Only One Can Survive
Sep 10, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 48 • By KATE HAVARD
In a typical Tea Party vs. establishment race, “Washington insider” is a ready insult. And Landry is quick to point out Boustany’s close friendship with Speaker of the House John Boehner (Boustany’s chief of staff is a former Boehner staffer). But as longtime Louisiana political writer John Maginnis notes, “Down here, people are more comfortable with the idea of having a ‘Washington insider’ as their congressman. They know that insiders get things done.”
Although both congressmen are technically incumbents, Boustany is certainly more of an insider. He is a nephew by marriage to Edwin Edwards (who served four terms in the governor’s mansion, then 10 years in federal prison). And Lafayette is home to a thriving Lebanese community—where the Boustany family is at the helm.
A family of notable and respected lawyers and doctors, the Boustanys are at the vanguard of the Lafayette elite. Boustany’s father—like the congressman, a doctor—was the town’s coroner for many years, and his mother led the Catholic bishop’s charity ball, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. My hotel in Lafayette is on Kaliste Saloom Road, named after Boustany’s great-uncle, a revered local judge.
Even if locals don’t know about the congressional race, they probably know Boustany from his medical practice. A cardiac surgeon in the land of deep-fried-everything, he has operated on their fathers, their husbands, and their grandmas. Though his quiet, soporific speaking style doesn’t quite fit retail politics, it makes for a reassuring bedside manner.
Boustany’s deep roots in the community have forced Landry to get personal on the campaign trail: “I know you know Charles,” he tells voters. “I know him too. It’s uncomfortable to vote against him. He’s your doctor, he’s your neighbor, your kids went to school with him. But if you want your congressmen to make tough votes, then you’ve got to make a tough vote.”
Though Landry would like to paint his opponent as a squish, their voting records are similar: Both have 100 percent ratings from the National Right to Life Committee, both support full repeal of Obama-care, and both are climbing all over each other to praise the Ryan budget. Except for the debt ceiling, Landry hadn’t yet been in Congress for some of the big votes he criticizes Boustany for (like TARP), so it’s hard to compare what Landry says he would have done with what Boustany did.
In fact, the policy difference that sticks out is Boustany’s surprisingly weak stance on Israel—not typically a flashpoint for Louisiana voters.
Charles Boustany is one of only two Republicans to have ever been endorsed by J Street, the left-wing advocacy group that bills itself as “pro-Israel, pro-peace” (with far more emphasis on the latter than the former). In 2009, he attended J Street’s first annual conference, even after Israeli ambassador Michael Oren boycotted it, citing policies within the organization “that may impair the interests of Israel.” Boustany eventually severed all connections with the group, after discovering that “they were dishonest with me about where their funding came from,” namely, from billionaire George Soros. J Street maintains that Boustany was “with them from the beginning,” and that the party “forced” the resignation of this “very brave” congressman. The Arab American Institute rates Boustany at -1, indicating a “mixed” record, while Landry has a -4, indicating a more pro-Israel record.
In 2009, the U.N. released the Goldstone Report, which accused Israel of intentionally targeting civilians in the Gaza conflict. The report was written with help from Hamas, but not from the Israeli government, which refused to cooperate. Richard Goldstone himself later wrote of his “regret that our fact-finding mission did not have . . . evidence” that later emerged showing that civilian deaths were unintentional. “It probably would have influenced our findings about intentionality and war crimes.”
Congress voted overwhelmingly to condemn the Goldstone Report as biased. Charles Boustany was one of only 36 members of Congress who dissented. Why?
“It was a protest vote,” Boustany says. “I was upset that no one in Congress had actually read the report.” Had he read it? “No,” he said. “We weren’t given enough time to read it. That’s why I voted against it.” Boustany also helped write the dovish Carnahan-Boustany-Cohen letter in 2009 telling President Obama that they “support the course you are charting for American policy in the Middle East.”
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