by Robert E. Meyer
When conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh gets an occasional caller from Appleton, Wisconsin, he frequently remarks that Appleton is the place where the football teams playing the Green Bay Packers stay the night before the game. Now he has a less noble reason for citing Appleton.
Appleton's freshman addition to Congress, Dr. Steve Kagen, has garnered the national spotlight for remarks allegedly made during a recent visit to the White House. Kagen apparently told a group of fawning peace activists, whom he met with in December, that he dissed Karl Rove and President Bush during a reception for new members of Congress.
The short version of the encounter was that he confronted Rove in a small White House restroom, stood in front of the exit door and "gave him a message." Then he deliberately insulted the president by referring to The First Lady as "Barbara" (or so he says) when they were introduced. Of course, Kagen could say he meant she looked as young as the president's daughter Barbara, not his mother with the same name.
While Dr. Kagen's recounting of the event sounds suspiciously similar in stature to tales my late older brother used to tell — you know, where he asked the leader of the motorcycle gang that confronted him if they had enough guys to take him on — there is a disturbing message behind the humorous account.
If Dr. Kagen actually did as he said, then he is a loose cannon. If the story is hogwash, then it shows the level of behavior he must stoop to in order to appease certain portions of his constituency. Neither alternative convinces me that we got the best representative for Northeastern Wisconsin.
Of course, local people understand that such boorish and controversial behavior is hardly an isolated event, but merely another addition to Kagen's expanding newsreel of media follies.
A local anti-war activist expressed certainty that what the good doctor said about his White House soiree was absolute gospel. I find it curious though, that someone so concerned about world peace seems to gleefully condone such blatant personal incivility. Love those who want to destroy your freedom, but hate those working to preserve it.
Yet this sort of dichotomy is common place. I saw a car recently which sported a bumper sticker declaring support for "random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty," yet it had a sign festooning the side back door window saying that a small town in Texas was missing its village idiot. It is a loving spoonful of sugar for all the folks who don't already "deserve" to be loathed and derided.
I can't really blame Kagen for being bitter. He supposedly spent over two-and-a-half million dollars of his own money countering a relentless publicity campaign in order to gain a congressional seat he wasn't expected to win. The campaign was coyote ugly, and the first paper cut I received from the shiny postcard paper his opponent used during the election race for cartoon-like daily mailings, was one too many for me.
But I always vote platform over personality, and Kagen came out offering red meat for left-leaning ideologues. That's why I was disappointed when a local attorney, who was previously a functionary for the Outagamie County chapter of the Republican Party, announced his support for Kagen. It is one thing to say that you don't approve of dirty opposition campaign tactics, but quite another thing to forsake your party's platform and embrace the policies of the opponent.
Kagen has got to gain the political maturity to understand what goes with the territory he now occupies, and get the chip off his shoulder. He isn't the comedy star of "Saturday Night Live" either. He is a liberal who was given a chance in a politically conservative enclave, partly because the media has fed the public a steady diet featuring only the negative side of the situation in Iraq. His opponent John Gard, largely supported the president's Iraq position. Kagen had better figure out why he was elected, because past Democrats who made even fewer waves then him didn't stay captain of the ship for long around here.
He never had a chance of getting my vote, even though I have been a patient in his office before. I was never given treatment by him directly, but by another physician who was related to him. I never detected a whiff of political ideology at that time. If I need similar treatment in the future, I won't avoid going back to his clinic because of political differences. Still, I can't help wondering if a few years from now he will hold the door closed to the examination room, and say, "Ah, about that column you wrote against me some time ago…"
Robert Meyer is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.