I am about to tell you a joke. Or something like that.
Virginia Rep. Jo Ann Davis is a Republican from a district in an eastern part of the state that includes the Marine Corps Base at Quantico, parts of the Navy shipyards at Newport News and the Naval Surface Warfare Center at Dalhgren. As a member of the Armed Services Committee, she has made a career out of channeling federal money to her military shipyards. She is not the sort of person you would expect to urge the removal of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
But then last Thursday, Rep. Davis showed up at a meeting of military accountants and let loose. "He's probably a nice guy, but I don't think he's a great secretary of defense," she told the crowd, according to a report in the Newport News Daily Press. "I told my husband that when [Sen.] Hillary Clinton [D-N.Y.] came out and said he should resign, it's probably the only thing in my life I've ever agreed with Hillary Clinton about."
Are you laughing yet? Wait, it gets better.
Later in the same talk, Davis chastised Rumsfeld for not heeding the advice of Gen. Eric Shinseki, the former Army chief of staff, who famously recommended hundreds of thousands to troops to stabilize postwar Iraq. "I think Gen. Shinseki has been proven right," Davis said.
She then described the pain of visiting soldiers who had been injured in Iraq. "It's hard for me, especially being one who voted for [the war], when I go and visit a young soldier or airman or marine and they've been lamed for life by the war ... As soon as we get enough [Iraqis] trained to take over their country, bring our babies home."
This is funny stuff. Or at least that is what her chief of staff, Chris Connolly, wants you to believe. On Sunday, Connolly told a rival local paper, the Free Lance-Star, that all that stuff about the need to get rid of Rumsfeld was "meant as a joke." "She's not actively seeking his resignation," said the staffer.
Get it? A joke. You can laugh now.
What makes the whole story bizarre is that Davis probably does not have to pander to large numbers of anti-Bush Republicans and anti-Rumsfeld military families to win reelection. She is widely seen as a safe incumbent. She got 79 percent of the vote in 2004 in a district where Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry could not even pull 40 percent. She has about $10 in the bank for every $1 raised by her Democratic opponent, a local author and businessman named Shawn O'Donnell.
Davis' only mistake may have been allowing herself to say how she really felt. Think about it: A political candidate saying what she really felt. There's the real punch line.