Category Archives: Politics and History

This blog contains liberal political and historical comments by Judah Ginsberg, freelance writer and communications consultant.

There Will Be Blood

What is so hard, what is so hard about saying that this is wrong?Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, on the floor of the House during the debate over censuring Representative Paul Gosar, Republican of Arizona, for posting a violent video depicting him murdering Ocasio-Cortez and attacking President Joe Biden.

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Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Someone will be killed. People will die. The eagerness of some Republicans to portray violence against members of the opposite party and the willingness of most of the rest of the party to condone those depictions, inevitably, will lead to violence. Violence begets violence. Of that, there is no question. And, when the inevitable occurs, blood will be on the hands of virtually every Republican, including those who lacked the courage to say: This is wrong!

Ocasio-Cortez’s question was directed at Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy, who once again demonstrated his willingness to tolerate violent and hateful speech and actions from members of his caucus. McCarthy has said nothing publicly about the cartoon Gosar posted on the Internet. McCarthy’s silence condones Gosar’s ugliness, encouraging the Arizonan and others to engage in more vileness while inviting actual violence. 

Make no mistake about it: Gosar’s posting endangers members of the Congress and the president of the United States. If anyone without the protection of a congressional seat posted a similar video, he or she would have had the Secret Service and the FBI at his or her doorstep in a split second. Threatening an official of the United States government is a felony. 

Gosar has not apologized for the video. He mocked what he called the “faux outrage,” which he finds “infantile.” He says,“The hyperventilating and shrill accusations that this cartoon is dangerous [is] laughable or intentionally hyperbolic.” In his defense on the House floor Wednesday, Gosar noted he took down the video — after three million views of it — and tried to portray himself as the victim. He vowed to “continue to speak out.” 

Only two Republicans — Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — voted with Democrats Wednesday to censure Gosar. No doubt many fear the anger of ultra-conservatives. Officials report that death threats against members of Congress have more than doubled in the last few years. Colorado Democrat Jason Crow says such threats “are unfortunately the reality of congressional life.” Ohio Republican Representative Anthony Gonzalez recently announced he would not seek reelection because of threats against him following his vote to impeach then-President Donald Trump. Gonzalez, who is 37, is leaving Congress after only two terms because of fears for the safety of his wife and young children.

Gonzalez is not exaggerating the danger. Representative Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican, received an obscene and violent voicemail in which the caller said, “I hope you die. I hope everybody in your fucking family dies.” Upton’s “crime”: He voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill, along with 12 other House Republicans and 19 Republican Senators, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

It is, of course, extremely telling that what raises the ire of Republican right-wingers is not Gosar’s gross video but the votes of those 13 House Republicans. Apparently, doing the people’s business is now a crime on the right. Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene — who may be even nuttier than Gosar — said this about her colleagues: “Any Republican that votes yes to an infrastructure bill that helps Biden pass his agenda when bumbling Biden doesn’t even know what he’s doing, then that Republican is a traitor to our party, a traitor to their voters, and a traitor to our donors.” 

Nuttiness is endemic on the right these days. Gosar, for example, claims that Ashli Babbitt, the insurrectionist shot dead by Capitol Police on January 6, was “executed in cold blood” by an officer “lying in wait.” Gosar asserts, “Facts are coming to light that the FBI might have had a hand in planning and carrying out” the insurrection, though he fails to cite any of those “facts.” Gosar was one of more than 20 Republicans who voted against awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the officers who defended the Capitol on January 6. Finally, Gosar has consorted with White nationalists.

And, Republicans are angry at their colleagues who voted for better roads and bridges! As Kinzinger tweeted: “So let me understand, Gosar’s creepy anime of murder and such is ok but [New York Republican Representative] John Katko is the sinner for negotiating and voting for infrastructure?”

In remarks on the floor Wednesday, McCarthy accused Democrats of making “rules for thee, but not for me.” McCarthy has his facts wrong. The last censure vote in the House was in 2010 when New York Democratic Representative Charlie Rangel was rebuked for ethics violations in a bipartisan vote. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — a Democrat — read aloud the resolution censuring Rangel for bringing disgrace on the House. 

But, the debate over who is doing what to whom and who is or is not being consistent is beside the point. The important point is simple: Violence is unacceptable. Members of Congress cannot issue threats against their colleagues nor against the president (nor against anyone else, for that matter). Gosar is lucky he was only censured. He should be expelled and prosecuted for his felonious action.

Violence begets violence. Inevitable in this atmosphere is a shockingly violent act. When it happens, there will be blood not only on the hands of Paul Gosar and his ilk, but on all his enablers, whose ranks include Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and every member of the GOP caucus save the two who voted for Gosar’s censure. Sickeningly, even then, they likely will duck responsibility. When will Americans hold them accountable?

Posted November 19, 2021

 

 

War on America

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Much of the modern Republican Party is pitted against America — against American values of free speech and freedom of religion, against the rule of law and the Constitution, and against civility in the public square.

I hesitated to write this introduction because it evokes the dastardly campaign of right-wingers during the Red Scare of the 1950s when the accusation of un-American was common. The epithet was used against progressives who sought to enshrine liberal values and fight discrimination. But, the current Republican Party indicts itself for being against America when its leader refuses to accept the results of a free and fair election and much of the party backs him. It indicts itself when it purges members who deviate from the “party line.” It indicts itself when members extol violence against political opponents and the rest of the party is silent. It indicts itself when it attacks free speech and the free exercise of religion.

The ongoing war waged by the disgraced former president against the results of the 2020 presidential election undermines the social contract upon which a free America rests. The Constitution — as drawn up by the Framers and modified over more than two centuries — is a framework that can succeed as the basic law only when all agree to abide by its rules. One of those rules — implied, but sanctioned by precedent — centers on the sanctity of the election process. Ever since the first presidents surrendered office to their successors, Americans have accepted the results of elections. Granted, there may have been some griping about the results, but the results were accepted.

Apparently, no more! Donald Trump claims — without any evidence — that he won. The bulk of the Republican Party refuses to contradict him, and, in state after state, Republicans are attempting to skew election rules in ways that guarantee Republican victories by essentially decreeing that the votes of some groups — all of whom support the Republican Party — count for more than those of other groups. They are passing laws making it more difficult for Democratic voters — people of color and young voters, specifically — to vote. They are making it harder to vote by mail, a mode of voting favored by Democrats. They are giving Republican state officials power to overturn the results of elections. All of this runs against the arc of American history that witnessed the continual expansion of voting rights. Now, the Republican Party is attempting to turn back the clock and restrict the franchise, not expand it.

The Republican Party — at least most of it — refuses to condemn the insurrection of January 6. Republicans in Congress voted against all attempts to probe the coup attempt by the former president, demonstrating an unwillingness to investigate an attack on a fundamental part of the American electoral process — the role of Congress in sanctioning the peaceful transfer of power. (And, purged from leadership positions Republicans who had the courage to vote for an inquiry.) Worse than that, elements of the Republican Party deny that an insurrection even took place and extol as a martyr an insurrectionist killed during a spasm of violence aimed at the American system of government. 

Violence seems endemic in the modern Republican Party. Most Americans, no doubt, believe that violence as a political weapon became unacceptable after the Civil War. But, that is no longer the case as one of the two major political parties appears comfortable running candidates for high office who stand accused of violent actions. The front-runner for the Republican nomination for Senate in Pennsylvania in 2022 is awaiting a judge’s ruling on an accusation he choked his estranged wife and hit one of his children. The lead candidate in Missouri for the GOP Senate nomination allegedly tied up his mistress in the basement of his marital home, an accusation which drove him from the governorship. And, in Georgia, the wife of former football star Herschel Walker says he threatened her with a gun. Walker is likely to secure the Republican nomination for a Senate seat as he has Trump’s backing. 

It gets worse! A right-wing member of the House from Arizona, Paul Gosar, posted a cartoon on the Internet showing him killing a progressive member from New York and threatening the president of the United States with violence. No one in the Republican leadership said a word in condemnation. At a conservative rally in Idaho a man asked, “When do we get to use the guns” to kill Democrats. The audience applauded, and a local state official called it a “fair” question. In Ohio, a Republican senatorial candidate, Josh Mandel, called upon Republicans to resist “tyranny… when the Gestapo show[s] up at your front door” to allegedly force people to wear masks and get vaccinated. Mandel is the grandson of Holocaust survivors. The disgraced former president notoriously has praised violence, calling upon his supporters to “knock the hell” out of protestors and recently defended January 6 rioters who yelled “hang [Vice President] Mike Pence.”

Republicans across the land are attacking free speech in a quest to ban books on race and gender. The question of banning the Pulitzer-Prize winning book “Beloved,” written by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, was a factor in the victory of Republican Glenn Youngkin in the Virginia gubernatorial election earlier this month. Republican governors in South Carolina and Texas are threatening to ban books. From banning books to burning books is, apparently, a short step. In Spotsylvania County, Virginia, two school board members called for burning books they labelled “sexually explicit.” For those with a short historical memory, note this: Book burning is something associated with Nazi Germany, not an America committed by the First Amendment to freedom of speech.

And, finally, speaking of the First Amendment: Disgraced former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn called for the establishment of “one religion” in the United States. Flynn, who remains close to Trump, said: “If we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion. One nation under God and one religion under God.” He did not specify which religion, but I think it a fair guess that he has some version of Christianity in mind. Minnesota Democrat Ilhan Omar is correct when she tweeted, in response to Flynn, “These People hate the US Constitution.” And, are ignorant of it: Flynn apparently has no knowledge of the establishment clause (which prohibits the establishment of religion) in the First Amendment. 

This is only a sliver of the Republican Party’s war on America. And, it is likely to get worse. Attacks on free speech are likely to escalate in coming months as Republican candidates for office try to outdo each other in heated rhetoric. And, the attack on the electoral process will continue. Trump is likely to be the Republican nominee for president in 2024. His actions in attempting to undo the results of the 2020 election are just a prelude to what he may do in the next election. A failed coup, after all, is just a training exercise for the next go around. 

Posted November 16, 2021

Learning the Right Lessons

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Politicians, like generals, often look backward for guidance rather than to the future. Just as generals, as the saying goes, always fight the last war, politicians tend to take the perceived lessons from the last campaign as inspiration for the next one. Democrats and Republicans alike are pouring over the results of last Tuesday’s election to glean nuggets upon which to base strategy for the 2022 midterm elections.

But, are they drawing the right lessons?

No one elected Biden to be the second coming of FDR

Virginia Democratic Representative Abigail Spanberger said of President Joe Biden after the election: “Nobody elected him to be FDR, they elected him to be normal and stop the chaos.” Spanberger is a two-term member of Congress from Virginia. In 2018, Spanberger defeated David Brat, an ultra-conservative Republican incumbent, to become the first Democrat to represent her district since 1971. She is understandably nervous about her political fortunes in a district that Biden carried narrowly but which voted for Donald Trump for president in 2016 and which Glenn Youngkin won handily in his victory in last week’s gubernatorial election.

Spanberger is wrong historically and politically. Nobody in 1932 elected FDR to be FDR! Those who voted for Franklin Delano Roosevelt did not have any inkling of the scope and extent of the New Deal. Roosevelt ran a cautious campaign, partly because he and his advisers did not fully understand the structural causes of the Great Depression and had not yet fully developed plans to combat the economic catastrophe. Also, Roosevelt realized how unpopular Herbert Hoover, the incumbent was, so he said little of substance, hoping to not commit any gaffes.

Politically, Spanberger is wrong. Now, it is possible that Democrats in Spanberger’s district played down Biden’s progressive agenda, but in deep blue parts of the country voters knew exactly for whom they were voting. Biden’s campaign was not shy about touting guaranteed family and medical leave, lower cost prescription drugs, universal preschool, free community college, expanded broadband, and a vigorous attack on climate change. 

In other words, all the progressive measures in the Build Back Better Bill were part of Biden’s campaign. 

The 2021 election was a defeat for progressivism

Maybe! But, it is also possible to look at the results and conclude that Republican gains came because of Democratic dithering in Washington. After all, the infrastructure package passed Congress after Election Day, and Democrats are still struggling to enact the Build Back Better Act. Terry McAuliffe, the defeated Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia, begged Democrats in Washington to “get their act together” and pass Biden’s agenda. 

Would it have made a difference? Who knows? But, this we do know: Individual parts of the Biden program are very popular with voters. Passage of most of the president’s agenda, coupled with a vigorous campaign to inform voters that Democrats are legislating on their behalf (yes, working on behalf of their constituents — what a novel idea!), might have an impact next November. Part of that campaign must be to highlight the contrast between Democrats and their do-nothing Republican opponents. After all, former President Donald Trump kept promising an “infrastructure week,” but it never happened. Democrats passed a significant infrastructure bill a “mere” 11 months into Biden’s presidency. 

Democrats must compete for the rural vote

Yes, the urban-rural vote divide is real and getting worse for Democrats. And, yes, Democrats should be competitive in all demographic and geographic groups and areas. But, it is easy to over-analyze the Virginia results.

Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin outperformed Donald Trump’s 2020 showing in even the reddest counties, winning rural Virginia counties by record margins. But, that is not the whole story of the Virginia election. McAuliffe won voter-rich Fairfax County, a Washington suburb, by 30 points. Biden beat Trump in Fairfax by 42 points. Same in Loudon County, which Biden carried by 25 points in 2020, but McAuliffe won by only 11. 

The lesson here? The rural vote should be contested, but McAuliffe lost in 2021 because he bled suburban voters.

Youngkin won because he handled Trump correctly

Yes, Youngkin ran a smart campaign, cleaving close enough to the discredited former president so as not to alienate Trump’s base, but keeping Trump far enough away in order to lure moderate suburban voters. But, it takes two to tango, and Youngkin’s strategy worked because Trump cooperated, staying out of Virginia and not saying anything too damaging. Will the irrepressible former president cooperate in 2022? His track record indicates he will intervene in many races.

Republicans should nominate moderates

Youngkin is hardly a moderate, but he ran a campaign that appealed to the particular concern of Virginia voters in 2021: Outrage over the teaching of race in public schools. This is an issue drummed up by conservatives who want to push so-called cultural issues over actual policies that benefit voters. In his campaign, Youngkin succeeded in avoiding some of the more damaging pitfalls that have torpedoed conservative Republicans in the past. (See Ken Cuccinelli, an ultra-conservative candidate who ran an unsuccessful race in 2013 against McAuliffe for governor of Virginia.)

Youngkin became the Republican nominee for governor by winning an unusual ranked-choice vote implemented by the Virginia Republican Party to prevent the nomination of a right-wing kook (again, see Ken Cuccinelli). But, the Virginia template will not be the electoral structure in other states. Much more likely will be primary battles in which ultra-conservative candidates try to outrun each other to the far right to please Donald Trump. Republicans who can win primaries may not be strong candidates in general elections (see Christine O’Donnell in Delaware in 2010, Todd Akin in Missouri in 2012, and Richard Mourdock in Indiana in 2012.)

Conclusion

There are valuable lessons to be learned from the 2021 off-year election. But, it is easy to draw the wrong conclusions. Besides, the electoral environment may be starkly different in 2022. The recovering economy may be booming by next November, thanks in part to implementation of the Biden agenda. Voters may be in the mood to reward Democrats for legislating on their behalf. 

Posted November 9, 2020

 

Make It About the Economy, Stupid

It’s the economy, stupid. — James Carville, 1992, advising the campaign of presidential aspirant Bill Clinton. 

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Tuesday’s Democratic debacle was devastating. But, bad as the results were, they point a way forward for the party’s candidates to win in the 2022 midterms: Make it about the economy.

President Joe Biden knows the truth of this maxim. “I think we should produce for the American people,” Biden said the day after the election. The president was explaining the need to enact his agenda, which, he said, would improve the lives of millions of Americans. He would not say that failure to pass the infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better Act hurt Democrats, particularly Terry McAuliffe’s campaign in Virginia to regain the governorship, but Democratic squabbling in Washington certainly left the impression of incompetence (thank you Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia!). 

Before Democrats go into full panic mode, they should take stock. Tuesday was awful, but not cataclysmic. Democratic Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey won reelection, albeit narrowly, in a reliably blue state. A progressive candidate, Michelle Wu, easily won the Boston mayoral race. Wu is a protégé of Senator Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat. Eric Adams, a Democrat, won, becoming New York City’s second Black mayor. And, while McAuliffe lost in a state Biden carried by 10 points a year ago, Virginia almost always elects as governor a candidate from the opposite party of the president who won the previous year. 

Virginia was, of course, the big disappointment because the state has been trending blue. It may well be true that Virginia really is a purple state that looked blue only out of antipathy in recent years to former President Donald Trump. Certainly, the successful Republican candidate, Glenn Youngkin, managed the delicate balancing act of keeping Trump out of the state while sounding enough Trumpian themes to avoid angering the thin-skinned former president and Trump’s loyal base. Trump behaved, saying nice things about Youngkin and staying out of Virginia. Youngkin’s strategy frustrated McAuliffe, who tried unsuccessfully to argue that a vote for his opponent was a vote for the former president. 

But, will Youngkin’s strategy of keeping Trump at arm’s length work for other Republicans running for office in 2022? Probably not, because it is difficult to imagine that Trump will sit idly by in his lair at Mar-a-Lago while Republican congressional, senatorial, and gubernatorial candidates distance themselves from him. He managed the trick this time around with Youngkin, but I would not bet the ranch on him doing it again next year.

Youngkin’s handling of the disgraced former president is the first lesson Republican politicians and political pundits claim to have learned from the Virginia results. The second lesson is — supposedly — that cultural issues work to drive the base. Youngkin made education the centerpiece of his campaign, focusing on critical race theory and book banning. Those issues resonated to such an extent that Republicans think education should be at the forefront of issues next year.

The ever spineless Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, quickly got on board. “If the Virginia results showed us anything, it is that parents are demanding more control and accountability in the classroom,” McCarthy wrote in an election-night letter to his caucus. And, J.D. Vance, running in the Republican primary in Ohio for the Senate, channeled former President Richard Nixon, saying: “The professors are the enemy.” Parenthetical note: Vance has a law degree from Yale University. 

Will concerns over how race is taught in public schools work next year? Youngkin succeeded in using the teaching about the history of race relations in the United States as a dog whistle for fears surrounding White identity, but education does not travel well from the local arena to the national. For one thing, education is — and always has been — a local issue. Parents control education through local school boards, making public education perhaps the most democratic aspect of American society. And, historically, education is not a Republican issue. Voters usually trust Democrats to handle it better than Republicans. 

More importantly, there were educational concerns in the Virginia gubernatorial race that are particular to one state and one year. In addition to the highly publicized fears over race in the classroom, parents in Virginia were angry over last year’s closing of schools because of COVID-19 and riled about mask-wearing mandates. Those concerns may be ancient history by November 2022. Asian parents had worries over access to programs for gifted students, and Black parents were upset over teachers’ unions’ opposition to charter schools.  

I am not at all certain that Youngkin’s campaign provides a template for Republican candidates running for national office in 2022. I am certain, however, that Democratic success at the polls hinges on first producing results for the American people and then convincing voters of the value of those results while painting the Republicans as the “do-nothing” party. Let Republicans stick to the war on culture in lieu of economic policies that substantively improve voters’ lives.

People are nervous about the economy, which has recovered unevenly from its disruption during the depths of the pandemic. Gas prices are up, inflation fears loom, and breaks in the supply chain are a worry as the holiday shopping season begins. To allay anxiety, Democrats must quickly pass the Build Back Better Act, and then waste no time explaining its benefits to the public: Universal free preschool, child care for working parents, tax credits to families with children, expanded care for seniors, assistance to cash-strapped consumers shifting to clean energy, relief from the high cost of prescription drugs, improvements to the Affordable Care Act, and on and on. 

These are real benefits for working, middle-class Americans. It is a platform for Democrats to run on in 2022, contrasting Democratic-passed reforms with the do-nothing Republicans whose major accomplishment when Trump was president was a whopping tax cut for the very wealthy. And, part of next year’s campaign should be this: Elect more Democrats who will build on and strengthen these accomplishments.

Make it about the economy, stupid!

Posted November 5, 2021

Where Will It End?

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

First, they ban books; then, speech. Where does it end?

The modern Republican Party has launched numerous assaults in recent years on freedoms most Americans take for granted. The right to vote is under attack by Republicans doing the bidding of disgraced former President Donald Trump, who continues to push the “Big Lie” that he won the 2020 presidential election. Republican-controlled states have passed or are considering a plethora of laws restricting the right to vote and laying the groundwork for voter nullification.

In Virginia, Tuesday’s gubernatorial race hinges on Republican attempts to make critical race theory, which is not taught in the state’s public schools, an issue and attacks on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Beloved, written by Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison. Bogus so-called cultural issues are the Virginia Republicans’ answer for the party’s inability to grapple with substantive issues such as access to healthcare and repairing the state’s crumbling infrastructure. Glenn Youngkin, the Republican nominee, would rather attack academic freedom than discuss the serious issues affecting Virginia voters. 

It is in Florida, though, where academic freedom is under the gravest threat today. Three University of Florida professors have been barred from assisting plaintiffs who are trying to overturn the state’s new restrictive voting law. According to a report in The New York Times, university officials told the educators that their testimony would not be in the university’s “interests.” Denying the teachers the right to testify is precedent-shattering. Like institutions of higher learning in most states, the University of Florida routinely has allowed academic experts to testify in court, even when that testimony runs counter to the interests of the political party in power. 

A spokesperson for the university told the Times that the school is not denying “the First Amendment right or academic freedom” of the professors. Rather, the spokesperson said, “The university denied the requests of these full-time employees to undertake outside paid work that is adverse to the university’s interests as a state of Florida institution.” In other words, University of Florida employees are free to say whatever they want as long as what they say is not forbidden by the state of Florida. 

The three professors have filed a suit of their own challenging the school’s decision to bar them from testifying. In their suit, the teachers seek to question Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to find out if his office was involved in the university’s decision. DeSantis has staked his political ambitions on out-Trumping Trump by backing the voter suppression laws the state legislature has passed. He certainly has an interest in who testifies in the original suit challenging the state’s attack on voting rights. The United Faculty of Florida, a union representing faculty at the states’s public schools, tweeted, “Why would @GovRonDeSantis be afraid of experts?”  

This is scary stuff! Republicans are pushing wars on culture because they appeal to the party’s base and rev up voter enthusiasm. At least, that is the supposition, which will be tested in the Virginia governor’s race. Virginia has been trending blue, but polls show Youngkin pulling even with — or ahead of — Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who is seeking a return to the governor’s office. 

A Youngkin victory would provide a template for Republicans running in the 2022 midterm elections. It would also give fresh impetus to attempts by Republican-controlled state legislatures seeking to pass laws restricting how teachers discuss racism, sexism, and issues of equality and justice in the classroom. More than half the states are considering or have considered legislation to control classroom curriculum. Many of the laws are designed to keep critical race theory out of schoolrooms. More fundamentally, they are an attempt to sanitize the teaching of American history. 

Teaching about the American past has motivated Republicans at the national level as well. Republicans in Congress have introduced legislation to cut federal funding for schools that base lessons on the “1619 Project,” a New York Times series that stresses the enduring legacy of slavery on American society. Representative Glenn Grothman, a Wisconsin Republican, introduced a bill in the House of Representatives that would direct teachers in District of Columbia public schools on how to discuss racism and sexism. 

The current attacks on academic freedom beg comparison with the early years of the Cold War. But, the current situation is worse than the McCarthyism of the 1950s. The Red Scare of those years marginalized dissent and encouraged conformity, but its promulgators did not attempt to influence classroom teaching or school curriculum. The McCarthyites went after supposed Communists with the goal of getting them fired from teaching posts. 

The nation’s schools and universities often complied, but their classrooms remained inviolate. This time around is different for one fundamental reason. In the 1950s, the supposed enemy was a foreign ideology pushed by a foreign adversary abetted by supposed accomplices at home. Today, the enemy is the American past.

Cleansing the past — insuring that students do not learn the more unsavory parts of American history — motivates those who feel their power threatened, politicians and the shrinking White electorate alike. The emphasis on influencing school curriculum combined with attacks on academic freedom raises a fundamental question: Where will it end?

Because where speech is censored and books are banned, books are then burned. Where books are burned, then people are burned. It could happen here!

Posted November 2, 2021

Glenn Youngkin vs. “Beloved”

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Glenn Youngkin, the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia, apparently wants voters to think his opponent is a dead Nobel Prize-winning novelist. In the waning days of the race, Youngkin released an ad featuring a mother who tried to have Toni Morrison’s Beloved banned from her son’s 12th grade English curriculum eight years ago.

You read that right! Instead of focusing on issues that affect Virginians today — such as access to healthcare, crumbling infrastructure, and economic opportunity — Youngkin has dredged up a matter from nearly a decade ago. In the ad, the mother, Laura Murphy, complains about “some of the most explicit material you can imagine” that her son had to read. 

Now, to be clear, Beloved is hard to read. It is graphic, deliberately so. Morrison’s depiction of slavery is brutal for one reason: Slavery was a brutal institution, and Morrison did not shy from portraying the ways in which slavery destroyed the souls of both the enslaved and the enslaver. Beloved contains scenes of rape and sexual perversion because rape and sexual perversion were central to the history of enslavement. According to genetic studies, the average African American genome is about a quarter European. That genetic material is mostly a product of nonconsensual relationships. 

In the TV ad, Murphy said she lobbied to have the then Republican-controlled Virginia legislature pass a bill requiring schools to notify parents of “sexually explicit content” in subject matter taught to their children. The ad makes the legislation sound harmless, but as the National Coalition Against Censorship pointed out, “The bill is silent on what content would be labelled ‘sexually explicit.’” The organization suggested that the act’s vagueness might be used to ban most Shakespearean drama and such classics as Madame Bovary and The Canterbury Tales.

Youngkin’s ad does not, of course, mention that Murphy and her husband are Republican activists and that their son was a high school senior taking advanced placement English. Nor does it reveal that the son in question went on to work briefly in the White House under former President Donald Trump and is now an employee of the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee. 

So, what does this somewhat ancient history have to do with next week’s Virginia gubernatorial election? One thing: The legislation Murphy induced the state legislature to pass was vetoed twice by then-Governor Terry McAuliffe, who, this time around, happens to be Youngkin’s opponent. Youngkin, who desperately is trying to walk a tightrope regarding his relationship with Trump — staying close enough to the disgraced former president to avoid angering ardent Trumpistas, but far enough away to not antagonize independent voters in the voter-rich D.C. suburbs of northern Virginia — needs an issue that he hopes appeals to both groups.

McAuliffe helped Youngkin find that issue when the former governor defended his vetoes by saying, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” McAuliffe’s boneheaded comment allowed Youngkin to put the Virginia election in the forefront of the heated national debate over what should be taught in schools and who gets to decide. 

Critical race theory — an academic construct suggesting that racism is embedded in American institutions — has become a flashpoint in this debate, and numerous state legislatures and school boards have moved to ban its teaching. Ignored in all this is that critical race theory is not taught in schools below the college level. Also ignored is that the theory does not imply that all White people are racists. Rather, critical race theory holds that racism is pervasive in America because of the nation’s history. 

Attacks on Toni Morrison’s novel and critical race theory are part of a Republican strategy to focus public ire on so-called cultural issues rather than on more substantive matters. The GOP’s attempt to wage culture wars also deflects attention from the embarrassing revelations that have arisen and likely will continue to arise regarding the role Trump and key Republican politicians played in the January 6 insurrection. 

Fights over what is and is not taught in the nation’s schools are proxy battles for the larger issue centering on the enormous changes in the makeup of American society over the last half century. In the middle of the last century, the nation was nearly 90 percent White. Now, it is 60 percent White and in a few decades, people of color will be a majority. White resentment fueled the rise of political populism and lifted Trump to the presidency in 2016, and it continues to manifest itself in the culture wars that are animating the Virginia gubernatorial election.

Besides, Republican strategists and politicians have understood for decades that culture wars not only energize voters, they help raise an enormous amount of money. Terry Dolan of the National Conservative Political Action Committee admits, “The shriller you are, the better it is to raise money.” Fevered pitches centered on education but also focused on such issues as abortion, gun rights, marriage equality, transgender issues. and “cancel culture” rake in millions of dollars for rightwing politicians. As “Deep Throat” said in the 1970s in another connection, “Follow the money.”

The role of culture wars in Republican political strategy was revealed recently in a memo sent by Representative Jim Banks of Indiana to fellow members of the Republican Study Committee. Banks chairs the group, and his memo encouraged Republicans to embrace attacks on critical race theory. Banks entitled the memo, “Lean into the culture war,” and he wrote “Republicans are working to renew American patriotism and rebuild our country,” adding, “Here’s the good news. We are winning.”

I do not know if Glenn Youngkin read Banks’ memo, but clearly Youngkin’s strategy comports with its thrust in that he apparently believes a cultural battle centered on Toni Morrison’s revered book will result in a victory next Tuesday.

Posted October  29, 2021

 

democratic (small d) Power Grab

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the emperor with no clothes from Kentucky, calls the sweeping election reform bill Democrats back a “partisan power grab.”

Well, yes, guilty as charged! Democrats, indeed, will benefit from a federal election law that ends gerrymandering, prevents voter suppression, overturns state laws that permit voter nullification, makes election day a federal holiday, and limits the corrupting power of big money in politics. Democrats (with a big D) will benefit from democracy (with a small d). Free and fair elections, which the voting reform bill insures, means more people will vote, and more people voting is a good thing for Democrats.

So, yes, Republicans are right, election reform is a Democratic power grab. It is also a democratic power grab. And, it is the right thing to do.

It is, of course, always easy to be cynical about politics and politicians. But, sometimes, shocking as it may seem, self-interest and doing the right thing align. It happens!

As the advocacy group Public Citizen tweeted in response to McConnell, “This is a bill that stops voter suppression and ends gerrymandering. How depraved do you have to be to insist that more people voting is somehow a power grab? What sort of anti-democratic garbage is that.” Public Citizen, in a separate tweet, also noted, “Mitch McConnell is absolutely terrified of a bill that simply makes it easier for people to vote. This tells you all you need to know.”

As I have pointed out before, Republicans have understood, for decades, that more people voting is bad for Republican electoral chances. As early as 1980, Paul Weyrich, the co-founder of the right-wing Heritage Foundation, said, “As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” For more than a decade, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a Koch-funded organization, has written draft legislation for Republican state legislators to introduce that impedes voters at every step in the electoral process. And, former President Donald Trump said in March 2020, that if the Democratic election reform bill passes, “You’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

Trump may well be right. After all, since 1992 the Republican candidate for president has won the popular vote only once — George W. Bush in 2004. Democrats routinely outpoll Republicans in cumulative votes for members of the House and Senate, but the distribution of seats in both chambers rarely reflects the vote totals. Republican representation in the House benefits from gerrymandering, which allows state legislatures to draw congressional district lines to the benefit of their party. Both parties do this, of course, but in recent decades, gerrymandering has helped Republicans more than Democrats. 

Republicans benefit from institutional protections that cannot easily be changed, if at all. The Electoral College elevated George W. Bush in 2000 (with help from the Supreme Court) and Donald Trump in 2016 to the presidency even though both candidates lost the popular vote. Republicans have disproportionate power in the Senate because of the constitutional guarantee that gives each state two senators, insuring that small Red states such as Wyoming are equal in the Senate to large Blue states such as California.

But, those constitutional protections do not satisfy today’s Republican Party. Its leaders understand that even the built-in advantages in the Electoral College and the Senate cannot guarantee Republican dominance. Thus, Republican state legislators for decades, and most assiduously since the 2020 election, have been passing legislation to suppress the vote and give Republican state officials the power to overturn election results. Yes, in other words, to give Republican state officials the power to take away citizens’ votes. 

The problem Republicans have is that the modern version of the party is beholden to special interests and to the very wealthiest of Americans. The concerns of the groups and individuals Republicans represent do not align with those of most Americans, so to win elections, Republicans hide their indebtedness to special interests like the fossil fuel industry by claiming, for example, their opposition to new energy sources is rooted in economic growth. In a more sinister vein, Republicans often appeal to the baser instincts of the electorate by railing against immigration and stoking White fears about the growing electoral power of people of color. 

That kind of political flimflam only goes so far, so Republicans have to back it up with measures to limit the vote to people receptive to their messages. Republicans are right: The more people who can vote, the worse it is for the party. And, so at the state level, Republicans pass legislation to limit the vote and, at the federal level, Republicans filibuster every attempt by Democrats to enact legislation to guarantee American elections are free, fair, and democratic. 

So, yes, election reform is a Democratic power grab. It advances democracy, and it is a democratic (small d) power grab. It is also the right thing to do.

Posted October 26, 2021 

Time’s Up, Senator!

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Open letter to Senator Joe Manchin,* Democrat of West Virginia:

You tried, Senator! You helped draft a compromise on voting rights — fashioning a bill not quite as good as the one the House passed earlier, but still good — and took it to Republicans. You told your colleagues in the Democratic senatorial caucus that you could get 10 Republican votes for the compromise. Well, you were wrong. The Republicans would not even allow a vote to come to the floor! So, now is the time to move boldly and reform the filibuster to pass legislation to protect the fundamental basis of a democratic government: The right to vote!

Because, senator, here’s the thing: Our democracy is at stake. If the federal government does not move to protect voting rights for all Americans in every state, then no election in the future truly will reflect the will of the people. Millions of Democratic-leaning voters — particularly young people and people of color — will be denied access to the ballot, tilting the field toward Republicans. And, even if Democrats manage to eke out victories, Republican legislators have given partisan state officials wide authority to overturn election results. And, the Supreme Court cannot be counted on to protect the electoral system, given how Republicans — led by Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell — have stacked that body with politically motivated (though some justices publicly have denied this) conservatives.

If you, Senator Manchin, and your Democratic colleagues do not secure passage of S. 2747, the Freedom to Vote Act, then the game is up. Republicans now control the Supreme Court. Without federal guarantees of free and fair elections, Republicans easily will win a majority in the House in 2022 and probably the Senate. In 2024, candidate Donald Trump could well lose the presidential election by millions of votes and lose the Electoral College by an even greater margin than in 2020, but still be inaugurated as president on January 20, 2025. How? Easily, as Republican legislatures in such states as Texas, Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, aided by compliant governors, certify Republican electors even though the Democrats secured a majority of the popular vote. They will do in the next presidential election what Trump tried to do in the last. 

Fanciful, you say? No, the road map from 2020 is in place. If this happens — and it is a very real possibility — then Democrats will never, at least not in our lifetimes and the lifetimes of our children — wield political power again. Imagine a world in which Republicans dominate all the levers of the federal government and many state governments, as well. You think we have problems now? Imagine what the tax code will look like. You think the United States suffers from income inequality today? Imagine the disparity in income and wealth under Republicans who have no fear of ever losing power again. 

I know you represent a coal-producing state, senator, but even West Virginians have to be concerned about climate change. Well, if you think it is getting warmer now, think again about how hot it might be 20 or 30 years from now if the federal government does not take steps — any steps — to control carbon emissions. Think about the levels of pollution in our water and in the air we breathe.

You are a conservative Democrat, Senator Manchin, but still a Democrat, if only for a bit longer. I would wager you care about some of the priorities in the huge budget reconciliation bill that President Joe Biden supports. Do you think any of the provisions you favor in that bill will ever become law if Republicans can do as they please? Or, stay as law if you manage to squeak legislation through this term?

All of this is why passing the Freedom to Vote Act is so important. Nothing gets done — or stays done — without it. You know this, which is why you worked with several of your Democratic colleagues on the legislation. If passed, this bill will override restrictive state laws that make voting more difficult. It will prevent Republican voting officials from purging voter rolls, and it will guarantee mail-in voting. The bill curbs gerrymandering, limits dark money, and prevents state officials from manipulating election results. As you well know, these are good things for a democracy, senator!

This bill is foundational. You know that, which is why you worked on it. You thought a compromise might attract Republican senators. Well, nice try! Wednesday, in the Senate, all 50 Republicans voted against permitting debate on the bill. They invoked the filibuster, preventing even consideration of this all-important legislation. As Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer put it, “If there’s anything worthy of the Senate’s attention, if there’s any issue that merits debate on this floor, it’s protecting our democracy from the forces that are trying to unravel it from the inside out.”

The sentiments Schumer uttered should be obvious to all, but in the Senate of today, that is not the case. Republicans — who voted overwhelmingly for extensions to the Voting Rights law in the past, and most recently as 2006, without a dissenting vote — now are so afraid of Donald Trump and the power of his “Big Lie” that they are willing to overthrow American democracy in order to protect their pathetic political careers.

Do not let them get away with it! 

Get the Freedom to Vote Act passed, even if it means limiting or overturning the filibuster!

Sincerely,

A Concerned Voter

*Manchin is not the only Democratic senator clinging to the filibuster, but he has been most vocal about it, and he suggested he could deliver Republican votes.

Posted October 22, 2021

The Republican Predicament

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

I have been warning for months, if not years, about the danger the Republican Party poses to the United States, referring to it as a “terrorist organization” and criticizing it for its willingness to do former President Donald Trump’s bidding. But, fairness demands that I point out the beginnings, perhaps, of some cracks in Republican subservience to Trump.

Do not get me wrong: The vast majority of Republicans still appear willing to kneel before the would-be autocrat of Mar-a-Lago. There appears to be no end of Republican politicians trekking to south Florida or willing to appear on stage with Trump to show their loyalty in hopes he does not turn on them and back a primary challenger. Trump still leads a cult-like movement that may well take America down the road to fascism in the near future.

But — but, there is some dissent among Republicans. This past Sunday two southern Republicans suggested that Trump may not be the best thing for the Republican Party. What is most interesting is that both these Republicans — Senator Bill Cassidy from Louisiana and Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas — hail from states that are deeply Republican and from a region that overwhelmingly votes Red, and for Trump, in particular.

Cassidy told Mike Allen of Axios that he does not believe Trump will be the Republican presidential nominee in 2024. “President Trump is the first president,” Cassidy said in the interview, “in the Republican side at least, to lose the House, the Senate, and the presidency in four years. Elections are about winning.” When asked if he would vote for Trump for president, Cassidy offered a definitive, “I’m not.”

Cassidy was one of seven Republican senators who voted to convict Trump, at his second impeachment trial, for inciting the January 6 insurrection. “Our Constitution and our country is more important than any one person. I voted to convict President Trump because he is guilty,” Cassidy said in a statement after the Louisiana’s Republican Party censured him for his vote.

Perhaps, more surprising was the position taken by Hutchinson in an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” in which the Arkansas governor criticized the former president for endangering Republican prospects in next year’s midterm elections. “Re-litigating 2020 is a recipe for disaster in 2022,” Hutchinson said. “Let’s talk about the future. The election is past, it’s been certified.… It’s about the future, it’s not about the last election.” 

Hutchinson was responding to a specific question from “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd, who asked if Republicans should be worried by the statement Trump issued last week that Republicans may not vote in 2022 and 2024 because of alleged “fraud” in 2020. Many Republicans fear that Trump’s continuing demand of blind loyalty from his followers, including urging his voters to sit out future elections, will cost Republicans winnable elections. Hutchinson merely said out loud what many Republicans say quietly. 

We do not have to dig deep in history to find a precedent for Republicans to be concerned about Trump’s focus on his 2020 defeat. Many Republican strategists blame the loss of two Georgia Senate seats in that state’s January 5, 2021, runoff on Republican voters staying home because they believed Trump’s claims of fraud in the November 2020 presidential election. These Republicans fear Trump could cost them seats in the House and Senate in 2022 and may yet jeopardize the party’s chances in the Virginia governor’s race next month.

The New York Times reports that Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who supports continued audits of the 2020 presidential vote and who echoes all of Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud, was surprised to discover that almost 10 percent of Republican voters in her district might not vote in 2022. Greene apparently told supporters that an internal survey found that five percent of Republicans said they definitely would sit out the 2022 election and another four percent would consider not voting. Given the closeness of recent Georgia elections, the possibility that nearly 10 percent of Republicans would stay home seriously endangers Republican chances. 

Republicans are caught between a rock and a hard place. As Cassidy said, Trump lost them the White House and both chambers of Congress. His continued ranting about fraud and the possibility that Republicans will not vote endangers future elections. Yet, his followers dominate the party. According to a recent poll, 41 percent of Republicans say they consider themselves Trump followers, not Republicans. And, nearly two-thirds of Republicans say the GOP should punish elected officials who openly criticize Trump. 

Given those numbers, it is not surprising that most Republican polticians are unwilling to go on record saying anything negative about Trump. Most will only whisper what Cassidy and Hutchinson were willing to say out loud. Most are more like Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, who in February criticized Trump for his role in the January 6 insurrection. Yet, earlier this month, Grassley stood next to Trump at a rally and welcomed the former president’s endorsement for another term in the Senate. But, even Grassley made it clear he wanted Trump’s backing not out of fondness for the former president but because of Trump’s popularity. “I was born at night, but not last night,” Grassley told the rally goers. “So if I didn’t accept the endorsement of a person that’s got 91 percent of the Republican voters in Iowa, I wouldn’t be too smart. I’m smart enough to accept that endorsement.”

So, which is it? Cassidy and Hutchinson warning the Republican Party to be careful who it heeds? Or, Grassley, who probably knows better, groveling before evil because it is politically wise to do so?

But, what is the politically wise thing to do? Is it wise to act in the short term to save a political career or to jettison political subservience to one man in the interest of the future of the Republican party and the Republic? That is the Republican predicament, and it appears we are going to have front row seats to watch the decision-making play out.

Posted October 19, 2021

Donald Trump, Please Keep Talking

If we don’t solve the Presidential Election Fraud of 2020 (which we have thoroughly and conclusively documented), Republicans will not be voting in ‘22 or ‘24. It is the single most important thing for Republicans to do. — Statement by Donald Trump, the former president, October 13, 2021.

 

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

I think I speak for all progressives and a good smattering of moderates when I say: Go, Donnie, go! Whip up your supporters into a frenzy of not voting. The more they heed you, the better. 

After all, the non-voting strategy worked well in the two Georgia Senate runoff races in January 2021. In early December, two Trump allies, Lin Wood and Sidney Powell, urged Republicans not to vote for either Kelly Loeffler or Davide Perdue, the incumbent senators locked in a tight race against Democratic challengers. “Don’t be fooled twice,” Wood said. “This is Georgia, we ain’t dumb. We’re not going to go vote on January 5th on another machine made by China. You’re not going to fool Georgians again.” 

Yes, sir, that strategy worked well! Georgia Republicans apparently are not dumb(?) and, heeding Wood’s advice, were not fooled twice. According to an analysis of the election results by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, more than 750,000 Georgians who cast ballots in the November presidential election stayed home during the runoffs two months later. More than half of the no-shows were White and many lived in rural areas, demographic and geographic constituencies that lean heavily Republican. As one Georgian said, “What good would it have done to vote? They have votes that got changed.” 

The non-voting strategy worked so well that Democrats now control the Senate, albeit barely.

With Democrats divided among themselves over advancing President Joe Biden’s ambitious agenda and given the traditional bounce the party out of power gets in mid-term elections, Democrats may need oodles of Republicans to stay home in 2022 if they are to retain control of both the House and the Senate. The current Democratic razor-thin majorities in Congress would benefit greatly from great numbers of Republican no-shows around the country. 

Trump phrased his communication as a declarative statement, announcing that Republicans will not vote because of alleged fraud. But, like much of what Trump says to his followers, the above statement is likely to be interpreted by many in the Trump cult as a command not to vote, which probably was Trump’s intention. 

To the members of the Trump cult, it matters little that neither Trump nor his lawyers or sycophants have presented a shred of evidence of electoral fraud. If the Grand Poobah of Mar-a-Lago says he lost because of fraud, then it must be so for his ever loyal and unquestioning followers. And, presumably, millions of Republicans will heed his orders and not vote. 

So, here is one progressive’s dream-like scenario. With millions of Trump followers not voting in 2022, the Democrats win overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate. Democrats win over 300 seats in the House and dominate the Senate by a margin of 67-33. The House easily passes a raft of progressive legislation, and the paltry number of Republicans in the Senate are unable to filibuster the Biden agenda. Not only are Senate Republicans and naked-Emperor Mitch McConnell (see previous blog post) rendered impotent, but moderate Democrats — like West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin and Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema — are overwhelmed and can no longer derail progressive legislation.

In early 2023, Democrats enact measures (or expand on the incomplete legislation of 2021) guaranteeing free community college for all, child care for toddlers, child tax credits, expanded Medicare and Medicaid (perhaps even Medicare-for-All), the Green New Deal, paid parental leave, and much more. Immigration is reformed, giving millions of the undocumented a pathway to citizenship. And, voting rights are protected by a bill that enshrines early voting and mail-in balloting, makes Election Day a federal holiday, and rolls back all the Republican-passed state laws that suppress and nullify the vote and disempower state officials in their roles in the electoral process.

Trump and his followers wake up and realize that not voting is not a very good idea. But, since they conceded the 2022 election to Democrats, the 2024 presidential election will be free and fair. Even as Republicans flock to the polls again, their votes cannot change the outcome. Tens of millions of Americans are pleased with the Democratic legislation that has brought the United States into the modern world, guaranteeing a social safety net comparable to that of other industrialized democracies. And, all those pleased Americans can now vote freely and fairly, without the threat of Republicans suppressing and nullifying the votes of those who tend to vote Democratic. So, Joe Biden sweeps to a landslide re-election and the Democrats retain their large majorities in both the House and Senate. 

Go ahead, Donnie, please keep issuing statements. You may be the Democrats’ best friend yet!

Posted October 15, 2021