I live in a fairly absurd congressional district. Katherine Harris used to be my congresswoman. That is, before she spectacularly lost her senate race against mildly useless Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson. Ms. Harris was always good for a laugh -- during 2006 alone she called separation of church and state "a lie" and said "I do not support any civil rights actions with regard to homosexuality." But as amusing as Harris was, she has been vanquished -- for now. The individual I want to tell you about is our new guy, Representative Vernon Buchanan (R-FL).
Vern Buchanan (R-FL) was elected in one of the most ridiculous elections in our state's history (and since it's Florida, believe me, that means it was pretty ridiculous). You may have seen it on the news, actually. It's the one where 18,000 ballots mysteriously showed no choice in the congressional race. As it turns out, the problem was probably that 18,000 people despised both candidates so much that they refused to cast a vote. We spent months trying to come up with other explanations, certain that the candidates couldn't be that hated, especially considering the amount of money they had spent (Vern Buchanan had put $5 million of his own money into the race, making Florida's 13th district the most expensive race in the country).
The election took so long to sort out that when the new congressmen took their places in Washington, both Vern and his opponent came, an uncomfortable situation that the New York Times said was "a bit like coming to freshman orientation when you are still on the wait list -- and finding your high school rival there, too."
I've had the misfortune to encounter Representative Buchanan twice over the course of my eighteen years on this planet. Both meetings were excruciatingly awkward, and both did their part to puncture any idealism or hope I may have ever had.
Vern Buchanan is a sleazy car salesman. I say "sleazy" not as an indication of his business practices (which one only suspects are sleazy), but because the man oozes sleaze. He's got slicked-back hair and owns a pile of local auto dealerships. He's got a thirty-year string of
mergers, buy-outs, and lawsuits under his belt. He owns the biggest building in town, a monstrous skyscraper stuck in the middle of an otherwise-pretty downtown with the words "BUCHANAN ENTERPRISES" in gigantic letters across its face.
The first time I met Buchanan (R-FL) was when I had to interview him for a local TV show. My friend Paul and I were told to meet him at his office. I, being foolish, assumed his office was the massive building with his name plastered across it. As it turned out, Vern Buchanan has a number of offices, only one of which is in the Buchanan Enterprises building.
Luckily, however, as I arrived at the wrong office, Buchanan was just leaving to go to the right office. He approached me, sensing I was lost, and looked at me. I glimpsed his eyes, and suddenly shuddered. They were gray, dead. They had not a spark of humanity behind them. They turned everything around them slightly cold. It was like coming face to face with a Harry Potter dementor.
"Are you here to interview me?" Buchanan asked.
"Y-y-yes," I nervously spat out, desperately afraid that his gaze would shrivel my soul.
"Well, we're doing that at The Other Office. Hey, I'll give you a ride." His words were friendly, but his vibes were menacing. My mother had always said not to accept rides from strange men. And Vern Buchanan is a strange man.
But I had no choice. I got into his gigantic, "Buchanan For Congress" sticker-covered SUV, and we drove off into the abyss.
We couldn't remain entirely silent on the way over, so Vern started up a nice round of Small Talk, which is one of my least favorite activities in the world. I was especially dreading this particular conversation, because Mr. Buchanan seemed somehow creepy, unfeeling, and distant, like a robot disguised as a human. Or a zombie disguised as a robot.
"So what school do you go to?" he asked. Hmm, not too awkward so far, I thought.
"Pine View. I'm a senior."
"Uh-huh. Where do you go to college?"
"Uh, I'm still applying. But my friend who is doing the interview with me goes to Catholic University."
"Good school, good school. So is he at Pine View too?"
"Uh, no, he's at Catholic University. But he graduated from Pine View."
"Uh-huh. Where does he go now?"
"Catholic University actually," I told him for the third time.
"Ah. Good school. And where do you go?"
"Oh god, he's stuck in a loop!" I thought to myself. "This man really is a malfunctioning robot." As the car ride progressed, the awkwardness of the conversation only increased, though he hardly seemed to notice, being a robot and all. Buchanan isn't mean or nasty, but he seems otherworldly, as if he's living on a whole other plane of existence. You're here on earth while he's off in Reaganland.
The interview itself was expectedly fruitless. Buchanan told us he didn't believe in the minimum wage, and that nobody was paid the minimum wage anyway, except for illegal immigrants. When asked if he supported abortion exceptions in cases of rape or incest, he told us he was "Pro-life. Period."
I left frustrated, but hopeful that someone as uninformed as Vern Buchanan could never become a congressman.
And then Vern Buchanan became a congressman.
The second time I met the man was a few weeks ago, when I had to lobby him on behalf of
the ACLU. It was mission not destined to go well.
His office was decorated with signed footballs and photos of his perfect, attractive, smiling white family. A handsome young College Republican with a flashy smile and an empty head greeted the ACLU delegation as we entered.
Then we met Vern, and tried to convince him that he should oppose wiretapping, prisoner abuse, and discrimination against immigrants.
He indicated that he was in favor of those things.
The tension in the air growing, I tried to soften things up by turning to what is probably the only bill both the ACLU and Vern Buchanan have ever supported, the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (GINA). It was one of the only major legislative successes of the 110th Congress. I thanked him for helping to pass a decent piece of legislation.
"Well, I vote for a lot of bills," Buchanan replied, evidently displeased that we liked something he did.
"Well, yes, but we'd just like to thank you for your support on this particular bill, since it's something the ACLU supported."
"I can't remember. I may have done that. I do a lot of voting."
Oh, come on! I've just given you the easiest possible opportunity to appear bi-partisan and decent! For God's sake, everyone voted for the GINA bill! Ron Paul was the only one to vote against the damn bill. This is an easy way to appear as if you're not a soulless robot. All you have to do is say "Yes, see, I am glad you brought up that bill, because my vote in its favor proves that I am not completely horrible."
But instead he told us he'd forgotten it.
It's not the only time he's given a completely blank response to questions about an issue, however. For more evidence of how remarkably non-useful Vern is, read this lovely little excerpt from the Washington Post:
"[Buchanan] criticized Jennings for supporting guest-worker programs and 'amnesty' for illegal immigrants. But then he said it's not practical to try to deport everyone who's in the country illegally. So what should happen to them? 'I haven't sorted that out exactly,' he said."
And that's my congressman. He's just another hollow Republican shill (not to mention a robot). What amazes me about him, however, is just how little he resembles a human being. Conversations with him are not like any other conversations I've ever had. They're unsettling. Though I suppose nobody ever said dementors were good company. Some people just seem to think they'd make good congressmen.