Normally when a representative for the National Rifle Association (NRA) visits the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), we’re talking about NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre, and he’s there to promote a range of bizarre conspiracy theories concerning gun confiscation and the Obama Administration. Over the years, Wayne and the NRA have learned that there’s no better fundraising tool than good ol’ fearmongering. This year, however, a far more interesting and revealing moment occurred at CPAC when NRA President David Keene presented Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli with the “Defender of Freedom Award” on behalf of the NRA and the American Conservative Union (for which Keene served as Chairman from 1984-2011).
To put it lightly, Ken Cuccinelli has been a controversial figure since entering Virginia politics in 2002. In the words of the Washington Post, “Mr. Cuccinelli has profited from an affability and quick wit that have tended to mask his extremist views. As a lawmaker in Richmond, he has displayed contempt for non-English speakers; for those who care about global warming; and for the First Amendment. Many of his fellow Republicans regard him as occupying the far-right fringe of the party, the ultimate small tenter."
The NRA’s president saw things quite differently when he honored Cuccinelli on February 9th, however. Before bestowing him with a document signed by Founding Fathers James Madison and James Monroe, David Keene called Cuccinelli “a man of faith … a man…healthily suspicious of government in all circumstances … a man who has never turned his back on his values, has never turned his back on his beliefs, and has never refused to stand up when principle demanded that he do so.” “He has never, in fact, varied from the beliefs that motivate him and motivated our Founders,” said Keene. Keene also praised Cuccinelli for filing a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of “Obamacare” (i.e., the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010). The NRA president made absolutely no mention of the Second Amendment or Cuccinelli’s record on the gun issue.
Curiously, neither did Cuccinelli. After thanking the NRA for the award, Cuccinelli launched into a bizarre tirade on a host of issues that—at first glance—have nothing to do with the NRA’s mission or political agenda.
First, Cuccinelli suggested that the Constitution shouldn’t have been ratified, remarking, “James Monroe voted against the U.S. Constitution because he didn’t think it was cautious enough with respect to federal power. Seems like he had a crystal ball, one might think. But that’s the role of states when the federal government oversteps its boundaries. And the worst example of course is the health care bill [the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act …signed by the president on March 23, 2010. And about 34 minutes later, give or take, we filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia … Seventeen blocks to the east, 235 years to the day, before we filed that suit, and before the president signed that bill, Patrick Henry gave his ‘Give Me Liberty, Or Give Me Death’ speech … And that seemed very appropriate, given that that legislation represents one of the greatest legislative invasions of liberty in the lifetime of anyone in this room. And that suit we filed is not about health care. It’s about liberty … We know that it has to be stopped. Certainly the Founders would think so.”
Turning to the topic of the environment, Cuccinelli said, “[W]e sued the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency]—which I have taken to calling the Employment Prevention Agency, because they are so good at that—for their greenhouse gas endangerment finding … Virginia and Texas will argue on behalf of 16 states that they broke the law .. And when the EPA said that the CO2 that you are exhaling right now—let’s all annoy [EPA Administrator] Lisa Jackson together [exhales loudly]. Hi, Lisa. When they passed that regulation in violation of the law they brought on enormous consequences, many of which they hadn’t calculated and which they said they hadn’t calculated. Those are the economic consequences. The only science behind that regulation is political science.”
Finally, Cuccinelli directed his wrath at organized labor: “You all are familiar with the National Labor Relations Board’s assault on South Carolina and Boeing. Make no mistake about it, that is an assault on the right to work…the right to hold a job without being coerced into joining a union … We have never seen such an across-the-board assault on the rule of law by any administration in the lifetime of anyone in this room. It has never happened. The Constitution gets not no respect. States gets no respect. The courts get no respect. Federal law itself that they find inconvenient gets no respect. And when we don’t have enough politicians in Washington who adhere to the constitution and the rule of law, state attorneys general become the last line of defense.”
Not a single word about guns…
One might be amazed at how blatant this whole episode was, but the truth is that Cuccinelli’s extreme views on a host of non-gun-related issues are in lockstep with members of the NRA leadership. A recent examination of the NRA by the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence revealed that the organization is largely lead by individuals with a vested interest in conservative politics—including social and economic issues. Whether it’s fighting the advance of LGBT rights, engaging in immigrant bashing, or supporting the “1%”, the NRA never met a progressive cause it wasn’t prepared to gun down.
While superficially bipartisan, the NRA is closely aligned with the most extreme elements in the Republican Party and has brought a number of the GOP’s most influential operatives into positions of power within their organization. The GOP and NRA are now locked in a symbiotic relationship where Republican legislators advance the NRA’s extreme agenda while the NRA musters its hardcore supporters to serve as attack dogs for a wide-ranging conservative agenda. Honoring Cuccinelli—a charismatic pied-piper of the far-right wing movement—makes that job that much easier.