Bill Hall, the acerbic and very funny one-time editorial page editor of the Lewiston (Idaho) Tribune, once got his dander up about the fact that southern Idaho’s most famous crop – the russet Burbank potato – had come to define the state’s image. For decades Idaho’s license plates have proclaimed the state home to “Famous Potatoes.”
The rest of the state, the mighty rivers, the massive lakes, the Swiss-like snowcapped peaks and waving wheat fields were ignored, while the state’s image became a baked spud smeared with butter. Why not, Bill Hall argued, “Famous Peas and Lentils,” a solid cash crop prevalent north of the Salmon River?
Needless to say, that never caught on. Still, it is time for a refresh of the state’s steadily eroding image. A new proposal: “Idaho: Famous Litigation.”
Idaho is back in the national news cycle with the U.S. Justice Department suing the state – an utterly predictable development – over one of the most misguided pieces of anti-abortion legislation in the country. Idaho finds itself, three decades after then-Governor Cecil Andrus prevented the Famous Potato state from becoming embroiled in high-profile, costly and likely futile litigation over abortion, smack in the middle of a needless, thoughtless fight.
Andrus vetoed a misguided piece of abortion legislation in 1990 that had as its sole purpose an effort to influence the national debate over Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision overturned earlier this year by six Christian nationalists on the current Court. Now, the state’s ultra-conservative leadership has teed up just the kind of fight that Andrus avoided. You’d think a state fighting an image as a haven for white supremacists, anti-Semites and education-hating radicals might have sought to avoid become known for imposing a government mandate denying health care to pregnant women.
But this is Idaho where no crazy idea goes unrealized.
The potato state has become a poster child for performative, shoddy, punishing lawmaking that ignores real-world realities and ends up costing millions to defend, most often unsuccessfully. You can tell how thin the state’s defenses are when it comes to its abortion law by reading the ridiculous statement issued by Governor Brad Little who termed the Justice Department’s action “Biden overreach” and “federal meddling.”
There was no attempt by state officials to counter the federal government contention that Idaho’s law conflicts with federal law and creates the very real prospect that a pregnant woman would be denied an abortion even if her life were in danger. This really happens in a variety of circumstances according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, including when the woman is suffering infection or severe bleeding.
The Idaho law also seeks to criminalize medical professionals, putting them in a legal vice between an oath requiring them to provide necessary care for a patient and the state’s mandate to prevent such care.
“The law places medical professionals in an impossible situation,” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said of the Idaho lawsuit. “They must either withhold stabilizing treatment … or risk felony prosecution and license revocation. The law will chill providers’ willingness to perform abortions in emergency situations and will hurt patients by blocking access to medically necessary health care.”
The radical ideologues in Idaho’s rightwing party ignored these real-life consequences when they passed, and Little signed the law they must now try to defend.
The governor must have flinched on Tuesday night as the election results rolled in from ruby red Kansas. Voters there overwhelmingly rejected a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would almost certainly have led to abortion restrictions like those in Idaho. Democratic turnout surged in Kansas, Republican voters said enough and the measure failed in every congressional district, even the two most super-conservative districts.
This is the Kansas Donald Trump carried by nearly 15% in 2020.
As Bill Scher noted in Washington Monthly, radical Republicans in Kansas – just like their fellow travelers in Idaho – have made “two big miscalculations.” They assumed all Republicans want to ban abortions and they under-estimate the willingness of Democrats and independents to show up and defend a right that many, many Americans thought was secure but is now severely threatened in many states.
Many elected Republicans do not yet realize – or refuse to consider – that there is no constituency for forcing a woman facing death or severe injury to carry a pregnancy to term. Likewise, they don’t appreciate how odious most Americans feel about criminalizing medical practices. The party known for opposing “mandates” is now the party favoring mandates requiring death and prison for women and medical professionals who don’t have the luxury of viewing the world in stark absolutes.
This type of reckless, blind ideology, however, has become the defining characteristic of the modern Republican Party. Every fevered notion ever harbored by the John Birchers, the Q-Anon conspiracists, the Trumpy election deniers and, yes, the “let’s outlaw abortion” crowd is now in the party platform. The elected elites of the Grand Old Party find themselves marginalized by a lunatic minority who have taken to manipulating the party’s rules and dominating the party’s primaries.
The spud state is leading the way.
The Republican Party “elites” have responded to this crisis of legitimacy by cowering in fear of their own supporters. As the conservative writer Jonathan V. Last noted a while back, “If the institutions within the Republican party were strong, they would exert their will … [and] shape popular opinion. Instead, these institutions dare only to assert their will under the cover of darkness, out of sight from their voters.”
That, Last says, is “the definition of weakness.”
A Brad Little, given his weakness and fear of the most pyretic elements – even the clear minority elements – of his own party, can’t buck them, can’t reason with them and certainly can’t lead them any more than a Kevin McCarthy can embrace a real investigation into the crimes of January 6. The fever swamp won’t let them be responsible and they lack the guts to try to be.
Therefore, every defense becomes hackneyed laugh line. In the Idaho governor’s case, a pathetic attempt to label entirely legitimate concerns over critical health care for pregnant women and prison for doctors as “federal meddling” or, in McCarthy’s case, drumming a truth seeker like Liz Cheney from the party.
“A party that is afraid of its voters is not sustainable,” Jonathan Last writes. “Either the voters will leave or the party institutions will transform to their liking.” This is a party that is not sustainable.
Two outcomes seem possible for the one-time party of Lincoln. The GOP will continue to collapse, perhaps bringing the Republic down with it. Or the majority of Americans who reject the utter nonsense that has come to define the Republican Party, like voters this week in Kansas, will finally move on to the bright sunlit uplands of political sanity.
Meanwhile, see ya in court, Idaho.
The Greatest – Bill Russell
The passing of a great Celtic and a great man.
“This truth cannot be debated: Russell and the Celtics owned the NBA like no other team ever has or ever will. He cared only about winning and he did it better than anyone – in any team sport – ever has. He encountered 10 Game 7s and left each one with a victory. How improbable is that? The likelihood of flipping a coin the same way 10 times in a row is 0.098 percent. Russell’s teams were the NBA’s 1 percent. He has as many rings as Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson combined. He won eight straight championships during one stretch.”
I grew up watching big number 6 and mourn his passing. This is a great piece on Russell.
Vin Scully Was Los Angeles
If Russell was the greatest winner ever in basketball, Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully was the greatest behind the mic talent in sports history.
“When Kirk Gibson smashed that home run against Oakland’s Dennis Eckersley to set the tone for the Dodgers’ upset of Oakland in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, Scully exclaimed: ‘In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened!’
“For one minute and eight seconds, he remained silent, allowing the roaring Dodger Stadium crowd to fill the television speakers. The echoes continue to this day.”
I’m no Dodger fan, but I sure love Vin. Great piece Scott Miller piece in the New York Times.
The fundamental flaw in ‘Make America Great Again’
Historian Leonard Steinhorn has an excellent take on what is driving the effort to whitewash American history.
“Few Americans want to bring back the worst injustices and excesses of the 1950s. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that those who want to restore this bygone era — to ‘make America great again’ — would re-create a society that resurrects some version of them. Talk as they may about the prosperity, respect and values of the 1950s, it’s the impact of their policies today that have the potential to reopen the wounds and inequities we have spent the following decades healing.”
From Made by History, a regular feature of the Washington Post.
Keep after it. Citizenship is a full-time job. Thanks for reading.