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Our view: Cawthorn is deplorable

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Of all the many, many, many reasons we could find to legitimately criticize North Carolina’s gift to Crazytown, Rep. Madison Cawthorn — his stolen-valor lie about being accepted to the U.S. Naval Academy; the 160 women who claim to have witnessed his sexually predatorial behavior at the Virginia Christian college he briefly attended; his racist dog whistles; his support for the Jan. 6 insurrectionists; his endorsement of political violence; the naked ambition that has led him to seek election in whichever district might provide him the most success; the blind eye he’s turned to his constituents; and what did that tree ever do to you? — it’s perhaps his latest exploit that has us truly seeing red.

Appearing at a town hall meeting March 5 in Asheville, Cawthorn told a group of supporters, “Remember that Zelenskyy is a thug.”

Zelenskyy? Maybe he meant Cal Zelenskyy, who delivers pizza in Old Fort.

But no; he continued: “Remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and is incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies.”

“Woke ideologies” being today’s “politically correct,” a catch-all term for anything conservatives dislike.

No, this is Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that Cawthorn was bad-mouthing, who has been leading his nation against a foreign invasion conducted by an unhinged dictator. This is the Zelenskyy who has defied an invasion force probably a hundred times mightier than Ukraine — one that has committed atrocities and war crimes by destroying hospitals and schools and homes, sending at least 2.5 million refugees to other countries.

This was the Zelenskyy who answered an offer of asylum with the words, “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.”

This is the Zelenskyy who cleverly withstood pressure from former President Donald Trump to open a bogus investigation — is that what’s stuck in Cawthorn’s craw? — of President Joe Biden’s family.

Zelenskyy’s not running. He’s not blathering. With all odds against him, he’s fighting.

This is a David and Goliath story — and Cawthorn thinks Goliath got a bad rap.

Many leaders in his own party spoke up quickly to contain the damage and distance themselves from Cawthorn. They include our own Sen. Thom Tillis, who tweeted that the notion that Zelenskyy is a “thug” or the Ukrainian government is “evil” is part of the “deranged propaganda” that the Russian government has been spreading across the world.

“Thankfully, the vast majority of Americans and nearly every single member of Congress are united in support of Ukraine’s fight for freedom,” Tillis wrote.

Cawthorn is an “outlier ... in the largest sense possible on our side,” U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said.

Cawthorn was even called out in a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Republican operative Karl Rove, who said that his comments “don’t reflect Republican opinion.”

Cawthorn’s comments might easily be written off as part of a misunderstood, nuanced evaluation of the situation if not for the degree of aid and comfort being offered Putin by other conservatives — including Fox News hosts Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, who last week promoted Russian disinformation about U.S.-funded bioweapons labs in Ukraine. And if not for Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., slipping up earlier in the week by live broadcasting information that could have compromised Zelenskyy’s safety. And if not for the repeated praise offered the Russian dictator by Trump. All of that leads to questions about what Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., calls the “Putin wing” of the Republican Party.

Cawthorn himself eventually tried to walk his comments back, condemning Russia’s invasion and saying he’s praying for Ukrainians.

Last week was noteworthy in Washington for some meaningful and beneficial legislation passed in bipartisan fashion by serious lawmakers who are working hard for the American people. They include a bill to modernize and strengthen the U.S. Postal Service and a $1.5 trillion spending bill that will avert a government shutdown and provide much-needed aid for Ukraine.

Cawthorn has contributed nothing to that work.

The communities in our state’s 11th Congressional District have their share of problems, including the opioid crisis that has affected every other segment of society, underfunded educational resources and the challenge of drawing economic opportunities to help them thrive. They would do better to elect a representative who addresses those issues rather than one who repeats Russian talking points and distracts them with culture wars.

This editorial was published March 13 in the

Winston-Salem Journal.

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