While Democratic members of Congress confront indignant town-hall crowds opposed to President Barack Obama’s health-care policies, Republican Sen. David Vitter is enjoying a Louisiana love fest. Vitter is barnstorming through the Bayou backwoods, hosting town-halls meetings before packed houses of ferociously anti-Obama audiences. They come to praise rather than shout. Billed as public forums to discuss Obama’s health-care proposals, or what Vitter has derisively referred to as “Obamacare,” the pre-screened events appear to be functioning effectively as surrogate campaign rallies for the scandal-scarred senator’s 2010 reelection bid.
On August 8, inside a chapel at conservative Louisiana Baptist College in the rural town of Pineville, an evangelical minister reportedly saluted Vitter before a packed house for “doing God’s work.” When Vitter took the stage, he mocked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s concerns about those she referred to in an op-ed as “angry mobs” disrupting meetings across the country.
“Please know that this and any other angry mob is welcome at my town-hall meetings whenever you want to come,” Vitter declared, bringing the audience to its feet with a raucous ovation. In the back of the chapel, an elderly woman waved a placard reading, “Send Obama & congress back to USSR.”
Vitter earned even more enthusiastic cheers with a not-so-subtle appeal to “states’ rights.” When an audience member asked him if Louisiana could withdraw from Obama’s health-care plan if it passed, Vitter proclaimed, “The first thing we need to do is elect members of Congress who respect the Tenth Amendment.”
Invocations of the Tenth Amendment, which reserves “powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution” to the “states respectively, or to the people,” have become common among secessionists seeking a veneer of constitutional legitimacy. Texas Gov. Rick Perry stoked a national controversy in April when he endorsed a non-binding resolution in the state legislature supporting the Tenth Amendment’s supposed guarantee of “states’ rights,” then warned that Texans were so fed up with the federal government the state might secede. With Vitter’s recent exhortation, the far-right fringe has gained another ally within the Republican mainstream.