Some people who get elected to Congress grow in office; others just bloat. Rep. Michael McCaul is a bloater.
A self-absorbed, right-wing Trumpeteer, this Texas lawmaker is about the richest guy in the U.S. House, wallowing in some estimated $113 million in personal wealth. McCaul made his money the old-fashioned way: He married it. His wife inherited a fortune, so — with no need to work for a living — McCaul decided to become a congressman, winning a grotesquely gerrymandered GOP district in 2004.
Even by the embarrassingly low standards of Congress, McCaul has been unaccomplished, unless you count championing tax breaks, regulatory favors and corporate subsidies that have allegedly bloated his family's net worth by 940% since he's been in office.
Indeed, this man of privilege is mostly known in Congress for his love of jet setting, limousine service and posh dining. Despite his wealth, an unseemly number of these luxuries are not paid for by him but billed to us taxpayers or covered by the political donations he takes from giant corporations he serves.
But here's an even starker measure of his character: his water meter. The McCauls live in a sprawling $7 million mansion in the scenic hills of West Austin, a very arid environment. Water conservation is an essential community ethic here — unless you're an incurable narcissist. While the average Austin home uses 70,000 gallons of city water a year, the McCauls' home glugged down a million and a half gallons in 2018! He won Water Hog of the Year in 2017 and consistently ranks in the top 10 year after year. Rather than cutting back, the serial water waster has simply directed the city to stop revealing his actual usage.
If you're a rich, corporate-serving Trump Republican who's been in the U.S. House so long and done so little that you're essentially seen as a piece of congressional furniture, what do you do to save yourself when faced back home with a popular, well-organized, grassroots opponent who's about to overtake you?
Of course, do what President Trump does: Unleash your inner racist to assail your challenger as a demonic civil-liberties zealot who'll let hordes of Black, Latino and other "criminal elements" rampage through White neighborhoods. This is the old, shameful Jim Crow political tactic that endangered Republican incumbents across the country are now resorting to in a panicky effort to deflect attention from their own ugly records of Trumpian servility.
Long-term Texas congressman Michael McCaul has become a poster boy of this partisan sleaze. Poor Michael is used to strolling to victory, but — oops — in September, with only weeks to go in his reelection race, he suddenly found himself in a dead heat with Democrat Mike Siegel. This lawyer and former school teacher's progressive-populist program of "Medicare for All," worker and environmental protections, human rights over corporate greed, etcetera, has forged a growing and enthusiastic movement for change.
So, up pops McCaul with a last-minute, down-and-dirty million-dollar TV blitz howling that Siegel is a crazed criminal-justice radical who'll shut down the police and empty prisons. McCaul himself doesn't appear in this ludicrous dog-whistle piece of racist fabrication. Instead, he has put a White Republican constable (wearing his official uniform) on camera to do his dirty work. Calling Siegel dangerous, the partisan constable cartoonishly tries to gin up voter fear: "Take it from me," he dramatically intones, "Mike Siegel is a threat to your family."
Problem is, McCaul's gun-toting goofball of a front man is a notorious right-wing race baiter and hater who has called peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters "thugs." But he's just the dummy: Mike McCaul is the despicable ventriloquist mouthing fear and hate in a pathetic attempt to save his worthless political hide.
But the high-flying plutocrat could be coming down for a splash landing. The district's demographics are rapidly changing (60,000 more Latinx residents since 2012, for example), and Mike Siegel, a young civil rights champion, has rallied a popular grassroots uprising to pull into a tie with McCaul. For workaday folks long disdained by the aloof incumbent, the sweet scent of comeuppance is in the fall air.
Populist author, public speaker and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes "The Hightower Lowdown," a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America's ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at HightowerLowdown.org.
Photo credit: Ed Schipul