The Virginia Capitol

Killing the poor is a Republican party value, but it took a Democratic sell-out to seal the deal in Virginia.

Politicians’ Mass Killing Masked by Shooting Media Hoopla

What do patriot movement shooters in Las Vegas have in common with Virginia Republicans and Virginia Democrat Phillip Puckett?

They kill people.

They just do it in different ways, with different degrees of effectiveness, and different intensities of news coverage.

The Millers, Amanda, 22, and Jerad , 31, the husband and wife team that murdered three, two of them police officers, were using their constitutionally protected guns to kill people on June 8. Then they had the decency to kill themselves, too (to be precise, Mrs. Miller shot Mr. Miller before shooting herself, although now police claim credit for killing him). They appear to be over, even though they left a note expressing the hope that this was “the beginning of a revolution.”

The Millers are fundamentally crazed, grandiose, uninteresting, suicidal, young people, pretty ordinary except for their lethality. But that violence is enough to get them disproportionate news coverage in our if-it-bleeds-it-leads media culture.

Whether or not the Millers have touched off a revolution remains to be seen, of course, but it hardly seems likely. And the killing they’ve done doesn’t come close to the scale of the deeper, much more lethal, continuing revolution led by Republicans since 2009. That revolution doesn’t use guns to kill people. That’s so Bush-era. Post-Bush Republicans prefer to kill people quietly, as in Virginia, by denying them medical care.

In a sense, preventing the poor and sick from getting health care is a longstanding, traditional Republican value. Nationally, Republicans have pretty much always been willing to put millions of Americans at risk to benefit their ideological masters and patrons. It just doesn’t seem to occur to them that their sworn duty (if they’re elected) to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare” are inseparable parts of an integrated purpose, not a political menu from which they have the liberty to pick and choose.

Republicans Condemn People To Die

One has come to expect Republicans to pursue policies that are against life for the majority of the living. Democrats tend to be more divided in their support for the common good, and more subtle when they undermine it. In our system, there is no party of Justice, Tranquility, Defense, and Welfare.

In the present sad context of American political dysfunction, it seems to be easy for a relatively obscure Virginia state senator to choose to become another well-dressed mass murderer without getting much notice. This is not some Eichmann-like banality of evil, this is the banality of normal in the American zeitgeist of 2014.

Obamacare is not about death panels, never mind death camps, no matter what some people may still say. Obamacare, in its Supreme Court vetted form, is about many different things, one of the most important of which is the expansion of Medicaid to millions of poor and uninsured Americans, mostly paid for by the federal government. So far, 26 states and D.C have expanded Medicaid; four states are considering expansion. The other 20 states, controlled by Republicans across the South and Midwest, have chosen not to expand Medicaid.

This Republican choice leaves 5.7 million Americans uninsured, including many of the poorest people in the poorest states. Some of these people will get sick. Lacking insurance, some will suffer and some will die. The choice to leave millions of people without health insurance is a choice to allow random, needless suffering and death. It is a choice, in effect, to commit mass murder by legal fiat.

And sometimes the choice is bi-partisan.

Most American mass murderers are well-dressed and well-spoken

The same day the Millers were shooting people in Las Vegas, the Washington Post of June 8 was reporting on the self-dealing plans of a Democrat who was willing to become an accomplice to Republican efforts to kill Medicaid expansion in Virginia and kill hundreds of Virginians along with it.

Democratic state senator Phillip P. Puckett, 67, of Tazewell, Virginia, was reportedly taking an approach to the public good that had all the subtlety of a terrorist bomb, albeit without the immediate body count. Puckett had been one of 40 state senators since 1998, having risen from being a teacher to a principal to a bank vice president for business development. Puckett was elected to represent Senate District 38 in rural, southwest Virginia, deep in Appalachia.

The Virginia Senate has been divided evenly for most of the year, 20 Democrats, 20 Republicans, with the Democratic lt. governor holding the tie-breaking vote. The Democratic governor wants to expand Medicaid, the Republican-controlled lower house had voted against it. By early February 2014 it was clear to some that Sen. Puckett could be the key to whether the Senate would support Medicaid expansion, and that his daughter’s judgeship was being held hostage to his cooperation (even though the lower house had already voted for her).

This was Puckett’s moment to become a profile in courage. He didn’t come close.

According to the Post, Puckett would resign his Senate seat, giving Republicans control of the Senate and the power to block Medicaid expansion; Puckett’s daughter would be confirmed as a judge; and Puckett would get a six-figure salaried job with a tobacco commission controlled by Republicans. On June 9, Puckett resigned, as predicted, but backed off from the tobacco commission job amidst an outcry that suggested the whole deal was bribery. Reportedly, the FBI is investigating.

Party Loyalty Was Not One of Puckett’s Strong Suits

A Democrat in a Republican-leaning district, Puckett’s record seems unsurprisingly centrist. The party gave Puckett significant support in his most recent election in 2011, helping him win with 53% of the vote. And Democrats cut him plenty of slack on issues, since part of his campaign was a promise not to support President Obama in 2012.

As soon as Puckett had resigned, reports followed that the Senate had reached agreement on a two-year budget deal that excludes Medicaid expansion. A Medicaid-free budget was later signed into law.

Puckett apparently retreated into seclusion from the media, where he has been getting pilloried by some, but defended by few.

“Virginia lawmaker Phillip Puckett betrayed his own people,” is the headline on Petula Dvorak’s column in the Post, where she writes: “After years of taking the bulk of his campaign money from the mining industry, wouldn’t it be fair that Puckett help all those people whose bodies have been broken working in Virginia’s coal mines by freeing up the health care the federal government wants to give them?”

Dvorak observes: “It seems that Puckett has decided that, no, he’s not going to help the people who elected him and who are in dire need of every bit of medical care they can get.”

“The Most Venal Man in Virginia” is what Slate calls Puckett. As Jamelle Bouie writes:

And Puckett isn’t some bystander to these problems. The former state senator represented the 38th District[. …] This is one of the poorest corners of the state. The poverty rate in Russell County, for instance, is 20.4 percent, compared to 11 percent for the state writ large.

Even worse is Buchanan County, where 25 percent of residents live below the poverty line. Not only is it one of the poorest counties in Virginia, it’s one of the most impoverished in the entire United States[. …] [there are an] estimated 20,170 uninsured adults in Puckett’s district who are eligible for coverage under the Medicaid expansion.

It Takes a Government to Kill a Lot of People

One of Puckett’s home district papers, the Bluefield Daily Telegraph, takes a more benign view of Puckett’s actions, since it means maybe the Virginia government won’t shut down on July 1. “That is a good thing,” says the paper’s editorial, which goes on to suggest that “we should not forget his legacy,” without mentioning anything specific, least of all his contribution to local suffering and death.

Puckett has said that non-specific family problems – “several difficult issues that need our attention” – comprise the reason for leaving his party and his state in the lurch, and his constituents to the mercy of Republicans. But he’ll probably be all right personally, he still has his bank job. His daughter, a lawyer since 2006, will likely get her judgeship. His wife and two sons have not appeared in most news reports.

In any event, it seems unlikely Puckett will pay any significant price for aiding and abetting Republican ideologues with their campaign of mass killing by deprivation. Unlike the Millers, Puckett didn’t shoot anyone, but by resigning in cold blood he may get more blood on his hands than the Millers ever dreamed of.

As Tolstoy might have put it: Corrupt Republicans are all alike; every corrupt Democrat is corrupt in its own way.

Is any of this enough to be the beginning of a revolution?

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Virginia Capitol photographed by Amadeust and released under a Creative Commons Share Alike license.