Political Animal


January 16, 2013 3:14 PM Light Imprint

By Ed Kilgore

Sometimes you’ll be reading through a political poll, and something jumps out at you that you’d normally pass right by. That happened to me today in reading PPP’s summary of a new survey of North Carolina:

Richard Burr continues to be one of the most low profile Senators in the country in his home state- 32% of voters approve of him and 30% disapprove, but the largest chunk of voters at 38% doesn’t have an opinion about him either way.

Now that can’t be attributable to the kind of low name identification relative political newcomers typically have. Burr has been in the U.S. Senate for eight years now, and has run two statewide campaigns. Before that he served for a decade in the U.S. House. He’s also ranking Republican on the Veterans Affairs Committee, a post that you’d figure would provide plenty of opportunities for high visibility in a state like North Carolina, which has a sizable military retiree population and a couple of big bases.

Yet a plurality of North Carolinians have no particular opinion of the man. His Wikipedia page says: “As Senator, Burr has had a non-controversial tenure so far, espousing most of the positions held by the vast majority of his fellow Republicans.” It also indicated he considered running for Whip among Senate Republicans but decided against the big; maybe it would have drawn too much attention to him.

For all I know, Burr has found the secret to Senate longevity: don’t leave too much of an impression and lull voters into bored complacency. Wikipedia also reports he is distantly related to the third Vice President of the United States, Aaron Burr. Now there was a pol who knew how to court controversy, from allegedly trying to rob Thomas Jefferson of the presidency to killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel to being placed on trial for treason. He was even rumored to have illegitimately fathered future president Martin Van Buren. Maybe that was enough controversy for one family tree.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on January 16, 2013 3:53 PM:

    He became one of my Senators when I was living in NC.

    He is pretty much a non-entity.

    I sent him 3-4 letters, on a variety of subjects, and, I swear, he sent the same insipid form letter back thanking me for my interest on the subject, while not saying anything about what he thought abour the subject.

    The final time I sent him one, I asked him why the citizens of North Carolina were paying him a salary, if all he was going to do was just rubber-stamp everything George W. Bush wanted - and couldn't a chimp be taught to grunt when an "Aye" was needed, or press the "Yes" button, or hold his hand up? And I knew his auto-signature worked just fine, because that was at the bottom of every letter I got back.

    His letter thanked me for my interest.

    I suspect that every day, someone has to hold a mirror to his face, just to see if he's still alive.

  • Gandalf on January 16, 2013 4:00 PM:

    If you think Burr is nondescript in Ohio most people refer to our two senators as the liberal Brown and that other guy(Rob Portman). Portman is so vanilla he makes a McDonalds cheese burger look like a gourmet feast.

  • Ken on January 16, 2013 4:31 PM:

    Aaron Burr's family tree seems to be even more prolific then anything but Irish Kings.
    I have met at least 3 people who claim to be off shoots of that prolific progenator.

    I find this to be amazing considering Aaron Burr's only daughter died at sea and left no children behind.

    He did have a sister who had a single child who had a single son who then died at 20 ending her side of the family.

    Since there are no acknowledged children born from the "wrong side of the blanket" ( illegitimit) I am curious as to from whence this extensive family tree sprung from?

  • Steve on January 16, 2013 4:52 PM:

    Aaron Burr brought us the filibuster too, so there's that to further burnish his villainous image.

  • Bokonon on January 16, 2013 5:10 PM:

    Ken - the extended and indirect Burr family might indeed be pretty large ... if you drop back a step from Burr's immediate family, and include all the descendants of Burr's grandfather. Who was none other than the Reverend Jonathan Edwards (the guy who penned the famous hellfire and brimstone sermon "Sinners In the Hands of an Angry God").

    Now, THAT extended family tree is huge, and includes my wife (just for example).

    People saying they are direct descendents of Aaron Burr? Not so much. Unless they are descended from illegitimate children (which is possible - Burr was a notorious ladies' man).

    So far as Burr being a "villain" - remember, Burr was anti-slavery, and an early advocate of women's also equality. And Burr's reputation was blackened by his political enemies - particularly Thomas Jefferson, after his multiple attempts to try Burr for treason all failed.

  • yellowdog on January 16, 2013 10:12 PM:

    This is the Johnny Isakson-Paul Coverdell method of politics. (Who now?)
    Bore the public, and all potential opponents, into a state of somnolence. Rouse enough of them to vote the ticket on the right day. It's a far cry from a Daley or Pendergast machine, but it seems to work for them.

  • low-tech cyclist on January 17, 2013 1:21 PM:

    It also helps that Burr has had the good fortune to come up for re-election in the Republican years of 2004 and 2010.

    We'll see if his luck holds out in 2016.