Last night, I stopped by Bridge Lounge to experience Congressman Joseph Cao in person for the first time. I can tell you this: it was not your typical Republican campaign event, that's for sure.
For one, the Congressman quoted Socrates at some point in his lengthy, rather rambling speech, citing the need to live a reflective life. And the Congressman was the tiniest person in the room - barely coming up to the top of the microphone stands that the opening band, Glasgow, had used. But the crowd - a wildly diverse crew that seemed very New Orleans - stood for the entire thing (Murray Nelson, beside the stage, clapped loudly at numerous points in vain attempts to wrap up the remarks, as did Princella).
Joseph Cao, speaking softly and thoughtfully, had something to say, though. Something very different - mostly about the need for service, a desire for dialogue for good decisionmaking, and an acknowledgement by a sitting member of Congress that in his efforts to do what's best for his district, "I will make you so angry sometimes that you will want to scream, you will want to bang your head against the wall." Looking at his voting record, I can say that's true - I'm generally concerned about his lack of fiscal responsibility, although I think he was referencing his vote for the health care bill. But it was refreshing in its quietness, it was in earnest. It was clearly unscripted. Will it be enough to win in 2010? I really don't know.
One rock-ribbed Republican friend of mine headed out early during the speech - "not impressed in the least," he texted me as he departed.
Another friend in attendance, a conservative Democrat, summed up the presentation in this way: "The diversity of the crowd. The blandness of his speaking. And the freeness of the food (pizza and jambalaya)."
Cao was best when he spoke about his recent visit to Southeast Asia, where, in addition to noting China's "imperialistic intents" in the region, he visited a relative in Vietnam. He noted that local police visited the relative after he stopped by, inquiring as to the purpose of the visit and the nature of the conversation. He used the instance to draw a clear distinction between life under a Communist regime and life in the United States. Ever tranquil, the diminutive Cao seemed like a sage in a gray suit with a microphone, holding the varied audience with his calm approach.
The speech, when if finally ended, concluded in random New Orleanian fashion - with Cao receiving a glittering high heel Muses boot from a member of the krewe. This much I know: Joseph Cao is his own man. He's far better than William Jefferson. He's not a typical politician of any existing, recognizable stripe or strand in American politics.