Ukraine

Isolationism: So Old It’s New Again …

Montana’s hard rightwing Republican congressman Matt Rosendale has likely never been compared to a influential progressive politician who figures prominently in his state’s history. At first blush there is precious little about Rosendale, a disciple of Donald Trump and opponent of almost everything, that is remotely like New Deal era Montana senator Burton K. Wheeler.

Montana’s isolationist Senator Burton K. Wheeler

Wheeler was a pro-union, anti-big business western progressive. He was a driving force behind big Montana public works projects like Fort Peck Dam on the Missouri River. He fought corruption in the Justice Department during the 1920’s and battled Franklin Roosevelt, a president of his own party, over an ill-advised scheme to “pack” the Supreme Court.

Rosendale is known, to the extent he is known, for often being in a tiny minority of House members who vote NO on many things, including infrastructure spending. Rosendale is an outspoken member of the hard right “Freedom Caucus,” traffics in conspiracy theories, and recently observed that he found it ironic that Congress passed the Endangered Species Act in 1973, the same year the Supreme Court issued it decision legalizing abortion.

But in one important respect Rosendale and Wheeler, who left the Senate in 1947 and died in 1975, are similar. They are unapologetic isolationists. Wheeler was the acknowledged leader of isolationist or non-interventionist forces prior to World War II. Wheeler, along with Charles Lindbergh, the famous aviator, became the chief spokesmen for the America First movement, an umbrella group that attracted both passionate pacifists and disgusting anti-Semites.

Idaho’s Mike Crapo, a very conservative Republican senator not known for his foreign policy expertise or even interest, is also displaying isolationist instincts. So, too, Utah Republican Mike Lee and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and a handful of other conservatives. All three senators joined with eight others recently to vote NO in the Senate on a $40 billion aid package to Ukraine. That aid was nevertheless approved and will, like previous assistance, continue to allow Ukraine to hold off, and indeed turn back, a brutal, unnecessary war started by Vladimir Putin.

Trump, with his threats to pull the United States out of the NATO alliance and his actual withdrawal from trade and other agreements, popularized – again – the notion of America First, perhaps knowing the slogan would become a rallying cry for the far right, as well as serving as a dog whistle for anti-Semitism and pro-authoritarianism.

This neo-isolationism from the far right is not exactly new in American politics. Figures like Ohio senator Robert Taft in the 1950’s and more recently conservative gadfly Patrick Buchanan embraced the notion that the United States should essentially retreat from world leadership and focus more completely on domestic concerns. Buchanan wrote a book claiming it was Winston Churchill’s blunders rather than Adolf Hitler’s megalomania and desire to dominate Europe that sparked World War II.

This is the kind of revisionist, pro-Putin, anti-democratic, white supremacy nonsense that is being widely embraced in the dark corners of Internet and the increasingly dark corners of American conservatism.

Republican J.D. Vance, the opportunist Ohio Senate candidate who rejected Trump before embracing him, has become a key figure among the neo-isolationists. In one of the greatest political non-sequiturs ever, Vance recently said, “I will be damned if I am going to prioritize Ukraine’s eastern border right now when our own southern border is engulfed by a human tsunami of illegal migrants.”

If Vance wins in November he will, fittingly, occupy Bob Taft’s old Senate seat.

Another would-be leader of the neo-isolationists is Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, who clearly hopes to be president one day and knows just how to push the most powerful alt right buttons. “We don’t need any more globalism, left or right. We need realistic, robust nationalism,” Hawley said recently. Whatever that means it apparently appeals to Trumpers everywhere. Hawley also voted NO on the Ukrainian aid package.

As the online news site Axios reported recently: “Republican lawmakers – following former President Trump’s lead – are working with a wide range of conservative groups to pull back American support for Ukraine, the Middle East and Europe.”

The money and influence behind this neo-isolationist surge is powered by a permanent alt right infrastructure that includes the Koch Brothers, the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute and others. (This same network funds state-level anti-public school and tax cut advocacy from groups like the Idaho Freedom Foundation.)

Fox News personality Tucker Carlson champions neo-isolationism, while playing to the white nationalist sympathies of his audience.

After acknowledging that Putin’s war against Ukraine is illegal and has been clouded by vast lying from the Kremlin, the Cato Institute dismisses the war for the future of Europe with this: “it is a tragedy that neither the United States, nor NATO, nor Ukraine itself made a serious effort to discover whether there was a diplomatic way to prevent this invasion.”

That single sentence neatly sums why the neo-isolationists are as wrong today as they were in 1941.

Senator Wheeler, in many ways a heroic character, misread completely the state of the world as Hitler sought to dominate Europe, and like the neo-isolationists in the modern Republican Party, Mike Crapo, Mike Lee and the loathsome Rand Paul, he opposed the American aid to England that became known as Lend-Lease.

“We sympathize with the oppressed and persecuted everywhere,” Wheeler said, channeling Montana’s current congressman, “We also realize that we have great problems at home, that one-third of our population is ill-fed, ill-housed and ill-clad, and we have been told repeatedly, upon the highest authority, that unless and until this situation is corrected our democracy is in danger. I fully subscribe to this view.”

Wheeler’s views about Nazi aggression, had they prevailed rather than Franklin Roosevelt’s, might well have allowed Hitler to control Europe for a generation or more. Imagine our world today had that happened.

The same can be said for those turning their backs on Ukraine. What is their alternative: a Europe dominated by Putin? NATO rendered obsolete? Turning the other way as the ex-KGB agent kills and plunders a sovereign nation and U.S. ally?

Mike Crapo worries, apparently, about the country spending too much to defend democracy in a place far away. But he’s never met a tax cut he didn’t love. So, the fiscal responsibility argument is about as specious as justifications coming from the Kremlin for this unjustifiable war. Crapo’s stand, oddly, also puts him at cross purposes with Idaho’s other senator, James Risch who has steadfastly supported Ukrainian aid.

Crapo and the rest should know that Ukraine’s fight is our fight, too. The history of appeasement of dictators with territorial ambitions is not at all promising. We should have learned this in high school.

A great benefit of studying history is the insight past experiences provide for the present. This is surely such a moment. Why would a Crapo or Rosendale take such a blinkered view of history? Why, indeed, would these folks turn their backs on 80 years of history?

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Additional Reading:

Some other items you may find of interest …

Thoughts and prayers of a different kind

I’m numb and exhausted. I suspect most of us are.

And perhaps that is what the gun nuts at the National Rifle Association (NRA) have been after all these years. What if they actually sought to so normalize gun violence, including murdering ten-year olds in their classrooms, that those of us who reject the culture of more guns all the time just became numb to the death, dishonesty and deflection? It seems to be working.

Outside the elementary school in Uvalde, Texas

I don’t think a society that is healthy, meaning rational and caring, tolerates what happened this week in Uvalde, Texas, but here we are again. And where will we be next week or next month? A town in Idaho, or Oregon to Michigan?

The only thing we know for sure is that we will see this again … and again.

To be brutally honest, I’m so tired of the small-minded jerks like Ted Cruz and Greg Abbott I could puke. They literally make me sick to my stomach. That they get away with their nonsense about guns is infuriating.

Having said that: I am also a realist. We have a Supreme Court that has invented a Second Amendment that was nothing like what the Founder’s envisioned. Conservative judges made up “rights” related to guns and we live with that, or die with it.

We have 400 million – 400 million – guns in America. So many that even if we decided tomorrow to regulate them in some way its unlikely we could.

And we have a political system that pays lip service to caring about kids, but really doesn’t. We are caught in a doom loop of guns, and killings and worst of all a widespread willingness to accept it all.

There is a sickness in America about guns. I’m all for hunting and sport shooting and protecting your home, but 18-year olds no questions asked buying battlefield weapons and high capacity magazines – that is not remotely sane.

Our gun sickness is not rational or normal and it does not place a priority on children’s lives – or any life. It is a deep and profoundly ugly failing. America is truly exceptional, at least when it comes to killing with guns.

The last thing I wrote about the gun lobby was posted in 2019, how many mass shootings ago? Here’s that piece – “The NRA is a Fraud” – I’m sorry to say it is still relevant.

I have nothing even remotely original to say any longer about this massive nonsense, so I suggest you read my friend Darrell Ehrlick in The Daily Montanan.


On the Ball: In Memory of Roger Angell, 1920-2022

I went to a game in Milwaukee last Sunday – before the tragedy in Texas and before the pathetic governor of that state showed up to a news conference wearing what looked like a Texas Ranger shirt (the cops not the ball club) – and I thought about the late, great Roger Angell.

His life and work is a joyful memory amid the awfulness of this week. Here’s the writer Michael Lindgren.

“Roger Angell’s sensibility was emotionally generous, and his subjects sensed this and responded with great warmth. (In his unshowy way, he was one of the great interviewers of his or any time.) He wanted to see the players and managers and fans in their best light; in doing so, he showed us ourselves in our best light. There will not be another like him.”


I’ll leave it there. It’s been a long week. Be safe.

2022 Election, Idaho Politics

The Crazy Continues …

Idaho avoided a full-on political catastrophe this week as the state’s Republicans largely decided who will hold public office. 

But by no means has Idaho shed the ongoing influence of an ultra-conservative, authoritarian Republican Party.

Idaho voted and Little will change

Pick your metaphor. The bullet was dodged, but the glass is half empty. Consider:

  • Brad Little, an incumbent Republican governor, riding a wave of economic expansion and sitting on massive budget surpluses, won renomination with, hum, less than 53% of the vote. Not exactly a ringing endorsement from his party, particularly when you consider that the governor’s principal opponent is a serial embracer of the most odious positions floating around the alt right universe. At least take heart that there will not be Proud Boys providing security at the inauguration next January.
  • A competent, serious, civil secretary of state candidate, Phil McGrane – you should thank your lucky stars – was selected to oversee Idaho’s elections. McGrane’s two election denying opponents garnered 57% of the primary vote. Had this been a two-way race – a sane and sober conservative versus a Trumpified “stop the steal” clown – the clown would have won. This bullet was caught in the teeth.
  • A very conservative speaker of the house, the longest serving speaker in state history, received just over 51% in a contest for lieutenant governor against a candidate so loathsome her own colleagues censured her for misconduct in a rape case.
Incumbent governor Brad Little won his primary in underwhelming fashion
  • A mostly invisible state school superintendent lost to a much more competent challenger who received less than 40% of the vote in a race where the second-place finisher, a former Democrat turned alt right favorite, was cited in April by a Washington state judge for “contempt of court on four occasions related to the custody agreement with his ex-wife.” The ex-wife also accused him of child abuse.

And that was the good news. There is ample bad news.

The state legislature seems almost certain to be as radically right as it has been and depending on leadership elections and committee assignments a swing farther right seems entirely possible. While it is true that some of the most irresponsible right wingers lost in what was generally a blood bath for incumbents, and support for public education may – may – have been bolstered, the trend line of crazy stuff was hardly bent and certainly not broken.

Idaho will come to rue the day it handed over the attorney general’s office to a political provocateur who made his reputation, such as it is, by repeatedly battling his party’s leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives. Raul Labrador really doesn’t want to run state government’s law office, he wants to be governor and he will spend the next four years employing every scheme he can devise to make Governor Brad Little’s life miserable.

The state’s expensive penchant for quixotic but performative legal battles will now only increase. Labrador will surely move out many of the career lawyers who have made the office a largely non-partisan source of legal advice and representation. His chief argument against long-time incumbent Lawrence Wasden, who will be remembered as one of the most effective and least political AG’s in recent history, was that Wasden refused to sign on to the bogus legal challenge Texas mounted against the 2020 presidential election.

Labrador will enter office running for governor and he’ll bully and bluster his way to the front of that line. Few politicians in recent Idaho history have been so thoroughly disliked by his peers, but now he again has a platform. Watch him use it, use it to the determent of the state and its taxpayers.

So, what should a Brad Little do now to lead this troubled party and divided state ?

Well, he’s entitled to a few moments of satisfaction that he defeated an opponent who openly courted white supremist support, denied a deadly pandemic, did her part to destroy public education, brandished her Bible like a light saber and was endorsed by the malignant force from Mar a Lago, but then what?

Barring some remarkable and exceedingly unlikely outcome in November, Little will have four more years to make his mark on Idaho. What will he do? After all, there are only so many regulations you can eliminate, tax cuts for the wealthy you can engineer, or draconian abortion bills you can sign.

He might take his “mandate” as a call for a return to sanity in the state’s conservative world. He could use the presence of militant, government hater and independent gubernatorial candidate Ammon Bundy on the general election ballot to isolate Bundy and his type. Call them out for what they are – a threat to democracy. It’s past time for yet another reckoning of Idaho’s reputation for harboring dangerous nuts like Bundy. Little could lead the repudiation, and at no cost to his political future.

He could address, forcefully and candidly, the intolerance and ignorance that goes with banning books in school libraries, and he could shame the alt right efforts to intimidate educators and health care workers. He could speak out against the shameful targeting of trans kids.

He could disown the Idaho Freedom Foundation and its blatantly disruptive and dishonest agenda. They hate him. He should make them an example.

The governor could make an early trip to Coeur d’Alene to meet with the new board of the venerable community college there that, momentarily at least, has been rescued from the clutches of the crazy wing of his own party.

A governor who cared about Idaho could appeal to the better angels that certainly must be lurking out there. If he wanted to, he could.

Like most of America, much of Idaho is crying out for real, principled political leadership – from the right and the left. Not slogans or appeals to the worst in us, but real substance about real things.

The Idaho primary settled nothing about the overall direction of the state’s politics, which will, barring real leadership, continue to wander, neck deep, in a swamp of conspiracy and grievance.

Rejoice for a moment that some of the absolute worst did not happen this week but take no comfort for little is likely to change.

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Additional Reading:

Other items that may be of interest …

No sea serpents, mobsters but Tahoe trash divers strike gold

“Cleanup organizers say one of the things locals ask most is whether they’ve found any gangsters’ remains near the north shore. That’s where Frank Sinatra lost his gaming license for allegedly fraternizing with organized crime bosses at his Cal-Neva hotel-casino in the 1960s.

The recovered debris mostly has consisted of things like bottles, tires, fishing gear and sunglasses.”

For a pretty pristine lake there is a lot of trash at the bottom of Lake Tahoe.


Forgetting the apocalypse: why our nuclear fears faded – and why that’s dangerous

Have we forgotten the danger?

“The horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki made the whole world afraid of the atomic bomb – even those who might launch one. Today that fear has mostly passed out of living memory, and with it we may have lost a crucial safeguard.”

Daniel Immerwahr in The Guardian.


TEXAS’ WHITE GUY HISTORY PROJECT

“The 1836 Project will perpetuate stubborn 19th-century myths that will not die: Texas, for instance, has always stood on the side of freedom and liberty. Hard work alone inevitably leads to success. “Business-friendly” tax breaks make for a prosperous populace without the need for a robust social safety net and social services.

“In reality, thanks to its stingy government, Texas has the fourth-lowest literacy rate in the U.S., the highest rate of medically uninsured people nationwide, and ranks eighth in income inequality. The governor wants to stop teaching noncitizen children who attend public schools—an idea as cold-hearted as it is illogical and dumb. Forget our obesity epidemic, infrastructure failures, and militarized border.”

The Lone Star State experience with the cultural war over teaching history is both a joke and a warning. From Texas Monthly.


Being Gabe Kapler: Inside the mind of the San Francisco Giants’ nonconformist manager

Giants manager – and non-conformist – Gabe Kapler

Long-time readers know I’m a Giants fan, have been since Willie Mays was roaming centerfield at Candlestick Park. I’m biased, but the club by the Bay (with apologies to the A’s) is a fascinating collection of personalities and talents, and somehow under the leadership of the Zen-like manager Gabe Kapler – the Phil Jackson of baseball? – it works.

From Tim Kweon at ESPN.


Thanks for reading. Please share this posts with anyone you think might find them of interest. All the best.

2022 Election, Andrus, GOP, Idaho Politics

Idaho is Indeed a Patsy …

In the fading twilight of Friday afternoon – March 30, 1990 – then-Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus walked across State Street, the avenue running behind the Idaho Capitol building in Boise, and entered a conference room in the glass-sided state office building that houses the Department of Commerce and other state agencies.

Normally the Democratic governor would make public announcements from his own office on the second floor of the Statehouse, but this announcement was different. A large room was necessary to accommodate the dozens of out-of-state reporters and television crews on hand to hear what Andrus would say. Many seats in the room were occupied by activists and advocates on both sides of what may have been the most contentious single political and cultural issue in modern Idaho history – abortion.

When Cecil Andrus vetoed anti-abortion legislation in 1990, a strong majority of Idahoans exhaled with relief. The state wouldn’t be swept into a protracted and incredibly expensive effort to overturn the landmark Supreme Court decision, Roe V. Wade, that had been the law of the land since 1973. And Idaho would not forever be identified with legislation so punitive to women who had been raped or victims of incest as to be, as Andrus said, lacking in all compassion.

Idaho State Capitol building and a bust of Cecil Andrus on March 23, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

As one who worked for Andrus, I simply could not envision how Idaho’s politics would unfold after that veto. Andrus, whose own views held that abortion was tolerable only in extreme cases, was vilified by all-or-nothing anti-abortion forces. He was accosted by protesters at nearly every campaign appearance during that election year, some demonstrators even showing up in a cold, damp potato field in eastern Idaho to try to get the attention of a network TV crew airing a segment on the state’s signature product.

Yet, when all the shouting subsided Andrus won a fourth term in a runaway – nearly 70 percent – against an opponent who accused him of being a “baby killer.” Two Democrats were elected to Congress in 1990, the first time that had happened since the 1960’s. A brilliant young lawyer and member of the Pawnee Nation, Larry Echo Hawk, was elected attorney general, the first Democrat in that post since the early 1970’s. Democrats commanded a majority on the state land board, and Democrats won enough seats in the state senate to share power with Republicans.

The election of 1990, in the wake of an abortion battle, constituted the modern era high-water mark for Idaho Democrats.

The front page of The Idaho Statesman – April 1, 1990 – where a fellow says of Cece Andrus: “Last night, we should have appointed him governor for life.”

Nothing with politics lasts forever, of course, and with the perfect hindsight of 32 years and, while looking at the state’s disordered, increasingly authoritarian and dangerously militant politics, it is easy to see that Idaho’s flirtation with bipartisanship was as fleeting as a spring snowstorm.

Three decades after what appeared to be a Democratic breakthrough in 1990, Idaho is defined increasingly as a haven for white supremists, an intolerant sanctuary for book banners – one Idaho school district this week voted to “forever” ban 22 books from a high school library, including titles by Margaret Atwood, Sherman Alexie and Toni Morrison – and a place, as a friend once observed, where you must be born, while you’re alive no one is going to help you and if you screw up, they kill you.

Oh, Idaho – how far you have fallen.

A radical right candidate for lieutenant governor continues to flaunt the state’s public record disclosure law as she attempts to cover up her morally bankrupt involvement in what ultimately became another Republican legislator’s rape conviction.

While running for the top job the current lieutenant governor, Janice McGeachin, overspent her office budget and lied repeatedly about it. She courts militia and neo-Nazi support and assaults public education. McGeachin, a supremely malignant, barely coherent radical endorsed by Donald Trump, also recently demanded a special session of the legislature to outlaw abortion even for rape and incest victims, as if the criminal penalties for health care providers in existing Idaho law were not dystopian enough.

The radical Republican candidate for attorney general was, while in Congress, a ringleader of the Freedom Caucus that has done so much to poison national politics. Wait until he becomes the state’s top law enforcement officer and takes his marching orders directly from Texas, or indirectly from the Idaho Freedom Foundation. Two of the Republican candidates for secretary of state are election deniers who would, if elected, finally destroy the Idaho tradition of non-partisan election administration. Meanwhile, vast amounts of out-of-state campaign money floods the state, surely coming from national groups determined to cement Idaho’s reputation as an easy laboratory for more radical right experimentation.

The former president has attempted to play in the Idaho governor’s race, endorsing the current lieutenant governor over the incumbent who has moved sharply to the right in response

In this mess of rightwing rot also sits the incumbent governor, Brad Little, a man seeking a second term who was once celebrated as a policy wonk and a non-crazy conservative. But the tidal wave of stupidity that has pushed the Idaho GOP to the brink of insanity has fully swept Little along. The state’s new Democratic Party chair, Boise state representative Lauren Necochea, perfectly captured the state of radical politics in Idaho when she told The Guardian recently: “The difference between Little and McGeachin is really more style than substance. She personifies the far-right extremism while he panders to it.”

Little’s pandering has never been more on display than when he signed the state’s latest anti-abortion legislation even while speculating out loud that the proposal to allow a rapist to collect a cash bounty when a victim seeks an abortion was likely unconstitutional. Little was man enough to worry that the legislation just might have “unintended consequences” for “victims of sexual assault,” but still servile enough to the radicals to put his name on garbage.  

Ironically, whether he intended to or not, Little used almost exactly the same language in signing a draconian abortion bill in 2022 that Cecil Andrus used to veto one in 1990. One big difference: Andrus had the guts to do the right thing for Idaho despite what might have been serious personal political fallout, while Little did what he hopes will be the right thing for his re-election.

And that neatly sums up the modern Republican Party in Idaho and across the country. These folks stand for little, pardon the pun, beyond staying in power. The governor’s policy agenda is confined exclusively to cutting taxes and eliminating regulation. Idaho is sitting on a bulging budget surplus but gives no thought to urgently needed investments in public and higher education, or affordable housing or a dozen other needs. The policy is simply to pander to the extremes.

When Andrus vetoed that awful abortion bill in 1990, he famously said that outside forces believed Idaho could be a convenient patsy in their plan to overturn Roe. But Idaho was “no patsy,” Andrus said, in a quote that was published around the country. Three decades on Idaho has indeed become precisely the kind of patsy Andrus sought to prevent – a breeding ground for rightwing radical politics that have already warped the state in ways that will require years of recovery, if indeed recovery is remotely possible.

With this crowd of misanthropes in power you can count on one thing. It will only get worse.

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Additional Reading:

How Putin’s invasion returned Nato to the centre stage

A deep dive into the history of the alliance that Trump threatened to end and Biden has strengthened.

Current Nato members with Finland and Sweden likely to join soon

“Nato’s return to the spotlight has been accompanied by a renewed debate about its history. Every interested party has a different story to tell. For Moscow, Nato has long been a project to subjugate Russia and reduce its influence to a memory. For Washington, Nato began as a way of protecting western Europeans from themselves and from the Soviet Union, but in the 90s it became a forward operating vehicle for democracy, human rights and capital. For eastern Europeans, Nato is the sacred pledge to keep Russian tanks at bay. For most western European states, Nato has provided a bargain-price American nuclear umbrella that allowed them to fund social welfare rather than armies, when they were not using their Nato obligations to justify austerity. For the rest of the world, Nato was once an Atlantic-based, defensive alliance that quickly transformed into an ever-farther-afield, offensive one.”

From The Guardian.


The Southwest is on fire, with iconic deserts and towns at risk

New Mexico and Arizona are facing a dangerously early fire season. It has left neighborhoods in ashes and is having such devastating effects that President Joe Biden issued a disaster declaration for New Mexico. Over 600 fires had broken out in the two states by early May, and large wildfires had burned through hundreds of homes near Ruidoso and Las Vegas, New Mexico, and Flagstaff, Arizona.

A Q-A with University of Arizona fire scientist Molly Hunter.


How Lady Bird Johnson Saw the President Die

An excerpt from what looks to be a fascinating new book about Lady Bird Johnson.

Lyndon Johnson takes the oath of office standing between his wife and the widow of the man he replaced

“November 22, 1963, the day in Dallas that, as Bird described it in her first diary entry, ‘all began so beautifully,’ had ended with a flight back to Washington with Lady Bird, the surrogate, now the new First Lady, Lyndon the president, Jack in a coffin, and Jackie a widow.”

The author is Julia Sweig who writes about America’s most famous second lady-turned-first.


The Korean Immigrant and Michigan Farm Boy Who Taught Americans How to Cook Chow Mein

La Choy soy sauce bottles and canned bean sprouts are a familiar sight in American grocery stores, but behind this hundred-year-old brand is a story fit for Hollywood.

And some great Muppet commercials, too.

The whole story of La Choy is perhaps more complex than the flavors of its sauces.


Thanks for reading. Be careful out there.

2022 Election, GOP, Nixon

The Grievance and Hostility of the Culture Wars

Republicans are heading into the mid-term elections in November wielding two broad swords that they hope will whack them back into control of Congress.

The first weapon is a standard issue version of the political logic that the party in control of the White House almost always loses congressional seats in a mid-term election. Only twice in modern political history has this logic failed – 1934 during the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt and 2002 when George W. Bush was in the White House. Since the partisan margins are currently so close a betting person would put money on the GOP picking up seats.

The rare mid-term where the party in the White House wins seats. Los Angeles Times, November 7, 1934

The other thing going for the party out of power is their skillful exploitation of your anger, your grievance over, well, you name it. Don’t like a little inflation? Blame the president. Gas prices too high? It’s not Putin, but Biden. Tired of a pandemic that has killed a million Americans? Fauci works for the administration, lock him up! (Spoiler: he worked for the last one, too.)

Grievance is really the conservative’s biggest weapons. They’ve been perfecting it as a political tool longer than most of us have been able to vote. Who lost China? Harry Truman, George Marshall and the squishy Democrats, that’s who. Joe McCarthy made a career of exploiting grievance. Sunny Ronald Reagan did, as well.

Reagan seized a one-off story of a “welfare queen” – Black, of course – who he alleged exemplified what was wrong with the country. Welfare. Those in his audiences were upset with too much inflation, too much federal spending or too much government, but that stuff is hard to personify. A Black woman in a Cadillac, now that was a symbol.

There was, of course, a kernel of truth to Reagan’s single example, but it was the grievance he was really after. You should be upset, mad even that your tax money, well, all of us can finish the sentence. There ought to be a law!

Don’t like the fact that this multi-ethnic, multi-religious nation where white folks have long dominated politics, the economy and popular culture, while controlling most of the wealth is changing? Blame Black Lives Matter. What’s their beef, after all?

Upset that our long national struggle come to grips with the original sin of slavery makes some of us uncomfortable? Angry when a person of color points out that racism is literally baked into everything from zoning laws to college admission polices? Blame Critical Race Theory, whatever that is. Talking about the sin is, after all, more egregious than trying to understand it.

Wonder why thousands of migrants put themselves in harm’s way, facing injury and even death to get to the United States? To hear conservative members of Congress – or a former president – tell it they are scum of the earth. It’s easy to ignore that the vast majority are fleeing a life of poverty or persecution in hopes of a better life for themselves and their children. Having a mad on about these people just feels more natural than trying to understand what is actually going on.

Few modern-day Republicans acknowledge, or even know, the origins of their politics of grievance, but they own a debt to the master of political anger, Richard Nixon. As Garry Wills wrote of the brooding, insecure loner, “Every campaign had taught Nixon the same lesson: mobilize resentment against those in power.” That strategy has worked for Republicans for a long, long time, and may very well work again this year.

Democrats certainly have given their opponents openings, and they seem institutionally unable to talk about how their very real accomplishments, arrived at with no support from conservatives by the way, have helped the country. An historic infrastructure program is barely understood by most voters. Leadership of the remarkable international coalition defending democracy in eastern Europe is little acknowledged by Americans angry about the price of milk. Still, it’s past time to call out the grievance and the growing hate.

Listening to major Republican figures will give you a strong sense that Disney, your local library, the young woman who teaches second graders at the neighborhood elementary school, public health workers and immigrants, of course, are the real problems in America.

By the way, if you really believe librarians – and libraries are a big problem – it’s you that has the problem.

The so called “culture wars” cooked up on the radical right and pumped into the national bloodstream by the likes of Tucker Carlson, Marjorie Taylor Greene and a grifting former real estate developer are nothing more than the hog fuel of grievance. These merchants of hate are playing you.

Tucker Carlson mocks coverage of his grievance filled nightly rants

The attacks on the LGBTQ community, on health professionals, on non-existent “groomers” of children are beyond reprehensible. And it must be confronted, which is exactly what a young, white, Christian, mother – and Michigan state senator did recently. Senator Mallory McMorrow was accused by a Republican colleague – the colleague was fundraising of course – of desiring to “groom and sexualize kindergarteners or that 8-year-olds.” A hideous and heinous allegation that McMorrow refused to let pass.

In a passionate statement that made national headlines, McMorrow did what more Democrats should try. She got mad and called this nonsense precisely what it is – hateful and harmful.

“I know that hate will only win if people like me stand by and let it happen,” McMorrow said. “So I want to be very clear right now, call me whatever you want; I hope you brought in a few dollars; I hope it made you sleep good last night. I know who I am. I know what faith and service means and what it calls for in this moment. We will not let hate win.”

This big, sprawling, diverse nation with its serious problems of racism, growing income inequality and for many lack of access to health care and decent housing is hard enough to keep together without one political party constantly throwing more logs on the cultural war bonfire.

Sure, debate real policies. Argue over how to improve education or solve homelessness. But check the hate. Put away the grievance. Go visit a librarian or try to understand the life of a public school teacher. They aren’t the enemy.

By the way, I met a young fellow recently who is an immigrant from Lebanon. He appeared to be a jack of all trades having worked for TSA, done construction, repaired cars and been a salesman. He was joyous, smart and engaging. An immigrant. I asked him why he had worked so hard for so many years, eight years he said, to come to America. A better life was his answer.

That’s the country I love. Let’s try to live up to it.

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Additional Reading:

Some other items you may find of interest …

Republicans could rue the Supreme Court ending abortion rights

Pro-choice supporters protest outside the Supreme Court on May 3, 2022.

My good friend Rob Saldin, a political scientist at the University of Montana, and I co-authored a piece for the Washington Post this week on the politics of abortion.

 “If the court overturns its line of decisions protecting abortion rights in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, it will leave a very different set of Americans aggrieved. Supporters of abortion rights will fume over something long taken for granted being suddenly stripped away. And a fight in deeply conservative Idaho three decades ago indicates that their anger could scramble the politics of abortion.”

Remembering a landmark election more than three decades ago.


Laying siege to Idaho education isn’t a home-grown war. It is imported by conflict entrepreneurs

Idaho is just one of many states where anti-public school forces are trying not just to change public education, but destroy it. I linked to this piece above, but want to highlight it since I believe it’s that important.

“To fully comprehend this attack on education in Idaho one must first realize this is not a home-grown war, but one that has been imported into our state by wealthy and influential out-of-state interest groups whose goal is to first destroy the credibility of public education and ultimately weaken and privatize our local schools and higher education institutions.”

The author is Rod Gramer, an old and dear friend, who is fighting the good fight against the forces on the far, far right who would destroy public education. Here’s the link to Rod’s full piece.


The last phone boxes: broken glass, cider cans and – amazingly – a dial tone

From The Guardian, a deep dive into the British phone box.

Covent Garden London England telephone boxes

“At the end of my wayward quest, I decided that if I couldn’t see someone make a call from a phone box, I could at least hear one ring. They must have rung so often, once. All those queues; a time slot long arranged for a parent to call a child who’d moved to the city; lovers waiting to hear each other’s voices. I texted my mother. Call me on this number! I’m in a phone box!

“She didn’t reply, probably busy. I waited for 10 minutes until the awkwardness of standing in a phone box doing nothing became overwhelming. I texted her again and told her not to worry – the combination of technology and communication once again proving itself to be an imperfect work in progress. To scratch the itch, I ended up ringing the phone box from my mobile, and there it was, the tinny little sound of potential connection, drifting into the street.”

Really good story.


Mimi Reinhard obituary

“Mimi Reinhard, who has died aged 107, was a prisoner at the Płaszów Nazi labour camp in a suburb of Kraków in Poland when in 1944 she was asked to help out with the preparation of a document for the camp commander Amon Göth.

“It was a list of people in the camp who would be sent to work in a munitions factory owned by an industrialist called Oskar Schindler, where they would be housed in barracks, away from the extreme cruelty of the camp. The record that Reinhard helped to compile, and typed up, later became known as Schindler’s list.”

Quite the life. Read her obituary.


The Night Kennedy and Nixon Were Bunkmates

When Jack and Dick went to McKeesport.

“Seventy-five years ago this month, before they were political rivals, they were political arrivals who developed a respectful, even amicable working relationship at a time when societal and partisan divisions were raw and deep. Their first debate, 13 years before their legendary televised duels, is a fleeting and little-known chapter of American political history. It is also a reminder of a time when members of opposite parties, without teams of handlers and policy aides to run interference or shape their message, could disagree vehemently about major issues and yet still place the need to inform and persuade the public above their own political differences.”

Read this good political history and then realize this likely could not happen today.


Thanks for spending some time here. Be well.

2022 Election, GOP

“The Rot Within” – A Conservative Drama in Three Acts

The stories of Utah Senator Mike Lee and California Congressman Kevin McCarthy, both Republican grandees, represent the perfect end to Act Two of the play entitled “The Rot Within,” a fable in three parts that will shape the future of our country.

This gripping drama – utterly compelling for anyone who believes a disgraced, debased former president should never again be anywhere close to the Oval Office – is now playing in several new books, many newspapers, on National Public Radio and on a few cable outlets. Don’t miss this show it if you enjoy watching the crumbling foundation of American democracy.

Just to catch you up on the plot: Lee, once thought to be a serious and sober Constitutional conservative and a forthright member of the Mormon Church, was caught red handed conspiring with Donald Trump’s White House to reverse the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

“Please tell me what I should be saying,” Lee texted to the White House as they sought to overturn the 2020 presidential election

Lee’s text messages to then-Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, first breathlessly desperate and finally, reluctantly resigned, indicate, as the Salt Lake Tribune reported, that the senator was a player in a “plot to help former President Donald Trump overturn his 2020 election loss.”

The text messages show Lee repeatedly urging the White House to pursue the Constitution shredding strategy of convincing several state legislatures to reverse correct and legal decisions to certify Joe Biden’s election.

“Even if they (state legislatures) can’t convene,” Lee wrote in one message, “it might be enough if a majority of them are willing to sign a statement indicating how they would vote. And I’ve been working on doing that all day today.” In another message Lee literally begged Meadows to tell him what he should be saying publicly about the plot.

Consistent with the central focus of our play – “The Rot Within” – Lee first went mum about the messages he clearly thought would never become public. Then he justified that this bit of light treason was merely a suggestion that Trump and his collection of legal charlatans exhaust all available avenues to contest the election outcome. There were, of course, no legal avenues to contest as court after court after court ruled.

Near the end of Act Two, Lee could be heard mumbling the by now hackneyed words of the GOP playwright: “I knew what a disaster Joe Biden would be.” There you have it friends of political drama, the ultimate conservative rationale for a coup in the night.

Meanwhile, entering stage right is the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy. McCarthy is rather like another disgraced Kevin – Spacey. At one time earnest, seemingly sincere, yet with a menacing side. Beneath the veneer of respectability lurks something fundamentally fraudulent and, well, sleazy. With McCarthy – as with Spacey – you know he’s not what he seems to be. He’s always worse.

The man and his man

In our Act Two of the drama our Man from Bakersfield, who would, Macbeth-like kill to be speaker, acts out a vast jumble of deflections, numerous bald-faced lies and, of course, ultimately just sleazy rot. Ah, but the lies are the thing.

Two New York Times reporters, Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin, wrote a book – part of our play is based on their story – where McCarthy, in the immediate aftermath of the January 6 attack on the Capitol, said he was so done, so over with Donald Trump that he was washing him right out of his hair.

As Burns and Martin wrote: “Mr. McCarthy went so far as to say he would push Mr. Trump to resign immediately: ‘I’ve had it with this guy,’ he told a group of Republican leaders.” When that story got out, McCarthy issued a categorical denial. Never happened. Made up. Fiction.

It wasn’t.

Burns and Martin had it all on tape, and richest of all – our playwrights are flirting with farce here – McCarthy said he was done with Trump in a conversation that included Wyoming congresswoman Liz Cheney, one of the few Republicans immediately after the Capitol attack vowing to hold Trump to account. McCarthy, of course, never followed through on Trump, but instead drummed Cheney out of Republican leadership, attacked her patriotism and is hoping to prevent her re-election.

At first McCarthy’s obvious world-class lying seemed to put his leadership position in question, but that’s not how this conservative drama rolls. Our Kevin dismissed his prevarications as just typical old efforts to divide Republicans ahead of the November election. In other words, McCarthy lied about lying, then lied about why he had lied.

I know it’s difficult to follow the plot, but just know that lying is what it’s all about in this play. To explain just how contemporary this drama is you must understand that such fable-making was once, in a democracy far, far away, a disqualifying action by such senior and seasoned actors. Now, getting caught on tape saying one thing while doing another in public or denying the content of text messages you wrote is just the conservative brand.

We need to stay tuned for Act Three to see how this production ends, but here is a spoiler. Politicians like Lee and McCarthy are nothing more or less than what they appear to be, and they never change. The craven, opportunist given to manipulation and lying to keep status, or power or to save face is a standard character on stage. Shakespeare had many such louts – Iago, Cassius and Richard III – and the modern conservative movement does, as well.

But in our drama, it’s the bit players who bear watching in Act Three, the silent, striving senators like Risch and Crapo in Idaho and Daines in Montana and the get along-go-along members of Congress like McMorris Rodgers in eastern Washington, Rosendale in Montana and Simpson and Fulcher in Idaho. These minor, but still important characters knew back at the beginning of Act One, back when the lying conman at the center of our drama rode down his escalator, that this could all be a horror show. Many of them said so at the time, but then the plot shifted, and craven became cozy. Looking away became commonplace.

By the end of the first act – January 6 – they had so enabled the lying, the conspiracy theorizing and the demonization of all opposition that they found themselves paralyzed by fear. Fear of their own supporters. Fear of losing. Fear of the truth. These characters know the old rule: the weapon that appears in Act One must always be used. And so, it was in the attack on the Capitol.

Act Two, as King Kevin and Mike the Malicious have show us, was about old-fashioned degradation. Humiliation in public in service of advancing the plot.

Act Three will open soon with a great reveal, the documented knowledge that there was a genuine conspiracy afoot to steal an election and degrade democracy, and the conspiracy and degradation continues. The bit players might yet assert themselves, but the playwrights say this show is destined to be a tragedy, so that isn’t at all likely.

But do stay tuned.

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Additional Reading:

If you are inclined to read on … a few suggestions …

Building the “Big Lie”: Inside the Creation of Trump’s Stolen Election Myth

“ProPublica has obtained a trove of internal emails and other documentation that, taken together, tell the inside story of a group of people who propagated a number of the most pervasive theories about how the election was stolen, especially that voting machines were to blame, and helped move them from the far-right fringe to the center of the Republican Party.”

If you want to know how the vast majority of Republican voters came to believe the greatest lie ever told in American politics, ProPublica has the receipts.


The Rise and Fall of World’s Fairs

Smithsonian Magazine has a great piece on the World’s Fair phenomenon and how it’s basically gone away.

Seattle World’s Fair model

“Also known as the Seattle World’s Fair, Century 21 was in many ways no different from its predecessors. Its showcases—designed by architects, corporate leaders and cultural tastemakers—spotlighted a glorious, Cold War–era vision of what the U.S. (and the world) might look like after embracing Space Age technology and mass consumption. Collectively, these displays asserted the strength of the American way of life.”

Great cultural history.


“Everywhere I stop bookshops are thriving”: novelist Jon McGregor tours his latest book by bike

“I am cycling – as well as jumping on the odd train – to as many bookshops as I can get to in a week. Having conducted my last book tour entirely online, it feels good to be outside again: meeting people and holding books and putting miles beneath my wheels. It’s been a while since I’ve been out in the world like this, and I’m interested to know what the place is like. The roads are quiet all the way to Carlisle. There are Ukrainian flags hanging from windows, and builder’s vans outside every other house, and the occasional stink of a lawnmower. The hedgerows are getting ready to come out.”

This is kinda my idea of heaven. From The Guardian.


Thanks a million for following along. Stay in touch. Stay involved.

Great Britain, Journalism, Politics

Political Accountability …

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, he of the rumpled suit and head of hair that looks at all times as if he’s just rolled out of his bed, has had a bad few days.

Fined for breaking the law by having a crowded, boozy party at his official residence while all of the UK was in Covid lockdown, Johnson apologized, at least sort of. The mess has been dubbed “Partygate.”

One of Johnson’s parties occurred while Queen Elizabeth, strictly observing the government’s lockdown rules, sat alone at her husband’s funeral. Members of his own party have called on Johnson to step down. He’s adamantly refused.

The British prime minister at “question time”

It’s not difficult to make a 96-year-old hereditary monarch more sympathetic than a boorish and bumbling Boris Johnson, but this one was literally no contest. Boris is the first prime minister in British history to be cited for breaking a law while in office. Potentially even more damaging for the PM is the growing belief that he lied to Parliament about the booze parties. Imagine that – a politician held to account for a lie.

Johnson is additionally under fire for a hare-brained scheme to transport some UK asylum seekers to Rwanda for “reprocessing.” The idea was immediately denounced by, among others, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the leader of the Church of England. Johnson then privately criticized the archbishop, and the comments leaked. Of course they did.

Meanwhile, Johnson made a much-publicized trip to Ukraine recently to show solidarity with that beleaguered nation’s president and people. The trip was a not so thinly veiled attempt to divert attention from the scandals swirling around Johnson who is this week off to India for the same reason.

Amid cries that Johnson should “pack his bags and go,” the prime minister endured 40 minutes this week of that wonderful British tradition – question time. With support for Johnson eroding among his own Tory Party, but without, at least yet wholesale abandonment of their leader, the opposition pounded away. Oh, to have such debates in our system.

As the Conservative back benchers tried to shout down demands for Johnson’s resignation, opposition leader Keir Stamer couldn’t resist twisting the blade: “The party of Peel and Churchill reduced to shouting and screaming in support of this lawbreaker!”

Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer /Jessica Taylor/via REUTERS

At one level this story confirms that British democracy – and British voters – are every bit as capable as American democracy and voters of electing clowns. But what is different between these two old and venerable democracies is the apparent willingness of the British ruling class – we’ll see soon enough if Johnson survives – to hold politicians to account for their actions, separate from merely relying on voters to eventually correct their silly mistakes.

If Johnson is ultimately forced out of office, it will be because his own party has had enough of him and his nonsense. American conservatives should take note.

The former American president has been credibly accused of inciting an insurrection. There are hours of videotape of what happened after he sent a mob to the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. His words of incitement are on the record. We now have text messages and phone logs confirming much of the basic story line, even a recording of the former guy demanding that election officials change votes to allow him to win in Georgia. A federal judge recently determined that the former president “more likely than not” was engaged in a criminal conspiracy to obstruct Congress and derail the process that certified Joe Biden’s presidential victory.

What Boris Johnson did and eventually admitted to pales in comparison to our recent attempted coup. Nevertheless, the British political system, including elements of Johnson’s own political tribe, are trying to hold him to account. The police already have held him to account, rendering a verdict that the most important politician in the country violated the very law he put in place.

Additionally, as he did this week, the prime minister must stand, uncomfortably and often awkwardly, before his critics and absorb their brickbats. His job is to give back, if he can, a coherent response. It’s all carried live in television. By contrast, we may never hear directly from our own inciter-in-chief about his actions before, during and after January 6.

This American problem of political accountability has metastasized and grown more serious. Most politicians now routinely avoid any regular interaction with journalists or real voters. They gravitate to friendly talk radio shows where a tough question would be “what did you have for breakfast?”

Reporters in Montana have noticed that the state’s Republican governor routinely demolishes his own schedule after it’s been published, showing up an hour early for an event typically including a handpicked audience, and safely avoiding reporters. Veteran Idaho politicians who once would have climbed over their mothers to get in front of a TV camera are stiffing long established debates where they have to face opponents and answer pesky questions. The current occupant of the White House rarely holds a news conference or sits for tough questions.

There are a few notable exceptions that should more correctly be the norm. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden annually holds all-comer town hall meetings in every county in his state, as does Senator Jeff Merkley. Together they have held over 1,500 such events. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley visits every one of the 99 counties in his state every year and is often confronted with pointed questions. The video of many of the exchanges is both informative and gratifying for what it says about political accountability. Good for Grassley that he thinks it’s part of the job to keep showing up.

Grassley did say at a recent town hall that he supports term limits. He’s been in the Senate since 1980 – 42 years.

American democracy has a lot of problems. Too much face time between voters and politicians isn’t on the list. Submitting to pointed questions from journalists isn’t some quaint tradition that can be discarded by someone seeking the public trust.

Holding bumbling public officials to account for mistakes, law breaking and disregard for common sense is the very essence of democracy. Answering questions about their plans and blunders is a minimum requirement for public office. If politicians won’t comply, they don’t deserve your vote. And that is what accountability should look like.

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Additional Reading:

Some suggestions …

Mike Lee’s Role in Trump’s Attempted Coup

Mike Lee and the scandal behind his text messages

This is a truly amazing story about the senator from Utah, one that has received a fraction of the attention it deserves.

“In short: Lee outlined paths for Trump nuts to reverse the election. But, after giving these clowns all his attention, time, and effort, he didn’t, in the end, like how the Trump nuts tried to reverse the election. His disagreement was about tactics, not the mission. But his error was accepting the mission at all.

“And somehow Lee’s defenders look at this and say, ‘BOOM! Hands clean.'”

Here is Amanda Carpenter’s opinion piece from The Bulwark.

And here is a report on the interview the senator gave to his home state newspaper, The Deseret News. Read them both: what happened and the attempt to justify it.

As I said – amazing.


Opinion | The Jan. 6 Committee Can Make a Difference: Simply by Revealing What It’s Found

A good assessment here on what to look for in the public phase of the congressional investigation into the events of January 6.

” … the committee’s principal focus should ultimately be on how to present its investigative findings to the public, irrespective of a referral. The committee may indeed have a good deal of information that the Justice Department does not — depending, again, on the scope and intensity of the department’s work, which even the committee and President Joe Biden do not seem to know. The committee should lay out that information straightforwardly and professionally, just as it did recently in a lawsuit concerning Trump’s legal adviser John Eastman, who tried to withhold emails from the committee.”

I personally think a criminal referral is warranted and necessary, but getting the full story – or as much of it as possible – in front of the public is essential. From Politico.


Will Putin Use Nuclear Weapons in Ukraine?

Hard to believe we are really thinking about this, but we certainly are.

“In plain English, as the Russian war effort to subjugate Ukraine falters and as the West pours in more weaponry, Putin is more than ready to brandish the nuclear saber. This is precisely the kind of development that haunted George F. Kennan during the Cold War—and should haunt contemporary Western statesmen as well.”

A very sobering read from National Interest.


Jackie Robinson was a Republican until the GOP became the ‘white man’s party’

Jackie Robinson’s parents named him “Jack Roosevelt Robinson” after Teddy Roosevelt. Robinson was a Republican until the party moved away from him.

Robinson in October 1960 with then Vice President Richard M. Nixon

“By 1968, Robinson was done with the GOP. He refused to support Nixon when he ran for president again in 1968. He also became more active in the civil rights movement and appeared with King on frequent occasions.

“Robinson also became a prolific writer, including a column for the Amsterdam News, a weekly Black newspaper, where he further developed his fierce opposition to the Republican Party.”

A very interesting piece on Jackie’s politics and activism. What a great American.


All the best. Be well.

GOP, Idaho Politics

Idaho’s Déjà vu … 

The Idaho Republican Party is divided, deeply divided. The incumbent governor faces a serious primary challenge from the far right. The challenger is a favorite of what was once considered the party’s “fringe,” and benefits from a grassroots movement to take the party back from its more moderate wing.

The governor can – and almost constantly does – boast of a booming economy that he contends happened only because of his careful management of the state budget.

The challenger counters that the incumbent is not a true conservative and is out of touch with the party, claiming “If I am elected, the office of governor will become a place where the governor listens.”

The governor recently signed controversial legislation that has drawn condemnation from many quarters. The legislation has been challenged in court and will certainly be an issue in the coming election.

The Republican Party’s ideological battle lines are further defined by the role of the party’s last presidential candidate, a charismatic and deeply controversial figure who some worship, cult-like, as a political savior and others condemn as a threat to American democracy.

Overall voters are in a sour mood. The economy is strong, but inflation is problematic. The Democratic president is unpopular. Federal spending is a concern and Washington is consumed by a little understood war in a far-off place. The conflict has international implications that threaten to pull the country ever deeper into the conflict. In many ways it’s a difficult time to be an incumbent.

Idaho in 2022? Yes.

But also, Idaho in 1966, the last time an incumbent Republican governor was seriously challenged within this own party.

Today the names are Brad Little, Janice McGeachin and Donald Trump. Fifty-six years ago, the names were Bob Smylie, Don Samuelson and Barry Goldwater. The parallels between the two elections are, frankly, a bit eerie.

Barry Goldwater campaigns in Boise in 1964

History does not repeat, at least not precisely. But, if history were to repeat, incumbent Governor Brad Little would be losing sleep, as his predecessor Bob Smylie did toward the end of his 1966 Republican primary.

Smylie, a three-term incumbent and a moderate, was coming off two major accomplishments: he had engineered passage of the first ever Idaho sales tax and in the wake of a Supreme Court mandate had championed a sweeping reapportionment of the state legislature. Both remain part of Smylie’s very impressive legacy during his 12 years as governor, and each also contributed something to his downfall.

Samuelson, a Sandpoint state senator and darling of the far right, was a little-known legislative backbencher when he announced, at the urging of some of the party’s most fervent Barry Goldwater supporters, that he was going after the governor of his own party. Hardly anyone gave Samuelson, a big, backslapping politician with a flattop haircut, any chance. Many ridiculed his less than polished speaking style. He had no legislative record to run on short of opposing Smylie’s sales tax measure. Still, he had what often counts for a lot in politics. Samuelson was in the right place at the right time.

Much like Brad Little now, Smylie barely acknowledged in 1966 that he had an opponent. He touted the economy on his watch and pretended to be above the bitter controversy roiling the Republican Party. A good deal of that controversy related to Goldwater’s candidacy in 1964, when the very conservative Arizona senator lost the presidency in a landslide, but arguably became the most consequential loser in American political history. As William F. Buckley famously quipped: Goldwater lost the presidency to Lyndon Johnson but won it for Ronald Reagan in 1980 when the most conservative wing of the GOP established itself as the dominant force in Republican politics.

The fight raging in Idaho now will help determine if the party goes even farther right and embraces the most militant elements of the right, the foot soldiers and Trumpy loyalists who power Janice McGeachin’s insurgent campaign. In words that fit today’s circumstances one Democratic Party leader called the 1966 Republican race: “a melodrama complete with confusion and terror.” Maybe history does repeat.

Smylie realized too late that basically ignoring Samuelson’s challenge was a mistake. The two men got into a squabble over whether Goldwater had effectively endorsed the incumbent – Goldwater said he hasn’t – which made Smylie look a bit desperate. By late July – Idaho primaries were held in August at the time – Smylie, the polished political pro, was playing defense with Samuelson attacking him on the oldest issue in the Idaho political playbook: water. Smylie had complete control of the state water resource board, Samuelson charged, and was constantly overriding the board’s “wise and important” decisions. The implication was clear. Smylie wasn’t protecting Idaho’s water. (Paging Mike Simpson.)

The other millstone around Smylie’s neck was that old and fatal political disease: the voters were sick of him and ready for change. Combine the substantial and frequently warranted criticism Little has received for his lack of management of Covid-19 with the reality that he has been, as lieutenant governor and governor, at the top of Idaho’s political ladder for 14 straight years, his sell by date could be a factor next month.

Don Samuelson, the guy very few took seriously as a challenger to an entrenched incumbent, absolutely crushed Bob Smylie in the Republican gubernatorial primary in 1966, winning more than 61% of the vote. He went on to win a close contest in November that featured an up-and-coming young Democrat from Orofino by name of Cecil Andrus, as well as controversial third-party candidates – another parallel with 2022, perhaps.

Four years later, Andrus came back and defeated Samuelson who had been a barely competent chief executive. That election ushered in 24 consecutive years of Democratic control of the governor’s office. Here’s where the parallels break down – maybe.

McGeachin is a profoundly flawed candidate who has demonstrated she can’t manage the low six figure budget of her own office let alone the state’s billion-dollar finances. She’s also advanced wacky positions on education and public health, any of which ought to be disqualifying. Yet she has the Trump’s endorsement. And as for wacky positions, if those were disqualifying a lot of Republicans would be looking for work.  

Little, a lackluster campaigner, is sitting on a lead hoping to run out the clock, never a smart political play. A month out from the May primary he must be considered the heavy favorite, if only because a lot of Idahoans see him as a safer choice than a candidate who associates regularly with white supremacists and militia radicals. Little is, in other words, the lesser of evils, a McGeachin lite in blue jeans with many of the same policies packaged more presentably. It’s probably enough to get him across the finish line.

Then again lots of people said the same about Bob Smylie.

—–0—–

Additional Readings:

A few more things I hope you will find of interest …

The guy who brought us CRT panic offers a new far-right agenda: Destroy public education

Hard to believe, but believe it – some on the far right, well-funded and passionate, are out to destroy public education.

“The man in question is Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. Since he helped elevate CRT into a national culture war in 2020, Rufo has frequently been cast (or cast himself) as the new master strategist of the right, playing three-dimensional chess as he lays out his battle plans publicly and counts every media mention of them as a win. In the spring of 2021, he famously crowed on social media that he’d ‘successfully frozen’ the CRT ‘brand’ as the overarching ideology behind almost everything conservatives dislike. This January he tweeted about his new goal to ‘bait the Left into opposing [curriculum] ‘transparency,’ in order to trigger conservative suspicions that public schools have something to hide.”

Be worried. These jokers are serious.


Ginni Thomas Is Not A Liar

Politico has a provocative look at the ideology – and belief system – of the wife of the most prominent Supreme Court justice.

Justice Thomas, his very politically active wife and some guy I can’t place

“[Ginni] Thomas’ fervid text messages to then-Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and others, urging vigorous efforts to halt Biden’s ascension to the presidency and keep the incumbent in place, have some evidentiary value to the House’s select Jan. 6 committee as it develops a chronology of events leading to the deadly mayhem on Capitol Hill.

“The Thomas texts, however, are far more revelatory as psychological disclosures — a breathtaking window into the mind of a Trump believer. In that sense, there are three distinct ways in which the Thomas texts illuminate the broader historical moment.”

Worth your time.


In the Judiciary Wars, Republicans Like Lindsey Graham Play Dirtier Than Democrats

Speaking of the judicial branch. From Bill Scher in The Washington Monthly.

“Politics ain’t beanbag, and that’s doubly true for judicial politics. But let’s have a clear-eyed assessment of how both parties have waged battle. 

“Democrats have been more selective in their targets, aiming to block far-right ideologues and set high standards regarding past sexual misconduct. Such an objective does require harsh treatment of individuals. Republicans have sought to deny Democrats the ability to fill seats with anyone.”

Read the entire piece.


The Notorious Legends and Dubious Stories of 10 Literary Deaths

Emily Temple on how some writers left us, like say Evelyn Waugh.

“His body was found in the bathroom, by some accounts with a gash on his forehead and water in his lungs.”

From LitHub.


Thanks for reading. Stay in touch.

Politics, Russia, Ukraine

Disinformation is the Story of Our Age …

Vladimir Putin’s criminally deadly war on Ukraine provides huge warnings to the democratic world about what happens when an entire population becomes captive to a thuggish authoritarian who lies with the kind of ease that most of us associate with taking the next breath.

Putin has been in power for 22 years, having successfully looted the country to enrich himself and a handful of his billionaire cronies, he now owns something even more valuable – the minds of most Russians. This ownership of public opinion appears so complete that Putin can transform the reality of his brutal invasion into a narrative that claims Ukrainians are the aggressors. The dead of Mariupol or Kharvik are, in Putin’s world, the “Nazis” threatening Mother Russia rather than the other way round.

Some of the awful scenes of Putin’s war from Bucha, Ukraine

We are witnessing a profound, real-time display of the power of misinformation, lies, hypocrisy and deception that truly is a warning as much as it is a tragedy.

It has been impossible this week to miss the horrific pictures and extensive first-hand reporting from Bucha, the Kiev suburb destroyed by Putin’s genocidal army. Yet, Putin and his henchmen have dismissed the images as propaganda. It’s an old, tired and disgusting tactic.

As the Associated Press has noted: “Denouncing news as fake or spreading false reports to sow confusion and undermine its adversaries are tactics that Moscow has used for years and refined with the advent of social media in places like Syria.”

Russian television, a veritable Fox News of lies and distortion and totally controlled by Putin, dishes a daily misinformation diet to people who have been lied to for so long that many have given up trying to ascertain the truth. While it would be foolish to put much faith in public opinion polling emanating from a country so thoroughly brainwashed, it appears most Russians, without ready access to independent reporting about the war, believe the lies pushed by the former KGB agent who is responsible for this madness.

Here’s how this disinformation reality connects to domestic politics, and the clear and present danger it presents to American democracy. For a decade or more the politics of the United States have been swamped by a deluge of lies with much of the lying amplified by people in high places and by cynical and manipulative media figures. Where to start?

The lies about Barack Obama’s birth certificate. The lies about school shootings being “false flag” operations. The lies about a pedophile ring operating from a Washington, D.C. pizza parlor. The lies about a presidential election being stolen.

The purpose of all this lying is, of course, to fuel grievance – make people mad – but also to confuse. Is there really a world-wide child sex abuse network, as QAnon has claimed? Did presidential election ballots disappear in Michigan? Was Covid-19 a Chinese communist plot?

The confusion has worked. The lies have penetrated deeply into the political world. A December opinion poll “found that 17 percent of Americans believed that the core falsehood of QAnon – that ‘a group of Satan-worshiping elites who run a child sex ring are trying to control our politics and media’ – was true.”

This helps explain, indeed may explain in its entirety, why a handful of the most craven Republican members of Congress verbally assaulted Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson at her Supreme Court confirmation hearing over the lie, advanced by Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, that Jackson’s jurisprudence might “endanger children.”

Hawley’s nonsense was immediately rejected by a review of the facts of Judge Jackson’s record, but as Georgetown professor Donald Moynihan pointed out in the Washington Post the allegation was never about facts. “The goal,” Moynihan wrote, “was to portray Jackson, and by extension Democrats, as players in the QAnon narrative that public institutions are overrun with child predators.” This line was immediately advanced by Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, Tom Cotton and Marsha Blackburn, each clearly vying for the title of worst United States senator in the modern era.

The child predator narrative has become so prevalent among the fact-free alt right that when Utah Republican Mitt Romney said he would vote to confirm Jackson to the high court he was attacked online, an assault barely short of accusing the former Republican presidential candidate – a Mormon in good standing – of being soft on child abusers.

The disinformation – the lies – have become so prevalent that it is nearly impossible to keep track, and that is another aspect of what one-time Donald Trump “strategist” Steve Bannon infamously called “flooding the zone with shit.” This is the fatigue of confusion. Putin has mastered this, and Trump has long mimicked the man he called a “genius” for invading Ukraine. And it has worked, especially in this deadly moment for Putin who increasingly can count on a pro-Putin wing of the GOP to spread his lies.

From Tucker Carlson, the Russian propaganda peddling Fox News star, to 63 House Republicans – including Idaho’s Russ Fulcher and Montana’s Matt Rosendale – who voted this week against a resolution of support for continuing U.S. engagement with NATO, Putin’s disinformation has broadly entered the country’s conservative political bloodstream.

Altogether, as Will Saletan noted in The Bulwark, 21 Republicans have opposed, or sought to constrain, aid to Ukraine or sanctions on Russia. “That’s a group three times the size of ‘the Squad,’ which Republicans claim is in control of every aspect of Democratic policy. Imagine how much power those 21 Republicans would wield in a GOP-controlled House.” And lest we forget a former and potentially future American president has been his willing accomplice, while once responsible members of the Republican Party have aided and abetted his repeated lying.

“Disinformation is the story of our age,” says The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg. I would take the observation a bit farther. It seems entirely possible that we are living in the advanced stages of a Putin-like capture of millions of American minds; minds filled with mush and grotesque nonsense, the kind of rank garbage that poisons democracy.

But who is really to blame for this softening of American minds? And is what we are experiencing really any different than the John Birch Society’s communist under every bed conspiracy of the 1950’s or who killed JFK narratives that have never ended?

The answer is a definitive – yes. This is different. An entire political party has willingly permitted this to ripen and grow rancid. That party, preparing to regain control of Congress this year, has proven beyond any doubt it will use disinformation to not only discredit its opponents, but delegitimize democratic institutions, including courts and elections.

As for who is to blame – we are, all of us. While we’ve been busy with the myriad distractions and trivialities of modern life, we allowed our democratic system to crumble into terrible disrepair, electing unserious, craven people and acting as though truth and character no longer matter.

While hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians fight for their lives and their democracy, we can’t bring ourselves to discard the liars who threaten ours.

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More Reading:

My “carefully” curated selections that just might be of interest …

Baseball’s Labor Wars

Well, there was some good news this week. Baseball is back, but perhaps with an asterisk.

Fenway last year

“Today, twenty-four of baseball’s thirty owners are billionaires. Many inherited their wealth or made it in other sectors, such as real estate, banking and finance, and communications. Almost all of them have seen their wealth increase during the pandemic. The wealthiest among them, Mets owner Steve Cohen, built his fortune in the hedge fund industry. Since 2020, his net worth has increased from $13.9 billion to $15.9 billion.

“Total MLB revenues grew from $9.5 billion in 2015 to $10.7 billion in 2019. Even though the pandemic emptied the ballparks in 2020, revenues recovered to pre-pandemic levels in 2021.”

A good historical assessment of players and owners. Enjoy the games – I will – but there is always a backstory.


How did cockroaches survive the asteroid that led to the extinction of dinosaurs?

Turns out the pesky cockroach survived the meteor that killed the dinosaurs. Who knew?

“How could roaches a couple of inches long survive when so many powerful animals went extinct? It turns out that they were nicely equipped to live through a meteoric catastrophe.”

This actually explains a lot.

Sugar Daddy of the Right

Turns out the founder of the John Birch Society – the wacky rightwing outfit is enjoying a new moment of relevance – also invented the Sugar Daddy candy.

Robert Welch founded the John Birch Society, and opened the floodgates of conspiracy

I’ve been reading the new bio of Robert Welch by Edward H. Miller. It’s good.

“The mid-20th-century United States was a place where Robert W. Welch Jr., a bankrupted candy manufacturer and inventor of the Sugar Daddy lollipop, could found a national organization that would leave a conspiratorial imprint on modern conservatism — planting the seeds for today’s fever dreams.”

As I said, there is always a backstory. A review of Miller’s book.


Thanks for reading. Defend democracy. It really is under attack.

Books, Education

The Greatest Threat to America is Not a Book …

We have reached the book banning stage of democratic collapse. The end can’t possibly be far away.

In states from Tennessee to Idaho ultra-rightwing lawmakers are enjoying spring by roughing up librarians, cutting their budgets, banning books and intimidating teachers. It’s a coordinated effort that echoes through the alt right determination to wage endless culture war. After all, how better to demonstrate your commitment to “freedom” than by banning a book?

A photo from the New York Times

“It’s definitely getting worse,” Suzanne Nossel, the CEO of the free-speech organization PEN America, told The Guardian recently. “We used to hear about a book challenge or ban a few times a year. Now it’s every week or every day. We also see proposed legislative bans, as opposed to just school districts taking action. It is part of a concerted effort to try to hold back the consequences of demographic and social change by controlling the narratives available to young people.”

As National Public Radio reported earlier this month: “More than 330 unique books were challenged from September through November last year, according to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. That’s twice as many as the entire year before.”

Not surprisingly, most if not all the book banning has featured works that consider already marginalized individuals or groups, while dealing with what are apparently frightening concepts like sexuality, gender identity or race. It’s apparently not enough for some Americans to be openly antagonistic to the LGBTQ community or to people of color, they demand that no one read about their stories.

If book bans were merely a manifestation of old fashioned, small-bore bigotry that would be in keeping with American history. In the 1830’s, after all, the U.S. House of Representatives forbid members from even discussing slavery, let alone legislating about the peculiar American institution. Harriett Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published in 1852 in the run up to the Civil War, was banned in the South for fear it’s anti-slavery message would stir dangerous ideas. Lots of books over a long period have been banned for being too sexy or too graphic, however you define those terms.

But the current battlefield in the alt right’s culture war is more calculating and more strategic than simply old-style American bigotry, and therefore more dangerous to the ideas of free expression and anti-censorship. Moreover, the book ban mania has not grown organically, but rather has emerged in harness with intense new attacks on public schools and educators, animated by misinformation and fear about how American history is taught.

This fight is all about ideology and surely represents a concerted effort to limit what Americans, particularly young Americans can read, absorb, debate and decide about.

“You’re seeing really powerful movements under way to constrain expression,” says Jeffrey Sachs, an academic who specialized in free speech issues. “It’s not about discussing ideas objectively. It’s about not discussing them at all,” Sachs told the news website Vox.

The agenda here is being advanced on two fronts. One involves the systematic demonization of public education. The farthest fringe elements of the conservative moment – the Idaho Freedom Foundation, for example, or former Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos – are hardly subtle in advocating an end to public schools. This movement is lavishly funded, and there is a vast amount of money to be made by those hyping charter schools and other forms of privatization.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, a very Trumpy Republican, recently used his State of State speech to tout a charter school plan for his state that would channel public dollars to a small, private, Christian school in Michigan – Hillsdale College – that has been an incubator for school privatization efforts. Lee reportedly wants as many as 50 Hillsdale-supported charter schools in Tennessee. They will teach a sanitized, false version of civics and history.  

Betsy DeVos, the Trump Education Secretary and public school privatizer

Hillsdale’s president chaired the laughably incompetent, yet ideologically frightening history commission Trump established near the end of his term. And it’s no coincidence that DeVos used a speech at Hillsdale last fall to help stoke the alt right’s anti-public school crusade. DeVos and others in this movement talk a lot about “freedom,” but they really advocate control. They want to dismantle the long-established system that many states require – a uniform system of public schools. A good entry point is through the library.  

Banning books or destroying public education are wildly unpopular ideas, so it becomes necessary to clothe the efforts to ban and destroy in the guise of protecting you from something sinister and dangerous. Success in this anti-democratic effort requires standing the truth on its head, because controlling thought, banning books and diminishing valuable institutions like local schools and long-established colleges and universities are not the tactics of freedom loving people. They are, however, tools in the service of authoritarianism.

The absolutely unprecedented attacks on libraries and librarians during the recent Idaho legislative session, actions that included threats to jail librarians, were straight up authoritarian. I doubt most of the political geniuses behind the Idaho library wars actually visit libraries or read books, but if they did, they might know that a mediocre Austrian painter once used this very playbook.

Idaho legislators, as the Spokesman-Review’s Shawn Vestal noted recently, eventually “agreed to form a legislative committee to investigate library materials statewide, a McCarthyite tribunal that promises to be every bit as intelligent and productive as last year’s task force investigating indoctrination in schools.”

This is a red-light flashing moment.

It is time for all Americans to defend with new vigor and new commitment the American institutions that the alt right plans to destroy, and openly speaks of doing so. Institutions, as the Yale historian Timothy Snyder has often pointed out, cannot defend themselves. People defend institutions. And people destroy them, too.

Visit the local library. Praise a teacher. Support good people who believe in genuine American values like intellectual freedom, dissent, inquiry and who aren’t so insecure and filled with grievance that they see threats between the covers of a book.

Institutions, Timothy Snyder has written, “fall one after the other unless each is defined from the beginning.” We are well past the beginning in the assault on educational institutions in America. Time is of the essence to defend them from evil, misguided people who would in the name of freedom destroy freedom.

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Additional Reading:

A few other items that may be of interest …

Banning The Grapes of Wrath in 1939 California

Steinbeck and his controversial book

As noted above, book banning is an old tactic in the United States, even as I think it’s important to note that the current wave is something particularly unseemly and destructive. Kern County, California banned Jon Steinbeck in 1939.

“Officials there actually got the idea from a newspaper story reporting that the Kansas City Board of Education had removed it from public libraries there.”

Read the story.


Will Smith Did a Bad, Bad Thing

You probably have read all you need to read about the “slap seen round the world,” but perhaps you haven’t read Kareem.

“Worse than the slap was Smith’s tearful, self-serving acceptance speech in which he rambled on about all the women in the movie King Richard that he’s protected. Those who protect don’t brag about it in front of 15 million people. They just do it and shut up. You don’t do it as a movie promotion claiming how you’re like the character you just won an award portraying. By using these women to virtue signal, he was in fact exploiting them to benefit himself. But, of course, the speech was about justifying his violence.”

The guy could play so hoop, too. Read his essay.


The Dramatist

This a really terrific piece about the historian Barbara Tuchman.

Author of The Guns of August, among many other books

“In addition to acknowledging that she had help, a frequently taboo subject for successful women, Tuchman was forthcoming over the years about how being a woman with children influenced the development of her career. In 1978, she told the New York Times: ‘My obligation was primarily toward my three children. . . . When the children came home from school or had the measles, I had to drop everything. If a man is a writer, everybody tiptoes around past the locked door of the breadwinner. But if you’re an ordinary female housewife, people say, ‘This is just something Barbara wanted to do; it’s not professional.’ For a woman, it’s very difficult to work behind a closed door.'”

Meredith Hindley is a senior writer for Humanities. Read her piece here.


LBJ Announced He Wouldn’t Run Again. Political Chaos Ensued

I remember watching the speech – 54 years ago this week in .

“LBJ’s announcement was so dramatic partly because it was so unexpected. When LBJ sat down to deliver the speech, even he wasn’t certain that he would utter the words his aides had written for him. LBJ had acquired a reputation, rooted in decades of service in Senate leadership and then in the White House, as a brilliant legislative operator, a masterful manipulator of men and laws, a politician who wished both to advance his own self-interest and outdo FDR as the greatest reform president of the 20th century.”

Good piece of political history as told by Matthew Dallek.


Be careful out there. Keep reading. And thanks.

Civil Rights, GOP, Judiciary, Supreme Court

The GOP Goes Back in Time …

On September 5, 1922, a very conservative Republican from Utah, George Sutherland, was nominated by Republican President Warren Harding to the U.S. Supreme Court. In many ways, Sutherland was a natural choice: a former state legislator, congressman, senator and a diplomat.

Sutherland’s family eventually left the LDS Church, but he attended what was then Brigham Young Academy and made a reputation as a lawyer defending members of the faith indicted under federal anti-polygamy statutes.

On the afternoon his appointment was submitted to the Senate, Sutherland was confirmed to a lifetime appointment on the nation’s highest court. Quickest confirmation in history. No hearing. No FBI background check. No questions. Harding wanted it. It happened.

Mr. Justice Sutherland

Say this much for George Sutherland: he looked the part of a judge. Trimmed white beard. Regal bearing. And a resume seemingly ideal for a Republican president wanting to maintain a conservative court. Sutherland served as a justice for 18 years, came to be known as one of the “four horsemen,” the ultra conservatives who made the Supreme Court in the 1920’s and 1930’s the most conservative Court since, well, since now. As one legal scholar has noted, Justice Sutherland’s “predominant tendency was to cleave to the past when assessing issues before him.”

I thought about George Sutherland, a Supreme Court justice largely assigned to the judicial history dustbin this week, as a host of Republican senators took turns trying to denigrate the nomination of the first African American woman to the nation’s highest court. Those conservatives had a field day, or at least they tried to have a field day, at the expense of an obviously supremely qualified, supremely patient, supremely measured judge.

The larger context here is the rollback of American jurisprudence, “to cleave to the past.” The ghost of Justice Sutherland stalks the modern Republican Party.

And you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, getting a jump on hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, actually previewed his line of attack days ago on social media. Hawley, most famous for his show of support for Capitol insurrectionists on January 6, sought to paint the judge as “soft on child pornography.”

Hawley, a Stanford and Yale trained lawyer, broadly distorted the judge’s sentencing record, so misrepresenting the facts as to be accused of “a smear” campaign. The conservative National Review called Hawley “a demagogue,” a charge that has the benefit of being true.

Predictably others – Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Tom Cotton and Marsha Blackburn – helped advance the smear, causing CNN White House correspondent John Harwood to remark that “GOP senators shaped their attacks on a Supreme Court pick [with a] sterling resume to appeal to the kinds of people who fantasize about Democrats running a child sex trafficking ring out of a Washington pizzeria because loons like that play such an important role in GOP politics.”

And there was more. Cruz, channeling his inner Joe McCarthy, tried to make Judge Jackson responsible for every book used at the Washington, D.C. private school where she serves on the board. It’s just the kind of school Cruz’s children attend. The judge patiently explained her board doesn’t deal with curriculum, but the attack allowed Cruz to slime the nominee as an advocate of Critical Race Theory (CRT). Right on cue the Republican National Committee distributed a photo of Judge Jackson with her initials replaced with CRT.

As dog whistles go, this level of demagoguery and race baiting makes the tactics of the Senate’s southern segregationist’s of the 50’s and 60’s seem downright mild.

Blackburn asked the witness for a definition of a “woman” before slipping slimily into an attack on transgendered athletes. Lindsey Graham, another attorney, berated Jackson for her role as a defense attorney for detainees at Guantanamo, literally suggesting that some accused of crimes under our system aren’t entitled to representation in court. The subtext of Graham’s sleaze is, of course, the image of a Black woman defending a Muslim terrorist.

Make no mistake, these attacks on Ketanji Brown Jackson are not about her ten-year record as a judge or as a universally praised member of a national commission to review federal sentencing guidelines. No matter her record or what she says to questions based on grievance and the past, Jackson will be lucky to get two Republican votes for confirmation.

The attacks on her are centered squarely on stoking grievance and furthering racial division. This might have been a time for bipartisan celebration of the career of an accomplished woman of color, but that’s not where most in the conservative base live. And while the attacks this week were particularly odious, brutal and fact-free they hardly represent a new page in the conservative playbook. Grievance and culture combat has been and remains the party line.

Graham, who admitted he goes “to church probably three times a year,” pressed Judge Jackson on her faith, even asking her to rank how important her spiritual beliefs are on a scale of 1 to 10. The judge described herself as a non-denominational protestant, and wisely observed that there is no religious test in the Constitution.

Good thing Mr. Justice Sutherland, the lapsed Mormon, never met Lindsey Graham.

Also make no mistake that there is much more at play here than the historic confirmation of one Black woman to the Supreme Court. Indiana Republican Senator Mike Braun spilled those beans when he told an interviewer this week that in his opinion Roe v. Wade had been improperly decided in the 1970’s. Such issues should be left to the states, Braun said. Pressed on whether that kind of judicial philosophy might extend to interracial marriage or state-level bans on the use of contraceptives, Braun opened the alt right kimono.

“You can list a whole host of issues,” Braun said. “When it comes down to whatever they are, I’m going to say that they’re not going to all make you happy within a given state, but that we’re better off having states manifest their points of view rather than homogenizing it across the country, as Roe v. Wade did.”

Braun quickly walked back his comments about interracial marriage saying he misunderstood the question – he clearly did not based on the videotape of his answer – while assuring us, very unconvincingly, that he is all for protecting individual rights.

Indiana Senator Mike Braun before he walked back his comments about interracial marriage

With this line of thinking – remember Judge Jackson was also questioned about Supreme Court decisions on contraceptives and same sex marriage – when Roe is overturned it follows naturally that other landmark court decisions ensuring individual rights will be ripe for re-assessment. Braun didn’t misspeak, he telegraphed the hard right’s judicial playbook for the next decade.

Roe v. Wade will be just the beginning. A Justice Jackson will make history. The most conservative court since George Sutherland’s day will too.

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Additional Reading:

Some additional items you may find of interest …

Was it inevitable? A short history of Russia’s war on Ukraine

Several pieces from various angles on Putin’s continuing war.

“This war was not inevitable, but we have been moving toward it for years: the west, and Russia, and Ukraine. The war itself is not new – it began, as Ukrainians have frequently reminded us in the past two weeks, with the Russian incursion in 2014. But the roots go back even further. We are still experiencing the death throes of the Soviet empire. We are reaping, too, in the west, the fruits of our failed policies in the region after the Soviet collapse.”

From Keith Gessen in The Guardian.

* * * * *

Putin Lives in Historic Analogies and Metaphors

A scene of the carnage outside a shopping area in Kiev

And I found this piece particularly good.

“Political scientist Ivan Krastev is an astute observer of Vladimir Putin. In an interview, he speaks of the Russian president’s isolation, his understanding of Russian history and how he has become a prisoner of his own rhetoric.”

From the German publication Spiegel International.

* * * * *

Assassinating Putin Won’t Work. It Never Has for America

The aforementioned Senator Graham of South Carolina blustered recently about “taking out” the Russian president. The great historian of the CIA, Steven Kinzer, says it’s really a pretty bad idea.

“Americans are impatient by nature. We want quick solutions, even to complex problems. That makes killing a foreign leader seem like a good way to end a war. Every time we have tried it, though, we’ve failed — whether or not the target falls. Morality and legality aside, it doesn’t work. Castro thrived on his ability to survive American plots. In the Congo, almost everything that has happened since Lumumba’s murder has been awful.”

Kinzer writes in Politico.


The Growing Blight of “Infill” McMansions

I quote Mike Lofgren, a long-time congressional staffer, in my book about the 1980 election. He’s found life after Capitol Hill as a writer, and this Washington Monthly piece on the new wave of McMansions – huge and often very ugly homes – in old, established neighborhoods is both well written and spot on.

“While the sheer size of the structure guarantees disharmony with the local houses, the eye-lacerating incongruity of its style brings it to a new level. The structures resemble the architecture of the Loire Valley, Elizabethan England, or Renaissance Tuscany—as imagined by Walt Disney, or perhaps Liberace. As with McMansions everywhere, the new owners could have obtained a sounder design for less, but they prefer the turrets, portes-cochères, and ill-proportioned Palladian windows that they bought.”

Read the whole thing.


John Clellon Holmes on the Funeral of His Longtime Friend Jack Kerouac

The cover of the book that features four essays on Kerouac

My old and dear pal, Rick Ardinger – along with his wife and partner, Rose – have re-published a great book length piece on the celebrated “beat” generation writer Jack Kerouac by Kerouac’s friend John Clellon Holmes.

The book was excerpted recently at the LitHub site. Read the excerpt here and please consider ordering the book.


The LaLee, London: ‘A menu designed for well-heeled tourists’ 

And finally, I am a sucker for the snarky restaurant review. This one is pretty good, or bad …

“It’s attempting to be a thrilling destination restaurant, when in truth it should just be the utilitarian dining option in a fancy boutique London hotel. As a result, it’s neither.”

All righty, then. Here’s the link.


Thanks for following along. Stay engaged. Democracy is on the ballot this year. All hands on deck.