It is hardly news to anyone who pays the slightest attention to American politics that Congress is no longer responsive to the people. Incumbency is so well institutionalized that elections generally mean virtually nothing. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay approves the private ownership of assault weapons and machine guns despite complaints from police around the country that they’re outgunned by criminals, despite the 65% of the public who want them banned, despite pleas from the relatives of murdered Americans. On this issue, the National Rifle Association seems to own the Congress.
A similar situation exists with regard to munitions makers. In one district after another the weapons industry has bought the incumbent and the voters are unable to dislodge him or her. On really big projects like the B-2 stealth bomber, contracts are placed for pieces of the airplane in all of the 48 continental states to insure that individual members of Congress can be threatened with the loss of jobs in their districts should they ever get the idea that we do not need another weapon of massive destruction. The result is defense budgets of $425 billion per year (plus that extra $75 billion for
The California Fiftieth Congressional District in northern
The heavily populated Fiftieth District is an oddly gerrymandered amalgam of rich (and Republican) Rancho Santa Fe and La Jolla, more liberal coastal towns like the northern sections of San Diego itself, Del Mar, Encinitas, and Carlsbad, and — inland — Hispanic and working class Escondido and Mira Mesa. Although the district includes much of
On July 12-14, Decision Research, one of the most respected polling firms in the country, conducted a telephone poll of 440 registered voters in the district. Among its findings were that when they heard Cunningham’s voting record on abortion, school vouchers, protecting the environment, the
Sources of information on Cunningham are his and his opponents’ reports to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) as well as accounts of his record compiled by the three leading nonpartisan think-tanks on Congress: the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, Political Moneyline, and Project Vote Smart in
Let’s start with money. As of
The real differences show up when one examines who contributes what to whom. By industrial categories, Cunningham’s top contributors, based on FEC data released
Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest weapons manufacturer, gave Cunningham a whopping $15,000. Cunningham’s number three source of funds is MZM Inc. of Washington, DC, whose government clients, in addition to the Pentagon, include the “U.S. intelligence community,” the “Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force,” and the Department of Homeland Security. MZM gave Randy $11,000 for his services. Next in line is the Cubic Corporation of San Diego, which has numerous multimillion dollar contracts with the Pentagon to supply “realistic combat training systems” and surveillance and reconnaissance avionics. It gave Randy $10,000. General Dynamics ponied up $10,000 for the Congressman, as did San Diego’s Science Applications International Corporation, or SAIC as it is commonly known. SAIC’s largest customer by far is the U.S. government, which accounts for 69% of its business according to SAIC’s filings with the SEC. (SAIC was supposed to build a new, pro-American TV and radio network in Iraq but bungled the job badly.) The remainder of Cunningham’s top contributors reads like a who’s who among the merchants of death: $9,500 from Northrup Grumman, $8,000 from Raytheon (which makes the Tomahawk cruise missile), $8,500 from Qualcomm, and $7,000 from Boeing. All this for just one Congressman.
Busby’s biggest contributions are $2,000 from an outfit called “Blue Hornet,” which designs web sites; $1,835 from members of the Cardiff School Board, and $1,080 from employees of Mira Costa College.
One ingenious measure of how money displaces people in our political system, compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, is the zip codes from which each candidate gets his or her individual contributions. For Cunningham the chief one is 92067, Rancho Santa Fe, with $62,795 in donations. Rancho Santa Fe is well known as a beautiful, underpopulated enclave of extremely wealthy people, many of them foreigners. It is followed by 92037, La Jolla, not a poor town, which chipped in $24,000 for Cunningham. The next two zip codes are 20003 and 20007, both of which are in Washington DC. Cunningham received the fewest donations from 92065, Carlsbad. Busby’s are the direct opposite. Her best zip code is 92007, her home town of Cardiff, the residents of which have given her $8,415, followed by 92009, Carlsbad; 92014, Del Mar; and last 92091, wealthy Fairbanks Ranch, which gave her a mere $1,000. Cunningham’s money comes from the following localities, in descending order: San Diego, Washington DC, New York City, and Orange County, California. Busby’s comes entirely from the San Diego metropolitan area.
Cunningham knows with precision who gives him money and what its providers expect of him. As the Japanese like to say, you don’t have to tell a geisha what to do. He has 100% ratings from the National Right to Life Committee (he is adamantly opposed to giving women the right to choose), the League of Private Property Voters, the Christian Coalition, the Business-Industry PAC, and an 80% rating from the Gun Owners of America. Over the last decade he has received $44,600 from the National Rifle Association, more than any member of Congress except Representative Don Young, a Republican from Alaska. There are no places in the fiftieth district to go hunting, least of all with an Uzi or an AK-47.
Cunningham’s voting record likewise reflects the fact that national neoconservatives and the munitions industry now own him lock, stock, and barrel. As one might expect, he voted for the “No Child Left Behind” and “Patriot” Acts. He also voted “yes” on the following measures: the law banning partial birth abortion; the $350 billion tax break for the rich, passed on May 23, 2003, by a vote of 231 to 200; a law prohibiting liability law suits against gun-makers and gun-sellers whose products are used to commit crimes; the Medicare Prescription Drug Act, passed in the middle of the night on November 22, 2003, by a vote of 220 to 215; and the Emergency Wartime Supplemental Appropriations Act of April 3, 2003, that included $62.5 billion for the war in Iraq.
Cunningham talks a lot about patriotism and putting the country first, but although his voting record in 2003 was 98% for what President Bush wanted, in 1999 he had only a 20% record of supporting President Clinton. Opposition to Clinton is, of course, almost the functional definition of “patriotism” among Cunningham’s wing of the Republican Party, which sought to impeach the president for a venial sin but which is indifferent to evidence of mortal sins committed by President Bush, particularly his leading the country into war against Iraq based on a tissue of lies.
Within Congress, Cunningham is a member of the National Security Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee, a forum the military-industrial complex does everything in its power to control, and of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The latter is the committee headed by Congressman Porter Goss of Florida, a former CIA agent who has recently been nominated by President Bush to be the next director of the CIA. This oversight committee has not exactly covered itself with glory, approving the work of the CIA even as it was failing to warn the country about the attacks of 9/11 and deceiving Congress and the people into war with Iraq.
According to Cunningham himself, his most important lifetime achievement is his twenty years of service as a naval aviator, including aerial combat over Vietnam in which he shot down three communist jets in one day (overall, a total of five during the war) and was himself brought down by a surface-to-air missile. On May 10, 1972, he was rescued by a helicopter from the South China Sea. Cunningham has exploited this record into what one commentator calls “hero inflation” and Shakespeare’s Henry V called “remembering with advantages.” He now claims to have been a military hero deserving of the Congressional Medal of Honor (which he didn’t get), even though he acknowledges that his aerial dog-fighting had little effect on the course of the war. Cunningham has created a company called “Top Gun Enterprises” that sells lithographs of himself in his pilot’s outfit and books he has written about his navy exploits. His company’s web site, claims that the 1986 film Top Gun starring Tom Cruise was actually about Randy “Duke” Cunningham.
Cunningham’s comments in the Congressional Record dwell heavily on his Vietnam role and the military. For example, on April 22, 2004, he said to the House of Representatives: “Mr. Speaker, I was shot down over North Vietnam. I can remember the anger and the disparaging remarks that John Kerry made about our service. I remember the rage in all of us from his slander. . . . Even today, John Kerry votes against defense, the military, veterans, and intelligence bills that would enforce the safe return of our men and women. We do not need someone that would vote like a Jane Fonda as commander in chief.”
He has persisted in such attacks on the patriotism of Kerry, notably in an interview with Rush Limbaugh on August 17, 2004. Here’s an excerpt:
“DUKE: It’s not about Vietnam. It’s about what he did in 1971, bad-mouthing all of us, calling us war criminals. It’s his votes since he’s been in the Senate, he ran on cutting defense and intel, after the first Trade Center bombing, he tried to cut intelligence $9 billion. And it’s about who is going to protect my family, my daughters, my son, my wife in the next few years, and to me, it’s not Senator Kerry. Rush, if Senator Kerry was a Republican running, I would oppose him.
RUSH: Congressman, thanks very much for the call. It really is an honor to hear from you. I know your history and I’ve been very impressed with it, and you’re one of the guys still taking a lot of shots because of who you are in Washington. You stand up to ‘em and we all appreciate it, we honor your service here. Thanks very much.
DUKE: Life is good, Rush.
RUSH: It is. That’s Duke Cunningham, congressman from California, the first fighter ace in Vietnam, five MiGs shot down.”
Cunningham’s most famous naval exploit actually occurred after he left the Navy and was a freshman Congressman. In 1991, Cunningham was a member of the board of directors of the Tailhook Association, a private group of active duty, reserve, and retired Navy and Marine Corps aviators, defense contractors, and their supporters. (The name ‘tailhook’ comes from the device that halts aircraft when they land on aircraft carriers.) The Navy used to provide free office space for the association at San Diego’s Miramar Naval Air Station, and lent out its fleet of passenger aircraft to fly attendees to Tailhook’s yearly meetings in Las Vegas. At the 35th Annual Tailhook Symposium (September 5 to 7, 1991) at the Las Vegas Hilton, a meeting that Cunningham attended in an official capacity, drunken fliers, joined by the Secretary of the Navy, groped, stripped, and mauled some 83 women in the hotel, according to the report of the Department of Defense’s Inspector General.
Since that time Cunningham has devoted massive amounts of time and energy to arguing that what went on was just good clean fun and great male bonding. In Congressional hearings, he has gone out of his way to undercut official programs to combat sexual harassment and discrimination in the military. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune of March 11, 1998, he referred to such efforts as “B.S.” and “political correctness.” In 1998, after Cunningham had been operated on for prostate cancer, he commented to the press that “[t]he only person who would enjoy a prostate biopsy is Barney Frank.” His fellow congressman Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, who is openly gay, replied that “Cunningham seems to be more obsessed with homosexuality than most homosexuals.”
Cunningham has only one string to his mandolin — the military-industrial complex and its interests. He has virtually no record at all on such issues as illegal immigration, water resources, ocean pollution, agriculture, mass transit, renewable energy, and unemployment. Whenever he takes up subjects such as environmental conservation and education, it is to reduce or halt federal funds that might make a difference. Citizens of the Fiftieth District are not uninterested in national security but they have a much broader range of needs and concerns than has ever crossed the mind of their current representative. As one of Cunningham’s constituents, I hope we send to the House of Representatives a person who actually knows something about the communities of northern San Diego County. A Francine Busby victory this November would cause a political realignment in San Diego County comparable to Loretta Sanchez’s 1996 defeat of “B-1″ Bob Dornan in Orange County’s 46th District.
Chalmers Johnson is a retired professor of international relations at the University of California, San Diego, and the author of The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (The American Empire Project, 2004) as well as Blowback, The Costs and Consequences of American Empire.
Copyright C2004 Chalmers Johnson
[This article first appeared on Tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news, and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, long time editor in publishing and author of The End of Victory Culture and The Last Days of Publishing.]