Sunday, October 19, 2008

B. J. Lawson vs. David Price -- NC 4th

One side effect of having such an obvious and clear choice in this year's presidential election is that I haven't paid much mind to some of the other, local races.

That changed last week when I got a mailer from Lawson for Congress.

First off, I guess I'll say, I'm no huge fan of David Price. I wrote his office a couple years ago asking him to support some legislation that was relevant to my family. Neither he nor anyone in his office ever replied. (Incidentally, neither, this year, did anyone in Elizabeth Dole's office when I e-mailed her asking for information about her stand on the federal bailout of the financial system; Price's office did reply to that e-mail.)

I was strongly put off by Lawson's mailer, mostly because I felt it rather disingenuously tried to imply to the casual reader that he was running as a Democrat. The first page read "Our grassroots campaign is as diverse as our district--Democrats, Unaffiliated, Republicans, Libertarians..." [Emphasis in the original]. The second page said "Are you voting for Change on November 4th" and "Be the Change." So, in marketing terms, he was trying to run as a Republican under the marketing campaign of the Democratic ticket. In fact, nowhere other than on the last page, in small print under a sample ballot, did the mailer say that he was running as a Republican. From a campaign that claims "I'm a big believer in transparency in government," the mailer struck me as rather disingenuous.

That said, the flier did articulate a position on military intervention that is closer to my own than that of either the current administration or the Democratic party. I think it is misleading to say, as Lawson does, that "David Price has consistently voted for war throughout his Congressional career." In response to my request (at the website) for documentation of this claim, I was directered to this page, which acknowledges that Price voted against H.J. Res 114 (2002) [War in Iraq] and H.J. Res 77 (1991) [Gulf War]. I actually agree with Lawson's larger point that the more damning vote was probably H.J. Res 64, which authorized the president to "attack" any nation "believed" to be involved in 9/11. This isn't quite the same as voting for war, though. I believe the Constitutional requirement that Congress vote for war is important, and the move towards the executive branch having that power is and was a serious abdication of the moral responsbility of the elected officials. Price's war votes more recently have reflected the "timetables" argument, which is that he voted for appropriations tied to timetables--which were defeated by filibuster by Republicans who used funding the troops to hold the other party hostage to funding. While I sympathize with candidates like Price who argue that it would be wrong to withhold funding for troops that are there, even if we don't want them there, and that it is the Republicans who are playing a massive and immoral game of political "chicken" by putting the troops in the way of a straight up vote that reflects the will of the people, I also agree that it was the lack of political courage or conviction in the wake of 9/11 that put the Dems in a position of being afraid to stand up for the rule of law in the face of the rhetoric of fear.

Lawson is a Ron Paul disciple (I don't mean the term disparingly), so he is, obviously against the recent federal bailout. I hated the bailout, but almost everyone I know and/or respect with a knowledge of economics said it was the right thing to do. In the Lawson-Price debate at UNC, Price said he opposed the initial "2 page" bill submited by Chairman Paulson and fought for modifications (along the lines articulated by Obama--no CEO bonuses, tax-payer stakes in companies propped up with federal money, some regulation or oversight). Lawson says in his mailer, "David Price voted for the administration's $850 billion Wall Street bailout, despite evidence that it will not reduce foreclosures or ease the credit crisis." [Empahsis in the original.] I think Price would be right to object that "the administration's" seems to imply that he was in favor of the original Paulson plan, and he voted for the modified plan. I personally am surprised by the use of the word "evidence" attached to a future state, with the claim it "will not reduce [...] or ease."

To sum up:

Things I like about the Lawson campaign:

--It seems to better reflect the ideology that the Congressman should represent the people and not the party interests.
--It articulates a clear, underlying ideology, which, in my experience is generally a better gauge of direction than a stance on any one current issue.
--It rightly takes both parties to task for making military intervention a decision of the executive branch rather than taking the easier (i.e. more popular way out) of only focusing on the Iraq war as an unpopular war.
--It rightly condemns the passage of the PATRIOT Act [where's George Orwell when you need him?], which David Price voted for.
--The "One Subject at a Time Act" that would limit legislation to one subject per bill would definitely, in my opinion, make it harder for candidates to trade votes, swap votes, or spin votes and lead to more transparency in government. I'm sick to death of all the, "Well, I was agaisnt THAT PART of the bill, but I had to vote for it in order to not be against THAT OTHER PART of the bill."
--As a physician, I am particularly appalled by our treating drug abuse as a criminal offense rather than an individual medical problem. A particularly egregious byproduct of federal drug prohibition is our inherently unjust way of prosecuting these "crimes" and administering sentences, as rates of drug abuse and incarceration provide ample evidence for institutionalized racism. I reject the idea of incarcerating potentially productive individuals for making choices that hurt only themselves.

Things I don't like:
--I felt its mailer was at worst, deceptive, at best misleading.
--I felt like he has mischaracterized David Price's record in places in order to score political points. [While I certainly agree that Lawson is closer to my own ideology on some than Price is, I'm always concerend about a campaign that focuses so much on the other guy and runs on an "I'm not him" platform. A candidate's ethos and truthfulness is the glue that holds any platform together.]
--I'm not convinced that his bailout opposition is the right position to hold, and I worry that he is running under the umbrella of a party that used public opposition of the bill to get "sweeteners" rather than to stand on principled opposition.
--Finally, while I think the "Read the Bills" and "Write the Laws Act" are relatively benign, the central focus they hold in his platform strikes me as a bit naive.
--No mention from an MD and libertarian on the mailer or "issues" section about Abortion rights?

I'm still undecided about this race, but I do appreciate that Lawson does not appear to be a typical hawkish Neocon and I sent a small donation to his campaign, because I think the only way to have accountability in government is to have representatives like David Price be held accountable for their votes, views, and ideology.


Kenneth R. Morefield said...

Candidate Lawson responded to my query regarding his position on abortion rights by directing me to this page ( where he says:

"As suggested by my opposition to the death penalty, I am consistently pro-life and believe that the purpose of government is to protect life. I personally believe that unborn children have an unalienable right to life. I also believe that the 10th Amendment precludes federal involvement in the issue and leaves jurisdiction over it to states and our local communities. I believe state purview over the matter is Constitutionally preferred, and a good compromise to advance a local debate on how to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and provide alternatives to abortions to the state and local level."

BJ Lawson said...

Thoughts on the bailout:


Ray McKinnon said...

Hey Ken,
I am one of the guys who is on the mailer (Ray McKinnon) and I also am a volunteer Field Organizer. Man, I can assure you that this mailer was not meant to be misleading. The staff really and truely is diverse and filled with people from every walk of the political spectrum. I joined this team because I am really convinced that BJ has the goods to lead. I am so sure that BJ will connect with the community. I can understand how the ad, that comes in with all of the other ads, can make you suspicious. Check out my blog, where I explain in greater detail, why I am supporting BJ instead of David Price.

Kenneth R. Morefield said...

Apparently in response to many inquiries, B.J. Lawson recently updated the "Issues" section of his web page to include a statement about Abortion (

I note this because in my original post I said that it was odd that as an M.D. he had not commented on this issue and since questions or complaints about accurately representing what candidates say are pretty common in elections.