2024 Election, GOP, Insurrection

Our Failure to Imagine …

“In any case this week has probably finished (Trump) as a serious political figure. He has cost Republicans the House, the White House, and now the Senate. Worse, he has betrayed his loyal supporters by lying to them about the election and the ability of Congress and Mr. Pence to overturn it. He has refused to accept the basic bargain of democracy, which is to accept the result, win or lose.”

“It is best for everyone, himself included, if he goes away quietly.”

Wall Street Journal editorial, January 7, 2021

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“Trump warns of ‘bedlam,’ declines to rule out violence after court hearing”

Washington Post headline, January 9, 2024

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A failure of imagination, the inability to consider the probability attached to something that no American alive has experienced, could portend the death knell of the world’s oldest democracy.

Think about it.

What are Donald Trump and his most fevered supporters – not to mention those officeholding Republicans who lack the moral clarity to oppose his ridiculous, fact-free ignorance and desire to rule like a Mafia don – trying to do?

Quite simply the Trumpians need to rewrite the history of what happened three years ago this month. They have to keep alive the demonstrable big lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. They must challenge the fact that a violent insurrection to prevent the lawful counting of electoral votes for president and threatened the vice president, among others, was merely a peaceful protest of patriots. The more than 700 of our fellow citizens who have pled guilty or been found guilty of participating in the assault on the Capitol aren’t criminals, in this whitewash they are “hostages.”

The front pages on January 7, 2021

Additionally, the MAGA crowd must convince just enough gullible Americans through lies, stupid social media posts, phony news sites and unhinged Trump rallies that the Orange God is a victim simply because the nation’s prosecutors and courts are attempting to get to the bottom of his vast range of criminal behavior.

By the normal rules of American politics, given his boorish personal behavior, his incitement of insurrection, his footsie with dictators, his civil conviction of rape charges, his White House grifting and his obvious disdain for our Constitution Donald Trump would have been consigned to the dust bin of history. It is the man’s great – and only gift – that he can lie his way through all of it.

The rewriting of history is necessary to keep Trump from accountability, all he really cares about, and make sure he can live to corrupt again. We are living in Trump’s Orwellian word of up is down, in is out and a get out of jail free card is his prize. And it will get worse – much worse.

It is a great threat to American democracy – arguably the greatest since the Civil War – that members of his own party let him get away with it and in doing so endorse the clear threat that he has long been. They imagine he can be tamed. It’s a fiction.

Consider one of his enablers, a Republican senator from Oklahoma most Americans have never heard of and when his career has ended will not remember why he mattered. But Senator Markwayne Mullin does matter in one sense. In video of January 6, 2021 that became public this week at a trial of one of the “patriots,” Mullin, then a congressman, can be seen and heard with another Republican lawmaker admonishing the attackers of democracy. “You should be ashamed,” they said.

Mullin was there.

He saw what happened.

He’s a big, burly guy, but he would have been foolish not to fear what would happened if the attackers busted through the door he was standing behind with a Capital police officer.

Despite his personal experience on January 6, Mullin endorsed Trump on February 10, 2023, one of the earliest Trump endorsements by a sitting senator. He made his endorsement knowing what Trump had done. The same goes for the 22 other incumbent GOP senators who have endorsed Trump as of this week, most of whom voted not to convict him of inciting insurrection.

And consider the case of another Republican senator, Jim Risch of Idaho. Risch was in the Capital on January 6. We know, not from him but from the vast video record of that infamous day, that Risch’s own private office in the Capitol was trashed by the Trump “patriots.” He has never said anything about those events – nothing.

When I first filed this piece last Thursday, Risch hadn’t endorsed Trump for another term, but I predicted that he would. And true to form, late on Saturday he made his endorsement, not to an Idaho media outlet but rather where the endorsement would gain maximum inside the Beltway exposure.

In a statement to Politico, released just before the Iowa caucus, Risch said: “I realize President Trump greatly aggravates the left and the national media. I believe that is a small price to pay for righting this ship of state which is so greatly listing. I hope Republicans will join me in nominating President Trump.”

“Aggravated the left and national media?”

The gaslighting is simply astounding. It’s as if the last seven years, January 6, all the indictments and incitement never happened. The rewriting of history in a nutshell.

The hyperpartisan Idahoan couldn’t resist a swipe at Joe Biden for “reversing” Trump’s foreign and domestic policies. Of course, he offered no specifics.

Risch knows what Trump did after the last election and during the course of his chaotic presidency it simply doesn’t make any difference to him.

Perhaps the greatest failure of imagination in American political history occurred when Republican senators refused to hold Trump to account via a conviction during his impeachment trial for the events leading up to and including January 6.

One rationale for refusing to disqualify Trump – Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, said as much – was that, despite his clear responsibility for the insurrection, Trump could still be held to account by the criminal justice system.

That is happening, which is why Trump is so aggressively and improperly attacking the special counsel and others who have charged him and intend to try him. And, of course, Trump isn’t really attempting to defend himself from the indefensible. He’s frantically trying to delay his days in court. He’s offering up fantasy defenses, including that he can’t be held accountable for anything he did while president.

To make this defense even remotely plausible Trump has argued that the failure to convict him in the Senate was in effect exoneration for January 6. “Interestingly,” as historian Heather Cox Richardson noted recently, “Trump’s argument that he cannot now be charged with crimes makes the Republican senators who voted to acquit him complicit. It’s an acknowledgement of what was clear all along: they could have stopped him at any point, but they repeatedly chose not to. Now he is explicitly suggesting that their behavior shields him from answering to the law.” 

Democracy can and may die in many ways. Most notably when those most directly charged with upholding democratic values succumb to their egos, give in to their need for power and embrace what are clearly anti-democratic actions, including inciting insurrection and violating the Constitution.

It is not original to me to refer to these politicians, men like Mullin and Risch, as “Vichy Republicans.” The reference is to the politicians who went along through ambition, ego, fear or need to cling to any shred of power to accept the abandonment of French democracy in 1940.

They accommodated even when they knew it was wrong, profoundly wrong.

That shameful period, the embrace of a treasonous armistice that forged a corrupt alliance with their country’s Nazi German occupiers, still clouds the French nation and haunts French politics. That’s the thing about expediency – to accept the unacceptable you must come to refuse to imagine what principle and character can accomplish.

When the French nation attempted, after World War II, to reckon with their own “Vichy Republicans,” it was left to the resisters, most notably Charles de Gaulle, to rebuild from the rubble.

But the epitaph of this shameful period was left to a former French premier Léon Blum, who had resisted and was imprisoned by the Nazis. Testifying during the treason trial of President Philippe Petain in 1945, Blum recalled how he saw men – the Vichy traitors to French democracy – “transformed and corrupted in front of [his] eyes, as if they had been dipped into some kind of toxic bath.” 

The modern Republican Party is wallowing in its own toxic bath. We really must work to imagine what comes next.

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Additional Reading:

There’s nothing debatable about the Constitutional requirements to become president

Marc Racicot, the former governor of Montana and one-time chair of the Republican National Committee, is a Never Trump conservative. Also a very accomplished lawyer, former attorney general and prosecutor. He has also been ridden out of the Republican Party for his opposition to Donald Trump.

Racicot argued powerfully this week that the 14th amendment to Constitution requires Trump’s disqualification.

“If you’ve taken an oath of office to ‘preserve, protect and defend the Constitution’ and you thereafter betray its provisions by engagement in insurrection or rebellion, the 14th Amendment Disqualification Rule forever bars you from seeking that office again.”

Read the full piece.


Which states will join the new summer meal program for low-income kids? Here’s the list.

It is, to put it mildly, a forehead slapper of a story.

“Republican governors in 15 states are rejecting a new federally funded program to give food assistance to hungry children during the summer months, denying benefits to 8 million children across the country.”

Here’s the detail … followed by the head slap.

By the way, Nebraska’s Governor Jim Pillen, one of the nation’s biggest hog farmers and a pretty well-to-do guy is also rejecting the summer school lunch money. The governor said, “I don’t believe in welfare.”

Tell that to a hungry kid, governor.


Martin Luther King Jr.’s stance against the Vietnam War and how fight for peace in the Middle East

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at an anti-war rally

I highly recommend the daily newsletter The Conversation, thoughtful, well-researched articles on current events and history written by academics for an informed audience. Really good work.

This piece is by Hajar Yazdiha, a scholar at the University of Southern California.


Churchill’s Test of Freedom – Then and Now

A great speech from August 1944 proposed seven tests regarding freedom. It still applies.

From writer and historian Richard Langworth. I recommend signing up for his periodic newsletters.


Thanks, as always. Stay out of the cold. All the best.

2024 Election, GOP, House of Representatives, Idaho, Simpson

The Sadness of a GOP Squish

House Republicans this week elected a speaker. Turns out political exhaustion is a big advantage in today’s GOP. A guy who before this week virtually none of us had ever heard of turned out to be the (far, far) right guy at the right time.

After going three weeks with no speaker, while a government shutdown looms (again), the Middle East boils and Ukraine strains to beat back Putin’s totalitarian onslaught on western democracy all the GOP’s many factions united behind Mike Johnson. The new gavel pounder is a Louisiana backbencher whose only real qualification is that he is not Steve Scalise, Jim Jordan or Tom Emmer. For those keeping score at home – those guys all were destined to be speaker until they weren’t.

The new Speaker of the House

Yet, the issue of the week is not that House Republicans elected a genuine political radical from the far, far right as Speaker of the House, but how, as there can no longer be doubt, the entire party has been transformed once and finally into an ideological cesspool of resentments, hatreds, conspiracy, white Christian nationalism and hyper partisan nonsense, or worse.

Exhibit A in the no longer in doubt department is one of the nation’s prime examples of the certain death of real, constructive, character-driven conservatives. Idaho remains as good a case study as any of the vast rot that has polluted conservative politics and turned people who once displayed real character and occasional bipartisanship into craven, quivering opportunists clutching for a grip on power regardless of the cost in their own shame and their country’s democracy.

A week ago, Idaho Republican Mike Simpson, a guy who once stood over Barack Obama’s shoulder in the Oval Office to celebrate a bipartisan Idaho wilderness bill, was pilloried by his party’s state chairwoman for having the audacity – even independence – to vote NO to deny the loathsome Jim Jordan the speaker’s gavel.

Simpson’s “inclination to engage in inside-the-Beltway political games rather than focusing on the pressing business that truly matters to our constituents is disappointing,” fumed Idaho’s top GOP mouthpiece and John Bircher, Dorothy Moon. “Representative Simpson has served in congress for decades. Perhaps all this time away from Idaho has caused him to lose sight of the real work that Americans need on the important issues that impact them and their families.”

In a widely circulated op-ed defending his vote against Jordan, the bomb throwing Ohio election denier, Simpson fell back on the argument that he was merely defending the priorities his Idaho constituents, including workers at the Idaho National Laboratory and the state’s agricultural interests.

“It is abundantly clear the next Speaker of the House could seriously impact Idahoans’ way of life. Fortunately, I know my constituents want me to continue fighting for issues that are important to them. I cannot vote for a Speaker who does not support our state. And I will not take Chairwoman Moon’s ill-advised input when I have been fighting for Idaho longer than she has lived in the state.”

Simpson specifically cited Jordan’s votes against the Department of Energy budget and Simpson’s own Farm Workforce Modernization Act, legislation to give these critical workers a path to citizenship. Trouble is Johnson voted NO on those issues as well.

Simpson withheld support from the former wrestling coach because Jordan has never voted for a farm bill, and while Johnson reluctantly voted for the last major farm bill, he severely criticized the nutrition provisions of the bill, which must be reauthorized before the end of the year.

As Politico reported, Johnson favors deep cuts to the “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the country’s largest program that helps to provide food aid for low-income Americans” and which is a hot button issue that will surely emerge as the dysfunctional Republican majority attempts to pass a new farm bill.

“I cannot – and will not – support a Speaker who has repeatedly taken positions against Idaho’s best interests,” Simpson declared as he tried to hold off criticism of his vote against Jordan. His principled stand had the shelf life of an overripe avocado.

On Wednesday Simpson enthusiastically voted for Johnson, described by one partisan wag as “Jim Jordan in a sports coat,” a guy with a scant experience but with a voting record almost identical to Jordan’s. In the space of five days Simpson went from standing up for his own voting record and policy priorities to voting for a speaker who has never supported the Idaho priorities Simpson found so important before he didn’t.

Moreover, Johnson is every bit as much an election denier and conspiracy theorist as Jordan. He lead the effort to round up congressional support – including that of Idaho’s other House seat warmer, Russ Fulcher – for the whack-a-doodle Texas lawsuit that would have thrown out millions of votes in several states.

Sidney Powell, the Donald Trump lawyer who recently pled guilty to election interference charges in Georgia, was a full throated proponent of the nonsense that a Hugo Chavez inspired Venezuelan plot to rig voting machines cost Trump the election. Fox News spent $787 million to settle a lawsuit over that lie. The man now second in line for the presidency was an “intellectual” architect of this lie.

Johnson has taken fringe positions on LGBTQ rights, opposed same sex marriage and been a champion of a national ban on abortion. Yet, Mike Simpson, the momentarily pragmatic Republican who took flak for his anti-Jordan vote, mentioned none of this in a statement saying he was “proud” to vote for the new speaker.

There is a word for such behavior – gutless.

As the Never Trump conservative Charlie Sykes wrote this week – he might have had Simpson in mind – “For a few halcyon moments, it looked like the center would hold as a modest rump of ‘moderates’ blocked the ludicrous Jim Jordan. But in the end, the squishes did what squishes do; and their defeat was as comprehensive as it was condign.”

It’s Mike Simpson’s screwball critic Dorothy Moon, the election denying crackpot atop the state’s Republican Party, who won this skirmish. The nuts are in full control. No evidence can disabuse them of their fantasies. No farm bill or health concern of a pregnant Idahoan is near important enough for them to back off their fear and loathing for real policy, or heaven forbid actual governing. The gentleman from Idaho had a brief moment, then he again embraced the real power in his party.

Simpson did get one part right – it is abundantly clear that the new speaker will seriously impact the way of life of his constituents.

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Additional Reading:

A few other things I’ve stumbled across that may be of interest …

Former Iowa Sen. Dick Clark dies at 95

Dick Clark’s 1978 re-election campaign features in my book Tuesday Night Massacre, a story about the rise of independent expenditure campaigns and how they have warped our politics.

Clark several a single term in the Senate. It was an impressive six years.

“Clark was elected to the Senate in 1972 after launching a longshot bid against two-term Republican Sen. Jack Miller. With little money for his campaign, Clark opted to walk across Iowa during numerous trips in 1972.”

Read more here.

And here is another story about Dick Clark from the New York Times.


We Don’t Talk About Leonard: The Man Behind the Right’s Supreme Court Supermajority

The news site ProPublica is doing some of the most important investigative reporting in the world right now including this deep dive into the man who masterminded the right wing takeover of the Supreme Court.

Leonard Leo, the man who remade the Supreme Court

“[Leo] advised Trump on the nominations of Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. Before that, he’d helped pick or confirm the court’s three other conservative justices — Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and Samuel Alito. But the guests who gathered that night under a tent in Leo’s backyard included key players in a less-understood effort, one aimed at transforming the entire judiciary.”

Read the entire story.


Montana Course Teaches Students How to Cut the B.S. Out of B.S.

“An online course, Calling Bullshit examines why it’s so easy to spread misinformation and untruths and why it’s so hard to combat it, while exploring what citizens can do to become better consumers and producers of factual information.

“’The name is definitely provocative, but the class is not about the cussword,’ said course instructor Professor Lee Banville, director of [the University of Montana’s] School of Journalism. ‘It’s about information literacy. People need to be both better sharers of information and better consumers of information.'”

Could I hear an amen, please. Here’s the full story.


Two stories about hotels – I love hotels.

The opening of a luxury hotel in downtown Portland has divided the city

I’m often leery of national reporting on local issues and this Fast Company piece seems a bit overwrought, but it gets at some of what continues to happen in a once great city that struggles to be great again.

“The story of the Ritz-Carlton’s fraught relationship with the local community dates back to tax breaks folded into the Trump administration’s 2017 tax overhaul, creating the Opportunity Zone program. The idea behind Opportunity Zones was to encourage investors to build in impoverished or struggling areas by allowing them to defer and reduce taxes on capital gains that they reinvest into these developments. If they hold the new investment for a decade, they never have to pay taxes on those gains.”

Link to the full piece.

Inside the Taliban’s luxury hotel

And a wild story about Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan.

“The Intercontinental Hotel, Afghanistan’s first luxury hotel, opened in 1969. It was built in a time that feels much further away than the year suggests. Afghanistan was at war for more than 40 years. Rulers came and went, and every one of them was here, at the Intercontinental. Its former luxury has faded, but the Intercontinental has remained a symbol: those who rule Kabul rule Afghanistan, and those who rule Kabul rule the Intercontinental.”

From The Guardian.


One win, 17,000 defeats – life as a Washington General

And I’ll leave you with this fun piece. Every basketball fan knows that the Washington Generals are the team that always loses to the famous Harlem Globetrotters. Except one time the Generals didn’t lose.

Red Klotz, coach of the Generals, is in the suit. The perennial losers are in green.

“In front of a disbelieving audience in the city of Martin, Tennessee, the man known as Red broke one of the most sacred unwritten rules in sport. As player-coach for the Washington Generals, Klotz shot the winning basket against the Harlem Globetrotters.

“‘They looked at us like we’d just killed Santa,’ Klotz would claim, as jeers rang around the university gymnasium.”

Great story from BBC.


Thanks for reading. All the best.

2024 Election, Democracy, GOP, Trump

Trump’s Mafia …

It was news in South Dakota this week, a state that has become as red as Donald Trump’s neckties, that the state’s two Republican United States senators won’t be attending an upcoming Trump rally scheduled in the Black Hills.

Among those RSVPing regrets is John Thune, the number two Republican leader in the Senate. Thune and South Dakota’s other GOP senator, Mike Rounds, have done what few other high profile Republicans have done – think Idaho’s Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch or Wyoming’s John Barasso, for example – and finally put distance between themselves and the party’s cult leader.

The South Dakota senators, about as conservative as they come, have endorsed South Carolina Senator Tim Scott for president. Hardly worth a profile in courage award, but better than the vast majority of Republican officeholders who act like backing the party’s leading presidential candidate – or carefully avoiding any comment on his many indictments and proven criminality – is totally normal.

It is not totally normal. Nothing about American politics at the moment is remotely normal. Nothing about the Republican Party’s embrace of a much indicted sociopathic serial liar is normal. Nothing is normal, as the Morning Consult poll found this week, in the fact that three of five Republican voters say they’d vote for a convicted sexual abuser even if he’s behind bars on Election Day next year.

Nothing. Normal. About. Any. Of. This.

As The Bulwark’s Jonathan Lash wrote recently:

Pretend we could go back in time, to January 2017, and tell people that in six years:

  • Trump will have been impeached twice.
  • He will have been found guilty of rape by a jury of his peers.
  • He will have been soundly defeated for re-election, but refused to concede the loss.
  • In an effort to remain in power he will put in motion a vast conspiracy to overturn the result through extralegal methods.
  • When this conspiracy fails he will incite a violent insurrection in which he directs his armed supporters to invade the Capitol and prevent the certification of Electoral College votes.
  • He will be indicted in four separate criminal cases.
  • He will seek a return to the White House explicitly for the stated purpose of ‘retribution.’
  • And he will be leading the Republican field by >30 points.

The party of Lincoln, and TR and Eisenhower is now a stewing cesspool of grievance and denial willingly embracing neo-Nazis and a wide array of conspiracists. The party leader’s legal team – many of them indicted in Atlanta this week – are a mockery of Republican appeals to law and order.

The degradation and destruction of the once Grand Old Party is both stunning and frightening, but mostly frightening.

Frightening in that Trump’s mesmerized supporters believe in him, and his avalanche of demonstrable lies more than they believe their own friends, family and religious leaders. As the CBS News-YouGov poll recently discovered these folks cling to the lies and rabid misinformation more than ever in the face of Trump’s grand jury indictment for attempting to overturn the presidential election in Georgia. Making off with the nation’s secrets for whatever reason and defying not only the law but common sense in refusing to return them deepens their regard for this shallow, foul man.

Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him continues to metastasize in the conservative body politic. The devotion to that enormous lie is the single biggest reason more Republican officeholders refuse to do what the senators from South Dakota have done, namely move on from the fabulist-in-chief. The Crapo’s and Risch’s of American politics know it’s all bull, but they won’t really confront it because they are afraid … of their own voters.

There have been so many turning points in this American melodrama – the Access Hollywood tape, Trump’s persistent praise of the murderous Russian thug, the grifting of the presidency through a gaudy Washington hotel, the Unite the Right neo-Nazi spectacle in Charlottesville, the serial departures of Cabinet secretaries who thought they could contain the fabulist and discovered they couldn’t, the name calling, the threats, the incitement of insurrection.

And It will only get worse, while the GOP elected elite works to delist grizzly bears or neuter the IRS.

Amid all this crazy, outrageous and full on dangerous behavior, history is likely to record as one of the most egregious acts in presidential history, Trump’s mafia-inspired efforts to shakedown Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy in order to manufacture dirt on his political opponent.

All of Trump’s venality and disdain for American – and European – democracy was on clear display in his telephone call to the man who now tries to save the independence of his country against the brutal aggression of The Donald’s pal, Vlad. Simply put, Trump was eager to intimidate another democracy to help destroy one at home. Meanwhile, the GOP edges closer to Putin, while most of the rest of the world shuns him as never before.

There is a perverse symmetry that on the same day Rudy Giuliani was indicted in Georgia the leader of the Russian militia that provided Putin’s only effective fighting force against Ukraine died, likely on orders from Donald’s pal. Rudy with the light brown hair dye was, of course, Trump’s Ukrainian bagman charged with assembling dirt on Joe Biden. Meanwhile, the fabulist says he could end the brutal aggression against Ukraine with one phone call. Right.

This farce become tragedy is as if the script for The Godfather or GoodFellas had been substituted for the shredded ruminants of the rule of law, or any sense of decency in the GOP. Trump is the Vito Corleone of our politics, keeping it all in the family, fronted by corrupt lawyers and evil politicians willing to do anything to protect his own skin and the family business. Just don’t get caught.

Forget the pundits who tell you there is future salvation for the Republican crime family and all of its enablers. There isn’t. Won’t happen. The only way to banish this level of corruption is to take them to trial, convict them in front of a jury of their peers and vote the enablers into the inglorious history they so richly deserve.

Imagine your political legacy being that you couldn’t bring yourself to call bull on this BS.

Michael Corleone, to play out the mafia analogy, eventually tried to go legit, but the stink of the family crimes never left him.

There is simply no washing or wishing away these crimes.

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Additional Reading:

A few other items worthy of your time …

No OB-GYNs left in town: what came after Idaho’s assault on abortion

Montana journalist Kathleen McLaughlin writes about how Idaho’s anti-abortion laws have impacted the state’s medical care, including doctors like Amelia Huntsberger, an OB-GYN in northern Idaho who has had enough.

“The raft of extreme abortion laws left doctors like Huntsberger unsure if they could continue to practice any kind of family medicine in Idaho, where untrained political figures now have greater say over medical decisions than physicians. Across Idaho, doctors are leaving, looking to practice in safer states. After months of weighing their options, including many sleepless nights, the Huntsbergers finally decided the risks and anxiety were too much. It was time to leave.”

Read the entire story from The Guardian.


How the PAC-12 scramble will impact WSU’s athletics

I confess to having less and less interest in college football. The massive realignment chasing massive money has ruined conferences and will almost certainly destroy rivalries. The PAC-12 – the Conference of Champions – is no more with several schools including Washington State and Oregon State left as orphans.

Here’s Nicholas K. Geranios on the impact on WSU.

“College sports isn’t cheap. Washington State, one of the thriftier programs amid the so-called power-conference teams, will spend more than $84 million on athletics in fiscal 2024. Other schools spend far more.”

Read the full piece:

And here’s an idea from Joe Matthews – an all California conference. It makes too much sense, so will never happen.


Shameless Self Promotion

As you likely know, I have a new book out – Mansfield and Dirksen: Bipartisan Giants of the Senate – and I’m about to go into full book tour mode with events early next in Boise and then across Montana, Mike Mansfield’s home. In October, I’ll be in Illinois for a few days to visit Ev Dirksen country.

And … some nice coverage of the book already.

A really enjoyable visit with Oregon legislator and excellent interviewer Ben Bowman on his Oregon Bridge podcast. Here’s that link.

A very generous review here from Jim Heffernan, an Oregonian who gives the book a very close read. Jim says: “I do not often order a book before publication. But the subject and the author compelled me to take the risk. I am very glad I did. Marc Johnson is a very good writer and historian, and he did not disappoint me.” Here’s that link.

Thanks Jim.

And a nice piece with reporter Tim Shelley with the Peoria, Illinois NPR station. Tim said: “The politicians of today’s U.S. Senate could stand to learn a thing or two from Everett Dirksen and Mike Mansfield.”

He’s not wrong. And here’s that link.


More soon. Thanks for reading. Hope to see you …

Abortion, GOP, Idaho

You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet …

Note: Idaho is as good an example as any in the American West of a state whose politics have been taken over by a new “political elite” – white Christian nationalists – who have found the traditionally very conservative state rather easy pickings for a power grab that is becoming steadily more radical.

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An old slam against Idaho holds that the state is constantly striving to degrade itself in order to become “the Mississippi of the West,” Mississippi often being dead last in national rankings for education spending and attainment, not to mention poverty rates and other widely accepted indicators of social and physical health.

For a while in the 1980s and 1990s – from the governorships of Cecil Andrus, a Democrat, to Dirk Kempthorne, a Republican – there seemed to be a broad consensus that a state defined by white water rivers and giant baked potatoes could, by maintaining a relentless focus on improving educational attainment, growing higher education opportunities, increasing vaccination rates and generally avoiding divisive culture wars, avoid being the “Mississippi of the West.”

Along the way something went off the rails. Way off.

The Idaho welcome mat is looking a bit tattered

When Idaho makes the national news these days it’s for unconstitutionally attempting to place travel restrictions on its residents who seek medical care. Or criminalizing medical care for transgender kids. Or when its radical attorney general grabs headlines after being sued for issuing a crackpot legal opinion – subsequently withdrawn – that held that “Idaho’s abortion ban prohibits medical providers from referring patients out-of-state for abortion services.”

The Idaho AG, like some good ol’ boy in the south in the 1950s, swore to uphold a Constitution he apparently has never read.

Idaho’s ruling elite once held court in the capital city’s corporate board rooms and sipped their cocktails at a private club nestled along the Boise River. The legislative majority took it’s marching orders from the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry (IACI), the corporate influence organization long dominated by Micron, the economic engine of southwestern Idaho, as well as home grown big businesses like the J.R. Simplot Company and Idaho Power. It was an insular, clubby, very conservative elite, something I never thought I’d lament passing away. Yet for the most part it has, replaced by a new, very different elite.

In fairness the corporate elite back in the 80s and 90s was generally committed to producing a workforce that kept the wheels of business turning. I can’t remember one time when IACI spent one second attacking local librarians, for example. Their lobbyists sought to keep corporate taxes low, and as a result they hardly celebrated the state’s chronically underpaid educators, but at the same time they didn’t seize every opportunity to bash teachers. And they didn’t, overtly at least, attempt to defund public education.

Culture war fixations on drag queens, hatred of the LGBTQ community and abortion bans – a state policy now officially responsible for driving physicians from Idaho – never appeared on the old elite’s lobby card. Such fights are, after all, generally bad for business and hamper recruiting the talent that keeps the bottom line healthy. But those days are gone. Long gone.

One could plausibly argue that Idaho’s new ruling elite now takes its orders from some shadowy white Christian nationalist “deep state” that has found Idaho – Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri and Florida, even Montana – an attractive place to practice what conservatives used to lament as “social engineering.”

Just this week the Missouri House of Representatives voted to eliminate all state funding for public libraries. The “Show Me State” will now be known as the “Books are Bad State.”

The Tennessee House of Representatives expelled two African American legislators, both young men, and declined to act against a third white woman who protested in the House chamber over the legislature’s failure to do anything about gun violence in the Volunteer State. The protest followed a mass murder at a private Christian school in Nashville.

The expulsion of the Black lawmakers – Democrats in an overwhelmingly Republican state – seemed to many unprecedented, even as the expelled members were quickly reinstated by local officials in Nashville and Memphis. The force them out action was unprecedented at least since such Jim Crow-style tactics are normally better disguised, but the retribution was also of a piece with radical rightwing efforts to broadly disenfranchise voices of dissent.

The Nashville assault rifle slaughter wasn’t even the latest mass shooting in our gun happy land. This week’s mass shooting was in Louisville, Kentucky, a place once known for bourbon and baseball bats. The doctor who treated the victims in Louisville stated the obvious: “You just can’t keep doing what we are doing because you just can’t keep seeing these lives lost, you can’t keep seeing all these people with these horrific injuries.”

But we will, of course, keep doing exactly nothing, except marginalize the dissenters.

Idaho’s ruling elite hasn’t expelled dissident legislators – not yet anyway. Stay tuned. The state’s Christian nationalists have determined that younger voters represent a real threat to the political power of Idaho’s new elite, and they made certain to pass legislation this year banning the use of student ID cards as a form of voter identification. It’s merely the beginning.

Twin Falls, Idaho teenagers supporting Black Lives Matter

As the nonpartisan Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University reported recently, registration among 18- and 19-year-old voters in Idaho increased by 66% from 2018 to 2022, the largest jump in the country. Want to bet they are signing up to vote in order to support bans on medical care for transgender kids or outlaw library books?

Picking voters, as Idaho Republicans increasingly do by restricting who can vote in a GOP primary, is a tactic to reinforce the Christian nationalist grip on the state. In this respect, Idaho is the new Mississippi, or the old Mississippi, more Jim Crow than Jim McClure or Phil Batt. Gone is a generation of conservative politicians who believed politics was a game of addition where growing followers was better than marginalizing opponents.

If you want to really see where the white Christian nationalist elite is headed look South. As University of North Carolina historian Tressie McMillan Cottom wrote recently in the New York Times, the region that birthed our original sin continues to define the far right trajectory of places as far off as Idaho or Montana.

“Nothing about the future of this country can be resolved unless it is first resolved here,” Cottom wrote, “not the climate crisis or the border or life expectancy or anything else of national importance, unless you solve it in the South and with the people of the South.”

The trajectory on the far right of American politics is set, as certain, and as southern, as sweet tea and humidity. Florida man might hang on for one more go around, but as Cottom suggests, “The kind of brutality you need to really summon the South’s ghosts needs more than a televangelist like Trump. It needs a true believer. That’s a Southern specialty.”

Deeply conservative Idaho once tried to resist becoming another Mississippi. Now its ruling elite gladly embraces the full deal. And believe me you ain’t seen nothing yet.

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

The Dangerous Journey of John Eastman

A really fascinating piece about the conservative lawyer who largely concocted the stolen election dubious legal argument that ended up helping spark an insurrection.

“Today, the strange career of John Eastman raises questions about whether any of those values—civil discourse, careful analysis, mutual respect, the entire small-l liberal intellectual project—have any substance at all, or are just fairy tales that disguise the grim reality that law, and everything else in American politics, is nothing more noble than a knife fight in the dark.”

From The Washington Monthly.


Debunking a Longstanding Myth About William F. Buckley

Matthew Dallek is out with a new book on the Birch Society and its enduring influence on the far, far right of the conservative movement. In this piece, Matt does some debunking of the old story that William F. Buckley and The National Review “purged” the Birchers in the 1960s.

“Over the past decade … the legend has come under scrutiny. Historians now argue that Buckley’s vaunted excommunication of the fringe is a myth. They are not impressed by his supposedly Solomonic decision to repudiate the low-hanging fruit of Welch and his conspiracy theories while sparing the society’s rank and file. By welcoming them into the fold both before and after National Review’s supposed break with the society, Buckley and his magazine continued to benefit from Birchers’ political activism, funding, and engagement.”

From Politico:


See you again soon. Thanks for following along … all the best.

GOP, Idaho Politics

R.I.P – Batt Man

My many years in Idaho as a journalist, political staffer and consultant on public policy gave me a front row seat to observe and know a lot of politicians. This guy was one of a kind …

—–

The earliest memory I have of Phil Batt, the former Idaho Republican governor who died recently on his 96th birthday, dates to his time as president pro tem of the state senate.

For some reason lost to memory, Batt invited me one afternoon during the legislative session into his inner sanctum behind the Senate chamber to meet his myna bird. It’s not every day a politician introduces a reporter to a bird that can talk. Pretty cool, particularly when you realize the bird had been taught by Batt to say funny and slightly disparaging things about the Democratic governor at time, Cecil Andrus. The bird, of course, was named Bird.

Phil Batt was one of the most accessible, least pretentious, most genuine public officials I have ever been around at close range. He was quick with a quip. Candid to a fault. Honest as the day is long. There was simply no Phil Batt scandal, or even a hint of one.

Former Idaho Governor Phil Batt speaks to the state legislature

In those long-ago days, Republicans controlled the Idaho legislature, as they have nearly always in the state’s history, but the partisan margin wasn’t huge. There were conservatives in both parties. And moderates, too. Batt had a skilled politician’s ability to bridge the divides. He wasn’t a divider or a hater or a show horse. Batt was a legislator.

Years after meeting Phil’s Bird, and after both governors wore the “former” title, I had the distinct pleasure of several times playing golf with Batt and his long-time friend and occasional political adversary Andrus. The two men had a genuine friendship never better on display than when one was trying to take a few bucks off the other in a golf game.

On one particularly memorable occasion the golf match was at Boise’s Hillcrest Country Club with Andrus the host. Following the requisite negotiation over strokes, the match proceeded amid much joking and verbal towel snapping. Andrus was waiting for his moment. It came early on the back nine.

Batt had been playing well. He hit a golf ball straight if not long and like his politics his game was consistent. He was clearly headed toward taking a few bucks off the Democrat. As Batt prepared to hit a tee shot, Andrus waited until just before Phil began his back swing to ask the former governor what he knew about love life rumors involving another prominent Republican politician. Batt stepped back from his ball and glared at Andrus – the famous Batt temper – and then smiled. He didn’t say a word. Didn’t need to say a word. The smile was confirmation.

I think Andrus was intent on breaking Batt’s concentration, but Phil was too focused for that. He kept his eye on the ball. He won the match.

Phil Batt and Cecil Andrus – two partisans who worked together

The two formers, as history will record, made a powerful team when they combined to protect the state’s position on nuclear waste cleanup, a position made difficult for Batt because many in his own party opposed taking the necessary hard line with the federal Department of Energy. Still, he persisted.

As the tributes to Batt accumulated this week nearly all noted that the Canyon County onion farmer had left an enduring mark with his principled advocacy for human rights, including helping create the state Human Rights Commission and, as governor, demanding workplace protection for farm workers, many of whom are, of course, migrants.

In that courageous and righteous stand Batt bucked a natural constituency – the state’s agricultural interests. It was a fight, and one worth having, and Phil won. So did the farm workers.

But here is the glaring irony in the many deserved tributes to Phil Batt. The party he once led and literally brought back to life after Republicans suffered a political shellacking in 1990 has fundamentally rejected the moral and ethical leadership around human and individual rights that Batt championed for his state.

The Idaho Republican Party is now dominated by the very forces of intolerance and bigotry that Phil Batt spent his career rejecting. The party’s focus on angry White nationalism is about demonizing and marginalizing the LGBTQ community, youngsters and families dealing with gender identity struggles and librarians and teachers who believe that community libraries and a fair exploration of American history are the essence of good citizenship.

The modern Idaho party, by contrast, believes it’s a conservative value to proscribe precisely how their neighbors will live, what they will read and how they will access health care. And if you’re not like them there is simply no place for you.

The current Idaho governor, Brad Little, who clearly counts Batt among his mentors, praised his predecessor as the epitome of public service and integrity. Batt’s “legacy is distinguished by his unrelenting human rights leadership,” Little said, even as the governor hung out at the repugnant CPAC conference in Washington, a pep rally for the alt right White nationalism of hate and division that Idaho’s governor has done next to nothing to challenge.

Indeed, Brad Little’s acceptance of an invitation to address the CPAC grievance fest might well mark the final capitulation by one-time Phil Batt conservatives to the dominant narrative of the modern Republican Party. To praise Batt and his record and also share a platform with Marjorie Taylor Green and Steve Bannon requires a degree of moral compartmentalization that would never have occurred to Batt. Yet, this is the arc of the modern GOP, a party that long ago left Batt and now thoroughly repudiates his legacy.

In fact, the official statement from the Idaho Republican Party on Batt’s passing was a terse three sentences that read like a news bulletin – “Former Idaho Governor Phil Batt has died today at the age of 96. Our condolences to his family. May he rest in peace.” Nothing about the man, his legacy or his contributions to Idaho.

By contrast the Idaho party featured on its Facebook page a shout out to the alt right provocateur Alex Stein, a loud voice for White nationalism who recently appeared at Canyon County’s Lincoln Day dinner. This is the same Alex Stein who recently featured on his television show the founder of the Proud Boys, the neo-fascist hate group that helped mount the January 6 insurrection.

This is in no way the party Phil Batt once built and led. That Batt stood for the opposite of what passes for conservatism today is just another reminder, a very sad reminder, of how the “establishment” leadership of the modern GOP first let this happen, and then after refusing to fight for the decency that a Phil Batt displayed finds itself bottom feeding in a party of sleaze, conspiracy, grievance and malice.

For sure celebrate the Batt Man. The little giant deserves it. Rejoice in his legacy. Mourn him but mourn also the utterly disgusting decline of a political party that has abandoned his kind and what he stood for.

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

January 6 rioters trashed a GOP senator’s office, and he hasn’t acknowledged it

As suggested above, the Idaho GOP is a shadow – or less – of the party the late Phil Batt represented.

Case in point: the state’s junior senator, Jim Risch.

“A review of Risch’s public statements on the Jan. 6, 2021, riot show no indication that he has ever mentioned what happened to his office that day. Asked this week about his office’s being trashed and told about the new video of rioters in his hideaway, Risch demurred.

“I don’t do interviews on Jan. 6, but thanks,” Risch said.

Asked again whether he had a response to the newly released video, the senator said only: “Thanks for asking.”

NBC has the story of a man so afraid of his own voters he won’t discuss the fact that his own life and property were under assault on January 6.


The drag show bans sweeping the US are a chilling attack on free speech

The proponents of the sweeping bans must never have seen Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot

It would be silly if it weren’t so serious …

“While the details of the legislation may change from state to state, most of these bills represent a broad and dangerous chilling of Americans’ right to free speech. The US supreme court has repeatedly found that clothing choices are a constitutionally protected form of expression under the first amendment.”

Read the full story:


Thanks for following along. Be well.

GOP, Medicare, Social Security

They’ve Always Been After Social Security …

It’s not often you see the ruling class of an entire political movement publicly recant a fundamental tenant of its faith.

Yet, that is precisely what happened in the middle of the recent State of Union speech when the president of the United States openly called out Republican members of Congress for their generation’s long obsession with rolling back (or eliminating) Social Security, a program established in 1935 during Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency, and doing the same to Medicare, a critical part of the modern American social safety net established in 1965 during Lyndon Johnson’s presidency.

Joe Biden actually got House and Senate Republican to stand and applaud the idea that Social Security and Medicare are off the political chopping block, a reality that some members of the GOP have embraced as they plot to destroy the country’s credit rating by walking up to and perhaps beyond an extension of the debt ceiling.

It was a remarkable moment for Biden, but also for us old codgers who after a lifetime of contributions to both Social Security and Medicare are enjoying the benefits of both programs.

Of course, Republicans immediately howled about Biden’s “lies” about the desire of some Republicans to gut the programs. The resulting uproar was a feast day for the fact checkers. Turns out Biden was correct about Republican desires, as anyone who has paid attention to American politics for the last, oh, 60 years or so knows.

Attacking Social Security isn’t new …

A couple of data points:

  • On February 28, 1964, the old Spokane Chronicle newspaper carried a story with a Keene, New Hampshire dateline. Under the headline “Rockefeller attacks rival’s view” the Associated Press reported that Nelson Rockefeller, the governor of New York, was criticizing Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater’s plan to make Social Security voluntary. The two men were Republicans were rivals for that year’s GOP presidential nomination. Such a plan, Rockefeller insisted, would bankrupt the program and threaten the economic security of millions of American seniors. Goldwater eventually won the nomination and spent much of his campaign trying to walk back his position on Social Security. Goldwater lost the presidential election in a landslide, in part because Lyndon Johnson ran a blistering TV spot that featured a pair of hands ripping up a Social Security card.
    • After George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004 he went all in on privatizing Social Security. “I earned capital in this campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it,” Bush said as he began a campaign to “reform” the program. “As we fix Social Security,” Bush said, “we also have the responsibility to make the system a better deal for younger workers. And the best way to reach that goal is through voluntary personal retirement accounts.” The Bush push deflated like a Chinese spy balloon.
    • It’s ancient history now, but you may remember one-time Texas governor Rick Perry, the guy who couldn’t recall the federal Cabinet-level agencies he wanted to eliminate as he ran for president in 2012. Perry, never the sharpest pencil in the box, labeled Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” during his campaign. After many Americans Googled “Ponzi scheme,” Perry started his own great walk back. He never recovered as a candidate.

    The list of other Republican Social Security reformers is long, very long. Florida Senator Rick Scott currently has a plan, clearly part of what Biden was riffing off. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, the would be next president, advocated privatizing Social Security and changing Medicare when he was in Congress. Former House Speaker Paul Ryan made “reform” of the fundamental American safety net the centerpiece of his entire approach to the federal budget.

    Utah Senator Mike Lee got colorful with his aims regarding the programs when running in 2010. “It will be my objective to phase out Social Security, to pull it out by the roots,” Lee said. That gardening work was his reason for running, Lee said, adding, “Medicare and Medicaid are of the same sort. They need to be pulled up.”

    Lee was captured on camera during the State of Union vigorously denying any concerted GOP plan to do just what he once advocated. He looked like a kid with a mouth full of chocolate denying to his mom that he had raided the chocolate stash. Mikey knew nothing, nothing.

    Liberals have long been accused of being paranoid about conservative guns trained on the benefits Americans are entitled to collect, but the truth is you’re not paranoid when they really are out to get you.

    FDR signs Social Security legislation in 1935

    Before we completely outlaw the teaching of actual American history, it’s worth remembering that Social Security was created during some of the worst days of the Great Depression precisely because older Americans were some of the hardest hit by the economic calamity that struck the country. The original Social Security law also established the broad outlines of the unemployment insurance program still in effect. Despite growls that the program was a stalking horse for rank socialism, the program passed Congress with broad bipartisan support. That hasn’t kept Republicans from trying to dismantle it ever since.

    Of course, the programs need both vigorous defense and occasional amendment. The only responsible way to shore up both is to raise taxes, as has been done before. The last significant bipartisan effort occurred in 1983. The changes were supported by Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill.

    It is possible to make the programs work better, but that won’t happen when significant numbers of one party always begin with speeches about reducing benefits, extending eligibility dates and fundamentally altering an enduring and extremely important program designed to provide a foundation of economic security for millions of people.

    The real genius of Social Security, and later Medicare, was certainly in the economic and medical benefits the programs provide, but there is more to it. In a country as large, diverse and contentious as ours, a program with near universal participation and with benefits easily understood is a very good thing. We’re all in it together. We have a shared interest in making it work. We are better off as a country when our neighbors have a basic level of economic and health security in their later years.

    Franklin Roosevelt knew what he was doing. When he signed the law on August 14, 1935, Roosevelt said: “We can never insure one hundred percent of the population against one hundred percent of the hazards and vicissitudes of life, but we have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job and against poverty-ridden old age.”

    It still works, and Republicans are finding out once again that it’s dangerous to mess with success.

    —-0—-

    Additional Reading:

    A few other items you may find of interest …

    More Than A Meal: How White House Dinners Shape Presidential Policy

    “Like any other house, the White House runs on food. But no other building represents the presidency, or is subject to as much scrutiny, as 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It is at once a home, a busy office, a social hub, a decorative arts museum, the only residence of a national leader that invites the public inside, a “fortress disguised as a home” Michelle Obama said, and, as Jackie Kennedy put it, “an emblem of the American Republic.” In short, the Executive Mansion is the most powerful house in the world. And so it follows that the meals and food policies created there are among the most influential in history.”

    Great piece on the White House dinner and why it matters.

    The White House dinner piece sent me in search of a documentary the great Julia Child hosted in 1968. It is surely worth your time.

    White House Red Carpet with Julia Child.


    How One Week in Chicago Changed Abraham Lincoln’s Life—and the Fate of the United States

    It is easy to think of the 16th president as the nation’s indispensable man, his presidency some how foreordained. But nothing about Lincoln’s rise to the presidency was easy or inevitable.

    “Lincoln himself had told people he did not think himself fit for the presidency, and two years earlier he declared, with roaring laughter, ‘Just think of such a sucker as me as President!’ Even while lining up support, Lincoln did not formally declare his presidency. He told a close ally: ‘The taste is in my mouth a little.'”

    Excerpt from an interesting looking new book.


    On Parents, Connections with Strangers, and Embracing What You Have

    And finally David Sedaris.

    “Career-wise, I don’t have regrets. I’ve been offered the opportunity to write TV shows and movies, but I’ve never cared about that, so I wouldn’t regret not doing it. I often tell myself that if my career were taken away, I really enjoyed it while I had it.”

    A good read.


    Thanks. That’s it for today. See you again soon.

    GOP, Politics

    The Politics of Lying …

    Should you wonder what happens to a political movement that bases its entire existence on dissembling and disinformation you could consider the modern Republican Party.

    The leader of the party is a serial liar, a pattern of behavior so well documented that to discount the reality is, for his followers at least, simply a lie they tell themselves

    The lies are ubiquitous, defined as “everywhere” and “all over.” One of the greatest and most persistent is that the party cares about fiscal responsibility. The nation’s troubling level of debt is primarily a function of three things: tax cuts advocated by Republican presidents dating back to Ronald Reagan, continuing with George W. Bush and climaxing with Donald Trump, unpaid for wars and a Pentagon budget that neither party is willing to even talk about scaling back to a level of sustainable reality.

    Bush the Younger’s Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill reportedly tried to warn then-Vice President Dick Cheney in 2004 that growing budget deficits posed a threat to the economy, and that Bush’s tax cuts wouldn’t pay for themselves. Cheney cut him off, saying, “You know, Paul, Reagan proved deficits don’t matter.”

    Yet, the GOP now, with the White House in Democratic hands, has – again – discovered that it must slash spending to control the deficit. They are threatening to allow the country to default on its debt – this is money that has already been approved by Congress to be spent – but cannot come up with a plan to do so. Congressional Republicans reportedly won’t touch the Pentagon budget, are afraid to rile up the country with cuts to Social Security and Medicare and they can’t possibly reverse course and tax the wealthiest Americans.

    So, they are left with a lie – that they care about the deficit but have no realistic plan to deal with it.

    Just one example of the lies and deflection that define the Grand Old Party comes from an Idaho Republican, Mike Simpson, a senior member of the House who has spent his career in Washington appropriating our tax money. On the one hand it’s entirely understandable that Simpson has been crowing about the millions he’s secured for projects in his eastern Idaho district – $5.8 million to widen a street in Ammon; $600,000 for a courthouse annex in Custer County; $5.7 million for an underpass in Pocatello; $2 million for a waste water project in Roberts; and $2.5 million for a water system upgrade in Grace.

    The conservative congressman dribbled out the announcements of his fiscal largesse over several days thereby getting a maximum play for the millions that he assures us don’t contribute to the deficit. And a bridge is for sale in Brooklyn, I hear.

    In announcing the water system upgrade, no doubt a needed project, Simpson performed some Dick Cheney worthy political jujitsu. “Congress undoubtedly has a spending problem,” Simpson said, “and as chairman of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, I will continue to fight against excessive government spending.”

    But look what I got for you!

    Simpson goes on to explain that the money he secured is not really very much, and besides if he hadn’t secured the cash for his voters bad ol’ Joe Biden and DC bureaucrats would have spent it somewhere else. This is, of course, contrary to everything you should have learned in high school government class. Congress – Simpson’s branch – appropriates the money and decides how to spend it.

    But here’s the very best part: Simpson voted against the legislation that contained all these worthy Idaho projects. Read that sentence again.

    Just like all but nine of his Republican colleagues, Simpson voted NO and took the dough, preserving, at least in his own mind, the fiction that he really cares about runaway government spending. Next to hypocrisy in the dictionary you’ll find a photo of a House Republican.

    Or you’ll find the photo of the acknowledged leader of the party, the same guy who invoked the Fifth Amendment 400 times during a deposition seeking information about his clearly fraudulent business dealings.

    We’ll always have the lies

    We’ll always have the lies, including the “Russia hoax,” the “lie,” counter to vast evidence and more all the time, that Russia used its influence over Donald Trump to help him reach the White House in 2016. The latest shoe to drop, the indictment in New York of FBI agent Charles McGonigal, “the former head of counterintelligence for the FBI in New York, who ended up working for billionaire oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a major target in the Trump Russia investigation.”

    The indicted agent has been charged with money laundering and violating the sanctions imposed on Russia, as well as other allegations involving the Russian oligarch. This same Russian also employed Paul Manafort, the guy who once managed Trump’s campaign, shared sensitive campaign intelligence with Russian agents and was pardoned for his crimes.

    As the historian Timothy Snyder, an expert in Putin style disinformation and control, put it recently, “Russian soft control of Trump did not require endless personal meetings between the two principals. It just required mutual understanding, which was abundantly on display during the Trump presidency: think of the meeting between Putin and Trump in Helsinki in 2018, when the American president said that he trusted the Russian one and the Russian president said that he had supported the American one as a candidate. The acknowledgement of mutual debts was obvious already in 2016: Russian media talked up Trump, and Trump talked up Putin.” 

    Snyder calls the indictment of the FBI’s New York counter terrorism head, a “spy scandal with major implications for how we understand the Trump administration, our national security, and ourselves.”

    If you believe the entire Trump-Russia matter is a hoax it’s because Republicans have lied to you – think former attorney general William Barr – about what happened and why it is so troubling.

    We’ll always have the lies – about stolen elections, a phony border wall, a congressman’s made up life, lies about teaching history, that vaccines are bad.

    Lies about Trump’s role on January 6 and lies that the attack on the Capitol was a false flag operation. The lies are so blatant, the dishonesty so deep that the lying continues even as a federal judge this week sentenced 51-year old Daniel Caldwell to 68 months in prison for spraying a chemical irritant on 15 police officers during that horrible day. The sentencing judge stated simply: “You were an insurrectionist.”

    So many lies repeated so often that lying has become the party’s brand.

    The party’s rehabilitation can begin – and lord knows we need an honest conservative party – with the words Barry Goldwater uttered at the end of the lie fest that was Watergate more than 50 years ago. “He’s has lied to me for the last time,” Goldwater said of Richard Nixon, another serial Republican prevaricator, just as Nixon’s own party ushered him out of American politics.

    Unfortunately, this Republican Party is different. The party’s leaders have been lying to their followers so often and for so long that the truth can’t suddenly or easily become a cleansing revelation. Honesty now amounts to an existential threat to the GOP, and democracy is the collateral damage. 

    —–0—–

    Additional Reading:

    Watergate: A New History

    I absolutely could not put down Garrett M. Graff’s book, a new history of the Watergate (and related) capers. Even knowing how the story ends did not spoil a perfectly balanced, carefully documented history of the great Richard Nixon scandal.

    I guarantee you’ll learn something new

    As Douglas Brinkley wrote in his review in the New York Times: “A lively writer, Graff explores the dramatic scope of the Watergate saga through its participants — politicians, investigators, journalists, whistle-blowers and, at center stage, Nixon himself: power broker extraordinaire, five-time fixture on Republican presidential tickets between 1952 and 1972, and holder of the record for most appearances on the cover of Time magazine, at 55 issues. For all his accomplishments, the 37th president was a man of deep contradictions: a law-and-order candidate who flouted the law, an insecure man with a deep reservoir of hubris, a traditional-values president who drank to excess and cursed like a sailor.”

    If you enjoy history, particularly political history and some of the backstory about the mess that is American conservatism, you need to read this book.


    Off His Royal Tits

    Read Andrew O’Hagan’s review of Prince Harry’s book and you won’t need to read the bloody thing.

    “There has never been a book like this, with its parcelling out of epic, one-sided truths. Most royal biographies, even the lively ones – his mother’s, his father’s, poor old Crawfie’s – were made airless by vapid writing, spurious genuflections before royal protocol, cringing vanity masquerading as public service. Harry does much less of that. He goes in for a Las Vegas-style treatment of the royal problem, with multiple sets, many costumes and guest appearances by everybody from Carl Jung to Elton John.”

    Come for the writing, stay for the put downs. Brutal.


    ‘A tale of decay’: the Houses of Parliament are falling down

    And you think our government is a mess. Study the UK with its third vapid PM in just months, a cratering economy and still life for Boris. On top of that Parliament is a mess – literally.

    You won’t know it, but the place is falling down

    “Away from the grand chambers of the House of Commons and House of Lords, away from the lofty corridors, away from the imposing committee rooms with their carved doors, the palace is tatty, dirty and infested with vermin. Its lavatories stink, its drains leak. Some of the external stonework has not been cleaned since it was built in the 1840s, and is encrusted with a thick coat of tarry black that is eating away at the masonry. Inside the building, intricate fan vaulting is flaking off, damaged by seeping rainwater and leaking pipes. Its Gothic-revival artworks are decaying: in the Lords chamber, the once-golden sculptures of the barons who signed the Magna Carta are now dull grey, pitted and corroded.”

    What the bloody hell?


    Dorothy Parker gets fired from Vanity Fair

    “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second-greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first-greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

    I’ll leave on a high note, sort of.


    Stay well. Read books. Study history. Leave good tips. Thanks.



    Education, GOP

    No Coincidence …

    For two generations the unshakable base of the Republican Party has been white voters without a college degree.

    In 2019, the Gallup Poll found that “54% of whites without college degrees identified as Republicans or were Republican-leaning independents, compared with 34% who were Democrats or Democratic leaners.”

    Turns out that Donald Trump and those politicians who follow him didn’t need to attract these voters as much as mobilize them. Little wonder Trump actually said in 2016 that he “loved the poorly educated,” who he called smart and loyal.

    A recent Brookings analysis of the 2022 midterm election noted that “In addition to the outsized Democratic support among young people, white women with a college degree increased their Democratic support in 2022 compared to the 2020 presidential election. At the same time, white men without college degrees showed increased Republican support, even more so than in the 2020 election.” This block of GOP voters, Brookings says, “anchored Republican support in several Senate and gubernatorial elections.”

    For a long time, I wondered why a political party would base a great deal of strategy on an appeal to people who either hadn’t been interested or able to access more education. Was the approach crassly cynical, strategically calculating or just stupid, or some combination of all three?

    Protests against critical race theory at a Texas school board meeting. (Juan Figueroa/The Dallas Morning News)

    Then I remember the rule of no coincidence.

    If you observe politics closely for long enough you realize there really are no coincidences. This old rule explains much of why Republicans from Ron DeSantis in Florida to the Kootenai County central committee in northern Idaho are engaged in a war on education. Republicans, at least many of them, are feeding the rightwing base. It’s a cynical, calculating and one hopes ultimately stupid strategy, but in many places attacking teachers, undermining schools and diminishing education in a variety of ways is a core belief system of the GOP.

    Public school advocates in Idaho are bracing for another huge legislative assault on public education. A very conservative legislature seems sure during the coming legislative session to try and take money from already underfunded public schools and re-direct those resources to private and religious schools. Their talking point is that stripping resources from your neighborhood school improves student performance. It doesn’t.

    There is vast evidence from many states, including Wisconsin, Indiana and Louisiana who have headed down this “school choice” path that student outcomes not only don’t improve when vouchers and similar schemes are introduced, but actually decline.

    The school wars involve nonsense about how American history is taught and which books ought to be allowed in school libraries. The battlefield commanders in these wars decry student “indoctrination,” but welcome using public money to allow a religiously affiliated school to practice the very “indoctrination” they say they oppose.

    The right’s unrelenting assault on education also targets the teaching profession. Poor pay for teachers and crushing workloads resulting from a widespread teacher shortages are driving educators from the classroom even as conservative politicians bemoan poor student outcomes.

    A concerted national strategy to ideologically transform local school boards is moving ahead full steam, and is nowhere better illustrated than in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho where a radical right majority on the local community college board, with the support of radical local party leaders, have brought the school to the brink of losing its accreditation.

    The lovely campus on North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

    For decades North Idaho College was considered an educational gem in a community that lived for every positive development as their local community college grew and prospered. Republican and Democratic legislators from northern Idaho jockeyed to see who could do the most for NIC and its now 6,500 students. Local property taxpayers have long supported the school, displaying both community pride in the college and its obvious importance to the local economy. A 2020 analysis by the University of Idaho, to cite just one data point, calculated a $4.5 billion annual economic impact from higher education in Idaho and support for nearly 75,000 jobs.

    A school like North Idaho College is simply the goose that keeps laying golden eggs, yet the radicals now running the school have suspended the well-regarded president who is suing in response. The board engaged in widespread violations of public meeting law and hired an unqualified right wing real estate lawyer and failed attorney general candidate as the board legal counsel (the prior counsel resigned amid the chaos after 23 years on the job). The radicals have meddled profusely in academic affairs, engendered a no confidence vote from the faculty and students and the board now faces a potentially extreme sanction from the regional higher education accreditation body. All this has happened since the radicals fired the previous president who left with a $250,000 settlement.

    If the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities now yanks the school’s accreditation the fallout will be stunning – student credits won’t count, transfers will be impossible, the economic fallout will be massive, including private contributions disappearing. The school’s former legal counsel warns of “cataclysmic damage to the institution.”

    You have to wonder: what’s the end game for these anti-education radicals? Do they hope to create such chaos that they can force privatization of the public college? Is the aim to stock the faculty and administration with fellow right wing zealots? Or is chaos empowered by incompetence the only real goal?

    Here’s a possible clue. The local Republican establishment, arguably as extreme a local party as you’ll find anywhere in the Pacific Northwest, is noticeably mum, evidencing no interest in redirecting this runaway train of cataclysmic damage. Republican governor Brad Little has called the situation “unfortunate,” but he’s busying himself with the coming legislative session, undoubtedly plotting a way to not get splattered by the crap that will hit the political fan when his party tries to defund public schools by instituting vouchers. Imagine being a student or the parent of a student in the middle of this senseless storm of right wing chaos.

    If Governor Little were treating northern Idaho’s four alarm educational fire with seriousness, he’d be pushing his own state board of education to intervene. The board could invoke the state law that spells out its duties, which reads in part that the state board shall “have general supervision, through its executive departments and offices, of all entities of public education supported in whole or in part by state funds …”

    They should declare an emergency, which this is and take over management of the college. Let the kooks sue, while sanity saves the college.

    But real intervention to prevent a catastrophic of loss of certification would require genuine leadership. And since there is no such thing as a coincidence, that would require a very public commitment to public education, and that is not in keeping with the Republican appeal to the poorly educated.

    Standing by while chaos occurs is the most unconservative thing imaginable.

    —–0—–

    Additional Reading:

    A few other items worth your time …

    Farewell Address Of Senator Patrick Leahy

    Even though the institution of the United States Senate has been a major focus on my research and writing for the past ten years, I wouldn’t normal pay much attention to the often set piece farewell speech of a long term senator.

    But Pat Leahy’s recent speech strikes me as important and unusual.

    The very senior senator from Vermont – in the Senate since 1975 – invokes the great Montana majority leader Mike Mansfield in talking about what the Senate once was and isn’t any more.

    Vermont senator Pat Leahy delivers his final Senate speech

    Here’s a portion of the speech. The whole thing is worth your time.

    “It feels like yesterday that I walked into my first meeting with the person who would become my first Majority Leader – ‘Iron Mike’ Mansfield. The Majority Leader put a fundamental question to every new Senator:  Why do you want to be here?  For the title?  Or to make a difference to make lives better? 

    “And though he was a soft-spoken man who listened more than he spoke, and rarely gave speeches on the Senate Floor, Leader Mansfield dispensed one piece of advice that made as enduring an impression as the question he left to each Senator to answer for themselves.

    Senators should always keep their word.”

    “It struck me that across all those weighty debates, navigating the complicated and contradictory politics of a Senate and a caucus that included everything from social conservatives and segregationists to civil rights icons and prairie populists, Mansfield succeeded because he understood the currency of the institution was actually trust, not ideology.

    Senators should always keep their word.”

    Link to the full Leahy speech. And, yes, my next book (coming in September 2023) is about the Senate of Mansfield and Everett Dirksen in the 1960s.


    The Varieties of Historical Genres

    A fellow author at the University of Oklahoma Press, environmental historian Adam Sowards, has a good newsletter that I commend to your attention.

    Adam writes recently, “I’ve been thinking about the different ways history is written (and read) and wanted to explore that. Then, I saw a few newsletters and dozens of magazines and websites offering end-of-year book recommendations, and I thought I might be able to pull off a hybrid newsletter. Let’s see how it goes. Read on!”

    Read on here.


    The Brilliant Hackwork of P.G. Wodehouse

    As a fan of Jeeves and Wooster, I really enjoyed this piece by writer Dan Brooks.

    P.G. Wodehouse

    “The image of Wodehouse as some sort of manic literary beaver is one of the singular pleasures of reading his work. His professional career began in 1902 with the publication of his first novel and ended with the release of his 70th in 1974, less than a year before he died. The man fit in 25 years of full-time work before the first talkie hit theaters, back when the dominant media for comedy were stage shows and print.”

    This may make you want to pick up one of the Wodehouse classics. Link here.


    The Silver Palate Cookbook Changed Home Cooking (and Pesto Consumption) As We Know It

    We have a very well thumbed copy of the Silver Palate. I’ve used the book many times, but never knew the backstory.

    “The cookbook was a product of its time and place: New York’s Upper West Side in the late 1970s and early ’80s. A world synonymous (at least in the mind of the average moviegoer) with Woody Allen and then Nora Ephron. You can bet that before they were forced to play Pictionary at that dinner party, Harry and Sally were fed salmon mousse and chicken Marbella or maybe osso bucco.”

    Happy holiday eating.


    Here’s to a joyful and happy Christmas and bright 2023. Thanks a million for reading.

    2022 Election, GOP

    Nutjobbery Reaches Its Expiry Date …

    Six weeks ago, Jim Risch, Idaho’s longest-lived political survivor was going back to the chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

    The state’s other senator, Mike Crapo, one of the most senior members of the Senate whose lifetime in political office is entirely defined by his devotion to massive tax cuts that benefit his donors in the insurance and financial services industries, was a lead pipe cinch to become chairman of the Finance Committee. From that august perch Crapo could fulfill his re-election pledge to bash the IRS, which, of course, is coming for his constituent’s guns, er, tax returns.

    Six weeks ago, Washington senator Patty Murray was headed for retirement, ushered out of office atop a “red tsunami” that would also swamp Democrats in Nevada, Pennsylvania, Arizona, New Hampshire and Georgia.

    Amazon is still selling these for $21.99

    No less a beltway gasbag than former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told Fox News’ Sean Hannity on November 4 that Republicans would pick up at least three and likely five Senate seats, that Murray’s opponent was closing fast and could win, that the GOP candidate “will almost certainly carry New Hampshire” and football star Herschel Walker would win the Georgia Senate seat “without a runoff.”

    Gingrich, whose opinion you might want to avoid the next time you head to the parimutuel window, told Hannity that polls were undercounting Republican voters heading into the midterm election. Newt said the GOP could easily pick up 50 House seats, but Gingrich, the man who contributed as much as any living pol to the toxicity of our politics, said he was more certain of a pick-up of precisely 44 seats.

    Turns out Gingrich is as good at predicting election outcomes as he is at dumping ex-wives, once talking over divorce while one spouse was hospitalized with cancer. But that is a digression, because this column is about the GOP clown factor. And Gingrich is no, well, wait.

    But back to the “red tsunami.” It turned into a one seat pickup in the Senate for Democrats, and while Republicans narrowly reclaimed control of the House of Representatives the GOP majority is so tenuous and the party so fractured that would-be House Speaker Kevin McCarthy should be employing a food taster.

    Even if “my Kevin,” as the would-be Mar a Lago felon calls him, avoids the long knives his fellow Republicans have drawn for him and ends up with the gavel he will still wake every morning wondering which one of several nutjobs in his conference will trip him up before lunch.

    Any way you slice it, Democrats defied nearly every prediction, including Newt’s, and now have an actual majority in the Senate and a ringside seat to cheer on the House Follies. House Democrats, with an attractive new leader and no responsibility, can hardly lose, while the nation focuses on the antics of the most radical group of House Republicans since, well maybe ever.

    Even Gingrich back in 1994 had a plan to try and govern. And by contrast, when Republicans won the House in 1946, ending 14 years of Democratic rule, they actually had a legislative agenda, including a Constitutional amendment to limit any future president to two terms and limitations on the power of trade unions. Those Republicans also approved of the Marshall Plan and reorganized the US military, all stuff that clearly pales in comparison to Hunter Biden’s laptop.

    By all rights, Republicans should have owned the Congress after the November election. That they didn’t isn’t really a complex story as the Georgia Senate race illustrates as well as any recent contest.

    The Georgia election, decided earlier this week in favor of an eloquent Baptist preacher, Raphael Warnock, who immediately became a national figure by preaching bipartisanship, strangely combined poisonous partisanship, the violence of NFL football and the malicious influence of vast money in our politics. Think of that, if you can, as American exceptionalism.

    Who in their right mind could think that Hershel Walker was in anyway qualified, let alone competent to represent Georgia in the United State Senate? Anyone with the experience of a 7th grade student council election would have said Walker was barely qualified to participate in a Capitol tour let alone sit in the world’s greatest deliberative body.

    Walker was, after all, credibly charged with sexual abuse, threatening women with firearms or knives, abandoning his children, at least those he knew about, and fabulizing much of his background. Walker’s closing argument to Georgia voters involved a crazy story about werewolves defeating zombies. Look it up. 

    As David Von Drehle put it in the Washington Post: “It’s one thing for a deeply flawed person to accept admiration for his former athletic magnificence, but it’s quite another for him to seek a role in leading the country. The dirty laundry that Walker kept stuffed into the vault behind his trophy case was hauled into the glare of television lights and packaged into millions of dollars of negative advertising. One of Walker’s sons summed up his famous father this way: He ‘left us to bang a bunch of women, threatened to kill us, and had us move over 6 times in 6 months’ to escape the mayhem of his own making.”

    Doesn’t that sound like Robert Taft or Howard Baker?

    Walker, with all his athletic talent, didn’t graduate from college, then denied that he had repeatedly said he had, even while having claimed he graduated in the top one percent of his class. He was a modestly successful professional player and seems a case study for why the NFL concussion scandal remains a scandal.

    That the Republican Party, an unserious collection of loons, conspiracy theorists, shameless opportunists and personality cultists (but I repeat myself) would advance this deeply troubled man as a serious political candidate – not to mention similar cranks in several other states – says pretty much all you need to know about the party that once celebrated Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt and General Eisenhower.

    And consider the money. One Atlanta TV station, WBS, pulled in at least $86 million from political ads during 2022. Republicans poured millions upon millions into Georgia to prop up a guy who campaigned on a werewolf versus vampire platform, and it damn near worked. Still, it turns out that all the money in the world can’t overcome too many football hits to the noggin.

    An actual US Senate campaign …

    Donald Trump promoted Walker, Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham debased themselves acting like Herschel was a serious person, Republicans counted on him to secure a chairmanship for Jim Risch and Mike Crapo and send Patty Murray to oblivion, or in their better world back home. In January, by the way, Murray will chair the Appropriations Committee and become Senate president pro tem, third in line to the presidency. 

    The Gingrich prophesy flopped for one big reason: maybe, just maybe nutjobbery as a political approach has reached its expiry date.

    Walker did get one thing right: Werewolves do defeat vampires — see “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.” At the closing of that 1948 film “classic,” the wolfman (Lon Chaney Jr.) spares Bud Abbott and Lou Costello from the clutches of Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi).

    When you think about it, you wonder how we kept such intellectual heft out of the U.S. Senate.

    —–0—–

    Additional Reading:

    A few other items you may find of interest …

    Wilma Mankiller, first female principal chief of Cherokee Nation

    A pathbreaking Native leader now has a place on our coinage

    “During her time as chief, Mankiller provided a foundation for the continued growth of the Cherokee Nation. Enrollment in Cherokee Nation doubled under her leadership. She championed education and secured a US$9 million vocational center. A 1991 Parade Magazine profile described her leadership style as quiet but strong.”

    Link here to a good piece of American history.


    Gen. Grant’s pending promotion sheds new light on his fight for equal rights after the Civil War

    There is a proposal in Congress to promote the Civil War general to an exalted rank – General of the Armies of the US. Only George Washington and John J. Pershing have had such rank.

    General Grant

    “Grant served as president from 1869 to 1877 during a time when white Southerners proved hostile toward federal Reconstruction measures that sought equal rights for recently freed enslaved people.

    “Grant saw his role of enforcing these policies as an extension of his wartime duty and necessary to protect the gains of the Union victory, especially the newly established rights for African Americans.

    “He used the resources of the federal government to crush the Ku Klux Klan, established the Department of Justice to investigate civil rights abuses and signed the Civil Rights Act of 1875.”

    Link to more background.


    Arkansas city elects 18-year-old as youngest Black mayor in US

    The young folks are gonna save us, young folks like Jaylen Smith the new mayor of Earle, Arkansas.

    “Among his first orders of business after he is sworn in next month, Smith said, would be to move the city’s police department to 24-hour operation. Other policy goals include ridding Earle of abandoned homes, creating jobs for city youth and providing transportation for elderly or infirm residents to grocery stores.”

    Link to the full story.


    The Great Canadian Baking Show Is a Pile of Wet Dough

    I didn’t know there was a Canadian version of the Brit baking show. Now I know.

    And this is a pretty good takedown of why the north-of-the-border knock off isn’t quite so good.

    “While the contestants are generally likeable and diverse (although not geographically—50 percent of the contestants have been from Ontario for the past two seasons), many seem, like the country as a whole, as though the thing that unites them most strongly is the happenstance of being in the same place. Rather than showing us what Canada is and what it could become, it reveals profound insecurities about what sticks us together besides maple syrup.”

    I love Canada. Read the whole thing.


    That’s all I got for you this week. Stay warm. Do a good turn. Read books. Have an eggnog. All the best.

    Film, GOP, Trump

    Some Agreement …

    When celebrated Hollywood producer Darryl F. Zanuck made his 1947 Academy Award winning film Gentleman’s Agreement, the United States – and the world – was only beginning to reckon with the horror of the Holocaust. 

    Zanuck, a Nebraska boy who served in France during World War I before becoming a movie industry powerhouse, may have been the only Tinseltown big wheel who could have made a feature film about American anti-Semitism. Zanuck wasn’t Jewish.

    Anti-Semitism was a potentially explosive issue, even given all that had become known about systematic genocide against European Jews during a horrible war that had ended just two years before the film premiered. With the exception of Zanuck, all the big studios – Warner Brothers and Metro Goldwyn Mayer, for example – were headed by Jewish movie bosses, the same people who had been attacked prior to US entry into World War II for disseminating anti-Nazi, pro-British propaganda.

    Nazi Germany had been defeated on the battlefield and the Aryan nationalism – and anti-Semitism – at the core of Nazi ideology seemed to have been forcefully and finally repudiated. But Zanuck knew better. The particularly virulent strain of American anti-Semitism had not been repudiated. It wasn’t even underground, but existing in plain sight, tolerated and perpetuated by “good Americans” who couldn’t conceive that “those people” were really the subjects of widespread discrimination, or worse.

    In many places American Jews couldn’t be a member of a country club, attend some colleges or own a home in certain neighborhoods. The US State Department, a Waspish collection of mostly-Ivy League Gentiles, was notoriously anti-Semitic. The radical right in the America of the 1930s and 40s trafficked the fiction that Franklin Roosevelt – a lifelong Episcopalian – was really a secret Jew, the mastermind not of the New Deal, but the Jew Deal.  

    Deeply embedded in the American DNA is the old trope that Jews control the media, entertainment and high finance and are foisting a “globalist” agenda on us. The old slurs and hatreds are back with a vengeance, often accompanied by violence. As journalist Alexander Nazaryan noted recently, “Jews are targets of about 60 % of all religious-driven hate crimes across the United States, a fact that is especially surprising since Jews make up only 2.4% of the American population.”

    In Gentleman’s Agreement the supremely talented Gregory Peck plays a hot-shot magazine writer, Phil Green, who is commissioned by a big national publication to write a piece on anti-Semitism. Peck’s character, a widower with a young son, struggles to develop an angle for his story. He could cite numbers and official reports, but such an approach would hardly be compelling. Finally, he settles on an approach – he will pretend to all but his immediate family to be Jewish in order to investigate the slurs, discrimination and hatred firsthand.

    Predictably reporter Green begins immediately experiencing the sting of discrimination. His son is taunted as a “dirty kike.” His fiancé is one of the “good people” who abhors anti-Semitism, but nevertheless refuses to do much of anything about it. Green’s pal, an Army veteran and a Jew, is assaulted in a bar and struggles to find a home for his family. The hotel where the journalist and his wife plan to honeymoon is “restricted,” no Jews allowed due to an unspoken “gentlemen’s agreement.”

    There is much to ponder in this old and important film and much that sadly remains all too relevant, particularly as a once and potentially future American president welcomes to his dinner table the pathetic rapper Kanye West and one Nick Fuentes, perhaps the most loathsome anti-Semitic white supremacist (which is saying something) in today’s radical right.

    There is no real point, given all he has done, to further condemn Donald Trump for enabling and encouraging the racist, anti-Semitic right. Trump is what he is. Always has been.

    A bigot, a white nationalist and an anti-Semite – certain titles interchangeable

    Rather, this moment of anti-Semitic reckoning is about the “good people” who are smart enough to see this hate in technicolor, but still flinch from action, rather like the actress Dorothy McGuire in Zanuck’s film. In her heart McGuire’s character condemns discrimination, but by her inaction she acquiesces to evil.

    This old movie story is little different than a host of Republican officeholders who have either remained silent – again – or condemned discrimination without denouncing the perpetrators of such hatred.

    An exception is the most prominent Mormon in Congress, Utah Senator Mitt Romney.

    “There is no bottom to the degree to which he’s willing to degrade himself, and the country for that matter. Having dinner with those people was disgusting,” Romney said of Trump’s dining companions. “Anybody else” would be a better party leader, Romney said.

    “I don’t think he should be president of the United States. I don’t think he should be the nominee of our party in 2024,” he said. “And I certainly don’t want him hanging over our party like a gargoyle.”

    But hang he does. In the same way that hate hovers over the radical right stretching from Idaho’s lieutenant governor who appeared at a Fuentes sponsored event earlier this year to Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green who appeared at the same forum. Both used Trump’s lie – I don’t know this person – to excuse associating with Fuentes.

    For the record, Fuentes, a big presence on social media, has called for a dictatorship in America with Trump president for life. He wants to prohibit women from voting, and even end elections. He’s the worst of the worst of the racist core of the radical right. Fuentes, says the Anti-Defamation League, “seeks to forge a white nationalist alternative to the mainstream GOP.”

    How difficult is that to condemn? How hard is that to ignore? Ask your Republican congressman or your conservative state legislator, your governor. Good luck getting them to respond.

    A remarkable feature of Darryl Zanuck’s 1947 film about anti-Semitism was the ease with which the script called out well-known racists of that time. Zanuck sought legal advice as to whether he risked libel by condemning by name notorious Mississippi racists Theodore Bilbo and John Rankin, as well as Gerald L.K. Smith, a white nationalist media star of his day not unlike Fuentes today. In the end Zanuck said, to hell with it.

    “Let them sue us,” Zanuck said. “They won’t dare, and if they do, nothing would make me more happy than to appear personally as a witness or defendant at the trial.”

    Smith did sue over the film – and lost, a fitting reminder that bigots confronted can be bigots defeated.

    For far too long from Georgia to Idaho, from Arizona to Iowa those who make nice with the racist, radical right have gotten a nearly unlimited free pass from “good people” who know better. Their compliancy only begets more hate.

    As one reviewer has noted, “Gentleman’s Agreement reaped high rewards for its bravery, intelligence, and entertainment value” and carried away awards for its director, Elia Kazan. Would it be that a bit more bravery and intelligence presented itself now when hatred once again so desperately needs unequivocal condemnation from conservatives.

    —–0—–

    Additional Reading:

    A few other items that may be of interest …

    Stewart Rhodes’ son: ‘How I escaped my father’s militia’

    The Oath Keepers leader, Stewart Rhodes, was convicted this week of seditious conspiracy, a huge development for legal and law enforcement authorities pushing back against the collection of radicals who stormed the Capitol on January 6. This story about Rhodes’ family is, well, something else.

    Militia leader and convicted felon Stewart Rhodes

    “Family life became Oath Keepers life. Tasha would welcome members into their home; Dakota would answer militia emails and, when he was older, drive his father to and from Oath Keepers events.

    “But during long stretches when Rhodes was on the road, the rest of his family felt like life was closing in on them. ‘We were so insular and isolated that the date and time and what day of the week it was, or what year it was, had very little bearing on our internal lives,’ Dakota said.

    “Today, Dakota lives in a one-room apartment down a country road outside a small Montana town, not far from the family home he escaped.”

    Read the whole thing – from the BBC.


    Elon Musk’s Twist On Tech Libertarianism Is Blowing Up On Twitter

    You may have heard entirely too much already about about this guy, but this piece by Derek Robertson delves into the libertarian mindset of Musk and his ilk in Silicon Valley.

    “Elon Musk’s ownership of Twitter is a window into a distinct mindset, common to Silicon Valley but not exclusively of it, that glorifies individual dynamism over group consensus-building.”

    I have some other thought, but I’ll leave it at that. Read the piece here.


    How Virginia Woolf Shunned—and Then Embraced—T.S. Eliot

    Tom and Virginia

    “To be taken on by Virginia Woolf was a triumph for Eliot … It meant acceptance by London’s literary elite.”

    From LitHub.


    The Northwoods Baseball Radio Network Is On The Air

    Northwoods Baseball Sleep Radio is a full-length fake baseball game. There is no yelling, no loud commercials, no weird volume spikes. Fans call it “baseball radio ASMR”.

    It is the perfect podcast for sleeping or relaxing, if you’re into that kind of thing.

    Available wherever you get your podcasts.

    Very clever and very funny.


    See you next week. Be careful out there. Thanks for reading.