Welcome to summer’s second half, everyone. I’ve been on vacation for most of the past two weeks, so let’s dig into the August reader mailbag.
Few columns I’ve written this year have drawn a level of response like the one July 9 about former U.S. Rep. M. Caldwell Butler.
The Republican from Roanoke, who died in 2014, was a freshman in Congress who served on the House Judiciary Committee in July 1974. Butler believed he was flirting with political doom that summer when he took a stand favoring impeachment of then-president Richard Nixon.
He voted for articles of impeachment anyway. And contrary to his own mother’s warning, voters in the Sixth Congressional District later rewarded that courage with even bigger margins of victory in subsequent elections.
The column reprinted much of a speech Butler gave explaining his vote. As a minor refresher, here’s a choice passage:
“If we fail to impeach, we have condoned and left unpunished a course of conduct totally inconsistent with the reasonable expectations of the American people; we will have condoned and left unpunished a presidential course of conduct designed to interfere with and obstruct the very process which he is sworn to uphold; and we will have condoned and left unpunished an abuse of power totally without justification.
“And we will have said to the American people: ‘These misdeeds are inconsequential and unimportant.’ … The people of the United States are entitled to assume that their president is telling the truth.”
The calls and emails began pouring in that day.
“Best one you’ve ever written,” Bruce Brown of Christiansburg said in a voicemail. “I hope that [current U.S. Rep. Ben Cline] pays attention to it because we are there and then some. Thanks for having the courage to continue to write provocative and thought-provoking commentary. Democracy dies in the darkness . … This was not fake.”
Tom Long of Staunton has a distinct memory of Butler standing on principle.
“I remember Mr. Butler’s speech and vote, and how it was heartening to witness a statesman rising above partisan politics during a constitutional crisis,” Long wrote in an email. “Rep Cline’s tone is perhaps less blindly partisan than his immediate predecessor, Mr. Goodlatte, but when the tough votes come, I suspect he’ll be like him and follow party line rather than conscience.”
One reader who doesn’t remember the speech is Chloe Hunt — she was born roughly three decades after Butler gave it. Hunt’s a rising junior at North Cross High School and works on the school’s journalism staff.
“I just read your article comparing Watergate to the current obstruction of justice. I just wanted to say that it was very interesting, even for a kid like myself — I can’t wait to see how this story unfolds! Thank you for your work!” she wrote.
John E. Via, who lives in Roanoke and Winston-Salem, North Carolina, called it a “superb column.”
“No honest person can deny the daily damage being inflicted upon the dignity and conscience of the United States and its peoples by the misbehavior and incivility of Donald J. Trump,” Via wrote.
Carol Edwards of Roanoke began her email with the word “BRAVO.”
“I wish that every Republican in Congress would read this,” Edwards added. “I’m a 50-plus year staunch Democrat, but I voted for Caldwell Butler in all his elections because of the integrity he showed. I applaud your reminding your readers that right, not party, should be the reason behind our loyalty.”
The only reader I heard from who didn’t care for the column was Robert Hollins. He left this voicemail:
“In the future if you wish to delve into political opinion as you do in the last oh, three, four, five paragraphs of your article that starts out about Mr. Butler, please put them on the opinion page, because there are readers that won’t realize it is opinion and not fact. Have a good day.”
Gene Zitver of Lexington had some other thoughts regarding Cline. Those were prompted by the July 3 column about Donna Jefferson, a resident of Union Hall who in June wrote U.S. Rep. Denver Riggleman about treatment of migrant children on a southern border.
The next day Riggleman’s office sent Jefferson an email about conservation and natural resources. Jefferson believed that was the congressman’s response. She was incorrect, however. Earlier she had written Riggleman about funding for restoration of the Everglades — and forgotten about that one. She apologized.
“At least [Riggleman] replied,” wrote Zitver, who maintains a blog that’s often critical of Cline.
“I have written respectfully to my congressman Ben Cline multiple times, asking for responses, and the only reply I got (about the Mueller investigation) was generic and didn’t address my particular concerns. I’m sure I’m not the only one he or his staff are ignoring.”
Finally, a few readers were disenchanted by the July 14 column questioning the sincerity of a bill state Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin, introduced about social media threats during the quickly curtailed July 9 General Assembly special session on gun control.
Stuart Bethel responded with 588 words. Here are some of them:
“You and all the media and the entire left have turned that and this latest tragedy at Virginia Beach into nothing but [a] gun-grab ... to con citizens out of their God-given liberty or rights under the disguise of government protection,” Bethel wrote.
He added: “Stop lying about it. There is no regulation that would have ever stopped a criminal from committing a crime, period.”
That logic seems puzzling, because most laws penalize bad behavior, rather than preclude it. If laws prohibiting murder fail to prevent all murders, does that mean those shouldn’t be on the books?
That’s it for reader responses from the month of July. My thanks to everyone for the emails, letters and voice messages. Please keep them coming!