Category Archives: Politics and History

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

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”

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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

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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!

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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

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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

A Simple Question

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It was a simple question: “Do you think the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump?”

A simple question demanding a simple yes or no answer from Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the second-ranking House Republican. A simple answer Scalise could not or would not give. Hard as Fox News host Chris Wallace tried, Scalise refused to answer the question. 

Scalise’s repeated dodge demonstrated, once again, the cowardice of Republican politicians in 2021 who do not dare to contradict Trump. The defeated candidate, who lost by more than seven-million votes, continues to insist he won. And, if he insists, so must every other Republican, save the few with the courage to speak the truth.

What Scalise did in the interview with Wallace was arguably more dangerous than flat out contending the election was stolen. He hid behind a debatable constitutional argument that some states failed to follow their own laws governing presidential elections. “It’s states that did not follow the laws set which the Constitution says they are supposed to follow,” Scalise argued. “That is what the United States Constitution says. They don’t say the states determine what the rules are. They say the state legislatures determine the rules.” 

Scalise engaged in a rhetorical trick that allows a politician to have it both ways. In the future, he can deny he ever said the election was stolen while, for now, suggesting to the blindly loyal Trump faithful that election “irregularities” render the actual results suspect. While sidling around the truth, Scalise stays in the good graces of the Grand Poobah of Mar-a-Lago without ever actually make a claim he must know is not true. 

Revealingly, Scalise never detailed what laws were broken. He probably did not want to specify because courts around the country have ruled against Republican politicians who have made the dubious claim that the Constitution was not followed. Judges from both parties, some appointed by the defeated candidate himself, have rejected suits contesting the election results. The argument Scalise lamely advanced rests on the notion that the Constitution gives the power to administer elections to state legislatures. The Republican contention is that accommodations instituted during the pandemic — such as expanded mail-in voting — were invalid because they were instituted by governors, election officials, and judges. 

The constitutional arguments matter little to those who cannot believe or refuse to believeTrump lost. That is why Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, one of the few Republicans to stand up to Trump, immediately attacked Scalise on Twitter. “Millions of Americans,” Cheney tweeted, “have been sold a fraud that the election was stolen. Republicans have a duty to tell the American people that this is not true. Perpetuating the Big Lie is an attack on the core of our constitutional republic.” 

Scalise and others — like Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley who stood silently on a stage with Trump Saturday night while the former president repeated the Big Lie — are playing with fire. America is at a crossroads, with Republicans and Democrats deeply distrustful of each other, and millions, from both parties, ready to break the United States in two. A poll conducted over the summer by the University of Virginia Center for Politics found that 52 percent of Trump voters agreed with the proposition that the “situation in America is such that I would favor [Blue/Red] states seceding from the union to form their own separate country.” Approximately 41 percent of Biden voters gave the same answer. We must not ignore these numbers. 

Secession was tried once before. It resulted in the deaths of more than 750,000 Americans during the Civil War. That conflagration was touched off when 11 states, all from one region of the nation, seceded in order to preserve the institution of slavery. Secession this time, as contemplated by nearly half of the electorate, would involve reliably red states — Mississippi, Alabama, Oklahoma, and so on — forming one nation, and overwhelmingly blue states— California, New York, Illinois, and several others presumably — coalescing into another country.

What would happen to the minority of blue voters in red Mississippi? Or, red voters in California? Would this be like the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, with millions of Muslims living in what became India fleeing to Pakistan, and Hindus in the lands designated as Pakistan escaping the other way, with millions killed in the population exchange? Would people have to abandon their property and businesses without compensation as they flee? Would that be followed by a political cleansing of those who did not make it across borders? And, what would happen in evenly divided purple states, such as Wisconsin, Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania? Would referenda determine their fate? Who would trust the results of such elections?

These are not idle questions. Barring a jail term (we can hope, can we not?), Donald Trump is going to be the Republican presidential nominee in 2024. He is hugely popular among Republicans, he has a massive war chest, and everyone knows he will not accept anything but victory. Make no mistake about it, the continual chorus citing a stolen election is more about the next election than the last one. Trump and his docile minions keep repeating the lie about the “stolen” 2020 election because they want to condition their followers to disbelieve the results of the next election.

Republican legislatures throughout the country are changing election laws in ways that not only suppress the votes of those who oppose them but also give Republican politicians the power to nullify and alter the results. When that happens — and it is a real possibility — then an election will truly be stolen.

This is why cowardly politicians like Scalise are dangerous. They are perpetuating a lie about a stolen election that in turn gives ammunition to other politicians to change the rules so that Republicans can guarantee the results of the next election.

At that point, democracy is dead, the Constitution in tatters, and civil war the only alternative. 

Representative Scalise, it is a simple question. Give the simple answer next time!

Posted October 12, 2021

So… The Emperor Has No Clothes

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Most political analysts assume Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is a master strategist who knows how to use (or bend) the Senate’s rules to achieve his ends. That is the prevailing interpretation based on McConnell’s career in the Senate and his sometimes dubious accomplishments, such as pilfering a seat on the Supreme Court by denying Merrick Garland a vote and ramming through Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination in the waning weeks of the Trump administration.

But, what if the emperor has no clothes? Is it possible that the unnecessary and silly dispute over raising the debt ceiling reveals not McConnell’s wiliness and strength but, rather, his impotence?

McConnell admitted as much in recent days when he conceded that even if he wanted to allow Democrats to raise the debt ceiling on a straight party vote, with Republicans voting “no” but not filibustering the measure, he could not corral every Republican to allow the increase to pass. McConnell did convince 10 Republicans to approve a procedural move to allow the Democrats to move forward a stopgap bill raising the debt ceiling through early December. That bill passed Thursday night on a straight party vote. But, the concession is a temporary, not a long-term, fix, and its passage left some  Senate Republicans angry with McConnell because they think he caved into the Democrats. 

Most analysts agree the majority of the Republican caucus would stand aside and allow the Democrats to pass a debt ceiling increase rather than force the United States to default on its debts. But, there are a few diehard conservatives among Republicans — perhaps five or so senators — who would filibuster any proposal that would allow a majority vote on the issue. If one senator objects, then it would take 10 Republicans joining all 50 Democrats to end a filibuster. That would reveal dissension among Republicans, something that McConnell would not want made public. 

The debt ceiling standoff — temporarily ended, though it may be — is yet another argument for abolishing the filibuster. The filibuster has become a tool of Republican obstructionism, allowing a willful, petulant minority to prevent the majority from doing the people’s business. Something is wrong with a system that allows one senator to filibuster a measure and the rest of his or her colleagues refusing to vote to stop that obstructionism. Republican senators represent 40 million fewer voters than Democratic senators, yet the Senate is evenly split. It is likely to get worse. According to estimates, by 2040, 70 percent of Americans will be living in the 15 most populous states. They will be represented by only 30 senators, while the other 30 percent of Americans will have 70 senators voting on their behalf. 

The filibuster gives a small minority of a minority the power to prevent popular legislation from passing. It is absurd that a handful of senators, from small states, can prevent passage of popular measures to protect the environment, raise the minimum wage, or reform immigration policy. Both parties, of course, have wielded the filibuster in recent years to frustrate the other, but McConnell and his Republican colleagues have utilized the filibuster to bolster minority power in ways never intended by either the Framers of the Constitution or by senators through most of American history.

Fear that Democrats might take steps to abolish or limit the filibuster probably convinced Republicans to yield temporarily on the debt ceiling increase. While the filibuster is hard to justify ever, its use on matters that are not issues of policy — such as the United States honoring its debts — is beyond the pale. Everyone on both sides of the aisle insists that the United States must not default on its obligations, yet Republicans were willing to prevent a vote that would allow the country to honor its debt. Invoking the filibuster on the debt ceiling was not policy, but political maneuvering by Republicans aimed at making Democrats as uncomfortable as possible and, ultimately, allowing Republicans to portray Democrats as profligate spenders. South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham conceded the political motives of Republicans when he said, “I mean, I’m not going to be a complete asshole about it [raising the debt ceiling]. But, I’m going to make them take some tough votes.” Good to know that Graham sees himself as only a partial “asshole.”

Democrats have been inching toward doing something about the filibuster by either eliminating it entirely or carving out categories of legislation that would not be subject to minority obstruction. Republican intransigence on voting rights, for example, has forced increased demands for reforming the filibuster. The current fight over the debt ceiling has led some who have been hesitant to end the filibuster to change their minds. President Joe Biden — who served decades in the Senate and has been viewed by many as an “institutionalist” — said this week that it is “a real possibility” the Senate would change its rules to bypass Republican filibustering on the debt ceiling. Later, Biden added that filibustering debt legislation is “not right, and it’s dangerous.”

“Republicans are making the case more powerfully than I could a million times on the floor,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat and a longtime filibuster opponent. “What they are doing is obstruction and utterly exposes the filibuster. And it is not just inconvenience. It is desperately dangerous.” McConnell and other Republicans may have gotten the message that Democrats saw the fight over the debt ceiling as a way to alter the filibuster.

But, that recognition does not change the fact that McConnell cannot control his caucus. The willingness of a handful of Republican senators on the far right to endanger the credit of the United States forced McConnell to deny Democrats any Republican cooperation in allowing a straight party vote on preventing a default. So, perhaps it is McConnell being led by far right conservatives in the Republican Party rather than McConnell leading the Republican caucus.

After all, the emperor has no clothes!

Posted October 8, 2021

Creativity Required

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Legislation is not like model car kits where mere assembly of parts suffices. Rather, legislation is like an erector set where creativity brings results. Democrats, it is time to be creative! 

Creativity will be needed to fashion an agreement on President Joe Biden’s ambitious agenda to expand America’s social safety net that satisfies all wings of the Democratic Party. The president remains optimistic. “I’m telling you we’re going to get this done,” he said. “It doesn’t matter when. It doesn’t matter whether it’s six minutes, six days, or six weeks. We’re going to get it done.” 

Centrist Democrats — particularly West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema — have balked at the $3.5 trillion price tag for the larger reconciliation package, the so-called soft infrastructure bill, which tackles climate change and funds free community college, child care, and other social policy initiatives. There is widespread recognition in the Democratic caucus that a compromise resulting in a lower dollar amount is needed, but the route by which Democrats get to an agreement remains unclear. 

Democrats have several options. One possible way to satisfy Sinema and Manchin and other moderates might be shortening the timeframe. The original package was for $3.5 trillion spent over a decade. Democrats could shorten the years funded for some or all of the programs contained in the bill. Two staunch progressives — Representative Ro Khanna of California and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York — indicated that a shorter funding period might be an option. “I think that one of the ideas that’s out there is fully fund what we can fully fund, but maybe instead of doing it for 10 years, you fully fund it for five years,” said Ocasio-Cortez. Khanna agreed: “We can front-load the benefits and have less years.”

Fully funding all the programs for fewer years amounts to a budgetary gimmick, but it would bring down the overall price tag, which might satisfy Democratic centrists. Progressives might buy into such an agreement on the theory that it is difficult to defund an existing program — such as free community college — that is popular with the public. 

Other options are available. The starting date for the various parts of the reconciliation package could be staggered, delaying funding for some programs while fully funding others immediately. Or, Democrats might agree to implement all the parts of the bill while providing less funding across all programs than initially proposed. Finally, Democrats might fully fund fewer programs. The latter seems less palatable as progressives insist on including such controversial parts of the bill as tackling climate change, a major sticking point with Manchin who comes from a major coal-producing state. 

Progressives are in a strong position: They have Biden on their side. The president made it clear last Friday when he traveled to Capitol Hill that he sees both bills — the hard and the soft infrastructure measures — as linked. Moderates in the House have pushed for passage of the smaller roads and bridges proposal before taking up the costlier bill, a timeline opposed by progressives who fear that if the hard infrastructure package passed, moderates would have no incentive to compromise on the larger reconciliation legislation. Moderates, like Representative Abigail Spanberger of Virginia say that “success begets success,” and a win on infrastructure would be a catalyst to act swiftly on other parts of Biden’s agenda.

The problem for Biden and congressional progressives is that Manchin and Sinema have different priorities. Manchin agrees with the Democratic left that funding for the social agenda should come, at least in part, from rolling back the Trump-era tax cuts, which were a boondoggle for the very wealthy. The West Virginian is on board with raising the top individual tax rate and the capital gains rate. Sinema appears to oppose raising tax rates for the very rich. Sinema has indicated that addressing climate change is a top priority for her, while Manchin remains committed to the fossil fuel industry. The presence of so many moving parts makes compromise difficult, but with creativity, not impossible. 

Various polls have shown public support for both infrastructure measures. Funding for roads and bridges is popular, with one poll indicating 83 percent support for hard infrastructure. The nation’s roads and bridges are in such disrepair and public approval for infrastructure improvements is so high that even some Republicans climbed on board and supported the hard infrastructure package in the Senate. Solid majorities of Americans favor many of the parts of the soft infrastructure proposal, with 67 percent supporting spending on preschool programs and 55 percent in favor of expanded child tax credits. Two-thirds of respondents agreed that raising taxes on the rich and corporations was the proper way to pay for these innovations. 

A great number Democrats seem to agree that a deal will be reached. Moderates now understand that the physical infrastructure bill and the broader social investment program are linked and that the hard infrastructure bill cannot be considered alone. Progressives realize that the overall spending amount has to come down to satisfy Manchin and Sinema. Now, the bargaining begins.

Creativity is needed to work out a deal. But, it appears now that all sides have at least an inkling of where the various factions stand. And, Spanberger is right: Success does beget success. Passage of the two infrastructure bills might pave the way for movement on other parts of the president’s agenda, including, most importantly, voting rights legislation aimed at preventing Republicans denying the franchise and stealing future elections. 

Be creative, Democrats! And, get it done!

Posted October 5, 2021

 

 

Where Is the Bottom?

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

How low can Republicans stoop? Every time I think Republicans have hit rock bottom in subservience to former President Donald Trump, willingness to participate in the overthrow of the U.S. government and/or cover up the January 6 insurrection, or jeopardize the health and well-being of their constituents, they shatter the floor with new desperate and dangerous actions.

I should stop being surprised. After all, the modern Republican Party has become a terrorist and/or criminal enterprise. And, its behavior is going to get worse and worse until the voters give Republican candidates such a thumping at the polls that Republicans either have to change course or go the way of the Federalist and Whig Parties. Probably the latter, because there is no bottom for the Republican Party.

A recent shocker — though at this point, not much they do shocks — from Republicans: A memo written by Trump loyalist lawyer John Eastman — discussed in Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s new book Peril and obtained by CNN — shows Republicans discussing, and apparently seriously considering, how to overturn the results of the presidential election, which Joe Biden won in a free and fair vote. Eastman’s conspiratorial plot was simple in its proposed execution and deplorable in its probable results. Eastman suggested Vice President Mike Pence — presiding over the joint session of Congress meeting on January 6 to certify the election results — should declare that there are no valid electors from seven closely contested states that recount after recount, and court case after court case, show Biden won. That would give, Eastman proffered, Trump victory in the Electoral College by a tally of 232 to 222.

If the Democrats “howl” no fair since 270 electoral votes are required to win, Eastman said, “fine,” send the matter to the House of Representatives where each state has one vote. Since Republicans control a majority of state delegations, Trump would be re-elected in this scenario. There is more to the memo — such as a filibuster in the Senate by some Republicans to prevent certification of the election results if and when both chambers considered the results — but Eastman’s intended result is clear: Overturning the will of the voters who gave Biden a solid majority in both the popular vote and the Electoral College. 

That Trump was intrigued by the Eastman memo is no surprise. What is most appalling is that Pence apparently paid more attention to the proposed coup than was previously thought. Pressured relentlessly by Trump, Pence asked confidants if it were possible for him to do Trump’s bidding. In late December, according to Woodward and Costa, Pence called former Vice President Dan Quayle, a fellow Indiana Republican, for advice. Quayle was insistent, telling Pence, “Mike, you have no flexibility on this. None. Zero. Forget it. Put it away.”

Even more horrendous: Trump and his cohort were plotting to overthrow the Constitution based on purported evidence of voter fraud that the Trump team knew was baseless. The New York Times obtained an internal memo prepared by the Trump campaign that debunked the outlandish claims of fraud. Despite this knowledge, lawyers for Trump continued to hold news conferences asserting widespread cheating and filed lawsuits alleging a vast conspiracy to rig the election against Trump. It is not clear who in the campaign knew what concerning the memo, but clearly those in the know sat on the information.

Not satisfied with overthrowing constitutional norms, Republicans once again are playing chicken with the full faith and credit of the United States, apparently willing to see the government default on its loans. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says “America must never default” on its debts, yet he refuses to provide any Republican votes to raise the debt ceiling.

Raising the debt limit is necessary because soon, probably late next month, the government is going to run out of money. The Treasury Department at that point will not be able to borrow because the congressionally mandated borrowing limit will have been reached. This is routine, and both parties have cooperated in a bipartisan manner in the past to raise the debt ceiling. But, this time, McConnell insists the Democrats alone must provide the votes to raise the debt limit, arguing that Democrats are recklessly spending money. That is, of course, a specious argument since the debt comes from money already allocated, not future spending. And, the debt of the United States rose about $8 trillion under Trump, an increase of 36 percent in four years.

Republicans are not only reckless with the political stability of the United States and the nation’s credit. They are also heedless of the health of Americans, especially children. How else to interpret the ruling from Florida’s newly appointed surgeon general who says it is up to parents to decide whether to quarantine children exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19? Dr. Joseph Ladapo — yes, he is a graduate of Harvard Medical School — eliminated previous rules requiring students to stay away from school for at least four days if they had been exposed to coronavirus. Under Ladapo’s rules, children may continue to attend school if they are asymptomatic.

Republicans are not satisfied merely to oppose mask and vaccine mandates. Now, they are willing to allow children exposed to COVID-19 to attend school. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says infected people can spread the virus for two days before they display any symptoms. 

In pursuit of political power, Republicans are willing, apparently, to plot insurrections, jeopardize the financial stability of the United States, and risk the health of schoolchildren. So, the answer to the question in the title of this piece is clear: There is no bottom for today’s Republican Party. That is a grave misfortune for us all. 

Posted September 24, 2021