David Vitter, another cowardly lion

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A lot of people don’t like U.S. Sen. David Vitter because of his past dalliances with prostitutes. Many more dislike him for entirely different — and more compelling — reasons: they think he’s too much like incumbent Gov. Bobby Jindal … only worse.

I mention that because of what happened at the recent Alliance for Good Government governor candidate forum at Loyola Law School. Only two of the major candidates showed up — Vitter, for a change, and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne. Vitter has skipped a number of forums, claiming he has pressing duties in the U.S. Senate. He also has declined to attend forums that don’t give him the questions in advance.

That’s one way he reminds folks of Jindal: he likes to control, orchestrate and script every “public” appearance. Spontaneity is avoided at all costs.

Both men remind me of the cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz — full of bluster from a safe distance but ultimately afraid of their own shadows. Jindal is terrified of anything that might threaten his presidential ambitions, while Vitter is afraid to confront his past, particularly the “very serious sin” he admitted in 2007 — cavorting with prostitutes while a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. That came squarely into focus at the Alliance forum on Sept. 14.

At that forum, Vitter and Dardenne were asked if they had ever violated Title 14 of Louisiana’s statutes while in public office. Both men are lawyers, so it was a fair question. Title 14 is the state’s Criminal Code, and paying prostitutes for sex is unequivocally a criminal offense.

Dardenne said he had never violated Title 14 and never would.

Vitter’s response was telling: He freaked.

“Off the top of my head, I couldn’t cite you Title 14,” Vitter said. “I don’t know exactly what it says.”

Really? A lawyer who taught law school classes and who, as a state lawmaker for nearly eight years, filed and/or voted on literally hundreds of bills dealing with Title 14 doesn’t know that it’s the Criminal Code, and that soliciting for prostitution is a crime? That’s like a contractor saying he doesn’t know exactly what the Building Code says, or a plumber saying he’s not exactly sure what a pipe wrench is for. It’s totally disingenuous.

Vitter then tried to deflect the question by saying it was “planted” to embarrass him. He never answered “yes” or “no” — which also is telling.

Let’s assume he’s correct about the question being planted. So what? When you run for governor, you have to take what comes, sorta like what happens when you, um, win and then have to govern.

Here’s a news flash for Sen. Vitter: As governor, you don’t get to opt out of hurricanes, tornadoes, oil spills, flash floods, economic downturns and other catastrophes just because they’re scary and you weren’t warned in advance. Stuff happens, and you have to deal with it. You can’t control, script, orchestrate or contrive it. You certainly can’t run from it.

Personally, I don’t care who Vitter carried on with 15 years ago. But every Louisiana voter should care enough to ask if a man who is afraid of his own past can muster the courage to lead us all into the future.

Bobby Jindal proved that being governor of Louisiana is not for the faint of heart. Do we really need four or eight more years of political cravenness to drive home the point?

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