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Janet Nguyen was wrong and deserved to be removed



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.

  1. I can’t agree with you. Legislatures are supposed to be places of open debate. We even grant legislators broad immunity for things they say in the legislature that would be legally actionable if they said them elsewhere. Censoring a member of the legislature because she was violating some rule of etiquette is contrary to those principles.

    “Don’t speak ill of the dead” is also a dumb rule of etiquette. If I outlive Donald Trump, I plan to have a big fucking party and toast to the demise of that bastard, and I really don’t care if that gives Ivanka a sad.

    If Hayden was enough of a public figure to warrant a public memorial, then a full and unbridled discussion of his supposed ills and flaws is warranted to. Whether his family and friends find that distasteful or rude is besides the point; Sen. Lara didn’t crash a private memorial service, she spoke in a public building to which she duly elected.

    Lastly, how did you feel about Mitch McConnell silencing Elizabeth Warren, and if you objected to it, how do you reconcile those positions other than that you like Warren and Hayden and don’t like Lara and Sessions?

  2. Jim B, you may be right in some respects. Still, I find it offensive that she couldn’t even wait until a decent amount of time had passed after Tom’s death to denounce the man. Her behavior smacks of the kind of angry, violent vituperation we have come to expect from trump. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that, were it not for the rise of trump, Nguyen would not have done what she did. He gave her license: the fish rots from the head.

  3. Steve, I have no issue with you finding her behavior offensive. (Personally, I have no strong views on Tom Hayden; not having lived through the Vietnam Era, I confess to being somewhat jaded and fatigued by the endless attempts to relitigate the disputes of that era.)

    I do have a problem with endorsing the precedent of silencing an elected person’s right to speak in the legislature on issues of public concern. Supporting free speech means acknowledging the right of someone to say even things that you find offensive.

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