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Go Partners With the President…

On the morning of August 4, 1934, President Franklin Roosevelt had breakfast in his private Great Northern Special railroad car on a siding in Ephrata in east central Washington. After breakfast Roosevelt left in a motorcade to drive to the Grand Coulee damsite. 

The president’s irascible Interior Secretary, Harold Ickes, a huge backer of big, costly and transformative infrastructure projects like Grand Coulee was part of the group and he recorded the details in his diary.

“The dam to be built here will take six times as much concrete as will be required at Boulder Dam,” Ickes wrote, referring to the massive dam – now called Hoover Dam – spanning the Colorado River south of Las Vegas. “There are at least a million acres of extremely fertile land which will be able to produce abundant crops if and when they get water from this project.” 

Ickes expressed amazement that 20,000 people, many traveling hundreds of miles, gathered at the Grand Coulee construction site – literally the middle of nowhere – to cheer on the prospect of irrigation and energy. These folks knew the desert would bloom. New jobs would be created.  Economic opportunity would come to Grant County and the larger region. 

Spending money to put people to work building big things was the essence of Roosevelt’s Great Depression fighting New Deal in the Pacific Northwest. The huge dams spanning the lower Columbia and the upper Missouri, among the greatest human built structures in the world, are the most visible monuments to a Democratic president’s infrastructure plans, but the concrete is only a part of the story.  

It is not hyperbole to say that FDR’s New Deal built the world we inhabit: Schools in Boise, Parma and a half dozen other places; a golf course in Idaho Falls; post offices in Grangeville, Orofino, Bonners Ferry and Buhl, even the Red Ives Ranger Station up the St. Joe. 

The June 1937 issue of Western Construction News took notice of the electric infrastructure under construction in north central Idaho. The Roosevelt Rural Electrification Administration (REA) allotted $75,000 to the Clearwater Valley Light and Power Association in Lewiston “for construction of a generating plant of 800 KW capacity.” Another $400,000 was handed over to “for construction of 300 miles of transmission lines in Idaho and Washington.” 

Farm to market roads were improved in Asotin County. Husky Stadium in Seattle was expanded. A high school built in Kennewick, a library in Dayton and $141,000 was spent on municipal sewer improvements in Spokane

A marker in Idaho designating a Roosevelt-era infrastructure project

The “Living New Deal” history project has catalogued no less than 114 separate infrastructure projects in Idaho and 259 in Washington that have the roots in Roosevelt’s massive – the critics said socialistic – infrastructure program of the 1930’s. 

It’s no accident that Joe Biden, a rare politician with connections to the New Deal generation of builders, has placed a portrait of Roosevelt in the Oval Office and is proposing a New Deal-like $2 trillion infrastructure program. Somewhere Harold Ickes is smiling down on Biden’s determination and no doubt chuckling at the conservative handwringing over an initiative that could prove to be as transformative as when FDR came to Ephrata and celebrated his ambitions. 

The conservative push back to Biden’s initiative – too expensive, not really infrastructure, pure old socialism – would be more credible if Republicans had anything to propose or hadn’t squandered four years of the incompetent last administration promising to address infrastructure and failing to do so. 

The truth is there is no conservative alternative, no proposal, no suggestion of what might be done to rebuild what has crumbled and build new what is needed. As with so much of the politics of the moment, the conservative alternate is to complain. Mitch McConnell bemoans a “massive tax increase,” which is what Biden is proposing – a long-term tax increase on corporate America, including some of the biggest corporate names in America who pay, well, nothing in taxes. 

Twenty-six different companies by one recent study, including Nike, FedEx and Duke Energy, paid zero while reporting a combined income of $77 billion. You might think a guy like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, struggling by as the world’s richest man on his $177 billion fortune, would be up in arms about Biden’s proposal. He isn’t. Bezos said this week he supports long-term corporate tax increases to fund the infrastructure effort. 

A key piece of Biden’s proposal would finally see serious action on broadband in rural America, an absolutely essential component of economic revitalization in much of the West. Expanding high speed internet access in rural America was not that long ago a Republican talking point, but now that Biden has actually teed up a real proposal, congressional conservatives have lost their enthusiasm. 

Governor Brad Little apparently didn’t get the GOP memo since he said recently, as National Public Radio reported, that infrastructure, particularly rural infrastructure, is a genuine priority. “As we work on our quest for more broadband and better roads,” Little said, “that means that that growth can be dispersed out into areas, particularly areas that have had a dislocation, that have lost a major employer.” 

That sounds a lot like FDR in eastern Washington in 1934, and also like the making of an economic strategy that both parties should get behind. 

The political debate over whether and to what extent to involve the government in rebuilding a battered economy certainly didn’t begin with a deadly pandemic that has crushed job growth and decimated many small businesses. But the current posture on the right – ignoring the scope of the economic problem, while belittling every solution and hoping the neglect reaps political rewards – is an old tune, the kind of cynicism Roosevelt’s critics wallowed in the 1930’s. 

There are signs that American business isn’t falling in lock step with McConnell’s economic nihilism, but rather embracing the 21st Century infrastructure proposal for what it is: a launching pad for a new American economy. Republicans, meanwhile, promise a fight to end, and to hell with the economy and the folks who would benefit.

Yet public opinion is on his side, so Biden would be well advised to parrot Roosevelt’s famous statement about his do-nothing opponents in 1936. “They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred,” Roosevelt said, and then won a landslide re-election. 

For their part, Republicans would be smart – not likely – to heed the advice of Jesse Jones, a hardheaded Texas businessman who was a top aide to FDR. “Be smart for once,” Jones begged the conservative critics of those earlier days. “Go partners with the President in the recovery program without stint.” 

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Additional Reading:

Some other suggestions for items worthy of your time

Ozzie and Harriett Went Off the Air in the 1960’s

I was pleased to have a column earlier this week in the new, non-profit news site Idaho Capital Sun. I wrote about Idaho’s long struggle to deal with a no-brainer, early childhood education:

“An enduring debate for the last half century in Idaho has been the question of establishing, sustaining and attempting to expand educational opportunities for very young children. Idaho’s systematic failure to develop a policy for early childhood education is a key factor – perhaps the key factor – in why the state habitually ranks so low in educational achievement.”

Read the full story:


In Sickness and Health

A lot of buzz about a new book with an inside view of a hospital struggling to survive in rural America.

A journalist’s fly-on-the-wall coverage of one small Ohio hospital reveals the deeper story of America’s broken medical system—and the heartland’s decline

“The first remarkable thing about Brian Alexander’s new book, The Hospital, is that he managed to pull off an exception to this seeming iron law of U.S. health care. He never explains exactly how, but in early 2018 he persuaded the CEO and board of a small, community hospital in rural Bryan, Ohio, to give him fly-on-the-wall access to their struggling institution—and complete freedom to write up what he witnessed. “

The Washington Monthly has a review:


The filibuster can be conquered: I know — I helped do it

And I really enjoyed this piece by John G. Stewart, a former top aide to Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey, on how the filibuster was beaten to pass the Civil Rights Act in 1964.

“The recounting of what happened in 1964 points the way in 2021.

“Force the opposition to hold the floor and talk. No more premature “test votes.” No weakening amendments prior to cloture. Get organized by assigning senators to monitor the floor and be ready to defeat likely quorum calls. Coordinate closely with outside support groups and the media. Stay on the offensive.”

Required reading to understand the current battle over Senate rules.


Thanks for following along. Be safe out there.

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A Statement for Our Times…

Everett McKinley Dirksen of Illinois was a towering figure on the American political stage in the 1950’s and 60’s, a man who said his overarching principle as Senate minority leader, a position he held for ten years prior to his death in 1969, was “flexibility.” 

Dirksen, dubbed among other things “the wizard of Ooze” owing to his florid speaking style – he had hoped to be an actor as a young man, and had a voice that one admirer said reminded him of “honey dripping on metal tiles” – was a marvel at changing a position, something he did repeatedly.

Illinois Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen at the time he served as Senate minority leader

Dirksen embraced the historic Civil Rights Act in 1964 after initially voicing doubts. He flat our rejected a nuclear test ban treaty with the Soviet Union when John Kennedy first proposed an agreement only to later lead the Senate effort to ratify what became the foundation of all subsequent efforts to limit nuclear weapons.

“Life is not a static thing,” the conservative Dirksen said in 1965. “I try to be a realist and appreciative of what you have to do in the world in light of changing conditions.” 

One might think that the last year would have provided a level of realism and appreciation for “changing conditions,” and might have prompted some serious rethinking of old assumptions, particularly on the conservative right. But for a significant segment of the American population continuing to defy public health advice is now just one more political hill to die on, literally.  

Ignoring the shocking pandemic numbers in her state, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, a favorite in Trump world and a would-be presidential contender, boasts that her’s “is the only state in America that never ordered a single business or church to close. We never instituted a shelter in place order. We never mandated that people wear masks.”

All true, but oh the cost. 

South Dakota’s spread-out population numbers 885,000 souls, a total, as of earlier this week, diminished by 1,935 victims of COVID in the last year. As a point of comparison, consider Oregon’s population of 4.2 million and the state’s 2,390 virus deaths. Oregon has imposed strict lockdown procedures and mandated masks. And, surprise, the number of Oregon deaths, while tragic, is remarkably lower as a percent of total population than wide open South Dakota. 

And there is vaccine hesitancy, or denial.

New polling from the NPR/PBS/Marist survey indicated that 49% of Republican men are, so far at least, refusing COVID-19 vaccines, a vastly higher percentage than any other demographic. Only 6% of men who identify as Democrats said they would forgo the shots. 

“We’ve never seen an epidemic that was polarized politically before,” Robert J. Blendon, a health policy scholar at Harvard, told Los Angeles Times columnist Doyle McManus. Politics and partisanship explains a lot about tragedy. 

There has been an unrelenting logic to pandemic since it came fully into our lives in March of last year. While there is much we still do not know about the disease there is no mystery to its exponential march. When public and personal efforts to control the spread are ignored in places like South Dakota – and it a large degree in Idaho and many other conservative states – the numbers of infections, hospitalizations and deaths roll from one wave to the next. The fourth wave is upon us.

COVID-19 vaccines are a huge success story. Now we need to get people vaccinated

More than 95 million Americans have had one dose of the vaccine and more than 50 million have been fully vaccinated but getting the last ten percent treated in order to make the country safe for everyone may prove a daunting, even impossible, challenge. 

The former guy, tucked up in south Florida, kind of urged his followers to take the vaccine recently, but he didn’t have the moral courage – big surprise – to actually make a production out of getting his own shot. He makes a production of everything, but takes a pass when lives, even the lives of his supporters, are at stake. 

In Iowa, another conservative state where politicians have declined to lead, while caving under a deluge of misinformation and conspiracy theorizing, a local GOP official who recovered from COVID said recently, “I’m not a rebel by any means. I know this stuff is real. I’ve lived it, but I also believe strongly in personal choice.” Still she said she would make no effort to communicate with fellow Republicans that the vaccine is a very good thing. 

The conservative mantra of “personal choice” has become for many conservatives just another way to be irresponsible. 

Now, brace yourselves for the coming fight on the right over “vaccine passports,” some method to allow those who have been vaccinated to show proof of that fact. Journalist Kevin Drum sensibly said the passport issue, which could make it easier to screen airline or cruise line passengers or deem a warehouse crew disease free, should be left to the private sector to figure out. That would, after all, be a conservative value, but oh no. 

The U.S. House of Representative’s wackadoodle caucus immediately moved to add proof of vaccine to “cancel culture,” insurrection denial and the vast threat to the Republic from transgender girls playing basketball to the list of its defining issues of our time.

Georgia Congresswoman Margorie Taylor Greene (Republican – Lalaland), a politician as historically ignorant as she is conspiracy crazed, equated a private business requiring proof of vaccination to “corporate communism,” thereby proving she doesn’t comprehend either word.

It is clear we are headed into another very rough patch where the unrelenting logic of this horrible disease that has claimed 550,000 American lives will again prove to all that you can deny it, but you can’t avoid it. Cases are increasing again everywhere. The inevitable rise in hospitalizations will follow in a couple of weeks and then the death rates will increase. Again. 

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, while expecting different results, we’ve moved to an advanced stage. One suspects that the old pragmatic midwestern conservative Ev Dirksen would have been astounded. 

“The only people who do not change their minds,” Dirksen said, “are incompetents in asylums, who can’t, and those in cemeteries.” Now, there’s a statement for our times. 

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Additional Reading:

A couple of additional reads worthy of your time…

Did racism kill Jackie Robinson?

The start of a new baseball season means we will, as we should, remember the remarkable life and career of the man who broke baseball’s color line, Jackie Robinson.

An all-time great – Jackie Robinson

A thoughtful piece here about how racism contributed to Robinson’s too short life.

“Though Robinson’s illnesses were diagnosed in early adulthood, they could have had their roots in childhood. Adverse social and physical conditions as well as limited access to and poor quality of health care serve as barriers to illness prevention and treatment, limiting the ability to protect one’s healthExperiences of racial trauma and discrimination like those Robinson experienced are linked to smoking, unhealthy eating habits and alcohol usedecreased trust in health care providers, increased cardiovascular risks and negative cardiovascular outcomes.”

Read the entire piece from The Conversation:


Too many people who helped the U.S. in Afghanistan and Iraq face a deadly problem

I’ve known Jim Jones, a former Idaho attorney general and justice of the state supreme court, for a long time. He occasionally went toe-to-toe with my old boss, Governor Cecil Andrus, but more often despite their differing political faiths they ended up in the same place politically.

Jones has had an impactful career and in this piece that appeared this week in The Washington Post he speaks forcefully and urgently about his Vietnam service and how it relates to the moral responsibility of the United States to its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The threat to Iraqis who helped the United States from Islamic State terrorists and others has not ebbed, while the danger for Afghans grows worse by the day. If Afghanistan falls to the Taliban, the flow of refugees, including thousands who helped U.S. forces, will increase to a torrent. We must be prepared to provide them sanctuary. The United States should do everything in its power to avoid repeating the disgrace of its exit from Vietnam.”

Read the full op-ed:


A Minor Regional Novelist

I read – and valued – many of the tributes to Larry McMurtry, the Texas writer who died recently. During the reading I stumbled on this Texas Monthly piece from 2016. It’s really good.

Larry McMurtry – as he called himself “a minor regional novelist”

“In American letters, he is something of an icon—winner of both a Pulitzer Prize (for the novel Lonesome Dove, about a cattle drive in the 1870s) and an Oscar (for the screenplay to Brokeback Mountain, which he co-wrote with Ossana, about two sexually conflicted modern-day cowboys). His storytelling has been compared to that of Charles Dickens and William Faulkner, and even the famously self-absorbed novelist Norman Mailer—himself a winner of two Pulitzers—once confessed his admiration. “He’s too good,” he said, explaining his resistance to McMurtry’s novels. ‘If I start reading him, I start writing like him.'”

The writer is Skip Hollandsworth…here’s the link:


Thanks for reading…be safe out there.

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How Conservatism Became Radical…

Note: This column is based, in part, on research conducted for my new book.

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In the late 1970’s a trio of young and very conservative political activists created a new organization that aimed to takeover and then remake the Republican Party. The state of our current politics is proof that they succeeded. 

John T. “Terry” Dolan is mostly forgotten now, but he was a true architect of the modern GOP. Dolan had been a paid organizer for Richard Nixon’s 1972 presidential campaign and became the executive director of what he and his colleagues – Charles Black and Roger Stone (yes that guy) – called the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC).

President Reagan shakes hands with Richard Viguerie at a White House meeting with conservative leaders of the New Right in 1981. Terry Dolan is next to Reagan…certainly not to his left

NCPAC helped upend American politics, arguably as much as Ronald Reagan’s landslide presidential election victory did in 1980. The group used the dark political arts of direct mail fundraising, negative attack ads and third-party “independent expenditure” campaigns to take over conservative political messaging and then take over conservatism. The shrill attack ads, the politics of anger and grievance, the deep partisanship of our time didn’t just happen. There is an origin story, and the 1980 election is as good a place as any to see how the next 40 years of American politics unfolded. 

Ideology – think of it as what voters believe versus what is real – has increasingly shaped both parties, but it entirely overtook only one of them. We live largely in the world young, brash, ambitious Terry Dolan envisioned when he said he wanted to create a conservative ideological movement. 

Dolan was a fascinating character – charismatic, charming, cunning and frequently cruel. The photo above captures some aspects of his personality, I think. He could turn a pithy phrase, as when he said of NCPAC’s attacks on its Idaho target in 1980. “We’re out to destroy the popularity ratings of several liberal senators,” Dolan said, “and it’s working. Frank Church [a 24-year Senate incumbent and Idaho’s senior senator] is screaming like a stuck pig, and I don’t blame him.” 

It’s difficult to remember these days that the Republican Party once was home to moderates, even liberals, politicians like Oregon’s Mark Hatfield and Tom McCall, Washington’s Dan Evans, Charles Percy of Illinois, Jacob Javits of New York and John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky who once held the seat now occupied by Mitch McConnell. Terry Dolan detested Republican moderates and aimed to purge the party of all of them. It’s taken a while, but Dolan’s vision of 40 years ago has been realized and in the process the Republican Party has become the radical outlier of our politics.  

When a political party’s basic ideology embraces the radical it soon follows that many party supporters are radicalized, too. Both major political parties have clearly moved toward their extremes, but the evolutionary evidence of an extreme conservative transformation is easy to see, and radicalization on the right is vastly more pronounced than anything on the political left. A couple of examples of how this has worked.

Conservative legislators from Boise to Birmingham have broadly rejected the scientific evidence related to coronavirus, shunning mask wearing and rejecting vaccines. These ideological radicals have largely chosen to believe not what their eyes – or science and experts – tell them, but what their ideology espouses. 

The ideology of science denial

It would be simply ironic if it were not so obviously tragic that while the Idaho legislature was debating a measure last week that would prohibit local jurisdictions from imposing a mask mandate, the one step backed by vast scientific consensus that is effective in controlling the spread of a deadly virus, it was forced to shut down for two weeks when several members fell ill to the disease. Yet, because of the pull of ideology the legislature almost certainly will return and pick up right where it left off. 

Most conservative legislators have, of course, refused the simplest, most effective public health action in favor of minimizing the disease, embracing the fiction that it is overblown or that it will, as their clueless leader infamously proclaimed, just go away. Remember when he said the country would be back to normal by Easter – last Easter? 

This attitude is roughly the equivalent of hitting your thumb repeatedly with a hammer and proclaiming there is no correlation between the cold metal and a sore thumb. It is the triumph of belief over reality. 

There are a thousand other examples of this magical radical thinking. The crackpot lawyer who helped spread the big lie about the presidential election being stolen now admits in a court filing that “no reasonable person” could believe her assertions, but millions still do believe. 

Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, a born-again reincarnation of his state’s 1950’s senator Joe McCarthy, is another prime exhibit. Johnson is a conspiracy theorist’s conspiracy theorist, a wide-open conduit for Russian disinformation, a guy whose basically been rewriting or denying the reality of a pro-Trump mob’s attack on the U.S. Congress in January. 

Johnson initially and absurdly claimed that assault was the work of leftwing provocateurs and then more recently allowed that the deadly attack was the work of  “people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law.” Johnson is articulating an ideology belied by hours of television footage of the attack. His opinions, no matter how obviously wrong, trump objective reality. Yet, as conservative columnist Michael Gerson noted, Johnson suffers no pushback from his fellow conservative ideologues because he’s channeling the belief system of most of the Republican Party. 

“One of the United States’ venerable, powerful political parties,” Gerson wrote this week, “has been overtaken by people who make resentment against outsiders the central element of their appeal. Inciting fear is not an excess of their zeal; it is the substance of their cause.” That brings us back to the aforementioned Terry Dolan. 

Dolan and the people who helped him, North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms and direct mail impresario Richard Viguerie among them, realized more than 40 years ago that they could traffic in fear and big lies about their opponents and be successful, because, as Viguerie candidly admitted, fear, breeding resentment and grievance, is the powerful motivator of political behavior. 

Dolan’s enemies were “elites,” clueless liberals, “baby killers” and politicians he defined as dangerous to families and national security. The right’s bogeymen now include new evil forces –  “cancel culture,” socialist indoctrination of young people and nefarious plots such as early childhood education. It’s not a political agenda designed to address any real problem, but it has been the centerfold of the Republican playbook for a long generation. And it truly is the substance of the angry ideology of the modern conservative movement.

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Additional Reading:

If you are up for some additional reading, I have some recommendations…

The Covid Queen of South Dakota

I haven’t lived in South Dakota since I graduated from college – Go Jacks! – but I still follow the news from the prairie, including news about South Dakota governor Kristi Noem. You may remember her – a big Trump fan – welcoming the former president to a big event at Mt. Rushmore last summer and then encouraging tens of thousands of motorcycle aficionados to descend on Sturgis, all during a raging pandemic. 

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem

Stephen Rodrick assesses how it all turned out in Rolling Stone

“South Dakota has 880,000 citizens scattered over the country’s 17th largest state, providing built-in social distancing. In theory, it should have a Covid death rate in the bottom 10, near fellow sparse states like Maine and Wyoming. Instead, there are now more than 1,900 dead — one in 470 South Dakotans — and one in eight have tested positive for Covid, the second-highest rate in the country. Noem appeared on Face the Nation in February, and host Margaret Brennan asked how she could square her pro-life stance with her state having the highest Covid death rate since July. ‘Those are questions you should be asking every other governor in this country,’ said Noem. ‘I’m asking you today,’ said Brennan.”

Access the full story here:


The clown king: how Boris Johnson made it by playing the fool

An engaging portrait of the UK prime minister in The Guardian

UK prime minister Boris Johnson

“Observe classic Johnson closely as he arrives at an event. See how his entire being and bearing is bent towards satire, subversion, mockery. The hair is his clown’s disguise. Just as the makeup and the red nose bestow upon the circus clown a form of anonymity and thus freedom to overturn conventions, so Johnson’s candy-floss mop announces his licence. His clothes are often baggy – ill-fitting; a reminder of the clothes of the clown. He walks towards us quizzically, as if to mock the affected ‘power walking’ of other leaders. Absurdity seems to be wrestling with solemnity in every expression and limb. Notice how he sometimes feigns to lose his way as if to suggest the ridiculousness of the event, the ridiculousness of his presence there, the ridiculousness of any human being going in any direction at all.”

The link:


Off-road, off-grid: the modern nomads wandering America’s back country

If you’ve seen the Academy Award nominated film – Nomadland – you’ll want to read another piece from The Guardian

“’If the Great Recession was a crack in the system, Covid and climate change will be the chasm,’” says Bob Wells, 65, the nomad who plays himself in the film Nomadland, an early Oscar contender starring Frances McDormand. Bob helped April to adopt the nomad way of life and change her life in the process.

“Today, he lives exclusively on public lands in his GMC Savana fitted with 400 watts of solar power and a 12-volt refrigerator. His life mission is to promote nomadic tribalism in a car, van or RV as a way to prevent homelessness and live more sustainably.”

Read the whole thing:


The names change every decade, but iconic NBA stars are always reincarnations of Elgin Baylor

Finally, remembering one of basketball’s all-time greats: Elgin Baylor.

Surely the most underrated truly great player in NBA history

I grew up listening to Laker games on KNX from Los Angeles. And, yes, I wanted to be a radio play-by-play guy like the great Chick Hearn. I loved, among other things, Chick’s pre-game introductions of Baylor: “And…at forward, 6’5″ from Seattle, the captain of the Lakers, Number 22…Elgin BAYLOR…”

A great piece about the great Elgin from perhaps our best current sportswriter, Tom Boswell of the Washington Post.


Thanks for reading…stay safe, and if you haven’t yet get the dang shot…

Biden, U.S. Senate

Rock on the “No” Button…

The easiest vote to cast in politics is a NO vote. It absolves responsibility. If something later goes wrong, and in politics things often go a little bit wrong, the no voter is off the hook, and can fall back on the oldest line in politics: “I told you so.” 

Voting no often means a politician doesn’t even need to explain the rationale for the negative. The political focus is typically on those who want to make something happen, who are willing to take a stand in favor of something. 

“If a legislator votes ‘yes,’ he or she is responsible for the entire bill and all the consequences of the legislation, good or bad, intended or unintended,” long-time congressional watcher Stuart Rothenberg wrote recently.

Every congressional Republican justified a no vote on the recent COVID and economic recovery legislation on the grounds that it was too big, too much of a driver of deficit spending or not targeted enough. That’s a convenient if disingenuous argument, as Rothenberg noted because “even the GOP — once, but no longer, the party of fiscal responsibility — didn’t much care about the deficit and the debt when President Donald Trump and his merry little band of tax-cutting ideologues cut taxes during a period of solid economic growth — almost always a bad idea. You won’t hear Republicans accepting some of the blame for the deficit and debt.”

Every Senate Republican opposed the recent COVID and economic recovery legislation

And besides who remembers a no vote? That’s why voting no is almost always the easiest thing to do. 

Senate Republicans have perfected the no vote strategy, particularly with regard to President Joe Biden’s Cabinet appointees. Voting no on a Treasury secretary or the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, even when the nominees are demonstrably capable, not only serves to register disapproval of the new president, but it’s safe. Voting no appeals to the most rabid, partisans in the party. Some Senate Republicans – Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz come to mind – have voted against virtually every Biden nominee. These guys want to be president someday – fearless prediction, they won’t be – so they are performing the ritual of negativity as political necessity. 

Idaho’s Jim Risch, a practiced no voter, has supported a few Biden nominees, but opposed more, nine as of this writing. Risch is the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee but he voted against the confirmation of Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Risch is a top Republican on the Intelligence Committee but was one of ten votes against the confirmation of Avril Haines, the first woman to ever hold the position as director of National Intelligence. 

“She is a really smart person, a person with serious horsepower and a nice person,” said Carol Rollie Flynn, a three-decade CIA veteran, said of Haines. “I don’t think you’re going to see a lot of drama out of her. Just a serious professional.” A Risch spokesman said he was thumbs down on Haines because he wasn’t confident she wouldn’t politicize intelligence. Risch, it should be noted, had no problem with the appointment of former Republican congressman John Ratcliffe, arguably the most partisan person to head the intelligence community in the history of the intelligence community. Risch better hope Blinken and Haines aren’t as vindictive as he is. 

Idaho’s Mike Crapo has supported a few more Biden appointees, and unlike Risch he supported Janet Yellen’s confirmation as Treasury secretary. Yellen is the first woman in that job and was the first women Federal Reserve Board chair, the job she previously held. Both Idaho senators opposed Yellen for that position, so Risch obviously doesn’t like her. Yet I find no record of any public statement justifying Risch’s opposition to the eminently qualified, PhD economist who continues to receive bipartisan praise for her work during the 2008 financial crisis. 

Both of Idaho’s Republican Senators – both lawyers – voted against the man who is now attorney general

Crapo and Risch opposed Judge Merrick Garland to be attorney general. Garland is the guy who was denied consideration as a Supreme Court nominee in 2016 despite his exemplary record as a federal judge and as the prosecutor who handled the investigation into the deadly 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Neither senator offered a comment on why Garland isn’t suitable to run the justice department, but both supported the guys the previous administration put in place, even when the former president demanded blind partisan loyalty from each of his attorneys general.

Risch and Crapo both voted no on nominees to be secretaries of the Interior and Housing and Urban Development and head of the Small Business Administration. It’s probably just a coincidence that all three are women of color who are broadly seen as historic pathbreakers, but also demonstrably qualified. No explanation from the senators.

Notably, both senators supported former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, Biden’s pick to head the Department of Energy (DOE). Granholm is arguably among the most partisan of Biden’s picks – she’s been a TV talking head often critical of GOP positions – and some Republicans criticized her support for abandoning the Keystone XL pipeline. She would have been a natural to oppose, but perhaps this was a rare case of political pragmatism by the Idahoans. After all, they need a working relationship with the secretary who oversees the Idaho National Laboratory, the huge DOE complex in eastern Idaho that requires pledges of unquestioned political fealty from the state’s Republicans. Maybe all politics is local after all. 

An old rule once held that barring some ethical lapse or scandal a president – any president – was entitled to pick the people for his administration. Biden will almost certainly end up getting all but one of his top people confirmed, creating the most diverse cabinet in history. The one nominee that withdrew did so because some senators found her past Twitter feed too mean. Irony had a good run.

Cornell law professor Josh Chafetz notes that the median margin of confirmation for the 18 Cabinet level appointees considered so far is 64 votes. So, Chafetz says there hasn’t been wholesale party line voting against Biden nominees who he notes are broadly liked, as well as competent. Still, Crapo and Risch have been among the most consistent Republican senators in opposing Biden’s picks – women, men, African American, Native American, Hispanic – and they offer almost no explanation as to why.

Like most everything they do in the Senate, the Idaho duo nearly always takes the predictable and most partisan path. At some point voting no when a Democrat is in the White House is just an act of reflective partisan performance. Maybe putting a rock on the no button just feels good even if you can’t be bothered to explain the reasoning. 

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Additional Reading:

A few things I came across this week that I recommend…

The John Birch Society Never Left

Rick Pearlstein and Edward H. Miller on the deep roots of rightwing conspiracy dating to the Birch Society in the 1950’s.

“Such was the complex dance that has always been at the heart of Republican politics in the conservative era. The extremist vanguard shops fantastical horror stories about liberal elites in the hopes that one might break into the mainstream, such as the “Clinton Chronicles” VHS tape distributed by Jerry Falwell in the early 1990s. The stories included the Clintons covering up the murder of Vince Foster, murdering witnesses to their drug smuggling operation, and participating in a crooked land deal at a development called ‘Whitewater.’ (The New York Times bit hard on the latter claim, setting in motion a chain of events that led to President Clinton’s impeachment over lying in a deposition about a sexual affair.)”

In The New Republic:

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How to Put Out Democracy’s Dumpster Fire

Our democratic habits have been killed off by an internet kleptocracy that profits from disinformation, polarization, and rage. Here’s how to fix that.

“With the wholesale transfer of so much entertainment, social interaction, education, commerce, and politics from the real world to the virtual world—a process recently accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic—many Americans have come to live in a nightmarish inversion of the Tocquevillian dream, a new sort of wilderness. Many modern Americans now seek camaraderie online, in a world defined not by friendship but by anomie and alienation. Instead of participating in civic organizations that give them a sense of community as well as practical experience in tolerance and consensus-building, Americans join internet mobs, in which they are submerged in the logic of the crowd, clicking Like or Share and then moving on. Instead of entering a real-life public square, they drift anonymously into digital spaces where they rarely meet opponents; when they do, it is only to vilify them.”

Anne Applebaum and Peter Pomerantev in The Atlantic:

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Why Kim Novak Had To Leave Hollywood to Find Herself 

Kim Novak in perhaps her most memorable role – Vertigo

Readers of, well, a certain age will remember Kim Novak. The ’50s icon is perhaps best known for Vertigo – remember the green 1957 Jaguar – reveals what healed her after years of studio-system abuse, and sets the record straight about her rumored romance with Sammy Davis Jr.

“These days, Novak feels much more comfortable on the sprawling ranch in Oregon where she has lived for decades, surrounded by the art and animals that have sustained her through tough times — from losing prior homes to a fire and mudslide to, most devastatingly, losing her husband of 45 years, equine veterinarian Robert Malloy, last year. ‘I’m surviving,’ she says, tearing up and noting that she recently painted a portrait of him.”

Read in The Hollywood Reporter


Thanks for reading…be safe out there.

History, McCarthy, Politics

The Paranoid Mind

“American politics has often been an arena for angry minds,” Columbia University historian Richard Hofstadter wrote in a famous Harper’s essay in 1964. 

Hofstadter, who won two Pulitzer Prizes for his work, entitled his essay “The Paranoid Style of American Politics,” and in that essay he traced the long arc of “heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy” that he contended is a reoccurring theme in the country’s history. 

The essay, easily found online, is worth reading in the context of, oh, the state legislature in Idaho coming within one vote of defunding the most popular public television system in the country because one legislator had been listening and recorded “a full page of concerning language.”

Columbia University historian Richard Hofstadter

Or in light of a legislative decision to forgo a $6 million federal grant to facilitate early childhood education because the money – this grant was authorized during the Trump Administration – would facilitate “indoctrinating our children at a younger level.” One lawmaker said it was really bad news that the whole sordid mess was full of the obviously questionable concept of “social justice.” 

Many people are saying that certain notable figures – think Jesus, Gandhi, Dr. King, Pope Francis – would be shocked to learn that discussing “social justice” is now controversial. 

Or consider the bright lights of the Iowa legislature – what is it with the “I” states – who are considering placing new restrictions on public schools and universities “related to staff or student training dealing with racism, sexism and discrimination.” Similar moves have traction in Idaho and other conservative states.

Elsewhere under the golden dome of the Iowa statehouse, conservative legislators grilled a local school superintendent recently over her district’s Black Lives Matter curriculum, developed in part, the school official said, to “address incidents of bullying, lower graduation rates and higher disciplinary rates of students of color.” Imagine a local educator being concerned about her students in such a way? 

Another Iowa legislator admitted his bright idea, he wants to have the Iowa attorney general review presidential executive orders before they became effective in his state, was clearly unconstitutional, but he still felt compelled to make his point. He did, but the point made was just a little different than he intended. 

At the same time back in Idaho a gang of some of the most fevered right-wingers want to strip the Republican attorney general of much of his authority to legally represent state agencies. They don’t like the way the AG reads the law. Idaho’s chief lawyer was one of the few Republicans chief legal officers unwilling to countenance the frivolous post-election lawsuit out of Texas seeking to overturn the presidential election. You will remember that lawsuit died faster than a mayfly, but apparently embracing crazy legal theories and spending tax dollars to advance them is a new conservative value. And calling BS on such things is apparently a defunding offense.  

All of this conservative paranoia from Boise to Des Moines and points in between has one unifying theme: grievance. The angry minds on the right of American politics are perpetually pissed off. A constant state of aggravated outrage is the essence of modern conservative thought. 

Young kids are encouraged to burn face masks on the steps of a state capitol to protest an effective public health measure. Fox News and its followers fume over a decision by the Dr. Seuss Foundation – a private entity, by the way – to cease publication of a half dozen children’s books with clear racist portrayals of people of color. All a piece of the outrageous affront directed at conservatives by a liberal society. 

Idaho children burn face masks on the Statehouse steps in Boise

Richard Hofstadter wrote his essay when Joseph McCarthy’s grievance against liberals, Hollywood elites and homosexuals was still fresh in the American mind and in the wake of Barry Goldwater’s angry claim that “extremism in defense of liberty is no vice,” but he could well have been writing last week. 

The modern rightwing, Hofstadter wrote 57 years ago, always feels dispossessed. “America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion. The old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals; the old competitive capitalism has been gradually undermined by socialistic and communistic schemers; the old national security and independence have been destroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners as of old but major statesmen who are at the very centers of American power. Their predecessors had discovered conspiracies; the modern radical right finds conspiracy to be betrayal from on high.”

Hofstadter’s old essay reads like last night’s Tucker Carlson script or a last year Tweet from the Prince of Mar a Lago. Conservative politics has been reduced to curated performances of assorted grievances. The agenda on the right from banning transsexual students from sports, politicizing the response to a pandemic or censuring the rare conservative who bucks the party line is not about policy or even principle, but rather anger and grievance and making someone else pay. 

Something is happening. Something is changing. Somebody not like me is causing this outrage, damn it. And I’m not happy about it. In fact, I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore. 

Hofstadter didn’t know about the Tea Party or Trump or Hannity, but he would not have found any of the anger they possess surprising. “The paranoid spokesman sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms,” he wrote, “he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization. He constantly lives at a turning point.”

Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1950

As you consider the paranoid nature of so many conservatives today – the outlandish conspiracy theories, the big lies about election fraud, the absurd notion that a nuanced examination of American history is a socialist plot – you see the paranoid line stretching back to McCarthy, the John Birch Society, on and on. 

As Hofstadter noted, some of us look at history and see a confusing, contradictory mishmash of good, bad and indifferent, somethings to condemn, others to celebrate. The paranoid on the right suffers that history, as well, but also deals with constant fresh fantasies, and there is always grievance. And that must be frightening, so frightening that thousands acted on their fantasies and grievance and violently attacked Congress two months ago. 

Paranoia on the far right is an enduring reality of American politics. At key moments in the past when the phenomenon went from merely crazy to seriously dangerous the conservative party rejected the worst of it. We’re waiting to see what the conservative party will do this time. 


Additional Reading:

My carefully curated – right – list of things you might want to read now or later…

6 Questions Officials Still Haven’t Answered After Weeks of Hearings on the Capitol Attack

I wonder – constantly – how many Americans are just ready to move on from the horrific events of January 6, 2021 when a violent mob stormed the U.S. Congress. And, yes, we really do need to get to the bottom of these events. While the legal and law enforcement work continues questions still go unanswered. Pro Publica has a good take on what we still don’t know.

The January 6, 2021 insurrection in Washington, D.C.

“During more than 15 hours of testimony, lawmakers listened to a cacophony of competing explanations as officials stumbled over themselves to explain how America’s national security, defense, intelligence and law enforcement agencies allowed a homegrown enemy to put an entire branch of government in danger during the attack on the U.S. Capitol.”

A good backgrounder.


Conservative Donors Have Their Own Cancel Culture

A fascinating piece in The Atlantic about the battle over the University of Texas school song. Some Longhorn football players want the song, with its Confederate nostalgia, discarded. Big donors aren’t having it.

Link here.


How The Anti-Vaxxers Got Red-Pilled

What happens when a global pandemic, a vaccine resistance movement, and the age of conspiracy collide? A black hole of misinformation that poses a grave threat to public health

A good read in Rolling Stone:


Thanks for following along. I appreciate your feedback and if you know someone who would appreciate receiving these columns and related material please encourage them to sign up or let me know and I’ll take it from there. All the best.

FDR, Interior Department, Native Americans

At Long Last…

It appears after the requisite Senate hearings this week that for the first time in its 172-year history the U.S. Department of the Interior, custodian of 247 million acres of the people’s land – one-fifth of the county – will be headed at long last by a genuine American, and a woman to boot.

New Mexico Representative Deb Haaland, a citizen of the Laguna Pueblo, will become the first Native American to helm the agency, a historic moment that some Senate Republicans seemed determined to soil with fake outrage and empty bluster. Haaland took it all with grace and dignity, telling the fire breathing John Barasso of Wyoming and Steve Daines, the rightwing zealot from Montana, after swatting away or correcting their nonsense, that she would be pleased to work with them. 

New Mexico Congresswoman – and soon to be Interior Secretary – Bev Haaland

This moment has been a very long time coming. With Haaland’s tenure, as Native American writer Julian Brave NoiseCat noted, “the inclusion of everyone—including and especially the erased and forgotten First Peoples of this land” will finally have taken place. 

The Founding Generation – Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton and others – perhaps more than any other generation, at least until fairly recently, confronted the dichotomy of what the government of the United States visited upon the real first Americans. 

Writing in 1818, President James Monroe, for example, acknowledged the burden of guilt associated with the wholesale white appropriation of the subsistence lands of Native Americans. “The progress of our settlements westward,” Monroe said, “supported as they are by a dense population, has constantly driven [native people] back, with almost the total sacrifice of the lands which they have been compelled to abandon.” 

Monroe said the dominate culture had to recognize native claims “on the justice of the nation,” claims sadly that have rarely been honored in the intervening 200 years. 

There have been many efforts aimed at redressing injustices to Native Americans, but they have often collapsed or simply been inadequate. In 1933, one of America’s great secretaries of the Interior, Harold Ickes, a crusty, opinionated Chicago progressive in the tradition of Theodore Roosevelt, was determined to turn the federal government’s fraught relationship with the original Americans on its head. 

FDR’s BIA Commissioner John Collier

Ickes convinced President Franklin Roosevelt to allow him to appoint a controversial Native American rights activist and sociologist, John Collier, as head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Collier was a quirky, if effective bureaucrat. He habitually smoked a corncob pipe, wore a baggy sweater in place of a suit jacket and was said to frequently carry a pet frog in his pocket. Few politicians liked him, but fewer still questioned the authenticity or depth of Collier’s commitment to more self-determination for tribes and individuals. 

Collier’s legacy, mostly good for, but tinged with some bad, has been defined by “the Indian New Deal,” the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act that sought a wholesale realignment of federal government policy toward Native American tribes. Yet, even Collier’s well-intentioned strategy was, as many critics have noted, based on a white man’s understanding of what was good for the First Peoples. Even best intentions can be paternalistic and misguided. 

The paternalism problem is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that when Collier’s appointment was announced some Indian rights advocates said if Roosevelt really sought to create a New Deal for Indians he should put a Native American in charge of the BIA. The suggestion was quickly dismissed by members of Congress who confidently and incorrectly asserted that no Native American was qualified for the job. The same attitude has hovered over the secretary’s position for generations, until now. 

Interior Secretary Harold Ickes meets with Flathead Tribal leaders after passage of the Indian Reorganization Act

In our profoundly partisan times it was gratifying to see Haaland introduced for her Senate confirmation hearing by Alaska’s very conservative Republican congressman Don Young, who unreservedly endorsed his Democratic colleague. “She has worked with me,” Young said. “She has crossed the aisle, and as a member of this administration, I know she will do a good job.” 

“Respectfully,” Young continued, “I want you to listen to her. Understand that there’s a broad picture.” Some senators, thinking all wisdom resides on their side of the Capitol, weren’t listening. 

Proving the old adage that to understand politics you need merely to “follow the money,” Barasso, the ranking Republican on the Senate committee, claimed Haaland harbored “radical views” on fossil fuel development and use. The senator has received more than $1 million in campaign cash from oil and gas interests during his time in the Senate, and clearly knows which interest primes his political pump. 

Haaland, ready to assume a job that will be consumed by a broadening climate crisis, replied to the senator from oil and gas with the only sensible answer possible: fossil fuels will be around for a long time, but developing alternatives is just plain common sense. 

Other Republicans complained about protections of culturally important native lands that, at least in the view of Utah Republican Mike Lee, ought to be exploited no matter the cost. Haaland’s steady demeanor and deep personal and cultural connection to the American West will surely lead her to find a better balance than what another great Interior secretary, Cecil Andrus, once called the policy of “rape, ruin and run.” 

The profound elevation of Native American perspective and wisdom inside the Biden Administration was further underscored by another announcement last week. Nez Perce Tribal member Jamie Pinkham, a wise, committed, collaborative and deeply respected expert on Northwest fish and wildlife issues, will have a high impact position with the Army Corps of Engineers, an agency rarely known to be sensitive about anything other than protecting its own turf.

Haaland’s appointment – and Pinkham’s as well  – rather than being condemned by some as “radical,” deserve widespread praise, not only for the quality of the individuals involved but also for what the personal experience from Indian County brings to a federal government that has long marginalized, ignored, demeaned and disrespected the first Americans.

The only thing radical here is the over-the-top reaction to the reality that a capable, unflappable indigenous woman will finally have a job that should have been the domain of a Native American generations ago.  

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Additional Reading:

Some worthy reads…

The far right’s big money strategy has poisoned our politics

Since there is no promotion like self promotion, here’s my piece that was in The Washington Post’s “Made by History” section this week. This section has been developed by the paper, but is edited by historians in order to provide opportunities to put current events in perspective.

The piece is based on some of the research I did while developing my new book Tuesday Night Massacre.

Link here:


American Cynicism Has Reached a Breaking Point

Megan Garber writes in The Atlantic about how lies, disinformation and distrust have warped culture and politics. You knew that, of course, she just tells the story really well. 

“One of the insights of Merchants of Doubt, Erik Conway and Naomi Oreskes’s scathing investigation into the American tobacco industry’s lies about its products, is that the deceptions were successful in part because they turned cynicism into a strategy. Faced with a deluge of studies that made the dangers of smoking clear, tobacco firms funded their own—junk research meant not to refute the science, but to muddle it. The bad-faith findings made Americans less able to see the truth clearly. They manufactured doubt the way Philip Morris churned out Marlboro Lights. They took reality and gave it plausible deniability.”

Read the whole thing: 


The Wasting of the Evangelical Mind

Michael Luo writes in The New Yorker about how a large segment of American Christianity has embraced conspiracy and misinformation.

Capitol rioters stop to pray in the Senate chamber on January 6

“Falsehoods about a stolen election, retailed by Donald Trump and his allies, drove the Capitol invasion, but distorted visions of Christianity suffused it. One group carried a large wooden cross; there were banners that read ‘In God We Trust,’ ‘Jesus Is My Savior / Trump Is My President,’ and ‘Make America Godly Again’; some marchers blew shofars, ritual instruments made from ram’s horns that have become popular in certain conservative Christian circles, owing to its resonance with an account in the Book of Joshua in which Israelites sounded their trumpets and the walls of Jericho came tumbling down. The intermingling of religious faith, conspiratorial thinking, and misguided nationalism on display at the Capitol offered perhaps the most unequivocal evidence yet of the American church’s role in bringing the country to this dangerous moment.” 

Worth your time in understanding the near total embrace by evangelicals of Donald Trump.


How Marty Baron and Jeff Bezos Remade The Washington Post

Marty Baron steps down as editor of the paper that he and the Amazon founder remade into a journalist behemoth.  

“It is a happy ending for The Post, for Mr. Baron and for Mr. Bezos, who earlier this month announced that he was stepping down as chief executive of Amazon to spend more time with other pursuits, including The Post.

“It is a less happy ending by implication for local newspapers elsewhere, which are increasingly owned not by benevolent billionaires but chains that answer to Wall Street and generally lack the name brand that made The Post’s quest for digital subscribers across the country plausible. As The Post’s fortunes have flourished, the fate it escaped has grown grimmer.”

Great story in The New York Times about The Washington Post.

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And Vanity Fair did an interesting exit interview with Marty Baron, including details of – surprise – when Donald Trump called to complain about a story. 


Thanks for reading. Stay safe. Wear your mask. Get your shot when you can.

Johnson, Voting Rights

GOP Channels Southern Democrats in the 1960’s…

On a Monday night 56 years ago next month, Lyndon Johnson ambled his way on to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives to play the role, as one of his biographers has written, of “one shrewd heartland politician finishing what another had started.” 

“The galleries were jammed with whites and blacks, some in street clothes fresh from demonstrations and others in business attire,” historian Randall Woods wrote of the scene. The president’s wife and a daughter were in the crowd, so was FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. But the entire Mississippi delegation was boycotting the speech. Those unreconstructed segregationists Democrats, still embracing the grievance of a lost cause, knew what was coming. 

Lyndon Johnson speaks to Congress, March 15, 1965

“At times history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man’s unending search for freedom,” Johnson said in his low, familiar Texas drawl. “So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama.”

The week before – forever etched in American memory as “Bloody Sunday”- voting rights advocates had been routed and brutalized in Selma, Alabama. The next day’s coverage on the front page of the New York Times ran under the headline: “Alabama police use gas and clubs to rout Negros.” A four-column photo showed Alabama state troopers beating a young marcher – future Georgia congressman John Lewis – leaving his skull fractured and blood on his white shirt and tan raincoat. 

The ugly, un-American state terrorism at the Edmund Pettus Bridge – the bridge still carries the name of a Confederate general and Alabama leader of the Klan – was a hinge moment in political history, and LBJ seized the moment. He would push a Voting Rights Act (VRA) to finally make real the promise of that earlier heartland politician, Abraham Lincoln, martyred in his pledge to guarantee equal rights for all Americans.

Alabama state troopers assault John Lewis during a voting rights march in 1965

“The real hero of this struggle is the American Negro,” Johnson told the country and the Congress in 1965. “His actions and protests, his courage to risk safety and even to risk his life, have awakened the conscience of this Nation. His demonstrations have been designed to call attention to injustice, designed to provoke change, designed to stir reform.

“He has called upon us to make good the promise of America. And who among us can say that we would have made the same progress were it not for his persistent bravery, and his faith in American democracy.” 

Writing recently in The Atlantic, journalist Vann R. Newkirk II correctly asserted that passage of the VRA “finally delivered on the stated ideals of the country,” but now in state after state across the country that ideal “hangs by a thread.” 

From Georgia to Arizona, Montana to Idaho, Republican dominated state legislatures are attempting to do what southern segregationist Democrats did in earlier days: make it more difficult, if not impossible for some Americans to vote. It is no accident that this wave of new era vote suppression and denial comes on the heels of a record vote in a presidential election where a Democrat won the White House over a man who over and over perpetuated a big lie about elections being stolen, dead people voting and ballots being manufactured. 

By repeating time and again that some Americans are “skeptical about the integrity of our elections” Republicans, including the former president, have manufactured a malicious assault on American democracy. It quite simply amounts to the biggest lie ever told about American politics. 

Minnesota’s secretary of state Steve Simon described recently what is happening: “Some folks bring these proposals forward and say, ‘Well, we just need to address confidence in our election systems,’ when it’s some of those very same people, or at least their allies and enablers, [who] have denigrated our election system by either telling lies or at least leveraging or relying on other people’s lies to justify some of these policies.” 

This tactic is the voting rights equivalent of the fellow who murdered his parents and then insisting on leniency because he’s an orphan. 

The Republican floor leader of the Idaho House of Representatives, a guy so cynical that he blasted federal efforts to provide financial assistance to businesses whacked by the impacts of the pandemic and then ended up taking the aid himself, is a champion of the “many people are saying” logic of voter suppression. 

“There are a lot of people in this country looking at what happened in other states — some of those states had ballot harvesting — that feel like they were victimized by the outcome of this last national election,” Mike Moyle said recently as he pushed a bill to restrict your ability to pick up and drop off your elderly grandparent’s absentee ballot.

In the face of precisely no evidence of abuse, Moyle said the quiet part out loud while pushing an earlier even more restrictive bill. “You know what? Voting shouldn’t be easy,” Moyle said. Other legislators are seeking to ruin the ability of voters to take action using the time-test initiative method. 

The gentleman from Idaho won’t appreciate the reference, or likely understand it, but he’s a latter-day version of Mississippi segregationist James Eastland who resisted the Voting Rights Act by claiming his state had a right to disqualify certain voters and, after all, some communists must certainly be mixed up in this push to get more people to vote. 

Mississippi segregationist James O. Eastland

In the 56 years since Johnson framed the basic right to vote as a “battle for equality” rooted in “a deep-seated belief in the democratic process,” the two political parties have traded places on voting rights. Democrats, believing that making it easier to vote and easier for more people to vote, have embraced policies like motor voter registration, mail voting and same day registration. Republicans, looking fearfully at what high turnout portends for their long-term electoral success, now broadly reject inclusive policies and endorse conspiracy theories about stolen elections. In 2013, a conservative majority on the Supreme Court gutted a key enforcement provision of the landmark 1965 law, and the GOP resists efforts to address stronger enforcement. 

In politics the truth is often hiding in plain sight. Georgia voters, including record turnout among African Americans, elected two Democratic senators in January, one, the state’s first black U.S. senator, the other, the first Jewish senator in the state’s history. More people voting is good for democracy. Attempting to keep more people from voting is good for Republicans. 

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Additional Reading:

Some items you may find of interest…

Rush Limbaugh Was Trapped in the ’80s: It’s his fault that our politics were, too.

Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh takes a break and smokes a cigar during his radio show. (Photo by mark peterson/Corbis via Getty Images)

Michael J. Socolow has an insightful piece on the recently departed talk radio personality and his impact on American politics.  

“Limbaugh’s influence on U.S. politics from the Reagan era to the Trump presidency was enormous. To discuss him primarily as a media figure (many credit him with saving the AM radio band when FM radio listening became dominant) is to overlook his more general impact on American political culture. He did not innovate radio programming, nor did he leave an easily replicable formula for a successful show. Like Arthur Godfrey and Walter Winchell before him, there was only one Rush Limbaugh. And like those two earlier giants in U.S. radio, Limbaugh’s style and massive audiences will no doubt disappear along with him. For better or for worse, there won’t be another one like him.” 

Read the entire article:


The Filibuster That Saved the Electoral College

A central character in my new book on four 1980 U.S. Senate races is Indiana Senator Birch Bayh. He was an enormously important political figure and it’s almost lost to history that he came remarkably close in 1968 to doing away with the Electoral College.

“Mr. Bayh had been pushing for a popular vote since 1966, shortly after the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts had ended the Jim Crow era and pulled America closer than it had ever been to a truly representative democracy. Electing the president directly was the next logical step in that progression.”

Read how a Senate filibuster killed the effort. Bayh called it the biggest disappointment of his political life.


One night in Cancun: Ted Cruz’s disastrous decision to go on vacation during Texas storm crisis

Cruz fled disastrous winter weather and ran into another kind of storm

In this delightfully snarky take down of the oleaginous Texas senator the Washington Post’s Ashely Parker strikes a blow for freedom.

“Usually, it takes at least one full day in Cancún to do something embarrassing you’ll never live down.

“But for Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), it took just 10 hours — from when his United plane touched down at Cancún International Airport at 7:52 p.m. Wednesday to when he booked a return flight back to Houston around 6 a.m. Thursday — for the state’s junior senator to apparently realize he had made a horrible mistake.”

The most hated man in the Senate expands his reach.

Read about it here:


Thanks for following along.

And please check out my author website for regular updates about events and talks related to my new book Tuesday Night Massacre: Four Senate Elections and the Radicalization of the Republican Party.

Impeachment, Trump, U.S. Senate

What Are They Afraid Of…

The irascible, irreverent Perry Swisher – once an editor at the Lewiston, Idaho paper that publishes my regular column – was a 20th Century Renaissance Man: legislator (he served as both a Republican and Democrat), an independent candidate for governor, a writer, activist, deflater of egos and caustic truth teller, particularly about frauds, phonies and attorneys. 

One Idaho governor threatened the judicial council with a Swisher appointment to the Supreme Court – Perry wasn’t a lawyer – if the council didn’t start recommending better candidates for the court. Another governor put Swisher on the Public Utilities Commission and he proceeded for several years to scare the crap out of Idaho Power Company. 

Swisher once quipped that the Founders had made one fundamental mistake: they turned over an entire branch of government to lawyers. One can only imagine what the old curmudgeon would have made of the “trial” of America’s first insurrectionist president; where at least 18 of the Senate Republicans jurors who voted to acquit Donald Trump – including the two timid sheep from Idaho – are card carrying members of the bar. 

Senators being sworn in for the second Trump impeachment trial

Of course, none of these Perry Mason’s actually attempted to defend Trump’s behavior leading up to and including January 6, 2021 when a crazed mob of the then-president’s followers stormed the U.S. Capitol, killed a police officer, precipitated the deaths of two others and injured dozens more. 

This brainwashed gang of cranks, misfits, losers, white supremacists and MAGA true believers were, as Wyoming Republican Liz Cheney succinctly put it, summoned by Trump, assembled by the president who then “lit the flame” of the attack. There has never been such a blatant frontal assault on our democracy.

Everything that followed, Cheney said, “was his doing. None of this would have happened without the President. The President could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence. He did not.” 

That’s it. That was sum of the indictment that 43 Senate Republicans would not, could not defend, but were craven enough to dismiss on specious process grounds. 

The “trial was unconstitutional,” Harvard Law grad Mike Crapo said. “The House’s impeachment proceeding blatantly violated established guarantees of due process.” 

Jim Risch soiled the reputation of the University of Idaho’s law school where he surely learned more than he is now able to admit. “The United States Senate has no jurisdiction over a private citizen,” the former law and order prosecutor intoned incorrectly, “and thus impeachment was and is impossible.” 

Both men conveniently ignored that the Senate has, in fact, conducted trials of impeached officials who are out office and that the Senate in which they sit actually voted on the constitutionality question and a majority of senators deemed the proceedings proper. They weren’t defending the Constitution, they were engaging in jury nullification

The Trump “base” of the GOP, and those like the coward caucus in the Senate who refuse to confront it, are, in the words of media analyst Margaret Sullivan, “so disconnected from reality that when reality manages to intrude – in the form of undeniable facts, timelines, videos and presidential tweets – there’s nothing to do but deny it as outrageous and either look for an escape hatch or go on the attack.” 

Attorneys for former President Donald Trump William J. Brennan, left, and Michael van der Veen fist bump each other on the Senate subway after former President Doanld Trump was acquitted during the impeachment trial in the Senate on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

And it’s not as though these senatorial profiles in gutlessness don’t know any better. Arkansas’s Tom Cotton, Texan Ted Cruz and the insurrectionist from Missouri Josh Hawley are, like Crapo, Harvard men, recipients of the best, most exclusive legal education America can offer. Cruz clerked for a chief justice of the Supreme Court. Utah’s Mike Lee was an assistant U.S. attorney and clerked for federal judges before jumping through the escape hatch rather than act to uphold an oath of office. 

Constitutional law scholar John E. Finn of Wesleyan University is just one of dozens of experts who utterly reject the rationalization of unconstitutionality that allowed Trump to skate. Instead Finn calls what Crapo, Risch and 41 other Senate Republicans did “constitutional rot,” a condition “in which we appear to be formally governed by constitutional rules and the rule of law, but the reality is quite different. When rot sets in, public officials and the public routinely ignore or subvert those rules while sanctimoniously professing fidelity to them.” 

The historian T.J. Stiles, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for biography, knows his American scoundrels. He says of our current one: “Donald Trump is precisely the sort of person for whom the Framers wrote the impeachment provision into the Constitution.” Unfortunately, while Madison and Hamilton and the rest did envision the need to disqualify a despot their imagination failed them when it comes to someone as ethically vacuous as a Cruz or a Crapo. 

This is the point at which history reminds his constituents that Crapo – Juris Doctorate cum laud, Harvard Law School in 1977 – has the rare distinction of voting to both impeach and then convict Bill Clinton for lying about consensual sex. Yet rather than confront the guy who summoned the mob, incited it, lit the flame and then watched the fire burn, Crapo employed the solemn sanctimony of the partisan escape hatch to acquit a man he must know in his heart of hearts is guilty as sin. 

The debasement of basic decency, truth and accountability are now widely accepted as a fundamental condition for good standing in a political party that once plausibly, but no longer, claimed Lincoln as its founding father. 

“The Republicans who voted to acquit Trump acted with selfishness, cynicism and even malice,” says the conservative scholar Tom Nichols. “They have smeared their betrayal of the Constitution all over their careers the same way the January insurrectionists smeared excrement on the walls of the Congress itself. At least human waste can be washed away. What the Republicans did on Feb. 13, 2021, will never be expunged from the history of the United States.”

History will remember, however, the few Republicans – Washington’s Jamie Herrera Beutler is one – who stood against the lies, rejected fears of mob censure and refused to quake at the prospect of facing the dreaded primary challenge. 

“I’m not afraid of losing my job,” Herrera Beutler said after voting to impeach Trump, “but I am afraid that my country will fail. I’m afraid that patriots of this country have died in vain. I’m afraid that my children won’t grow up in a free country. I’m afraid injustice will prevail.” 

What are Crapo and Risch and the Senate’s 41 other cowards afraid of? They should be frightened of the verdict rendered by the French philosopher Voltaire: “Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do.”

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Additional Reading:

Some other items worth your time…

Pure, liquid hope:  What the vaccine means to me as a GP

Gavin Francis is a general practice physician in inner city Edinburgh, Scotland and he writes about the challenges for The Guardian.

“Before the pandemic, about a third of my consultations were about mental health; now it’s between half and two thirds, and the list of patients I check in with weekly or fortnightly about their mood is lengthening. People are unable, for now, to share those aspects of our humanity that help us, and come most naturally – touch, speech, sharing space. I hope the vaccine programme will prove an effective antidote to the sense of hopelessness that, for the past few months, has been spreading and deepening among many of my patients.”

The big costs of a pandemic. Read the whole thing


Embedded within a mass delusion: The challenge of reporting on QAnon

Angela Fu writes for the Poynter Institute about the challenges for journalist trying to cover the center of the conspiracy theory universe – QAnon.   

The Q symbol outside the Capitol on January 6

“The conspiracy theory originated in 2017 when someone calling themselves Q posted a Trump quote about the ‘calm before the storm’ on 4chan, a notorious online message board. Since then, QAnon has rapidly evolved as new followers join and more niche theories develop. Followers have taken their beliefs into the real world, sometimes in violent ways. Most recently, some QAnon believers took part in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

“A growing number of journalists are tracking QAnon, reporting on everything from the way social media algorithms help spread conspiracy theories to the people who lose loved ones to the movement. With each story, they debate whether their reporting will contribute helpful information or simply amplify the movement. Their goal is to make readers — lawmakers, tech companies, the general public — understand the gravity of the problems QAnon poses.”

Full story here


“I Don’t Trust the People Above Me”: Riot Squad Cops Open Up About Disastrous Response to Capitol Insurrection

A stunning piece of journalism from ProPublica on the insurrection on January 6, 2021 and the cops who fought off the mob: 

“One officer in the middle of the scrum, a combat veteran, thought the rioters were so vicious, so relentless, that they seemed fueled by methamphetamine. To his left, he watched a chunk of steel strike a fellow officer above the eye, setting off a geyser of blood. A pepper ball tore through the air over his shoulder and exploded against the jaw of a man in front of him. The round, filled with chemical irritant, ripped the rioter’s face open. His teeth were now visible through a hole in his cheek. Blood poured out, puddling on the pavement surrounding the building. But the man kept coming.

“The combat veteran was hit with bear spray eight times. His experience overseas ‘was nothing like this,’ he said. ‘Nothing at all.’”

A true first draft of history.


Thanks for reading…

Andrus, Salmon, Simpson

Run of the River…

Thirty years ago last month then-Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus stood at the front of a crowded hotel ballroom in Boise to warn the Northwest’s industrial and energy interests that the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was coming for them, and that the demise of the region’s salmon populations would eventually force them to change. 

“We have to tell the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) and the Corps of Engineers that they’ve had a microchip in their head on how to run the river,” Andrus said at his “Salmon Summit” in 1991. “That should be removed and replaced with a new chip, in which you say, ‘You will maintain this river for the fish, as well as power generation.”’ 

Until his death in 2017, Idaho long-time governor and former secretary of the Interior Cecil D. Andrus, was the region’s foremost political champion of salmon

Later that year, the first endangered species salmon listing was handed down setting off three decades of litigation and involving massive – and largely ineffective – spending on fish and wildlife. And yet the iconic fish struggled on. 

Andrus, rarely a pessimist, eventually came to believe the region’s only salmon strategy was simply to stall until the last of the fish were gone leaving nothing left to fight over. 

Nevertheless, the region’s Native American tribes and fish advocates fought for salmon, often winning repeat victories in court and slowly bending public opinion against the traditions and influence of BPA, the often-clueless Corps, the inattention of administrations of both parties and deeply invested special interests ranging from irrigators to port commissioners.

Now, in what must be one of the great political ironies of our age, this long, litigious battle over fish, power and river operations finds a most unlikely champion, a former dentist from eastern Idaho, a conservative Republican politician more at home on a golf course than in a drift boat. 

This week, Mike Simpson, the one-time Trump loathing congressman from Blackfoot who discovered Trumpian religion just in time to avoid any challenge to his 22-years in the House, rolled out a plan for the region’s grandest social engineering project since Franklin Roosevelt envisioned a Grand Coulee Dam in the 1930’s that would turn the Northwest’s “darkness to dawn.”

And like the very transactional Roosevelt – Montana Senator Burton K. Wheeler said FDR rewarded the region’s senators with a dam in exchange for political support – Simpson’s audacious, $33.5 billion plan is all about the lubricating influence of a billion here and billion there. There is money and projects in his plan to compensate every affected interest when, as Simpson envisions, the four fish killing dams on the lower Snake River in eastern Washington are breeched in the next decade. 

Mike Simpson, a conservative eastern Idaho Republican, is championing a big plan to save northwest salmon

Economic development cash and energy research. Waterfront restoration for port towns. More rail options. Money for water quality enhancements. Big checks for irrigators and tourism. And a truly massive enhancement for tribal interests in management of fishery resources. 

Pat Ford, who has fought the good fight for Northwest salmon for as long as there has been a fight, told me this week what Simpson “is a true believer in restoring the fish.” And then marveling at the reality, Ford stated the obvious: “The most committed politician in the region to restoring salmon stocks is a conservative Idaho Republican.”

While Simpson richly deserves the accolades he’s received from many quarters – particularly tribes and conservation interests – for reshuffling the cards around fish and power, it’s impossible to escape the sense that the region’s deeply embedded special interests – and their often rabid grassroots supporters – are willingly going to do anything other than what they have been doing since Andrus’s speech, which is nothing to help the fish. 

The harsh political reality for salmon and for the Idaho congressman is that this fight, like all our political fights, is less about solving seemingly intractable problems than prevailing over “the other side.” Truth be told those four lower Snake River dams, condemned almost from their inception as expensive dinosaurs that would eventually destroy the fishery, are more important for what they represent than what they offer. 

Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River in eastern Washington would be one of four dams breached under Simpson’s plan

In reality the dams are political symbols, concrete proxies in the continuing western mythology that real men exist to remake rivers, tame Mother Nature and vanquish environmentalists. After spending years insisting dammed rivers can co-exist with migrating fish why admit it was always a lie? 

Even as Simpson’s plan offers the promise of billions in goodies and the end of endless litigation, the grassroots forces who have defended the dams with religious vigor, while hating those who advocate for the fish, will find a “come, let us reason together” argument no more attractive than brackish slack water.  

Eastern Washington congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rogers is the epitome of how this mythology works. She immediately blasted fellow Republican Simpson’s plan with a line that had the precision of a fearful focus group. “These dams are the beating heart of Eastern Washington,” McMorris Rogers said, knowing just how to connect the culture of concrete with the grievance of 21st Century conservative politics.

Will southeastern Washington Republican Jamie Herrera Beutler, one of the few House members to buck her party on impeachment and under fire for it, really pick another fight with her conservative base by getting on board with Simpson? What prevents the calculating, do nothing Jim Risch, who has done it before, from kneecap Simpson’s plans by quietly stoking the ready opposition? 

Simpson’s calculation is that he has, at best, a two-year window of opportunity to sell his idea. 

With Joe Biden in the White House wanting a historic infrastructure bill, and with Oregon Senator Ron Wyden sitting atop the Finance Committee, Simpson might – might – have an opening. Don’t count on it. When Wyden outlined his own priorities recently salmon wasn’t on the list.

If American politics were more like 1980 when Henry Jackson and Frank Church and Mark Hatfield attempted the region’s last grand design to head off the end of salmon – the Northwest Power Act – Simpson’s billions of dollars in carrots without a stick might have a chance, and the fish might have a future. But today there is no Scoop Jackson, and no Mark Hatfield and region’s once proud bipartisan altruism is long out of fashion. 

The Idaho congressman has taken this intriguing kickoff to his own 20-yard line. He’ll need the kind of regional offense not seen in decades to cover the next 80 yards to the end zone. The clock is running, and it benefits the same old group that wants to do nothing. 

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Additional Reading:

A few suggestions for additional reading this weekend…

The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election

Time magazine journalist Molly Ball with a sobering look at just how close the United States came to failing at democracy. 

“This is the inside story of the conspiracy to save the 2020 election, based on access to the group’s inner workings, never-before-seen documents and interviews with dozens of those involved from across the political spectrum. It is the story of an unprecedented, creative and determined campaign whose success also reveals how close the nation came to disaster. ‘Every attempt to interfere with the proper outcome of the election was defeated,’ says Ian Bassin, co-founder of Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan rule-of-law advocacy group. ‘But it’s massively important for the country to understand that it didn’t happen accidentally. The system didn’t work magically. Democracy is not self-executing.’”

Sobering. Hope you’re paying attention. Link to the full article.


I Talked to the Cassandra of the Internet Age

A fascinating New York Times piece by Charlie Warzel about the scientist who predicted what the Internet would do to society and to each of us.

Big surprise: the Internet has changed us

“The big tech platform debates about online censorship and content moderation? Those are ultimately debates about amplification and attention. Same with the crisis of disinformation. It’s impossible to understand the rise of Donald Trump and the MAGA wing of the far right or, really, modern American politics without understanding attention hijacking and how it is used to wield power. Even the recent GameStop stock rally and the Reddit social media fallout share this theme, illustrating a universal truth about the attention economy: Those who can collectively commandeer enough attention can accumulate a staggering amount of power quickly. And it’s never been easier to do than it is right now.”

Fascinating. And frightening. Read the whole thing


The Lousy Tippers of the Trump Administration

The writer, a restaurant worker in D.C., dishes on the habits of the former administration. 

“The restaurant adapted to the Trump era. We introduced a $45 three-course early bird special, which I recall was still too pricey for Wilbur Ross, though the unusual influx of right-wing tourists who visited appreciated it. Betsy DeVos became a regular, and unlike the others she was a paragon of superficial graciousness, even if she didn’t tip quite enough to compensate for two or three tables that would ask to move if she was seated near them.”

Moe Tkacik writes of the Trumpers, “they were exhausting, impossible, stingy, and cruel, just like at their day jobs.”

Here’s the link.


Bathroom Reading

And this delightful essay from Rose Henrie about, well, “talking to a man about a horse.”

“It is remarkable to think that each of us spends roughly three years of our life going to the toilet. And that’s not to mention the reading, watching, and maybe for some — though it’s still an etiquette grey area — talking on the phone. Potty training is a child’s first step to becoming a functioning member of society. Along with learning to communicate, this is phase one of proto-personhood: say please and thank you, and try not to wee on the floor. For those of us who are fortunate, this is the start of a lifelong lack of thinking about using the loo. It is something we take for granted. An accessible, clean space is often available, whether it’s in the home or out and about. When nature calls, we know exactly how to answer and can do so, for the most part, comfortably.” 

You can read it while doing “your business.” 


Thanks for reading. Be careful out there.

Biden, Montana, Politics

Memo to Joe: Go West…

When Joe Biden says he will govern as a president who represents all Americans, even those who did not vote for him, I take him at his word. But I also know millions of fellow Americans don’t. 

Biden’s words about wanting to be a uniter, a president who seeks and finds common ground, are surely welcome after some many months of purposeful division. But without genuine action – and by that, I mean more than policies, executive orders or even legislation – Biden’s words will ring hollow for many Americans. Many don’t believe he’s sincere because, well, we live in a deeply cynical and polarized age

Joe Biden’s message of unity would benefit from some one-on-one engagement with people who don’t believe he really means it

So, as a Democrat in the rural west, I offer some tough love to the new president and to his staff, a group like the staff at every White House who will all too soon become victims of inside the beltway thinking that will almost certainly short circuit the new president’s efforts at unity. Three suggestions.

Get out of the bubble. A still raging pandemic makes it difficult to travel and engage with real Americans, but Biden and the White House must find a way. Despite the pandemic, political pros like senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Jon Tester of Montana have been holding virtual town hall meetings in their states. Until he can travel, Biden should be pushing hard against a presidency that is defined exclusively on inside the beltway terms. 

If I could command the White House communication shop, I’d have Biden and vice president Kamala Harris doing weekly sessions with real people, Republicans, Democrats, independents, young and old in every region of the country. The desire to control such presidential interactions causes careful staffers to fret over a real person posing an uncomfortable question that might induce a gaffe. The hell with such thinking. Biden is at his best in small group, one-on-one situations. He’s an experienced retail politician. Empathy is his long suit. Take the shackles off and let the president mix it up with real folks, particularly including those who didn’t vote for him. 

Listen and learn. The desire to avoid risk is a huge limitation on political action and political persuasion. Every politician is expected to have a crisp, detailed and often meaningless answer to every conceivable question. But real life is more than a 12-point plan and begins, as Woody Allen famously said, with showing up, and beginning to connect. 

In pre-COVID days, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden held a all-comers town hall in every county every year. Now he’s doing them virtually

Biden and his handlers can make a virtue out of merely showing up and listening. They don’t have to have a detailed position paper on every issue. Oregon’s Wyden is particularly good at this kind of listening. He starts his town halls with a sentence or two about some big issue in the news and then listens to questions and concerns from his constituents. Often, he has a good answer, but nearly as often he will turn to a staffer and say, “we need to do some more work on this and get back to this guy.” 

The key is to listen, and of course to get back. 

Imagine if the president of this apparently hopelessly divided country would show up in a small town in the rural south or central Iowa or Bonner County, Idaho and told local county commissioners, school board members, business owners, farmers and retirees: “I want to hear what’s on your mind. I want to hear your solutions to our biggest challenges.” I think jaded Washington hands would be stunned by the power of a disarming sentence like: “I really want to know what you are worried about.”

Would Biden get some seriously awkward questions? You bet. Would it make for great television? Absolutely. Forget the big, boasting, fact-free rallies that have passed for presidential leadership for the last four years. Let’s have real Americans talk directly to the new president. There is a fair chance the country would get smarter. And Biden would begin to prove that he listens and cares, even cares about and listens to those who didn’t vote for him. 

Come West. It’s become a tired cliché, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true that broad swaths of the nation are “flyover country,” precincts seldom visited by a national politician. It’s also a truism that Democrats have suffered a deep and persistent decline in most of flyover country in large part because too many on the political left don’t care – or act like they don’t care – about the West. 

You can date much of this to the widespread and not inaccurate view that Bill Clinton (and then Barack Obama) didn’t know the West and didn’t try to learn about what they didn’t know. Donald Trump appealed to many in the West despite the fact that he hadn’t a clue about why forest fires continue to rage or that public lands are where westerners hunt, fish and recreate. Showing up and listening to the very real practical concerns in flyover country would be the beginning of understanding and the foundation on which trust might be built. 

Tester, the last significant Democrat standing in Montana, also still operates a family farm on the Hi Line, and he put a fine point on all this in his recent book Grounded.

Montana Senator Jon Tester has advice for fellow Democrats

Rural westerners, Tester writes, have “given up on whatever ‘normal’ is in politics, because that normal has failed them. The status quo ain’t working, and we ought to be listening – truly listening – to what rural America has to say about it.” 

So, twice a month Biden and his staff should pick a spot in rural America and go and listen. A good place to start would be an old railroad town 30 miles from Tester’s farm. The last president to visit Havre, Montana, the county seat of Hill County, was Harry Truman in 1952. Trump won the county with 54% of the vote last year. Tester won the same county with 58% in 2018.  

Imagine a town hall in Havre. No speeches and no malarky, as Biden might say, just real folks and real issues and real listening. The power of showing up and listening just might be the first concrete step to disarmament in our uncivil war. 

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Additional Reading:

My weekly curation of worthy reads from here and there…

Henry Aaron

The great Aaron has always been my favorite player of the great game. He was the quintessential “all tool” player. He could hit for power and average. Run the bases. He could play defense and had a great arm. His recent death hit all baseball fans hard.

Hall of Fame in every respect

And Henry Aaron was a genuinely decent man who played brilliantly and quietly through a lot of adversity and made a tremendous contribution on and off the field.

“Aaron’s consistency is unparalleled in baseball history, and perhaps in all of North American team sports. He qualified for the batting title in each of his first 19 seasons, hit at least 24 home runs 19 seasons in a row, and scored at least 100 runs 13 times in a row. He hit .300 in 14 seasons, and he posted at least 6.0 bWAR every year from 1955 to 1969, a 15-year streak that nobody had matched before or has since.”

Great piece by Michael Baumann.


Forcing out the Fringe

Republicans struggled this week with two extremely difficult issues: what to do with a conspiracy theory believing freshman House member and what to do with a GOP leader who voted to impeach Donald Trump.

Historian Matthew Dallek provides some context for the first issue by reviewing how the GOP once distanced itself from the John Birch Society, a conspiracy theory embracing group of ultra-right loons that came to prominence in the 1950’s…and now is, sort of, back.

“By stigmatizing, punishing and outvoting the forces that wanted to burn it all down in the 1950s and 1960s, Americans ostracized them; the United States put a lid on the toxic stew of bigotry, conspiratorial thinking and White Christian identity politics, and defended democratic values like truth, equality and racial justice. It was a whole-of-society strategy, more effective than anything unfolding today. Clearly, it didn’t keep those forces at bay forever. But in the right circumstances, it could work again.”

Worth your time.


The Second Shot Proves the Vaccine is Working

Katherine Wu in The Atlantic.

“Dose No. 2 is more likely to pack a punch—in large part because the effects of the second shot build iteratively on the first. My husband, who’s a neurologist at Yale New Haven Hospital, is one of many who had a worse experience with his second shot than his first.”

Get ready…and get the vaccine when you can.


All the best…and thanks for reading.