour by leading lights of the American right from Newt Gingrich to Rush Limbaugh. Some, like Mike Huckabee, intentionally blur the differences between socialism and communism, between democracy and totalitarianism. ‘Lenin and Stalin would love this stuff,’ Huckabee told last winter’s gathering of the Conservative Political Action Conference. If we could get beyond such nonsense, I think this country could use a good debate about what goes on here compared to places with a long social-democratic tradition like Sweden, Norway, and Finland, where, by and large, the middle class has a far higher standard of living than we do.… [W]e should be prepared to study and learn from the successes of social democratic countries. Name-calling and scare tactics just won’t do.” [Huffington Post, 4/22/2009]
Entity Tags: Congressional Progressive Caucus, Spencer Bachus, Chris Van Hollen, Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, Joseph Farah, Doug Thornell, Conservative Political Action Conference, Erin Kanoy, Mike Huckabee, Grover Norquist, Glenn Thrush
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
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