If you needed a break from the political rigors of the campaign trial, here’s some news from the home front on the policymaking juggernaut that is the United States Congress. On Tuesday, Congress got to the serious, seemingly uncontroversial business of naming things. To show that both sides of the aisle could still come together to name post offices that dozens of people still use to send nonelectronic mail, House members voted 381-0 to rename a California post office “Medal of Honor” post office. Sure. No one knows the name of the local post office anyway.
That’s what makes it all the more absurd that in the following vote, also on the renaming of a post office, this one in Winston Salem, North Carolina, that nine Republicans voted against renaming the branch after acclaimed author, poet, and civil rights icon, Maya Angelou.
Maya Angelou! Why? Here's what the Gang of Nine came up with.
“It’s always a big decision when you name a local post office after someone and I just ask the chair, on this issue, to I think people should investigate Maya Angelou a little bit,” Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Wis., said on the floor before the vote. “And I suggest, perhaps, if you want to investigate a little bit further that perhaps you Google Maya Angelou and look at other articles in places like [the American Thinker], the American Spectator.”
The appeal to Google on the House floor is always a good sign. Apparently, nine Republicans Googled Angelou, and then clicked through hundreds of search results past this small sampling of her accomplishments (via Roll Call):
Angelou won the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010, and was the subject of a postage stamp after her death. She recited poetry at the inaugurations of the past two Democratic presidents: Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Former President George W. Bush said in a statement upon her death in 2014 that her words “enriched the culture of our country.”
What was it about Angelou’s life as an American literary and cultural giant that these congressmen couldn’t stomach renaming her hometown post office in her honor? Her decades-old support for Cuba. A point of contention that seems even more like that of a bygone era now that the Rolling Stones are playing there next month and President Obama appears headed for a visit as well. Here’s more on Angelou’s Cuba thinking from Think Progress:
[Angelou] once wrote, “Of course, Castro never had called himself white, so he was O.K. from the git. Anyhow, America hated Russians, and as black people often said, ‘Wasn’t no Communist country that put my grandpappa in slavery. Wasn’t no Communist lynched my poppa or raped my mamma.'” Her commentary aligned with Pan-Africanism and anti-colonial sentiments, according to which people of color — particularly those in the African Diaspora — identified their struggles as part of one larger, systemic fight.
Democratic Rep. Steve Israel was not impressed.
“Naming post offices is one of the most benign and bipartisan duties we perform in the House of Representatives, and there is rarely any opposition. That’s why I was shocked today as nine Republicans voted against naming a post office after Maya Angelou, indisputably one of our country’s greatest poets, authors and civil rights activists. The fact that these nine Members would cast a no vote shows a blatant disrespect and only adds to the damaging actions they’ve taken this year to reverse progress from long and hard fought civil rights battles.”