Meet Jim Bunning: And we wonder why Congress doesn’t work

Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning told America’s unemployed last week to get off his lawn or he would call the police and sic his dog on them.

“Go on!” Bunning yelled out the window of his office in the Dirksen Senate office building in Washington. “Get outta here, you punks. Don’t make me get my shotgun.”

Bunning had single-handedly blocked extension of federal funding for unemployment and health insurance, driving workers off job sites and patients out of health care. The arch-conservative’s filibuster temporarily ended benefits until saner colleagues from the Republican Party prevailed on the bluegrass nutcase to shut the hell up.

“Jim is what we call a very special man,” said GOP colleague Mitch McConnell. “He believes fiercely in bedrock conservative principles, and yet still is so mentally challenged that even I look like a normal guy next to him, despite my amphibian facade.”

The oldest Republican currently serving in the U.S. Senate, Bunning first came to national prominence in the 1950s as a star pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, and later for the Philadelphia Phillies. With the Phillies, he showed his stubborn side by refusing to follow directions from the team’s manager, contributing to the team’s famous collapse during the 1964 pennant race when they lost the last ten games of the season.

“He wants me to throw the ball over the plate,” Bunning said of the skipper’s meddling. “Maybe I don’t want to. Maybe I want to roll the ball up there, or maybe I’d rather remove all foreigners from the game. He can’t tell me what to do. I play by my own rules.”

After his baseball career, Bunning returned to his native Kentucky and ascended through state politics until winning his Senate seat in 1998. Then-president Bill Clinton said of the maverick “he was so mean-spirited that he repulsed even his fellow know-nothings … I tried to work with him a couple of times and he just sent shivers up my spine. This guy is beyond the pale.”

Critics have described the senator’s impact in Congress as fortunately marginal. In 2006, Time magazine named him one of America’s “five worst senators,” saying he “shows little interest in policy unless it involves baseball” and “is bizarre.” He’s very interested in investigations into steroid use and wants to see all illegal immigrants deported. His most famous legislation is the Bunning-Bereuter-Blumenauer Flood Insurance Reform Act, which included a little-noticed rider calling on the Phillies to “go all the way this year.”

During his 2004 reelection campaign, Bunning said his opponent, an Italian-American physician, “looks like one of Saddam Hussein’s sons.” Bunning used a teleprompter during a televised debate, which he had declined to attend in person and instead appeared via satellite. He said his opponent’s supporters had attacked his wife, and called the Democrat “limp-wristed.”

When his mental health was widely questioned during the campaign, Bunning told reporters “Let me explain something: I don’t watch the news and I don’t read the paper.”

After winning reelection  — because, after all, this is Kentucky we’re talking about — Bunning continued his peculiar ways. He didn’t bother to show up for the start of the January 2009 Congressional session because he had “a family commitment to do certain things, and I’m doing them.” He predicted Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would be dead from pancreatic cancer in less than a year, then misspelled her name in a press release apologizing for the remarks. He missed even more Senate votes during the health care debate last December than 92-year-old, wheelchair-bound Robert Byrd.

Bunning has announced that he will not run for reelection in 2010 because fellow Kentuckian McConnell is “a control freak” and because virtually no one was contributing to his campaign committee.

After retirement from Congress, Bunning is expected to work with his non-profit Jim Bunning Foundation, which gives less than 25% of its proceeds to charity while paying Bunning a $180,000 salary for working an hour a week. However, he is credited with generating over $61,000 for the charity by attending baseball shows around the country and selling his autograph.

Most of the signed baseballs were part of the collection Bunning has amassed when neighborhood kids hit foul balls from a neighboring park into his yard.

“It’s mine now,” Bunning reportedly told 11-year-old Jon Moore after snatching his line drive on a single hop. “What are you gonna do? Cry about it? Let’s see the little baby cry.”

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