If you want a detailed description of everything wrong with America’s government, you need look no further than Alaska’s only Congressional Representative, Don Young.
Last Tuesday, speaking in front of students at Wasilla High, five days after another student committed suicide, Representative Young told the assembled teenagers that the death of their classmate was, well, essentially their fault.
No recording was made, but witnesses agree Young told the students that while alcohol and depression can contribute to suicide, it was specifically the lack of support from them and from family that was the real cause behind their friend’s death.
Amy Spargo, the school's principal was appalled, "When I heard 'a lack of support from family' and I heard 'a lack of support from friends,' I felt the oxygen go out of the room. But I gasped as well. It just isn't true in these situations. It's just such a hurtful thing to say."
Young is nothing if not consistently oblivious to the impact of his tone deafness. He then went on to describe the evils of big government – conveniently forgetting, as usual, that he’s been bringing home truckloads of bacon to Alaska for more than four decades.
Don Young is Big Government.
He’s been big government for more than forty-one years.
Continuing on in his profanity laced rant, Young also explained to the students how socialism and gay people are ruining America, a message that reportedly wasn't received very well by young people still reeling from the discovery that their congressional representative blames them for the death of their fellows.
Young is also apparently oblivious to the fact that some of his audience might be gay. And the kind of gender-identity shaming Young was engaged in, that from authority figures, is a significant contributing factor in depression and suicide among young people already struggling to figure out their identity. But, yeah, Don, way to support your community.
Not content with blaming suicide on the students of Wasilla High, Young swung by the Mat-Su Senior Center here in Palmer the next day and blamed suicide on Obama and a liberal society that “coddles” people.
"This suicide problem didn't exist until we got largesse from the government. When people had to work, and had to provide and had to keep warm by putting participation in cutting the wood and catching the fish and killing the animals, we didn't have the suicide problem. It comes from the largesse of saying you're not worth anything but you're going to get something for nothing."
As always, Young ignores actual facts.
Since the federal and state government began suicide prevention programs, and coincidently social welfare programs as well, the national suicide rate has steadily declined from 13.2 persons per 100,000 in 1950 to an average of 10 per 100,000 since the year 2000. The suicide rate has climbed in recent years, back to an average of 12 per 100,000 with the increase being largely attributed to the unusually high suicide rate among combat veterans after a decade of war. And I suppose this is as good of place as any to mention the part where Don Young and his political party consistently block attempts to increase funding for veterans mental health care.
Let’s pull the thread on Young’s assertion: If the suicide of a high school student can be blamed on a lack of compassion and caring by his schoolmates, what exactly does the suicide rate among veterans say about politicians such as Don Young?
And what does it say about America herself?
Give that some thought, won’t you?
While at the senior center, Young was asked about the previous day’s incident at Wasilla High – which was the lead story Wednesday in the local media. In classic Don Young fashion, forgetting that just minutes before he was ranting on about personal responsibility, the Congressman waved away any culpability on his part and instead blamed the school.
"I'm very upset with the school system that would take the side of individuals that are being disrespectful to their fellow students.”
Well, Okay then.
Whatever they’re paying Matthew Shuckerow, Don Young’s spokesman, it’s not enough. By Thursday afternoon, Shuckerow was in full damage control mode.
"Congressman Young was very serious and forthright when discussing the issue of suicide, in part because of the high number of tragedies that affect Alaskan youth. In no way did Congressman Young mean to upset anyone with his well-intentioned message. In light of the tragic events affecting the Wasilla High School community, he should have taken a much more sensitive approach."
Heh heh. Nice one, Matt. Just one problem: Don Young doesn’t do sensitive – not unless he’s sucking up to Exxon and British Petroleum. But I digress.
And once again, Alaskans are shocked and embarrassed by Don Young’s churlish behavior.
Listen, if you're surprised in any way whatsoever by any of the outrageous nonsense that falls from Don Young’s mouth like nuggets from the back end of a moose, you just haven't been paying attention.
This isn't the exception, this is Don Young.
Don Young can't go a day without dropping another steaming load.
The simple truth of the matter is that Don Young just doesn't care. He doesn’t care what you think. He doesn't care what Alaskans think.
And why should he?
For more than forty years he’s been Alaska's only Representative. He’s a blatant racist and an outspoken misogynist, who openly waxes nostalgic for the good old days when white men didn't have to share power with anybody else. He uses racial slurs openly, in public conversation with constituents, in interviews, and does not understand or care why it’s wrong. He’s loudly, obnoxiously homophobic. He’s a jingoist. He’s anti-science in a state that depends for its very existence on science and engineering. He's anti-science in the state that is most directly affected by the terrible results of ignoring science. During what was arguably the single most important vote in the House in the last forty years, Don Young went on Safari to Africa.
Don Young is an outdated Neanderthal who long ago lost touch with the modern world.
He’s 81 years old and he’s not going to change and he’s made that goddamned clear. And he doesn't have to. He’s going to go right on being Don Young.
But you know what? The simple bald truth of the matter is this: Don Young isn't the problem.
Don Young barely even bothers to campaign for reelection. And he doesn't have to. Don Young is entitled to his office.
And why shouldn't he think exactly that?
Why shouldn’t Don Young and those like him believe they are nobility? Why shouldn't they believe they are better than us? Why shouldn’t they believe that they are entitled to their office? Why shouldn’t they do and say exactly as they please?
For more than forty years Don Young has behaved exactly the same.
If there is one thing you can count on, it’s Don Young’s arrogant self assurance. He’s a bull in a china shop and he revels in it, and he gleefully makes others pick up the pieces - just ask Shuckerow.
For forty years he’s taken money from out of state Big Oil and Big Mining and his political party and his rich cronies and he represents their interests while utterly ignoring everybody else.
To call Don Young representative of his Alaskan constituency is laughable. I’m his constituency, and he sure as shit doesn’t represent me. Nor does he represent that new generation of voters graduating from Wasilla High, the ones he just insulted.
Don Young represents the interests of one Alaskan and one Alaskan only: Don Young.
And yet – and yet – he is reelected over and over and over. He cannot lose. No matter what idiotic thing he says, no matter his blatant bigotry and his consistent misogyny, no matter his contempt and dismissal of half his own state, Don Young gets reelected.
And that, that right there, is the problem.
We rail against politicians like Don Young, but we almost never hold them to account when it matters.
We go to the polls, if we go to the polls, and it’s just easier to reelect the bastard we know than to deal with somebody new.
In America, our government is of the people, by the people, and for the people.
That is its greatest strength.
And that is its greatest weakness.
In a republic, in a representative democracy like ours, the government you get is the one you deserve.
If you want a better government, then you have to be better citizens.