I'm old enough to remember a time when there was nothing that could make a U.S. senator or House member prouder than to say of him, "he really brings home the bacon." Look back to the mid-1960s, when Lyndon Johnson was able to enact sweeping legislation on civil rights, Medicare, and the "war on poverty" by jawboning individual members of Congress, promising them federal dollars for a new bridge or dam that would thrill the folks back home. Of course, there were some big problems with this system; "bacon" is also pork, after all. But in the waning days of 2016, it seems quaint to remember that time when representatives actually thought their job was making sure their home state got its fair share.
Consider our current and (sigh) future Pennsylvania senator, Pat Toomey, or, as some of us like to call him, the poster child for everything that's wrong with American politics today. Especially in an era where it's better to have right-wing talk radio hosts say nice things about you than to work hard on solutions that might benefit constituents.
Toomey just won six more years (sigh, again) in Washington by proving to the people of Pennsylvania that cowardice as a political strategy actually works pretty well. For most of the run-up to the 2016 vote, Toomey wrapped himself in an American flag and shielded himself with a police badge to hide his true identity as a protector of Wall Street greed. In a remarkable profile in non-courage, Toomey wouldn't even tell voters whether he was voting for Donald Trump until 6:45 p.m. on Election Day -- brave, brave, brave, brave Sir Toomey.
Meanwhile, the former investment banker who couldn't find enough armored personnel carriers to dole out to local police departments also couldn't find 5 minutes in his day to care about the the concerns of hundreds of thousands of constituents who happened to be non-white and or lived in cities. His pandering campaign, millions of dollars from billionaires like the Koch brothers -- and a weak Democrat handpicked by a lame-brained party establishment down in Washington -- was enough to re-elect Toomey, by less than 2 percentage points, for a good chunk of the rest of my life.
Did I mention that I'm not a fan?
Anyway, now that he's safely ensconced through 2022, Toomey has vowed to put past squabbles behind him and work on behalf of all....ha, who am I kidding?! Rather, the soon-to-be second-term incumbent is out for revenge against the pockets of the state that didn't vote for him. Already, Toomey has taken to the Senate floor to back a measure that could strip Philadelphia of $39 million in federal funding it currently receives. That's not exactly bringing home that bacon. That's squirting the skillet with lighter fluid and burning down the village to make a point.
The issue is going to be the hot-button controversy (thanks in good measure to our president-elect) of 2017 and beyond: Sanctuary cities, also known as "4th Amendment cities," such as Philadelphia. These are the communities (also including large cities like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco) where the police department currently doesn't cooperate with federal immigration agents. Local officials, such as Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, believe turning over suspects to the feds without a warrant violates the 4th Amendment, and -- perhaps more importantly -- creates a situation of fear and mistrust that makes it harder to police communities with large immigrant populations.
Those diverse communities are vital neighborhoods in the state that Toomey allegedly represents. But Toomey doesn't see these people as his constituents, much as he doesn't see young black Pennsylvanians as people he actually represents while he races to dump more surplus military hardware from Iraq onto their streets. When Toomey looks out at the people he serves, he sees...cops. "Police would much rather be cooperating with federal immigration officials," Toomey said this week from the Senate floor. "They're not allowed to because local politicians in cities across America have decided that they won't allow it to take place."
Here's the thing. The essential premise of the "sanctuary cities" idea -- that communities thrive based on trust, not fear -- is a sound one. But the current program can surely be revised and improved. The best way forward would be to respect human rights but also do more to guarantee that violent criminals aren't allowed to roam the streets.
Pat Toomey could work on a compromise with Mayor Kenney and leaders of several dozen Pennsylvania communities with similar policies -- but that's not his game. Toomey would much rather grandstand on this issue, play to WPHT crowd and rile up the white suburban and rural voters who barely re-elected him. But since right-wing showboating and political cowardice worked so well for Toomey the first time around, why stop now?