A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Bill Straub: When enough is really enough, whenever that may be, there’s always the November ballot box

When is enough, finally, enough?

That essentially is the question that will be posed to voters of Kentucky’s Fourth Congressional District this November when it comes to Rep. Thomas Massie, R-SomewhereorotherLewisCounty, who has been applying his brand of oddball legislating in the nation’s capital for better than seven long years now.

Massie, as most observers of his reckless meanderings know all too well, posses one of the most curious records to come down the pike in some time. There is his scoffing of the evidence of climate change and the embarrassing face-off with former Secretary of State John Kerry regarding his expertise on the subject. He wants to kill about half the federal government, starting with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Education, and withdraw from the United Nations. He opposed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, has cozied up to Russia and voted against a bill intended, at least in part, to repair or replace the Brent Spence Bridge connecting Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky over the Ohio River.

KyForward’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.

He is the poster boy for the National Rifle Association, sought to shut down the federal government on any number of occasions and then fought against back pay for furloughed workers, famously opposed awarding a gold medal to golfer Jack Nicklaus for some vague reason, regularly opposes simple legislation like naming post offices – including a time when he voted against one dedicated to a fellow Kentuckian – and basically just says no to various things because he apparently considers it fun.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch “Root-‘n-Branch’’ McConnell, of Louisville, who has embraced his own honorary title of “Grim Reaper,” refers to Massie as Mr. No, which should tell you all that’s needed about the guy.

A lot of the silly things Massie does is stupid yet relatively harmless, done to draw attention to himself, making him the Madonna of the House of Representatives.

And then there are more utterly disgusting votes, like the one he took last week aimed at a bill making lynching a federal hate crime.

Last week, the House voted 410-4 and sent to the Senate the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, which, as the title notes, makes lynching a federal crime. It is expected to pass the upper chamber, which has adopted similar legislation in the recent past, and become law.

Massie was one of the four who said no.

Lynching, for those who didn’t exist during the Civil Rights era and before, is the extralegal practice of hanging African-American citizens without benefit of a trial for violations of law, both real and imagined. According to the Equal Justice Initiative, based in Montgomery, AL, the U.S. experienced more than 4,000 instances of lynchings between the late 1800s and the 1960s.
One victim of the racist practice was Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American youth from Chicago visiting family in Mississippi, who was strung up by the neck for allegedly making advances on a white woman in 1955, a time when such initiatives were verboten in the deep South.
The perpetrators – they eventually acknowledged responsibility for the crime – were found not guilty by an all-white jury. The Till tragedy became a cause celebre and helped spark the civil rights movement.

Now, one might think that taking a stand against a practice as ugly as lynching is not such a bad idea. Not Massie. Here is what he told Reason magazine:

“I voted against H.R. 35 because the Constitution specifies only a handful of federal crimes, and leaves the rest to individual states to prosecute. In addition, this bill expands current federal ‘hate crime’ laws. A crime is a crime, and all victims deserve equal justice. Adding enhanced penalties for ‘hate’ tends to endanger other liberties such as freedom of speech.”

This response displays incredible ignorance of America’s racist past and the steps required to bring the situation under control.

Congress, led by President John F. Kennedy and later goaded by President Lyndon Johnson in wake of the latter’s assassination, passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to fulfill the promise of the post-Civil War 14th Amendment, which granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States — including former slaves and their descendants — thus guaranteeing them “equal protection of the laws.”

That promise went largely unfulfilled, particularly in the Deep South, until the 1964 legislation. White folks who denied black citizens their basic rights in places like Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, almost always violently, were rarely if ever held to account. Often the violations of these rights were undertaken by local and state law enforcement themselves, as evidenced by the Mississippi Burning case.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 changed all that, allowing the FBI and federal prosecutors to get involved in what had formerly been considered the domain of the states. Ensuring that individual civil rights are protected under the 14th Amendment have been expanded several times since then, and now it’s possible it may include the antilynching law.

And, despite Massie’s protestations, the federal criminal code is filled with sentence enhancements, also known as aggravating factors, which allow, and often require, a judge to increase a defendant’s sentence beyond the normal range. A defendant can receive extra time, for instance, if a crime if committed at the point of a gun. In this instance, sentences can be enhanced for violating a person’s civil rights.

Lynching is no longer a major problem, in the Deep South or elsewhere. But taking a stand against it, and raising the bar should it recur, is assuredly a worthwhile step.

Instead Massie chooses to make a mockery of everything that brought us to this point in time. Such is sadly not unusual for him.

Now, as has been expressed numerous times in the past, Massie, known here as the Whiz Kid, is extremely smart, one of the most intelligent members of the House, and, no, that is not damning with faint praise. He’s an MIT grad who, it seems, can accomplish just about anything.

And, by all accounts, he’s a good and decent guy in his personal relations, although his legislative record shows an uncommon adoration of guns and a stultifying lack of empathy.

But those qualities don’t make up for his disastrous record as exhibited by his tone-deafness over lynching. He is a walking talking embarrassment and voters will be getting another opportunity to decide if they want to go around red-faced for another two years come November.

Related Posts


  1. Joe says:

    Bill Straub would not make a pimple on
    Thomas Massie’s buttock. But he is right about one thing Thomas is very smart.
    You have to really work hard to make a racist out of Mr. Massie just because he voted against a lynching law …. which there is already laws against MURDER . and hate crimes. Why would we need another law?….. And to only relate lynching to the civil rights struggle in the south……. I have no data on this but will go out on a limb and say there have been more white people lynched that black since the Mayflower!!!!!!
    Bill you had better get your scrip. for Prozac filled because Thomas Massie will be reelected ……GET OVER IT!!!!

  2. Dawn says:

    You accuse Representative Massie of “reckless meanderings,” yet it is you this piece, not Massie, that is horribly guilty of just that. I have known and followed Massie for years, and he is both intelligent and principled and doesn’t take his responsibilities lightly. One thing you can guarantee with Massie is that he has a very good reason for everything he does, and his decisions are grounded in the principles of freedom, individual liberty and a constitutionally limited government. I guarantee if finds lynchings as odious as the rest of us, but he knows all to well the unintended consequences of passing feel good legislation that grants yet more power to the federal government. Please educate yourself a bit better about those on whom you report. Massie is not ignorant. He is smart, educated, decent, principled and a citizen legislator of the character and quality we need much more of in D.C. You could learn a thing or two from him if you gave yourself the opportunity.

Leave a Comment