The Republican state Senator from California, Janet Nguyen, has gotten a tremendous amount of media coverage in the last few days, the result of being ordered to end her speech vilifying the late Tom Hayden on the floor of the California Senate.
Most of the coverage has been in her favor and against the Democrats, specifically the man who silenced her, the Democratic presiding Senator, Ricardo Lara. Rightwing publications, such as the San Diego Union-Tribune, blasted Lara. “This isn’t how democracy works. Shame on Lara…for suppressing Nguyen’s voice,” they editorialized. Even the New York Times said Lara’s move “backfired,” and became “a rallying cry” among the right.
I have read Sen. Nguyen’s remarks, and after doing so I agree with Sen. Lara’s decision to ask her to stop. She was totally out of line. Let’s consider a few things. First of all, Tom Hayden—himself a former California state Senator—is dead. He died last October. The state Senate earlier last week held a memorial service to honor his long career of political activism and electoral service (for eighteen years, in both the California Assembly and the Senate). The Senate chose to honor him on Feb. 21 with speakers and an Irish bagpiper, in a somber ceremony attended by his widow and one of his sons. That is certainly the Senate’s right and was a very proper thing to do.
Thus, it was rude and mean for Nguyen to pillory Hayden, live, on the floor of the Senate to which he devoted so many years of his life. She went into fevered rant: Hayden “sided with a Communist government,” his actions were “harmful to democratic values” and were “hateful,” he “supported a communist agenda” and was “profoundly wrong.”
You can look at the Vietnam War any way you want to. You can see Hayden as right or wrong. But what can’t be disputed, I believe, is how inappropriate it was for Nguyen to make her remarks on the morrow of Hayden’s memorial service. How would you like it if your church or synagogue had a memorial service for a beloved family member of yours, and then a few days later somebody else stood in the pulpit and attacked that person’s values and character? You’d be royally pissed, as well you should be.
Now Nguyen has become a hero of the right, which may well have been her purpose. Just days after her speech, she took “a star turn” at a Republican convention, where people wore “I stand with Janet” stickers and there was much speculation about her political future.
Had I been Sen. Lara, I would have been as upset as he was, and done the same thing. Maybe it was an unforced error. This is politics, after all; you never want to hand your opponents a cudgel. Still, Nguyen was incredibly and, I suspect, intentionally insensitive and insulting to Hayden’s memory and to his family. She could have made her remarks elsewhere, as an op-ed piece in a rightwing newspaper or as a press release, or in a town hall with her constituents (if she’s not afraid to meet with them, as so many Republicans are). Instead, she chose this provocation. To bring her vituperation to the Senate floor, so soon after a dead man had been eulogized, was shameful and wrong. Nguyen, who had been asked in advance not to do what she did and ignored that polite request, deserved to be shut up.