Seventy years old, he was retired with 13 grandchildren, sitting comfortably in Breezy Point, Queens, enjoying life. But Bob Turner is now one of the 435, and trying to get something constructive done in a town that often seems destined for something different. A former media businessman, Turner joins a team that wants to provide a Total Makeover to a real-life series of What Not to Do; it’s not quite a Mission Impossible — at least not yet.
He spoke at his congressional campaign’s victory party in Howard Beach early in the morning of September 14. He was armed with a clear message, and appeared humble and confident as its advocate. He had been elected to the seat vacated by the now-infamous Anthony Weiner, a seat that may very well be redistricted out of existence next year. But this is just fine with him.
Turner is about as far away as one can get from being a career politician. In 2010, we spoke about the prospect of his becoming Congressman Turner: “I will have a job to do,” he told me. “I want to do it and get the hell out.” This wasn’t his dream, you see. It was his calling.
He was watching Bill O’Reilly, and he was furious. Furious about the health-care monstrosity, and his own congressman’s dodgy answers. He wanted to send a check to someone, but no one had put their name forward. The rest, as they say, is history. The voters of NY-9, agitated about the economy, about marriage, and about the future, sent him to Washington.
“I understand I start on Thursday,” he said to the cheering crowd — the work, the mission clearly on his mind.
This wasn’t the first call Turner had answered. It was hard to miss C. J. among the Turner family on election night. When she was diagnosed as HIV-positive in 1986, his mother, Rosemary Holmstrom, became well-known in New York City — the story was even made into a made-for-TV movie starring Linda Hamilton — as a loving mom who wanted a home for her 8-year-old son. Turner and his wife, Peggy, a nurse, provided that home and adopted C. J. after Mrs. Holmstrom’s death.
The Turners have the resources. But it takes more than that to raise someone with the smile C. J. had election night. Something much richer and more enduring.
Hours after Turner was sworn in, Speaker of the House John Boehner spoke in a style similar to Turner’s, just without the New York accent. “Hell no, I’m not having any fun,” reflected the speaker. “But I’m glad I’m here. . . . I came here to do something on behalf of my country. . . . I’d like to accomplish my mission and get the hell out of here.”
Boehner ended a Q&A session by explaining: “I took a job with my neighborhood homeowners’ association . . . wound up in Congress . . . this too could happen to you.”
Given the opportunity to complain about his job, he didn’t take the bait. “I’ve done the stress thing. . . . I don’t really have a lot of worries or concerns. . . . I am a pretty simple guy.”
Welcome to the no-frills, no-whine campaign season. President Obama, prone to both, will refuse to get on board at his peril. People don’t need Greek columns and Stevie Wonder concerts. And they don’t even necessarily need a “hot” Hispanic from Miami or a whiz “wonk” from Wisconsin. They just want good stewards with solutions.
It was telling that Tuesday’s other special election, in Nevada’s 2nd district, featured a side-by-side commercial that helped seal the deal for House Republicans: Barack Obama was put front and center next to Democrat-for-Congress Kate Marshall.
“This election is about you,” said the president. Then it was Marshall’s turn to say the exact same thing. Obama, then Marshall. Verbatim, ad nauseam . . .
Increasingly, people don’t want to hear that.
“Change the direction of America,” continued the spot. This time it was Joe Biden speaking first, and then Marshall repeating the refrain.
You get the picture. Kate Marshall lost.
Americans won’t be played for fools — at least not for too long. Arguments will be settled in the sober light of post-debate or post-primary or post-general-election discussion. And then there will be work to do. Who is going to get to do it? Who has the experience? The motivation?
The guy who still has money in the bank and all those grandkids might be a good bet. The one who doesn’t seem to get a thrill from it, but is grateful for the opportunity.
You may not have “the coin,” as Turner has put it, to run for office — or the schedule or the freedom of retirement. But there are things you can do. Go ahead, and before the end of the month. You can help to curtail the endless repetition of poverty cycles in the United States by supporting a solid Catholic school in an inner city. John Boehner and Joseph Lieberman are doing just that in Washington, D.C., holding an annual fundraising dinner Wednesday night — a bipartisan event founded by Boehner and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy — for the Consortium of Catholic Academies, a grouping of the most needy schools serving the poorest kids in the roughest neighborhoods in the archdiocese. Talk about game changers.
And while you might not agree with some of your more religious or green friends about the moral or health dangers of contraceptive use, how do you feel about contraception by fiat? Do you even know that the Department of Health and Human Services issued a rule this summer mandating that all private health plans cover contraception and sterilization as “preventive services” for women? Got a religious objection? Too bad, you’re mandated to purchase the coverage. This is a violation of religious freedom and individual conscience. HHS is taking comments until the end of the month on the mandate. Let them know you’re outraged.
Like Turner, taking a seat held by Democrats for nearly 90 years, you can be a bridge to those who may have stopped reading at the mere mention of the contraception issue, thinking it was another rant about abstinence.
And while you are in note-writing mode: Thank a Bob Turner today. You could be one.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through United Media.