The company you keep

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Howard Hughes testifying on Aug. 6, 1947. He would get a kick out of Dana.

I’m not sure how many people here have seen “The Aviator,” but it’s one of my all-time favorite films.

Without going too far off on a tangent, Leonard DiCaprio plays Howard Hughes, the eccentric millionaire who lived a Forrest Gump-like existence that took him from engineering to Hollywood to aviation. Hughes was the owner of TWA, and much of the movie deals with his confrontations with Pan Am head Juan Trippe. Late in the flick, Trippe—aided by Senior Ralph Owen Brewster—forces Hughes to testify before a congressional committee on his alleged bribery of military officials.

Sitting before the Brewster-led committee, Hughes turns the tables on the senator, and the following (fictional, but based on legitimate events) dialogue ensues:

Hughes: “Now, this entire bill was written by Pan Am executives … and designed to give that airline a monopoly on international travel. You’ve been flogging this bill all around the world on their behalf, have you not?

Brewster: “I have duties that take me all over the world, Mr. Hughes.”

Hughes: “Well, what the hell does a senator from Maine need to visit Peru for?”

Brewster: “I was seeking outlets for our trade goods.”

Hughes: “Buy a lot of lobsters down there, do they?”

•••

I bring this up because recently Dana Rohrabacher, our beloved congressman here in California’s 48th district, met with Marine Le Pen, the far-right French politician The Atlantic labeled “The Devil’s Daughter.” For those who don’t follow French politics, Le Pen is the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the National Front and a truly despicable human being. Among other things, Jean-Marie explained that the Nazi gas chambers were merely “a detail in the history of World War II.” He prided himself on xenophobia and anti-Semitism, and his daughter—with a more genteel way of speaking, but the same hatred—is of similar ilk. Le Pen will likely be one of two French candidates standing in the May 7 general presidential election, and while she is not favored to win … ahem, neither was Donald Trump.

Here’s what The Atlantic had to say:

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I digress.

A couple of weeks ago our very own Dana Rohrabacher—wacky surf dude—met with Le Pen. Don’t take my word for it …

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This is messed up for 1,000 different reasons (1. She’s a fringe Nazi; 2. She’s a fringe Nazi; 3. She’s a fringe Nazi; 4. She’s a …). I mean, I suppose the president of the United States would—should she win—need to meet with Le Pen. I suppose the vice president of the United States could be justified in meeting with Le Pen. I’ll even give Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi a pass.

But, to evoke the spirit of Howard Hughes, why the hell does a congressman from Huntington Beach, California—even one on the foreign affairs committee—need to meet with a far-right French nationalist?

Seriously, it’s insanity. What is he doing there? What are they talking about? Does Le Pen surf? Enjoy fish tacos? Why is this engagement taking place?

Alas, it fits perfectly with Rohrabacher’s modus. He’s a fringe-lunatic (camouflaged by a warm smile, quirky ties and impressive fundraising skills) who almost never makes himself available for the people he represents. Perhaps that’s not mere callousness, but indifference to the primary calling of his profession (standing up for those who live in his district). He sees himself as an international player, but did any of us (left or right) elect a congressman to be an international player? To go off and negotiate with a woman who aspires to banish an entire religion from her country? To stand side by side with, truly, France’s greatest threat to democracy?

This is Dana Rohrabacher.

This is our congressman.

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