Tag Archives: Kevin McCarthy

It Gets Worse… and Worse

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

It is a year later, and our Republic is in even worse shape, which is why I am writing this piece to say, once again, what I have said before: Donald Trump and his minions in the Republican Party are a clear and present danger, a threat to turn our two-century experiment in self-government into an authoritarian state.

On January 7, 2021, many Republicans believed Trump, the disgraced then-president of the United States, responsible for the worst attack on the Capitol since the War of 1812. Many Republicans, from political leaders to rank-and-file voters, appeared ready to cut their ties with Trump. 

Not any more! Within weeks of the January 6 coup attempt, most Republicans returned to the fold, humbling themselves before the cultic leader of their party. The example of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is typical. During the storming of the Capitol, McCarthy phoned Trump, urging the president to call off his supporters. In an expletive-laced conversation, Trump said the rioters “are more upset about the election” than McCarthy was. A week later, McCarthy said Trump must “accept his share of responsibility” for the violence on January 6. But, before the end of the month, barely three weeks after the insurrection, McCarthy trekked to Mar-a-Lago to kiss Trump’s ring, and he has not wavered in his fealty since. The vast majority of the Republican Party resumed its blind obeisance to Trump, refusing to vote to impeach and convict Trump for his complicity in the riot and declining to participate in investigations of the insurrection.

The most important criteria in proving loyalty to Trump — especially for those running for office — is to embrace the “big lie” that Trump won the 2020 presidential election. The Washington Post showcased one Republican — Bernie Moreno, a candidate in Ohio’s Republican Senate primary — who asserted in November 2020 that Joe Biden won the presidential election. Now, Moreno has done a complete about-face, running a campaign ad in which he says, “President Trump says the election was stolen, and he’s right.”

Nothing has changed, of course. Moreno was right in November 2020, and wrong now. Republicans have uncovered no evidence that changes the election results. Yet, Moreno is willing to lie to Ohio voters to further Trump’s unwillingness to admit he lost. Moreno is not alone; more than 150 Republicans running for statewide positions — as governors, senators, state attorneys general, and secretaries of state — echo Trump’s “big lie.” These candidates, if they won, would have authority over the administration of elections.  

The mob that stormed the Capitol was one element of the Trumpian assault on democracy. Another element, about which we have learned more in the year since January 6, 2021, is the concerted effort by Trump and his lackeys — in government and out — to use the mechanisms of government to overturn the free and fair election results. Pressure was put on Vice President Mike Pence to reject electors from several closely contested states. Other attempts were made to force state election officials to tamper with vote totals. Trump demanded that Georgia’s secretary of state find enough votes to swing Georgia from the Biden column to Trump’s.

All of these sad events now amount to a dress rehearsal for stealing the next election. Trump is laying plans to run again in 2024, and he and his allies are installing mechanisms that will aid Trump either to win enough votes to claim the presidency outright or manipulate the results should Trump fall short in the Electoral College. As Barton Gelman detailed in The Atlantic, Trump’s next coup has already begun.

Republicans believe, evidently, that they and Trump cannot win fair and free elections. In this they are right, so the answer for them is not to figure out how to compete fairly but to change the rules. Hence, the attempts in numerous Republican-controlled states to limit who can vote and to give Republican state officials the tools to nullify votes cast. This constitutes an assault on the principle of one person, one vote, and it undermines the arc of American history, which has been to widen the franchise, not limit it, since the founding of the Republic.

In a speech marking the insurrection, delivered in the rotunda of the Capitol, President Joe Biden said, “The former president and his supporters have decided the only way for them to win is to suppress your vote and subvert our elections. It’s wrong. It’s undemocratic.” The president is correct about the intentions of Trump and his supporters, but Biden’s analysis overlooks one important fact: America is not a true democracy. Many of the mechanisms of our constitutional framework enshrine minority rule and frustrate the will of the majority, one of the basic criteria of democratic governance.

The Electoral College allows for the loser of the popular vote to become president, which has happened twice in this century. The Senate is based on the equality of states, giving population-poor Wyoming as much power as population-rich California. The Senate further hampers majority will through the enshrining of the extra-constitutional filibuster. A minority of voters — from rural, conservative districts — have out-sized influence in the House because of gerrymandering.The current Supreme Court does not reflect the popular will because of the appointment of so many justices by presidents who failed to win the popular vote. 

For the foreseeable future, little can be done about the Electoral College and nothing to change the basis of representation in the Senate. But, Democrats have the power to answer the dearth of democracy by expanding democracy. The protection of voting rights — which requires eliminating or altering the filibuster — is the sine qua non of any attempt to make the United States more democratic. It is also the sine qua non of any hope of protecting against the coup next time, which will surely happen if we Americans do nothing to protect against Trump’s authoritarian instincts.

It is often said that democracy dies in darkness. Actually, the assault on American democracy is occurring in broad daylight. We know what Trump did in 2020; we know what he is planning for 2024. We have the ability to prevent an illegal seizure of power. Now, all we need is the will. It is up to us!

Posted January 7, 2022

 

What’s a President To Do?

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Joe Biden, as president of the United States, may be the most powerful person in the world, but even he is at the mercy of events and public perception of those events.

How else to explain the disconnect between the popularity of Biden’s policies and his plunging popularity? As Nate Cohn pointed out in Sunday’s New York Times, Biden has presided over the enactment of a whopping stimulus plan and a bipartisan infrastructure act. He is on the cusp of pushing through Congress an ambitious $2 trillion bill to modernize the American social safety net. The components of those bills are all very popular; the president is not. 

Biden’s approval ratings are in the mid-40s. He gets little or no credit for the passage of his agenda. Polls show a majority of respondents do not believe that Biden’s policies have helped them much, even though most households received stimulus checks and parents received additional funds. 

The media is partly at fault for concentrating on the messiness of the legislative process and the overall price tag for each measure without providing a sense of what each piece of legislation contains. Most of the media also has ignored the Republicans’ refusal to participate in lawmaking. The political reality of Republican obstructionism has been obscured, resulting in a lack of public understanding of the differences between the two parties. The simple fact, not always grasped, is that Democrats want to get things done — build bridges, provide child care, lower drug costs — and Republicans do not. 

Biden has tried to bridge the partisan gap. Bipartisan cooperation is built into Biden’s DNA; it is part and parcel of his entire legislative career. Biden also believes that achieving bipartisan cooperation in Congress would fulfill his promise to restore a sense of “normalcy” to politics, whatever that might be at this point. Many of Biden’s political allies worry that Biden’s emphasis on reaching out to Republicans obscures the danger the Republican Party presents to American democracy through its devotion to former President Donald Trump, ndorsement of Trump’s “big lie,” and drift toward authoritarianism and embracing violence as a means to its ends.

Messaging is part of Biden’s problem. Biden’s popularity plunged in August because of the perception that the pullout from Afghanistan was botched. The speedy takeover of that beleaguered country by the Taliban and the the deaths of 13 American soldiers at the Kabul airport dominated the news, allowing Republicans to portray the president as incompetent. Hidden in the overwrought headlines were two salient facts: First, Biden inherited a deal Trump reached with the Taliban; and, second, the United States successfully airlifted more than 124,000 people out of Afghanistan, the largest airlift in American history. 

Another driver of Biden’s plunge in the polls is COVID-19, which Biden promised to bring under control. In truth, Biden has been far more successful tackling the pandemic than his predecessor. He has urged all Americans to get vaccinated and undertake safe practices. He promised speedy delivery of vaccines, and he delivered. He cannot reasonably be blamed for mutations in the virus that lead to more dangerous and more easily transmitted variants. 

Yet, Republicans have successfully portrayed Biden as failing to combat the coronavirus. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy made this argument recently: “I took President Biden at his word; I took him at his word when he said he was going to get COVID under control. Unfortunately, more Americans have died this year than last year” from the disease. It is a cynical line of attack: Blame the president for failing to tame the pandemic while using every trick in the book to undermine his attempts to do so. Republican governors have opposed mask mandates and blocked the president’s vaccine mandates. Large parts of the party’s base refuse to get the vaccine and continue to go unmasked. As of September, 90 percent of adult Democrats had been vaccinated; only 58 percent of Republicans were fully vaccinated. 

Republicans have spread disinformation about the pandemic, undermining Biden’s attempts to control its spread. The most blatant recent example of this is the tweet this past weekend by Representative Ronny Jackson, a Texas Republican who served as White House physician for Presidents Trump and Barack Obama. In his tweet, Jackson launched the most absurd conspiracy theory about the appearance of the new coronavirus variant, Omicron: “Here comes the MEV – the Midterm Election Variant! They NEED a reason to push unsolicited nationwide mail-in ballots. Democrats will do anything to CHEAT during an election – but we’re not going to let them!” 

How idiotic can anyone be? Does Jackson really believe that a new variant discovered in November 2021 will affect elections a year away? Are the South African doctors who first reported the variant part of the Democratic plot to steal elections? Are all the other countries that imposed travel bans working to help Democrats win elections? It is easy to mock Jackson, but his ignorant tweet highlights Biden’s problem: How to message effectively the truth when so much disinformation is so readily disseminated?  

So, what can the president do to turn things around? For starters, Biden should stop trying to enlist Republicans in bipartisan cooperation. Democrats, the president included, must reveal Republican as obstructionists unwilling to govern, showing them to be a danger to democracy. This line of attack must be part of the strategy to get recalcitrant Democrats to support federal legislation to protect voting rights. Failure to do so will allow Republican-controlled state legislatures to continue to pass legislation geared to undermining democratic government, making it impossible for Democrats to win elections in the future.

Democrats must also use the remaining weeks in the current legislative session to pass the social infrastructure bill. Providing child care and universal pre-K, expanding Medicare, extending child tax credits, paid family and medical leave, and combatting climate change are all popular provisions in the bill. A bill signing event at the White House will help Democrats launch the 2022 election season on a high note and will give Biden the big, substantive win to show Americans he is truly working for them. 

Getting stuff done has to be the Democrats’ emphasis. There is no guarantee that it will work, but Biden and the entire Democratic Party have little alternative.

Posted November 30, 2021

 

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

 

 

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

Obstruction, Part Deux

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

There are many signs these days of the intellectual bankruptcy of the Republican Party. One of the most striking is the pitiful attempt by Republican leaders to delegitimize President Joe Biden by claiming he is not in charge of his own administration. Biden is, so the line goes, old and fumbling, a figurehead for others, particularly Vice President Kamala Harris, who push him to extremist positions, or manipulated by his White House staff.

In a lame attempt to make this point, Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn issued a string of tweets last month about Biden’s alleged lack of a media presence. Citing a Politico article entitled “The Biden White House media doctrine: Less can be more,” Cornyn wondered if the article “[i]nvites the question: is he really in charge?” Actually, the article did not invite that question at all. Politico simply observed that the current president’s tweets are few, his public comments scripted, and he limits his contacts with the press. And, as one White House official told Politico, the president and his communications staff are happy to have other people push Biden’s policy agenda. “We use the Cabinet, they’re experts in their field,” said deputy communications director Kate Berner. 

Questioning Biden’s media reticence is a funny, weird, and hypocritical critique by Cornyn since Republicans in the House and Senate often scurried from reporters’ probing questions seeking a comment about the latest embarrassing, inflammatory, ignorant, and/or bigoted tweet from former president Donald Trump. Who can forget those TV images of Republican lawmakers fast-walking past reporters’ microphones to avoid commenting? As for Biden having limited contacts with the media, it is true his media availability is significantly less than Trump’s. The “former guy” was a media hog, never shying away from a camera. But, those were often as embarrassing and ill-informed as his tweets. Remember his commandeering the daily press briefings in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic when, among other things, he suggested injecting bleach into bodies?

Republicans also have attacked Biden for an alleged lack of energy. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy disparaged Biden for having to sleep “five hours a night” and for not having “the energy of Donald Trump.” No one outside the Biden family knows — at least, I do not — how many hours the president sleeps, and McCarthy ought to know that adults usually require seven to nine hours of sleep a night. More importantly, it is a very strange accusation to compare Biden’s work ethic to Trump’s. The former president’s aversion to hard work was legendary. He rarely showed up to assume his daily tasks until 11 in the morning, refused intelligence briefings, and he spent hours every day watching television (when he was not playing golf).

Much of the Republicans political maneuvering and commentary would be silly if it were not part of a larger strategy aimed at derailing Biden’s bold agenda to bring American into the 21st century by revamping the nation’s infrastructure and strengthening its social safety net in an attempt to catch up to the rest of the industrialized and democratic world. Accordingly, Republican tactics center on portraying Biden as too weak and ineffectual to be an effective interlocutor. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested in February — during discussions surrounding passage of the COVID-19 relief bill — that the president was hamstrung by his staff from reaching a bipartisan deal. “Our members who were in the meeting felt that the president seemed more interested in [bipartisanship] than his staff did,” McConnell said. West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito said about the president, “He seemed more willing than his staff to negotiate.” Longtime McConnell adviser Josh Holmes suggested that White House “staff treats Biden as though he’s an invalid who just wanders into a meeting and knows not what he speaks.” It is a wily ploy by Republicans to suggest that the only reason there is no bipartisanship is because Biden is not in control of his own administration. “Gee,” the implication is, “we’d love to reach a deal, but we can’t figure out who’s in charge over there.”

Actually, it is the other way around. Republicans find it useful to belittle Biden because they do not wish to reach any deals with him. Bereft of ideas and policies, McConnell and his cohorts want to insure that Biden does not receive credit for any successes from his popular policies. When asked if he would do anything to support Representative Liz Cheney for calling out Trump’s “Big Lie,” McConnell said his only goal was to stymie Biden. “One-hundred percent of my focus is on stopping this new administration,” said the GOP’s leading obstructionist. 

McConnell is an experienced hand at being Senator No. In obstruction, part un, he vowed to make Barack Obama a one-term president, and, though he failed to do so, the Kentuckian obstructed Obama at every opportunity, including preventing the then-president from exercising his constitutionally mandated duty to appoint a Supreme Court justice. McConnell has never been known to be much interested in policy. The only two things he seems to care about is stacking the federal judiciary with conservative justices and insuring the spigot remains open for big money to flow into Republican coffers. A more cynical pol would be hard to find.

The senator’s cynicism has been on full display in the opening months of the Biden presidency. McConnell opposes creating a commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection because an inquiry could hurt the Republican Party’s midterm election message. He did not explain the contents of that message, leaving the rest of us to wonder if it includes supporting White supremacy, insurrection, and treason. The United States suffered its worst treasonous uprising since the Civil War and Senator McConnell willingly places party before country! Apparently, McConnell forgot that he held Trump “practically and morally responsible” for the insurrection in a speech on the Senate floor following the former president’s second impeachment trial. 

So far, Biden is correct to ignore Republican insults aimed at him personally. But, when those insults indicate a larger Republican strategy with the goal of preventing passage of all of the president’s agenda, Biden needs to say, “Enough is enough! I’m going to act without their cooperation if they continue to obstruct.” Biden’s action must include signaling Senate Democrats that he supports the end of the filibuster so that a minority of a minority can no longer impede passage of popular and much-needed legislation.

Posted May 28, 2021

Scared of the Truth — and Democracy

[H]ere we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it. — Thomas Jefferson to William Roscoe, December 27, 1820, Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. 

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

No one ever accused House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of being the sharpest knife in the drawer, but his botched handling of the run up to the vote Wednesday in the House to create an independent commission to investigate the January 6 attack on Capitol Hill rose (plummeted?) to a new level of stupidity. McCarthy committed political malpractice by revealing that today’s Republicans have absolutely no interest in pursuing truth for fear of “wherever it may lead.” Nor, as the California Republican made crystal clear, do Republicans care one whit about preserving democracy.

McCarthy, no doubt, thought he was being clever when he made demands of the Democrats that he evidently expected them to turn down. But, as former president Donald Trump can attest, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a seasoned and cagey politician, and her team is equally adept. When Democrats agreed to McCarthy’s demands, his subsequent objections to the commission revealed that his only goal was to cover for Trump — whose role in fomenting the insurrection is obvious — and himself. The last thing, after all, that McCarthy wants is to be hauled up before the commission to testify about what he saw on January 6 and what he said to Trump on the day of the insurrection.

Mr. Minority Leader, be careful what you ask for. Also, know your adversary.

Pelosi hit the nail on the head when she said after the vote, “You’ll have to ask [the Republicans] what they are afraid of. But it sounds like they are afraid of the truth, and that is most unfortunate.” An irate Representative Tim Ryan, an Ohio Democrat, was blunter: “We have people scaling the Capitol, hitting the Capitol Police with lead pipes across the head, and we can’t get bipartisanship. What else has to happen in this country?” Apparently, when a party is in the thrall of a would-be autocrat, there is no limit to the outrages it is willing to commit and tolerate. 

The bipartisan commission probably will not happen. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — who has mastered the art of talking out of both sides of his mouth — has come out against it. But, Republicans may be making a huge mistake. They would have had equal representation on the commission, and both sides would have had equal subpoena power (both part of McCarthy’s demands to which Democrats agreed), giving Republicans the ability to influence the final report. Now, however, existing committees in the House and Senate — all under the control of Democrats — are free to launch their own investigations. A number of Republican legislators ought to be very frightened of what those investigations might uncover. Representatives Mo Brooks of Alabama and Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs, both of Arizona, have been accused of helping to plan the attack. 

Thomas Jefferson — quoted in the headnote above — knew that a commitment to the truth was necessary in a democratic society. The author of the Declaration of Independence, no doubt, would have recognized that the modern Republican Party is committed to neither a truthful nor a free society. Evidence of this comes in the absurd machinations in the ongoing sham recount of the November presidential election returns in Maricopa County, Arizona; the numerous voter suppression laws being passed in Republican-controlled states; and the demands around the country for recounts in both presidential and down-ballot races.

Rank-and-file Republicans across the country apparently are ready to ditch this whole two-century plus experiment with democracy. In a recent poll, two-thirds of Republicans who responded said it was important to be loyal to Trump, a frightening sign of how Trump turned the party into a cult of personality (“Hail, Caesar!” “Heil Hitler!”). Two-thirds of Republicans believe Trump won the election, despite the appalling lack of evidence to support such a claim (another indication that truth no longer matters). And, scariest of all, nearly half of all Republicans said that pushing for changes in state voting rules is more important than appealing to voters with policies and ideas. In other words, half of all Republicans are fine with cheating to win; as for ideas, who cares? Winning is everything. As is power. 

Of course, none of this is surprising. Last summer, Republican party leaders let the cat out of the bag when they decided not to adopt a platform in the presidential election. Instead, the Republican National Committee released a groveling resolution pledging to “continue to enthusiastically support” Trump. The no-ideas GOP made personal loyalty to “Il Duce” the only criterion for voting Republican. 

The Republican lack of commitment to policies has been evident throughout the Trump years. Or, more accurately, the Republican Party’s only policy is fealty to Leader Trump. Republicans do not need a platform, and they certainly do not want an independent commission to reveal the leader’s complicity in a treasonous assault on the nation’s Capitol in an effort to derail the democratic process. Republicans are thinking only in the short run, believing they have a good chance to reclaim control of Congress in 2022 and perhaps the White House two years later. Republican control of key state legislatures insures redistricting following the 2020 census will benefit the GOP. Gerrymandering and voter restriction laws increase the party’s future chances of controlling all the levers of government in Washington. Why rock the boat with all this talk about truth and democracy?

Besides, what the character played by Jack Nicholson emphatically says to Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men applies to Republicans, “You can’t handle the truth!” 

Posted May 21, 2021

The Party Line

I don’t think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election. — House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, May 12, 2021.

I don’t think that anybody on our side has been arguing that [voter fraud is] pervasive all over the country. — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, May 11, 2021.

You can’t have the Republican conference chair reciting Democrat [sic] talking points. — Republican Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, in defending the purge of Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney, May 11, 2021.

You know, if you didn’t know the TV footage was a video from January 6, you’d think it was a normal tourist visit.Republican Representative Andrew Clyde of Georgia, who claims calling the insurrection at the Capitol an insurrection “is a baldfaced lie,” May 12, 2021.

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Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

There may not be, in former White House adviser Kellyanne Conway’s infamous phrase, “alternative facts,” but in today’s Republican Party there is clearly an alternative reality. No one who follows the news these days can be oblivious to repeated unfounded claims by Republicans of fraud in the 2020 presidential election. Nor can anyone seriously believe that the truth is merely a “Democrat [sic] talking point.” And, everyone who watched at the time or has since seen clips is fully aware that those were not tourists on Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021. 

And, yet, here is today’s Republican Party promulgating shameless lies — shameless because they are easily shown to be falsehoods — with impunity. The most apt historical analogy is the machinations of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, where truth was what the party said on any given day, endlessly repeated in party organs like Pravda and Izvestia. The same for Republican leaders, who spew the party line, knowing that it will be repeated by Fox, One America News Network, Breitbart, and other right-wing mouthpieces for GOP lies. 

For today’s Republican leaders, the truth is malleable. McCarthy, McConnell, and the like get away with their lies because they know that, in the tribal environment of the 21st century, the Republican base gets its news only from right-wing sources. So, they lie with impunity in the realization that the voters to whom they are speaking are never exposed to the truth in fair-minded newspapers or television news shows. 

McCarthy cannot be so naive as to believe that no one in his party is questioning the results of the presidential election. He cannot be oblivious to the post last week in which former president Donald Trump said, “The Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 will be, from this day forth, known as THE BIG LIE!” (Which raises a question: Has McCarthy purchased his airline tickets to south Florida to grovel once again before the emperor? Trump cannot be happy with McCarthy’s comment.) And, does the senator from Kentucky really believe no one is claiming massive fraud in American elections? (See above, Trump and “THE BIG LIE.”) Is McConnell unaware of polls that consistently show a majority of Republicans believe the 2020 election was stolen from Trump? And, McConnell must be savvy enough to understand that the party’s base believes the unproven lies about election fraud because that is what party leaders have repeatedly told Republican voters.

Jim Jordan is certainly correct — and many other Republicans have said, as well — that party leaders cannot be so diametrically off-message as Liz Cheney and keep their posts. But, the issue for which Cheney was purged Wednesday is not some policy difference over tax rates or infrastructure projects. No, the Wyoming Republican was ousted as conference chair because she told the truth, because she repeatedly has said that the 2020 election was fair and that Donald Trump bears responsibility for the criminal attack by the mob he — as she said — “summoned.” No, Representative Jordan, the truth is not a Democratic talking point. 

If it were not so perverse, the claim by Representative Clyde that January 6 resembled a normal tourist day at the Capitol would be laughable. Not many tourists hang nooses on the Capitol grounds. Not many law-abiding visitors smash windows and break down doors. Not many of those who come to see where the nation’s laws are made attack law-enforcement officials. Representative Clyde may be the boldest of the bold GOP liars because most of the American public saw or has seen what happened on January 6. 

The comparison of such lies to the old Soviet Communist Party is apt. The Republican Party has not descended to the level of the Soviet Union during the iron-fisted rule of Joseph Stalin. Dissidents or those whom the party simply no longer trusts are not executed or sent to some American gulag. No, the analogy is to the Soviet Union of the Brezhnev era in the 1970s. Opposition still was not tolerated, but conformity was imposed by less brutal means than in Stalin’s day. Anyone who dared to question Leonid Brezhnev or other leading party hacks might be denounced by name, lose his or her nice apartment, or be fired from a plush job and sent to some remote province.

Like the Soviet Communist Party at its sclerotic worst — when leaders simply mouthed tired, old Marxist dogma, which no one seriously still believed — the current Republican Party no longer stands for anything except maintaining its hold on power. To do that, the GOP must purge truth-tellers like Cheney, rewrite election laws in enough states to enable it to win future elections, and repeat the “Big Lie.”

The truth, after all, is only what the party says it is. But, always stay tuned, the truth is malleable. The party line may be different tomorrow.

Posted May 14, 2021

 

Very Strange World

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

It is a very strange world, indeed, in which a progressive — like me — sings the praises of a conservative like Wyoming Republican Representative Liz Cheney. Very strange, but also a sign of how Donald Trump has perverted traditional political perceptions.

Cheney is about to be purged from the House Republican leadership for telling the truth and following her conscience. Those, apparently, are sins in today’s Republican Party. The truth, as Cheney correctly acknowledges, is that Donald Trump lost the presidential election last November and, then, “summoned” a mob to storm the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Her conscience commanded her to vote for Trump’s impeachment for his role on the insurrection, and it pushed her to continue to denounce the subservience of the vast majority of her Republican colleagues to Trump and his “Big Lie.”

Cheney has not relented in her criticism of Trump nor in her insistence that the Republican Party move on from his tarnished record. Although she survived a vote in early February to oust her as chair of the Republican conference, pressure from Trump, who called for her removal, and his lackeys has led to the nearly inevitable vote next week to replace her with someone more compliant. New York Representative Elise Stefanik is the leading candidate.

Cheney has been in the GOP’s crosshairs for weeks, but any possibility of her mustering enough support in the party’s House caucus to keep her post disappeared with publication Thursday of her op-ed in The Washington Post. In it, she castigated Trump for continuing to lie about the election results, accusing the former president of “seeking to unravel critical elements of our constitutional structure that make democracy work — confidence in the result of elections and the rule of law. No other American president has even done this.”

There is nothing conservative about such actions, Cheney asserted. “I am a conservative Republican,” she said, “and the most conservative of conservative values is reverence for the rule of law.” Trump’s attempt to undo the results of the 2020 election remind Cheney of what she witnessed in other countries “where changes in leadership come only with violence, where democracy takes hold only until the next violent upheaval.” Embracing Trump’s agenda, whatever the short-term political advantages might be, Cheney continues, “will do profound long-term damage to our party and our country.”

What is odd here is that most of Cheney’s Republican colleagues agreed with her about Trump’s role in the January 6 insurrection. Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — who now has joined the chorus to oust Cheney — said, a week after the insurrection, “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.” But, McCarthy desperately wants to be speaker of the House, and he evidently has calculated that the path to his dream job is to have Trump’s help in securing a Republican House majority in the 2022 midterm elections. So, the pusillanimous McCarthy dutifully paid homage to Trump at Mar-a-Lago two weeks later, and, now, the Californian defends Trump by saying that in a call on the day of the riot Trump promised to “put something out to make sure to stop this. And that’s what he did, he put a video out later.” Trump’s action: A tepid video put out several hours later. 

McCarthy is not alone in his supineness. Except for the extreme crazies on the far right, every Republican must understand that Trump lost and that his complicity in the January 6 is clear. Yet, their craven pursuit of power leads them to bow to Trump and to ignore the real dangers he presents — as Cheney made clear — to American democracy. Because of the  calculation that loyalty to Trump is a political necessity, the Republican Party has abandoned its ideology and shucked its conservatism to adhere to the Trumpian cult of personality.

That the Republican Party no longer believes in conservatism is evident by its willingness to trade Cheney — who voted with Trump 93 percent of the time — for Stefanik — who backed the president only 78 percent or the time. Stefanik, who hails from an upstate New York district that was once solidly Democratic, had a reputation as something of a Republican moderate. But, she emerged as one of Trump’s most outspoken defenders during House Intelligence Committee hearings for Trump’s first impeachment in 2019. Now, she is an enthusiastic defender of the “Big Lie.”

Stefanik initially was reluctant to challenge Cheney, but she changed her mind when Trump enthusiastically supported her elevation to the leadership. Now, Stefanik is campaigning for the job, writing on Twitter, “We are unified and focused on FIRING [Speaker Nancy] PELOSI & WINNING in 2022.” Apparently, becoming a Trump acolyte leads politicians to write uncontrollably in capitals. 

Liz Cheney deserves praise from all who revere the U.S. Constitution and for her insistence on telling the truth. Those standards constitute a rather low bar, however, and the failure of the vast majority of Republicans to even meet those minimal standards jeopardizes American political stability. President Joe Biden recognizes that the nation needs a two-party system, saying: “It’s not healthy to have a one-party system. And, I think Republicans are further away from trying to figure out who they are and what they stand for than I thought they would be at this point.”

Liz Cheney is no unvarnished hero. She defended the torture program of George W. Bush’s administration (in which her father was the vice president who urged the efficacy of torture in combatting in terrorism). She refused to denounce the “birther” assertions regarding President Barack Obama, and she headed a group that attacked Obama’s Justice Department, calling it “DOJ: Department of Jihad.”

But, Cheney is on the side of the angels in this battle, proving that it is, indeed, a very strange world.

Posted May 7, 2021

The Battle Over America’s Past

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is running scared, so scared that he is vying to lead far-right crazies in the Republican Party as they engage in endless culture wars.

Last week, the Kentucky Republican sent a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona — signed by 36 of McConnell’s colleagues — accusing the Biden administration of pushing a divisive and revisionist interpretation of U.S. history after the Department of Education asked for public comments on programs to improve the quality of American history teaching and instruct students in “both the consequences of slavery and the significant contributions of Black Americans to our society.”

Two things are going on here. First, Republicans raise so-called cultural issues because they are a party bereft of policies that either help citizens or appeal to them. Knowing that President Joe Biden’s programs share widespread public support — including from a significant percentage of Republicans — GOP leaders are left with little other than raising bogus issues from “cancel culture” to allegations the president intends to steal July 4 hamburgers. 

Second, McConnell put himself in the forefront of the criticism of the Education Department because he fears for his job. Last week, former president Donald Trump called on Republicans to dump McConnell as minority leader if the party hopes to reclaim a Senate majority in 2022. “We need good leadership. Mitch McConnell has not done a great job. I think they should change Mitch McConnell,” Trump said. McConnell’s sin? He had the temerity to acknowledge that Biden fairly won the presidency and subsequently blame Trump for the January 6 attack on the nation’s Capitol — though McConnell refused to vote to convict Trump for inciting the riot. 

In Trump world, you are either for him one-thousand percent, or you are the enemy. So, McConnell is now the enemy, and the senator has concluded that to keep his post as leader of the Republican senatorial caucus he must prove his bona fides as a culture warrior. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has made the same calculation. After first blaming Trump for the riot, McCarthy virtually crawled to Mar-a-Lago — Trump’s private club in Florida — to kiss the emperor’s ring as penance for his sin. The GOP congressional leadership has redefined political cravenness. 

It is difficult to predict what absurdities Republican political leaders — and their propaganda arms at Fox, Newsmax, and One America News Network — will cite or concoct in the future as they try to deflect attention from their inability to attract voters with their dearth of policy positions. But, for now, McConnell has grasped the teaching of American history as his vehicle to keep the Trumpistas at bay. 

In his letter, McConnell accused the Education Department of “doubl[ing] down on divisive, radical, and historically-dubious [sic] buzzwords and propaganda.” McConnell attacked The New York Times’ much-praised “1619 Project” for allegedly “putting advocacy ahead of historical accuracy.” McConnell said, “Families did not ask for this divisive nonsense, [and] voters did not vote for it.”

McConnell’s letter is disingenuous. He suggests that teaching students about America’s diverse past explains the sorry state of history education and the fact that, according to him, “American pride has plummeted to its lowest level in 20 years.” Even if that statement were true, there is no apparent nor logical connection between the teaching of diversity as part of a school’s curriculum and the lack of historical knowledge and pride in America’s achievements. 

But, tenuous connections have not prevented the Republican right from attacking “The 1619 Project” for stressing the role of slavery in colonial and national development. Trump Republicans — with whom McConnell is trying to ingratiate himself — linked “The 1619 Project” with so-called “Critical Race Theory,” an academic concept that maintains American racism is not the result of merely some bad actors, but is part of the legal system and other powerful institutions in American society. This concept is not new. Students of native American history have pointed out for decades that discrimination against indigenous people has been written into law. 

Last November, Trump established a hand-picked commission aimed at promoting “patriotic education.” The commission released “The 1776 Report” (dates are important in this argument: 1619 when the first Blacks arrived in Virginia; 1776 for independence) on Martin Luther King Day, just two days before Trump left office. The report, written in haste not by historians but by right-wing activists, called America “an exemplary nation, one that protects the safety and promotes the happiness of its people, as an example to be admired and emulated by nations of the world.”

No one doubts the historical significance of the American Revolution as a landmark in the development of human liberty. The words promulgated by the Framers remain an inspiration to freedom-seekers everywhere. But to stop there, as the authors of “The 1776 Report” do, is to miss the epic tale of America’s struggle to live up to its ideals. The report’s discussion of slavery reveals its rather limited view of American history. The authors are dismissive of the importance and significance of slavery in the nation’s history. Slavery, they write, was not “a uniquely American evil.” That is both true and meaningless. Yes, slavery had been practiced for millennia and was widespread at the time of the American Revolution. But, to say that is to ignore the contradiction between the stated goals of the Framers — “All Men are created equal” — and their practice as well as to give short shrift to the significance of slavery in understanding racial divisions in contemporary American society. 

In any event, “The 1776 Report” is propaganda, not history. (President Biden dissolved the commission and took its report off the government website). McConnell does not mention it in his letter — no doubt because he is aware of its dubious credibility — but his complaints against the Education Department proposals reveal that he shares similar crimped views of the American past. The letter also demonstrates that there is little McConnell will not do to pacify the hard right of the Republican Party in order to keep his post as senate minority leader — including willfully distorting American history.

Posted May 4, 2021

Learning From the Past

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

One of the presumed advantages of maturity — and Joe Biden is a very mature president — is accumulated wisdom gathered through the span of a long life. Biden is not only our oldest president; he has also spent virtually his entire adult life in national politics. He has seen the system up close and surely knows what works and what does not.

Biden witnessed the last two Democratic presidents’ excessive timidity in approaching the significant issues of the day. Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama suffered huge midterm defeats during their first terms because they failed to revive sluggish economies. Neither of Biden’s Democratic predecessors offered bold economic plans and both were undone, in part, by futile stabs at bipartisanship. Obama, in particular, constantly tried to pry a few Republicans from the party’s obstructionist stance, tailoring his programs and nominations — the stimulus package, healthcare reform, the nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court — to appeal to moderates within the GOP. It never worked. 

Clearly, Biden learned a valuable lesson: Go bold and go over the heads of Republican leaders to appeal to Republican voters. He secured passage of a massive $1.9 trillion stimulus package early in his term. No Republicans in Congress voted for it. Biden did not wait — as Obama did — for Republicans to offer support. Instead, the new president took advantage of slim Democratic majorities in Congress to push through the rescue bill on a straight party vote. The strategy is working: Poll after poll show most Americans — including a significant percentage of Republican voters — support the relief measure. 

As Biden prepares to address Congress Wednesday evening — marking his first 100 days in the presidency — he continues to offer bold initiatives. He has proposed a multi-trillion dollar infrastructure bill, which includes, in addition to the traditional building and repairing of roads and bridges, a large jobs component, broadband coverage for the entire nation, and development of alternative energy sources to combat climate change. Other audacious plans — voting reform, an immigration overhaul, police reform, and an attack on income inequality, among others — likely will come soon.

Not much in Biden’s past suggested he would be a president with such radical proclivities. But, Biden evidently is a student of history, so he must know that high poll numbers, which he currently enjoys, can be fleeting. He must understand the fates of Clinton and Obama, as well as the lessons from the first term of one of America’s greatest presidents: Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Confronted by the worst economic crisis in U.S. history, Roosevelt used his first 100 days in office to calm the financial panic and begin rolling out the programs that comprised the New Deal. Fifteen major pieces of legislation were introduced during those first 100 days. Roosevelt’s frenetic attack on the Great Depression gave the concept of “the first 100 days” meaning, and ever since, presidents have been graded, perhaps unfairly, on their accomplishments during the early days and weeks of their terms. 

This analysis is not meant to suggest that Biden faces an existential crisis as great as the Great Depression, though the threat from COVID-19 cannot be underestimated nor can the successes of the new administration in getting vaccines distributed and into the arms of millions of Americans be overly praised. But where Roosevelt faced one extremely daunting crisis, Biden faces a multitude: The pandemic and the ensuing economic downturn, climate change, immigration, income and racial inequality, abuse of power by police, and Republican attacks on democracy (voting rights and the right to protest).The list is so extensive as to make one wonder why anyone wants to be president!

Like Roosevelt, Biden is not wasting his current popularity nor public support for many of his proposals. Of course, Biden would like Republican votes in Congress for some of his proposals, but he also knows, as we all do, that the current Republican Party — in the throes of abject submission to former president Donald Trump and led in Congress by the obstructionist Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and the subservient House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — is committed to opposing anything he presents.

More important in Biden’s calculations are Republican voters. He is not likely to peel away many Trump loyalists — hard right conservatives convinced Trump won the November election as well as gun rights advocates, racists and xenophobes, and cultural warriors. But, he is calculating that populist proposals — economic populism as opposed to the nationalist and racist populism of Trump and the Republican Party —  will garner support from Republican voters.

Biden is betting that the $1400 checks people received, an improving economy putting people back to work and raising wages, tax increases on the wealthy and big corporations, a jobs program in the infrastructure package, broadband expansion to rural areas, and other programs that benefit all voters will win him bipartisan support. 

So expect to hear from a bold Joe Biden Wednesday night, a president who knows surely that the only way to win bipartisan backing and break gridlock in Washington is to deliver for all Americans.

Posted April 27, 2021