Mean Jean Breaks Oath

It's not easy for a new member of the U.S. House of Representatives to distinguish herself in a body consisting of 435 legislators, but U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Milford) succeeded last week. On

Graham Lienhart

Jean Schmidt

It's not easy for a new member of the U.S. House of Representatives to distinguish herself in a body consisting of 435 legislators, but U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Milford) succeeded last week.

On Nov. 18, her 75th day in Congress, Schmidt set off what National Public Radio called a "partisan screaming match" in the House. Debating a resolution calling for the withdrawal of U.S. forces in Iraq, Schmidt said she had a message for U.S. Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), who recently called for an end to the occupation of Iraq.

"A few minutes ago I received a call from Col. Danny Bubp, Ohio representative from the 88th district in the House of Representatives," Schmidt said. "He asked me to send Congress a message: Stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message, that cowards cut and run, Marines never do."

Of all the issues to key in on, the U.S. war in Iraq was probably the least likely to help Schmidt build a case for re-election. After all, in order to win the special election that sent her to Congress, she had to take on Paul Hackett, an Iraqi war veteran whose sharp criticism of the war quickly made him a hero to frustrated Democrats across the country (see "Clear Choice," issue of July 20-26).

Like Hackett, Murtha's opposition to U.S. policy doesn't come from a position of pacifism or opposition to a strong defense. Murtha served 37 years in the Marines and was decorated during the Vietnam War.

Calling him a coward was politically foolish.

The furor that followed — the kind of booing and catcalls more typically heard in the British House of Commons than in the hyper-polite U.S. Congress — led Schmidt to ask that her remarks be stricken from the Congressional Record. To hear what she said and how House Democrats responded, visit story.php?storyId=5019067.

The uproar led to a story in The New York Times that cited Schmidt's local nickname, "Mean Jean," and reminded the nation that she barely won the election in the heavily Republican 2nd District of Ohio. The story not only gave more national attention to Hackett — now running for the U.S. Senate — but also to her political enemies within the local Republican Party, including attorney Christopher Finney, founder of Citizens Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes, and Jim Schifrin, publisher of the online political screed The Whistleblower.

Schmidt's speech even became the butt of jokes on Saturday Night Live.

The notion that opposition to U.S. policy somehow qualifies as cowardice or disloyalty is noxious, an affront to the very Constitution Schmidt is sworn to uphold. But Schmidt's speech violated another oath, one she imposed upon herself when she took office, according to State Rep. Tom Brinkman (R-Mount Lookout), who had opposed Schmidt in the GOP primary last summer.

"When she was sworn in 75 days ago," Brinkman says, "she said, 'This House has much work to do. On that we can all agree. We will not always agree on the details of that work. Honorable people can certainly agree to disagree. However, here today I accept a second oath. I pledge to walk in the shoes of my colleagues and refrain from name-calling or the questioning of character. It is easy to quickly sink to the lowest form of political debate. Harsh words often lead to headlines, but walking this path is not a victimless crime. This great House pays the price.'

"Boy, she sure forgets quick, doesn't she?"

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