Email #229: “our shame”?

Congressman Caldwell Butler represented Virginia’s District 6 from his special election victory in 1972 to his retirement ten years later. Like you, Butler was a Roanoke lawyer and a loyal member of the Republican party. According to the Washington Post: “if anyone could be counted on during the agonies of Watergate, it was surely Rep. M. Caldwell Butler.”

But then Butler surprised his party and his country, announcing that he would vote for President Nixon’s impeachment: “For years we Republicans have campaigned against corruption and misconduct … But Watergate is our shame. I cannot condone what I have heard, I cannot excuse it, and I cannot and will not stand still for it.” Butler was a member of the House Judiciary Committee and his vote received national attention because it signaled a shift in the GOP away from their own President. Nixon resigned two weeks later.

Butler made his announcement on July 24, 1974—forty-three years ago today. You now occupy his Congressional seat. You are not only a member of the House Judiciary Committee, you are its chair. And if anyone has been counted upon so far during the agonies of the Trump scandals, it’s certainly been you.

And yet you have campaigned against corruption and misconduct too. Speaker Ryan complimented you in 2012 for working hard “to keep watch over the executive branch.” The first House Speaker you served under, Newt Gingrich, said your “basic approach is to try to bring everyone together to get to a solution.” You also weild far more power and responsibility than your predecessor. As Gingrich said: “As chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he has a lot of influence because he really does run the committee. In Bob’s case there’s no question he is in charge.”

When Butler died, he was eulogized as a maverick. While there’s little chance that you will be remembered similarly, there is still a chance you will be remembered well. But your reputation will rise or fall based on your actions toward the Trump administration. History will either record you as a Representative who upheld the honor and independence of Caldwell’s congressional district seat or as a party toady who buried his head at the moment of his career when his nation needed him most.

Will you use your influence to continue the Republican party’s shame or to end it?

Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an associate professor at W&L University, comics editor of Shenandoah, and series editor of Bloomsbury Critical Guides in Comics Studies. He has published two novels: School for Tricksters (SMU 2011) and Pretend I’m Not Here (HarperCollins 2002); and six books of scholarship: On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa 2015), Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury 2017), Superhero Thought Experiments (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Iowa 2019), Revising Fiction, Fact, and Faith (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Routledge 2020), Creating Comics (with Leigh Ann Beavers, Bloomsbury 2021), and The Comics Form (Bloomsbury forthcoming). His visual work appears in Ilanot Review, North American Review, Aquifer, and other journals.

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