Thursday, October 19, 2006

Curt Weldon's truth

Curt Weldon (R-PA) wants his race to be run on the merits of his service to his constituents and to the country. The Congressman from Delaware County, Pennsylvania, is being railroaded from the seat he has held for almost twenty years. The problem is that he cannot tell who is leading the charge, or if it is just a bipartisan gang-bang.

Weldon is an old-school politician. Weaned as a pup from his days as the Mayor of Marcus Hook in John McNichol’s Delaware County Republican machine, Weldon built a political base beginning with the support of volunteer firefighters to win a seat on County Council. When Bob Edgar––the Democratic minister-turned-politician who won the historically Republican 7th Congressional seat as part of the 1974 post-Watergate deluge and held it for six terms––decided to leave Congress, Weldon stepped in and won the seat with McNichol’s blessing. That was twenty years ago.

Like Weldon, Delaware County is old school. For more than a century, the County has been a Republican stronghold. But shifting demographics have led to changes in Pennsylvania politics, and its traditional urban vs. rural tensions have given way to divisions between the Democratic east and the Republican west. These changes are reflected in the governor’s race where the incumbent Democratic Governor and former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell is facing the Republican and Pittsburgh Steelers legend Lynn Swann. For Weldon, Rendell’s enormous popularity in the Philadelphia suburbs––he won Delaware County 2-1 in his first race for Governor––illustrate the ebbing of Republican control in its long-time bastion and the erosion of Weldon's traditional base.

As Weldon faced the media this week, he was struggling to grasp what led to the FBI investigation coming to light just three weeks before Election Day. His public response was to lash out at his Democratic challenger, Joe Sestak, a well-spoken Admiral with thirty years of service in the Navy. The race is a dead heat, but even so, attacking Sestak directly is not easy for Weldon, who if reelected is in line to become the Chairman of the powerful Armed Services Committee. He is not vitriolic by nature and holds those who serve in the armed forces in high esteem.

But inside, Weldon must suspect that the FBI investigation and the timing of the leak come from a different source. Despite his prominence on the Armed Services Committee, Weldon has been a vocal critic of the Defense Intelligence establishment, and led investigations into the controversy surrounding the classified Able Danger military intelligence program. Able Danger, Weldon argues, proved the complicity of the government in enabling the 9/11 attacks by hiding evidence of the plot as it was unfolding. He was bi-partisan in his attacks, and unrelenting in his accusations.

Weldon believes that the public never grasped the significance of Able Danger. He followed the facts where they led and refused to give the Bush administration a pass. The administration responded to his assault by working the media to spread the notion that Weldon was a “whack job” and successfully undermined the credibility of the story. As a result, Able Danger became just became one more 9/11 conspiracy theory.

For Weldon, the pay-back for his disloyalty to the administration came this week. Somewhere, deep in Republican Washington, whether in the offices of Karl Rove at the White House, Ken Mehlman at the RNC or Donald Rumsfeld at Defense, calls were made. Even if his defeat means the loss of the House, for Rove et al Weldon had gone rogue and they would make him pay. Kim Jong Il may get away with embarrassing the administration, but not some out-of-control, volunteer firefighter from a working class family in Marcus Hook.

So here Weldon is, with three weeks left until Election Day, fighting for his political life. He is forced to stand outside in a strip mall and defend himself against the charges leveled by the FBI that He used his influence to help his daughter.

He used his influence to help his daughter? He stands in front of Kinkos and declares his innocence. There is no truth to the charge. He pleads. Funny isn’t it, these charges coming out three weeks before an election?

He has to attack the Sestak campaign, because it is what he is expected to say. He has to decry his innocence because in this new world of political correctness, faced with reporters who see taking him down as their own ticket to the big time, it is what he is expected to say.

He can’t stand there and tell the truth––that he is being railroaded by his own party because he is an honest man from Marcus Hook whose only crime is that he has been telling the truth. He can’t stand there and tell the truth because in this caustic political age and faced with the shifting politics of suburban Philadelphia, he cannot win without the voter profile database in Ken Mehlman’s computer, and Karl Rove’s micro-targeted, get-out-the-vote effort that is the key to Republican hopes on November 7th.

But as a politician of the old school, and as a father, what Curt Weldon most regrets is that he can’t stand in front of the cameras, and all those reporters with their pads and self-righteous questions, and say what he really wants to say: Did I use my influence to help my daughter? Hell yes. Hell yes I did. And I’d do it again. What father worth his salt wouldn’t?

Curt Weldon would stand there and say, in the words of Chicago Mayor Daley when accused during an election campaign of steering an insurance contract to his son If a father can’t help his son, what is America coming to?

That is what he wanted to say to the voters of Delaware County, to his friends and neighbors who have known him all his life, to the people of Marcus Hook who gave him his start, to families across the County who elected him to Council to bring jobs to their row-house neighborhoods and who then sent him to Washington to be their voice in a city corrupted by the Bushes from Yale and the Rumsfelds from Princeton––none of whom would be where they are today without the influence of their fathers. He would stand proudly before them and say, Damn right. I did what I could to help Karen. And for twenty years I have done everything I could to help each of you. That is what he wanted to say. It was the truth. And for those from the old school in Delaware County, those are they words they would want to hear.

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