In Defense—God Help Us—of Lauren Boebert
I cannot believe I am about to defend Lauren Freakin’ Boebert. And yet, I am. Bear with me.
Representative Boebert, who told—or rather, made up—a cringe-worthy anecdote about Capitol Hill police thinking that her colleague Ilhan Omar might be a terrorist, is facing the possibility of having her committee assignments taken away by House Democrats because, as one joint statement by several progressive caucuses put it, “There must be consequences for vicious workplace harassment and abuse that creates an environment so unsafe for colleagues and staff that it invites death threats against them.”
Workplace harassment is typically a bad thing, but the U.S. House of Representatives is not your typical workplace. The various members of Congress are, by design, oppositional to one another. Even during happier times members face criticism and personal attacks that would give any corporate HR manager a heart attack. The kind of interpersonal workplace aggression that would get you summarily fired from Widgets ‘R’ Us are just another day at the office on Capitol Hill.
Members of Congress complaining that their job subjects them to verbal harassment is the equivalent of a professional boxer complaining about being physically intimidated at work.
Because there is another principle here that is far more important than ensuring harassment-free workplaces: democracy. Members of Congress have been elected by their constituents to run the country. Removing a member of Congress from his or her committees denies those constituents their full share of congressional representation. That is an immensely grave step that should only be done—and until very recently had only been done—under the most extreme circumstances. Engaging in “Islamophobia” should not qualify.
Note that, from the small-d democratic perspective, there is a huge difference between the Republican or Democratic caucus deciding to strip one of its own members of their committee assignments and the House majority voting to strip a member of the minority party of their committee assignments.
In the first case, it’s the equivalent of being ejected from the party. “What you have done is so bad that we are no longer going to support you and allow you to occupy committee seats reserved for our caucus.” In the second case, however, the majority is imposing their own moral fitness test on a member of the opposition.
That’s an enormously slippery slope. If Lauren Boebert can be punished by Democrats for trafficking “in anti-Muslim and racist tropes that make all Muslims across the country less safe,” then what ideas and language will Republicans decide to punish when they are in the majority again? Will the entire Democratic caucus be stripped of their committee assignments because they are “advocating genocide and the murder of unborn babies?” I want to say the answer is “no,” but I honestly can’t be sure. However I am sure that once the boot is on the other foot, Republicans will find some excuse to use that boot to kick several Democrats off their own committees.
I want to be absolutely clear: Lauren Boebert is an idiot. That she was elected to Congress is a national embarrassment. But the fact remains that she was elected to Congress and punishing her for her political views, no matter how noxious, has serious implications for American democracy.
The check on a congressional member’s political ideas, even if they are “encouraging bigotry and hatred” is the ballot box, not the moral outrage of the majority. If those views aren’t representative of their constituents’ views, then the offender will lose her seat. (Kevin McCarthy might have taken away Republican and white nationalist Steve King’s committee assignments, but it was Iowa voters who sent him packing.)
But if those noxious views are representative of their constituents’ views, then majoritarian punishments are nothing but shooting the messenger. That isn’t going to shame those constituents into sending someone more reasonable to Congress as their representative. To the contrary.
Partially disenfranchising an entire congressional district because the voters in that district don’t meet your moral standards is a big step towards the end of democracy. That’s not an exaggeration. It’s almost a definition. A democracy where only voters who vote “correctly” get fully represented isn’t really a democracy at all.
It’s also a big step towards physical violence, rather than the verbal kind that has so many members of Congress currently upset.
To paraphrase Martin Luther King, “Violence is the language of the unheard.” Booting obnoxious alt-right trolls off of committees may give Democrats some temporary peace, but only at the cost of silencing the voters those alt-right trolls were elected to represent.
No decent person should give Lauren Boebert the time of day. Congresswoman Boebert, however, is a different story. Congresswoman Boebert is representing over 700,000 people and those 700,000 people deserve the same representation in Congress as everyone else, even if that makes Democrats feel unsafe. Sticking to your principles often does.
Democrats should wear any discomfort they suffer in the service of democracy as a badge of honor. By all means, publicly condemn Lauren Boebert, even formally censure her. But don’t refuse to let her do the job she was elected to perform.