When Rep. Joe Walsh looks back on his brief and inglorious career in Congress, he will have many moments to blame for his demise, but none more colorful than Thursday afternoon, when he managed to utter the word “Ashleigh” 91 times over the course of a 12-minute interview.
This bizarre verbal obsession had origins in the freshman tea party Republican’s town hall meeting in Illinois a few days earlier, when he unfavorably compared his opponent, who lost both legs in combat in Iraq, to John McCain, who Walsh claimed was reluctant to talk about his military service.
“He talked a little bit about it, but it was very uncomfortable for him. That’s what’s so noble about our heroes,” Walsh said. “Now I’m running against a woman who, I mean, my God, that’s all she talks about. Our true heroes, the men and women who served us, it’s the last thing in the world they talk about.”
So Lt. Col. Tammy Duckworth, who earned a Purple Heart in 2004 when the helicopter she was co-piloting was hit, is not “noble” or a “true” hero because she talks about her military service? It was similar to what Walsh told Politico a few months earlier: “I have so much respect for what she did in the fact that she sacrificed her body for this country. Ehhh. Now let’s move on.”
If this isn’t enough to persuade voters to “move on” from Walsh, the lawmaker continued his self-destruction by appearing on CNN and declining host Ashleigh Banfield’s invitation to cast his remarks as a “slip-up.” Instead, he scolded “Ashleigh,” using her first name repeatedly when he wasn’t calling the 44-year-old anchor “kiddo” or asking the recently naturalized citizen whether she served in the military.
“No, no, Ashleigh. No, Ashleigh, this wasn’t a slip-up. I don’t regret anything I said,” Walsh declared.
Banfield tried to read a list of things Duckworth has talked about other than her military service.
“No, she hasn’t, Ashleigh. No, Ashleigh, no, she hasn’t.”
“Do you want to hear it, Congressman? Do you want to hear it or do you just want to rail on me?”
“I’ve got the list here.”
“No, Ashleigh, Ashleigh.”
Banfield read part of the list.
“Ashleigh, Ashleigh, Ashleigh,” Walsh replied. “Hey, Ashleigh, Ashleigh, Ashleigh.”
All indications are that Walsh’s first term in the House may be his last, as challenger Duckworth, a failed candidate in 2006, is favored to win Illinois’s 8th District, redrawn to favor Democrats.
But Walsh’s antics should be of concern to Republicans far beyond the congressional district, both because they are the type of tea party histrionics that raise doubts about the GOP’s readiness to govern, and because they point to a potential Republican vulnerability among veterans, usually a reliable voting bloc.
Polls are conflicting, ranging from a Gallup survey in May showing Mitt Romney with a 24-point lead among vets to a Reuters poll the same month giving Obama a seven-point lead. (McCain won vets by 10 points in 2008.)
Regardless, Obama tends to do better among veterans under 60, and his campaign, seeing a potential inroad, is planning to make veterans’ issues central to the Democratic convention in Charlotte. Obama’s pitch to veterans is that he has sponsored various jobs programs for them and proposed steady increases while Romney backs the House Republican budget, which would cut domestic discretionary spending by 19 percent — likely costing vets tens of billions of dollars.
Walsh is a ripe target for reasons well beyond his crass putdown of Duckworth. During his term, he failed to show up to a court hearing on his ex-wife’s claim that he owed $117,000 in child support (there were earlier tax liens and a foreclosure). His driver’s license was suspended last year for the second time in three years. He called Obama a “tyrant” and accused the president of “lying.” He even squared off with the other Joe Walsh, of the Eagles, over unauthorized use of the song “Walk Away.”
And now there’s Ashleigh, Ashleigh, Ashleigh.
Walsh acknowledged to Banfield that all veterans are heroes, but he defended his claim that Duckworth isn’t a true hero because she spoke about her service. He made this argument primarily by repeating the host’s first name 91 times by my count.
After many such Ashleighs — “Hey, Ashleigh, well, Ashleigh, look Ashleigh” — the interviewer responded in kind with “Yes, Congressman, Congressman. Yes, Congressman.”
“Whew,” Banfield said after the final “Ashleigh.” “I need to take a big breath.”
So should Illinois voters — and send a true hero to Washington in Walsh’s place.