While it's tempting to get wrapped up in Richard Burr's (R-NC) two-faced pandering about stimulus spending, that particular brand of hypocrisy masks broader issues that go to the heart of a critical question: Who is Richard Burr working for?
Like all of his colleagues in the Senate, Richard Burr says he's working for the people of his state. But what has he actually done? The Winston-Salem Journal takes a look.
Burr was not alone in opposing the stimulus. Only three Senate Republicans voted for the bill. Burr is a fiscal conservative, and his stand was predictable. But, because he is so strongly against the stimulus, he should have avoided the ceremony in the Alexander County town of Bethlehem, where Christmas truly was coming early. The local fire department was receiving a stimulus check from Uncle Sam. The money will pay to build a new facility.
According to the Hickory Daily Record, Burr said that the grant "is a great thing for this county ... We're not accustomed to federal dollars in that magnitude finding their way to North Carolina." This is where Burr was trying to have it both ways.
These federal dollars would not have flowed to Bethlehem, of course, had Burr's stand on the stimulus package prevailed.
As for the money being a "great thing" for Alexander County, how can Burr characterize it as such when just a few months ago he was telling Fox News that projects of this kind are unworthy of funding?
No amount of wiggling will get Burr out of this contradiction. In Washington and on national television, he denounced the stimulus program as a collection of wasteful projects but then he took credit, if only by implication, for bringing the bacon home.
If this were an isolated story, that would be one thing. But it's not. It's part of a long-standing pattern of intellectual laziness, partisan purity, and hypocrisy that serves no one except for the Senator himself.
On the laziness front, Burr's recent slap in the face of rape victims is a recurring theme. He complained that an amendment by Senator Al Franken wouldn't help rape victims the way it was intended, and voted against it. You should have seen him and his crocodile tears, lamenting the plight of raped women. But what has he done to address the problem himself? Exactly nothing. And if that weren't bad enough, Burr also voted with nine other Republicans to allow states to define domestic abuse as a pre-existing condition for insurance purposes.
Does Richard Burr hate women and want them to suffer? Of course not. The truth is, he doesn't care about women one way or the other. He cares about being re-elected. He cares about himself.
But maybe there's another way to look at this. Maybe worrying about abused and raped women is a pansy-liberal value, an unnatural concern for a jock like Burr. Maybe he's more focused on North Carolina's heartland values, things like farming and jobs.
Over the past four years, one of the single largest farming issues in North Carolina has been the US Navy's attempt to condemn tens of thousands of acres of rich farmland in the northeast part of our state. Citizens and environmental groups mounted a vigorous (and so far successful) campaign to stop the Navy's plan, with specific help from Congressmen Price and Butterfield. Even Liddy Dole, who helped create the problem in the first place, eventually sided with the people. And where was Richard Burr in this critical debate? Burr was - and still is - missing in action.
Speaking of which, could it be that Burr's big issue is support for the military? After all, he did vote for funding George Bush's completely unnecessary war in Iraq. So what else has he done for veterans and men and women in uniform? For one thing, he single-handedly delayed and obstructed the confirmation of Tammy Duckworth, US Secretary of Veteran's Affairs. In his role as ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veteran's Affairs, he has the potential to do a lot of good, though that gets is a little tricky when you miss nearly a third of your committee meetings. A friend of veterans? Maybe, as long as they don't get in the way of his political career.
Maybe the real Richard Burr is focused on the economy, the elephant in the room, so to speak. Here's what I've discovered. Richard Burr was a poster-child for the Bush War agenda, voting to flush more than trillion dollars (and counting) into the destruction of Iraq. Then, when President Obama began to mop up Bush's messes, the Senator turned obstructionist. He voted against stimulus spending and also against efforts to avoid the collapse of our financial system. And while our country teetered on the brink of disaster, he urged his wife to start hitting the ATM machine, just in case. Imagine if every American had followed Burr's advice. We would have seen a catastrophic run on America's banks that would have triggered the next great depression in the blink of an eye.
There's more, of course, to the story of Richard Burr, and most of it's not very pretty. Which brings us back to the question of the day. Who is Richard Burr working for?
One easy way to know who someone is working for is to follow the money. For example, I'm a freelance writer. I can tell you to the penny whom I'm working for. So what about Richard Burr? Who's helping with the thing that matters most to him? Take a guess.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-Winston-Salem) leads the NC list by far, with $1,674,101 or almost three times the $630,949 raised by number two, Rep. Sue Myrick (R-Charlotte). Burr and Myrick both oppose the health reform proposals of Democratic leaders in the Senate and House.
Sen. Burr is the national leader for campaign money received from the pharmaceutical industry. His $420,782 total for 2003-2008 beat all U.S. House and Senate candidates. Burr has been a strong ally of the industry; he opposed bills to require Medicare to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs (e.g., votes on March 17, 2005 and April 18, 2007) and a bill to provide incentives for Medicaid recipients to use generics instead of brand-name drugs (Nov. 3, 2005).
Truth be told, it's hard to say whom Senator Burr is working for. It's not women. It's not veterans. It's not economic recovery. It's not jobs in North Carolina. It's not farmers. It's not a better health care system. It's certainly not me.
Someone recently asked whether I thought Burr was more or less effective than Liddy Dole had been. That's a tough, sad question.