Monday, August 2, 2010

Cuccinelli Cliff Notes. . .

There was a long and interesting profile of Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in yesterday's Washington Post Magazine. It's called "The Rise of the Confounding Conservative."

Confounding, perhaps, as in confusing? As in how can such a principled family man with, evidently, such a good sense of humor be so inflexibly certain that his views are the right views? (And no pun intended with that "right.")

David Montgomery's profile is around 5,000 words, and well worth reading if you're interested in either Virginia politics or Tea Party activism, as Montgomery describes Cuccinelli as "a conservative superman, a toast of the Tea Party movement." But the profile is more about Cuccinelli, himself, than his politics; about our Attorney General's life-long and profound confidence in his own rectitude.

It begins in Charlottesville in 1989 when Cuccinelli was an undergraduate at UVa. He was up past midnight, studying calculus, when he heard a woman cry out as she battled off sexual assault by an intruder. I think what follows in Montgomery's article is worth transposing to this blog:

Cuccinelli had never heard a cry so loud and long, so pained and panicked. It became a call to action. He transformed himself into a self-taught campus expert and agitator on the problem of sexual assault. He helped establish Sexual Assault Facts and Education (SAFE), a student group that raises awareness about the issue, and designed a brochure on preventing sexual assault. Survivors confided in him. It was emotionally scalding work.
By April 1991, he was standing with a candle in his hand on the steps of the university's Rotunda, the historic center of the genteel campus designed by Thomas Jefferson. Cuccinelli was an organizer of dozens of student protesters who occupied the steps for 134 hours -- one for each of the 134 alleged victims of sexual assault at the university the previous year -- and demanded that the university fund the new full-time position of sexual assault education coordinator.
"The university tried like hell to talk us out of it," recalls Alexia Pittas, another leader of the demonstration, now a lawyer in Savannah. "I can remember Ken standing next to me. Ken said, 'Lex, I'll go to jail with you. I'll go to jail for this.'"
Pittas was surprised. Cuccinelli showed signs of being what some campus social anthropologists referred to as the classic "Joe Wahoo," the preppy, careerist, gung-ho U-Va. male, clad in J. Crew or the equivalent, baseball cap worn backward. Members of this tribe did not collaborate with Women's Center feminists such as Pittas, who thought that fraternities should be banned "because of the predatory nature of men drinking in packs." Cuccinelli was a frat boy by inclination; he rushed a fraternity but didn't end up joining because events conflicted with training to become a residential adviser.
"I said to him, 'Why are you doing this?'" Pittas recalls. "This isn't your issue. I remember him looking at me and saying: This is everybody's issue."
Just hours into the vigil, the university proposed hiring a part-time coordinator. The vigil continued for the full 134 hours. Before the year was out, a full-time coordinator was hired.
"The thing about Ken Cuccinelli is, there's right and there's wrong, and there's very little of a liberal gray in between," Pittas says. "If he deems something to be wrong, he will pursue it, no matter the cost."
It's interesting to note that two decades later, Pittas says she doesn't "like the man's politics at all."

But there you evidently have Virginia's attorney general pretty much summed up in one story from his undergraduate experience: Ken Cuccinelli is fearless once he determines that a cause is just. His confidence in his take on health care, climate change and the legal reach of the federal government have made national headlines. He sues the federal government to block health care reform and challenge its ability to regulate greenhouse gasses, sues UVa. for a professor's documents relative to climate change research, and issues an opinion that colleges and universities in the Commonwealth didn't have the authority to ban anti-gay discrimination.

Perhaps less well-known is his opinion that George Mason University does have the right to ban guns on campus. And perhaps his least popular stance with his own base has been his defense of a Kansas church's right to wave signs saying "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" at military funerals. Cuccinelli sees these signs, hoisted to protest the nation's alleged tolerance of homosexuality, as a First Amendment right.

David Montgomery's excellent and interesting profile certainly leaves us better acquainted with Virginia's Attorney General. But it leaves unanswered the question of why Cuccinelli is so confident in his own take on controversial subjects.

And, depending upon whether or not you hold the same opinions as Virginia's Attorney General, you are left to either worry about or cheer Ken Cuccinelli's increasingly prominent national political profile.

Ken Cuccinelli, his wife Teiro, and six of their seven children

No comments:

Post a Comment