Thoughts on Life, Love, Politics, Hypocrisy and Coming Out in Mid-Life
Saturday, July 24, 2021
Alabama Exemplifies GOP Idiocy and Hypocrisy On Covid
An Alabama doctor vented her frustrations on Facebook and the world listened. A hospitalist at Grandview Medical Center, Dr. Brytney Cobia, shared what it’s like to tell desperate patients a vaccine couldn’t help them anymore.
“I hold their hand and tell them that I’m sorry, but it’s too late,” she wrote. And when those patients don’t make it, she tells their loved ones not to make the same mistake — to get vaccinated and get everyone else they can to do the same.
That message has now traveled around the world, read by millions. If only Alabama’s political leaders could speak so forcefully.
Governor Kay Ivey is finally trying. But her actions the last few months haven’t matched her words. The governor had just finished speaking at a Birmingham tech company’s grand opening Thursday, but in the press scrum afterward, the questions were about COVID. “Media, I want you to start reporting the facts,” a frustrated Kay Ivey said.
OK, governor. “The new cases of COVID are because of unvaccinated folks. Almost 100 percent of the new hospitalizations are unvaccinated folks.” Yes, and that includes children who aren’t eligible to get the vaccine, but we’ll get to that in a second. “And the deaths certainly are occurring with unvaccinated folks.” Fact.
“We’ve got to get folks to take the shot.” Ivey was mad, almost quivering, especially when a reporter asked what could be done to get more people to take the vaccine. “I don’t know,” she spat back. “You tell me.”
Ivey’s stern words Thursday said one thing, but her actions have sent a different message.
Two months ago, the Alabama Legislature passed a vaccine passport ban on the last day of its 2021 session. Lawmakers rammed the bill through so fast, not even the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Arthur Orr, seemed to know what was in it. That bill prohibited schools and universities from requiring students to be vaccinated. That bill forced private businesses to accept customers who have refused to get vaccinated. Ivey signed that bill into law.
Two weeks ago, UAB’s leading infectious disease expert Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo warned that lagging vaccinations rates and rising COVID cases, mostly due to the Delta variant, could push Alabama back to government-mandated mitigation measures.
Ivey lashed out. “No one asked for my input for this story, and the headline is misleading. So, I’ll respond here,” she or someone on her staff wrote on the governor’s Facebook page. “Alabama is OPEN for business. Vaccines are readily available, and I encourage folks to get one. The state of emergency and health orders have expired. We are moving forward.”
Only Alabama wasn’t moving forward. Hardly 24 hours later, the CDC revealed that Alabama had fallen to dead-last among state vaccination rates.
But Ivey didn’t learn.
A week later, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended students mask-up this fall in schools. But Ivey’s office said the governor wasn’t on board. “Governor Ivey believes students need to be in the classroom without any type of mask requirement,” a spokeswoman said.
When asked the same question Thursday, Ivey seemed less confident. “That’s left up to every school district to make that decision,” said the governor who also sits on the Alabama State Board of Education. That school board spent most of its last meeting debating how to ban critical race theory from schools.
When the Biden administration offered federal help for door-to-door outreach, Ivey’s administration said, no thanks.
“Governor Ivey has no plans to put in a request for government workers to knock on people’s doors here in Alabama,” her spokeswoman told Alabama Political Reporter.
But one thing is clear, almost every state has done better with vaccinations than Alabama and now Mississippi is ahead of us, too.
So what do we do about it? I’ll tell you, governor.
Alabama has to get vaccinated. You have to send them into churches, Rotary clubs and Kiwanis meetings. You have to make them take the message to anyone who will listen — like street preachers the last day before the Rapture.
And if those lawmakers won’t listen, tell them they’re welcome to come back to Montgomery for a special session, instead. If sitting in rows of desks and sharing stale air is fine for Alabama school children, it’s good enough for them, too.
And you have to work it, too. No more ribbon cuttings. No more speeches at grand openings. You have to travel this state every day and let people see you — at doctors’ offices, community clinics and neighborhood drug stores. And if you’re really brave, COVID wards at hospitals. I bet Dr. Cobia would show you around.
Tell anyone who will listen. Hold their hands and tell them. It’s not too late.
Will Ivey and the Alabama GOP listen? Probably not - even with Mississippi (the perennial rival) doing a better job on vaccinations.
Friday, July 23, 2021
Glenn Youngkin Is Too Extreme for Virginia
After weeks of dodging questions about his support for Virginians’ reproductive freedom, Glenn Youngkin, the GOP nominee for Virginia governor, confirmed what we already knew: He’s ready to ban abortion, defund Planned Parenthood and send Virginia back in time.
And he’s willing to lie to voters so he can win in November and enact his far-right agenda from the governor’s desk.
At Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, we were already skeptical of Youngkin’s claim to be a moderate. He’s previously said that he’s “unabashedly pro-life,” pledged to “protect the unborn” and has been endorsed by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt — both supporters of regressive abortion bans in their own states.
But even I was shocked when a video released recently showed Youngkin admitting that he’s deceiving Virginians to get their votes, flip the legislature, and strip us of essential health care.
In the video, Youngkin tells supporters that Gov. Ralph Northam and the governor before Northam — Democratic Party gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe — took Virginia “out of bounds” on abortion, enacting “radical abortion policies that Virginians don’t want.”
That’s just not true. Polling shows that 79% of Virginians support legal access to abortion and believe that the government should not prevent a woman from making her own health care decisions.
The reality is that Youngkin is out of touch with Virginians, and he’s been masquerading as a moderate in the hopes that we won’t notice.
We’ve already seen how this could play out. Just weeks ago, New Hampshire’s self-proclaimed “pro-choice” Republican Gov. Chris Sununu not only approved an abortion ban, but also a medically unnecessary ultrasound requirement similar to the one the Virginia General Assembly finally repealed last summer.
Clearly, we can’t trust that Youngkin won’t pull similar stunts once in office. In fact, he’s preparing to take us back to a time, not long ago, when Virginians faced an obstacle course of delays and restrictions to access abortion care. He wants to go even further, banning abortion before many women know they are pregnant, let alone make plans and secure funds for the procedure. But publicly, he’s going to keep hiding his real agenda, because he knows that Virginians will reject it, as they have again and again.
Virginians must vote as if their right to make decisions about their own body depends on it — because it does. The choice for Virginians is clear. Do we want to elect someone as dangerous as Youngkin, who’ll smile and lie to get your vote, while plotting to strip you of your rights?
Or would we rather have someone who shares our values and will continue moving Virginia forward?
Vote McAuliffe and a straight Democrat ticket in November and send Youngkin and his fellow GOP extremists down to defeat. Having followed The Family Foundation and GOP candidates like Youngkin for decades, no one is more willing to lie in order to dupe voters.
Thursday, July 22, 2021
Rural America Needs Immigrants
KNOXVILLE, Iowa — Rural America has a growth problem. Business and industry desperately need workers, but the domestic labor pool is shallow, and the nation’s birthrate is slowing.
There’s no better place to help expand our economy than in rural communities like ours. We need smart public policy for sustained growth — and immigration reform would be a big part of it.
The Iowa Business Council, a group made up of representatives of the largest corporations in the state, have been asking for immigration reform for years to help solve our labor woes.
Plenty of research shows that flexible visa programs run federally or by the states could address this problem quickly.
Help-wanted signs are up all around town. There are help-wanted ads playing on our local radio station, in our local newspapers and all over the internet. Listen to your favorite national podcast here and you just might hear a targeted help-wanted ad for our ZIP code. Our county, Marion, is blessed with a strong agricultural and manufacturing base and is doing relatively well. The median household income in the county is $61,038, just a notch below the state median of $62,843. About 8 percent of us live in poverty.
Dave Swenson, an economist at Iowa State University, agrees that the reason we have so many jobs open is that we don’t have enough people to fill them.
We simply don’t have enough people in our county or in the state to fill the open positions. Raising wages might bring some of those unemployed individuals back to work, but we still won’t have enough workers.
It is a conservative county (in 2020, Donald Trump won it with 66 percent of the vote). So if you ask around town why there are so many job openings, the answer is pretty much always the same — welfare is too easy to get, especially under President Biden, and people don’t want to work. They are lazy, on the dole.
This attitude is wrong. People want to work. Rejecting unemployment aid is, as Mr. Swenson called it, “legislative pain,” with a negative economic impact for the individuals and the states.
Sure, many immigrants will flock to our urban areas, but many others come from rural, agrarian backgrounds. They are familiar with many aspects of the work in rural areas: farming, food production and manufacturing.
We also lack affordable housing here for workers. Real estate is at a premium, and real estate agents are begging for inventory to sell. Mr. Biden has earmarked $213 billion for housing in his American Jobs Plan. All new housing developments in rural America probably need to be public-private partnerships. Because of the market, most builders are drawn more strongly to the rapidly growing Des Moines metropolitan area. Why build five houses in our rural communities when you can build 50 or more in the metro?
We do have local builders who prefer to work in town, but they can’t find enough labor. One local builder is booked a year out. The labor shortage is so serious here that it is difficult not only to find someone to build a house but also to find a plumber, a roofer or a handyman.
More immigrants will also increase our tax base and help stabilize Social Security. The immigrant population is already growing here, and they are successfully contributing.
Since Republicans have so demonized immigrants during the Trump administration, Democrats need to embrace the political leadership that empowers rural communities to break out of our stagnation and fuel growth in our communities.
Virginia has ranked as the best state for business for three years in a row - in part because both Governor Northam and his predecessor, Terry McAuliffe (who is running for governor again) have pursued a welcoming to all approach. If you want talent and workers, you cannot say "not welcomed" to those who are not white, heterosexual right wing Christians and then whine about your economic plight.
Wednesday, July 21, 2021
Pelosi Correctly Bars Trump Loyalists From Jan. 6 Inquiry Committee
Speaker Nancy Pelosi moved on Wednesday to bar two of former President Donald J. Trump’s most vociferous Republican defenders in Congress from joining a select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, saying their conduct suggested they could not be trusted to participate.
In an unusual move, Ms. Pelosi announced that she was rejecting Representatives Jim Banks of Indiana and Jim Jordan of Ohio, both of whom amplified Mr. Trump’s false claims of election fraud, joined their party’s efforts to challenge President Biden’s victory on Jan. 6 and have opposed efforts to investigate the assault on the Capitol by Trump supporters. She agreed to seat the other three Republicans who had been chosen for the panel.
But Ms. Pelosi said she could not allow the pair to take part, based on their actions around the riot and comments they had made undercutting the investigation. Mr. Banks, who has equated the deadly attack to unrest during the racial justice protests last summer, said the Jan. 6 inquiry was created to “malign conservatives and to justify the left’s authoritarian agenda.” Mr. Jordan, one of the biggest cheerleaders of Mr. Trump’s attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the 2020 election, pressed Mr. Trump’s false claims of election fraud on the House floor as protesters breached the Capitol, and has called the select committee “impeachment Round 3.”
The speaker’s decision drew an angry response from Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the minority leader, who announced that Republicans would boycott the panel altogether.
Many Democrats no longer wish to work with or hear from Republicans who helped spread Mr. Trump’s lie of a stolen election, especially those who led the effort and have sought to downplay the severity and significance of the assault that it inspired. Some said allowing two of the most prominent defenders to serve on a panel examining the attack was akin to allowing criminals to investigate their own crimes.
In a statement, Ms. Pelosi said she had rejected Mr. Banks and Mr. Jordan “with respect for the integrity of the investigation, with an insistence on the truth and with concern about statements made and actions taken by these members.” “The unprecedented nature of Jan. 6 demands this unprecedented decision,” she added.
Mr. McCarthy, Mr. Banks and Mr. Jordan — appearing with the three other Republicans chosen to sit on the panel — sought to divert blame for the riot from Mr. Trump and their own political supporters who carried it out, instead faulting Democrats who they said had not adequately planned for the onslaught.
Democrats received high-profile backing from Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, Mr. McCarthy’s former No. 3 whom Ms. Pelosi appointed to the committee after she was ousted from her leadership position in May for criticizing Mr. Trump.
“The rhetoric that we have heard from the minority leader is disingenuous,” Ms. Cheney told reporters on the steps of the Capitol. “At every opportunity, the minority leader has attempted to prevent the American people from understanding what happened, to block this investigation.”
She said Ms. Pelosi had been right to bar Mr. Jordan and Mr. Banks from the panel, saying that Mr. Jordan was a potential “material witness” and Mr. Banks had “disqualified himself” with recent comments disparaging the committee’s work.
At the time of the attack, the House sergeant-at-arms, Paul D. Irving, had been on the job since 2012, when he was hired under Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio. The Senate sergeant-at-arms at the time, Michael Stenger, was hired in 2018 when Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, led the chamber.
Ms. Cheney reportedly clashed with Mr. Jordan on the House floor on Jan. 6, blaming him for the riot, according to a new book by two reporters for The Washington Post.
Ms. Pelosi had said she would accept Mr. McCarthy’s three other nominees to the panel — Representative Rodney Davis of Illinois, Representative Kelly Armstrong of North Dakota and Representative Troy Nehls of Texas — and said she encouraged Mr. McCarthy to offer two new picks to replace Mr. Jordan and Mr. Banks. But following Mr. McCarthy’s lead, those three also said they would not participate.
McCarthy knows full well that Trump is guilty of inciting the insurrection and that a number of other Congressional Republicans likely aided and abetted the insurrectionists, some having given tours of the Capitol and laying out the floor plan just days prior to the assault. Expect him to do anything he can to divert Americans from the real truth of what happened. Sadly, the GOP is now the party of sedition and treason.
Republicans Are Spouting Antebellum White Supremacist Rhetoric
In the conservative world, the idea that white people in the United States are under siege has become doctrine. In recent weeks, three prominent figures have each offered their own versions of this tenet.
In June, Brian Kilmeade, one of the hosts of Fox & Friends, claimed that activists were “trying to take down white culture.”
Also in June, Tucker Carlson, speaking on his nightly show with an Anti-White Mania graphic in the background, implied that racial strife was imminent and asked: “How do we save this country before we become Rwanda?”
The same month, Pat Robertson, a former Republican presidential candidate and the host of the Christian Broadcasting Network’s flagship show, The 700 Club, said that militants are telling “people of color … to rise up and overtake their oppressors.” He worried that, “having gotten the whip handle—if I can use the term,” people of color were now in a position “to instruct their white neighbors how to behave.” Robertson warned that if this trend continues, “America is over. It is just that simple.”
Kilmeade, Carlson, and Robertson all blamed critical race theory, a school of legal thought developed in the 1980s that has become the latest fixation of the conservative outrage machine. But the panic they expressed has a much longer history, with roots going back to white-supremacist rhetoric from before the Civil War—and particularly apparent during the attack on Reconstruction, America’s experiment in interracial democracy that lasted from 1865 until 1877.
Indeed, each of the three pundits expressed a key strand of the rhetoric of racial reaction that was pervasive among critics of Reconstruction: Carlson deployed inversion, by which white people declare reverse racism or anti-whiteness to be the crucial problem of prejudice and white people to be uniquely oppressed as a result of excessive power granted to Black Americans; Robertson deployed projection, in which white people assert that they will be treated the way they treated Black people during the Jim Crow era; and Kilmeade deployed victimization, as when a white southerner in 1875 described his region as “stripped of her honors, her glory, her pride … trampled into dust” by recently enacted laws.
These tropes of inversion, projection, and victimization overlap. During the Reconstruction era, and long afterward, white reactionaries in both the South and the North projected that the movement for racial equality was animated by what the Confederate-nostalgic newspaper The Watchman and Southron called a “hatred of the white people of the South and a determination to humiliate them as much as possible.” Using the language of inversion and victimization in 1875, the Louisville Courier-Journal—which was associated with the anti-Reconstruction Democratic Party—described Reconstruction as a “scheme of upturning society and placing the bottom on top: an effort to legislate the African into an Anglo-Saxon.”
Rather than the future of “negro domination” many white southerners claimed to fear, the white supremacy they yearned for—and all its attendant violence—returned full throttle a little more than a decade after the end of Reconstruction. It was no longer underpinned by chattel slavery but by new relations of peonage, exploitation, legalized segregation, and disenfranchisement.
The enemies of Reconstruction described inclusive democracy as not just psychologically unsettling but illegitimate, what a letter writer to The Courier-Journal called in early 1868 an “inversion of … just and lawful relations.” The writer demanded a future in which “the white race would spring back to its position of natural supremacy, while the black race would fall back to its position of natural subordinacy.”
One term used to describe the process of the “inversion of … established order” —which the Charleston Mercury characterized in 1867 as “white slavery under negro rule” —was featured in Tucker Carlson’s graphic: anti-white. Historically, those who deployed inversion almost always paired anti-white with pro-negro. . . . In 1870, the strongly anti-Reconstruction Memphis Appeal described the Fifteenth Amendment, which guaranteed suffrage to all adult, male American citizens, as the “crowning victory” of Radical Republican “anti-white negroism.”
Pat Robertson’s language of Black Americans holding the “whip handle” previously gripped by the slaveholding class was also a popular metaphor a century and a half ago, when it was employed to advance the view that Black Americans had usurped coercive power rightly belonging to white people. In describing the soon-to-be eclipsed political dynamic of Reconstruction, in which white politicians had to attend to the concerns of all Americans rather than just their fellow white men, one commentator wrote in the Georgia Weekly Telegraph in 1874 that “the negroes feel they have the whip-hand.”
Barely two years after the close of the Civil War, Mississippi Governor Benjamin G. Humphreys announced that, if the Radical Republicans were to succeed, he and his fellow white citizens would “have to take back seats or be elevated at the end of a rope”—two instances of projection in one breath.
Not all projection involved the threat of racialized murder or violence. Much of it focused on being forcefully rendered powerless. White opponents of Reconstruction routinely claimed that “social equality” was being “crammed down our throats, with the aid of the brute force of the negro”; or that white people’s rights were being “trampled into the earth, in order that an aristocracy of four million negroes shall be established upon their graves”; or that Black “iron heels” were stepping on white necks to “crush out their last hope of liberty.” All of these images reversed the reality of power in the postbellum South.
Another way that opponents of Reconstruction projected the topsy-turvy world they claimed Radical Republican rule had created was to reverse the most infamous passage in the 1857 Dred Scott v. Sandford case. In what scholars have since described as the worst decision in American judicial history, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney wrote that Black Americans had “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” Ten years later, in 1867, a Virginia newspaper decrying “negro rule” claimed that Reconstruction was based on “the arrogant assumption that the true white men of the South have no rights which need to be respected.”
Many Democratic opponents of Radical Republicanism, echoing Johnson, claimed that white humiliation would inevitably set off a spate of extralegal violence, which they framed as fully justified. “If ever a people had a right to rebel against tyrannical Government,” said a Missouri newspaper editorial headlined “The Cost of Negro Government,” “the people of this country possess this right.” When the paper referred to the “people of this country,” it meant, of course, its white citizens.
The path from the backlash to Reconstruction and the civil-rights movement to Kilmeade’s, Carlson’s, and Robertson’s modern-day declarations did not follow a straight line, and claiming that the template for the 21st-century Republican Party was fully set during the 19th century would be reductionist. Yet the posture of resentment that once undergirded the reactionary response to Reconstruction continues to characterize an important tendency in the American right. According to a recent New York Times analysis, most people who participated in the Capitol insurrection of January 6 came from areas that are “awash in fears that the rights of minorities and immigrants were crowding out the rights of white people in American politics and culture.”
All of these rhetorical gestures boil down to one issue about America that remains as relevant today as it was in the 1860s and ’70s: Whose country is it? Who belongs here?
And it was this same conviction that led Tucker Carlson to claim, just this past April, “I have less political power because they’re importing a brand new electorate. Why should I sit back and take that?” Carlson was echoing the zero-sum logic that white reactionaries have spouted for more than a century.
One of the most telling moments of Donald Trump’s presidency, and our present political moment, came last December, after he was voted out of office but before the insurrection he fomented. “We’re all victims,” he told a crowd in Georgia. “Everybody here. All these thousands of people here tonight. They’re all victims. Every one of you.” Like the opponents of Reconstruction, Trump milked feelings of humiliation to authorize a politics of what President Johnson called “restoration”—the Reconstruction-era version of “Make America great again.”
The opponents of Reconstruction succeeded in their campaign against racial equality, setting the country on a path to great division and intolerable oppression. Those who traffic in these tropes continue to threaten to defer the promise of justice and democracy—yet again.
Tuesday, July 20, 2021
The GOP Now Acts As the Party of Autocracy
I’m a huge believer in the usefulness of social science, especially studies that use comparisons across time and space to shed light on our current situation. So when the political scientist Henry Farrell suggested that I look at his field’s literature on cults of personality, I followed his advice. He recommended one paper in particular, by the New Zealand-based researcher Xavier Márquez; I found it revelatory.
“The Mechanisms of Cult Production” compares the behavior of political elites across a wide range of dictatorial regimes, from Caligula’s Rome to the Kim family’s North Korea, and finds striking similarities. Despite vast differences in culture and material circumstances, elites in all such regimes engage in pretty much the same behavior, especially what the paper dubs “loyalty signaling” and “flattery inflation.”
In the context of dictatorial regimes, signaling typically involves making absurd claims on behalf of the Leader and his agenda, often including “nauseating displays of loyalty.” If the claims are obvious nonsense and destructive in their effects, if making those claims humiliates the person who makes them, these are features, not bugs. I mean, how does the Leader know if you’re truly loyal unless you’re willing to demonstrate your loyalty by inflicting harm both on others and on your own reputation?
And once this kind of signaling becomes the norm, those trying to prove their loyalty have to go to ever greater extremes to differentiate themselves from the pack. Hence “flattery inflation”: The Leader isn’t just brave and wise, he’s a perfect physical specimen, a brilliant health expert, a Nobel-level economic analyst, and more. The fact that he’s obviously none of these things only enhances the effectiveness of the flattery as a demonstration of loyalty.
Does all of this sound familiar? Of course it does, at least to anyone who has been tracking Fox News or the utterances of political figures like Lindsey Graham or Kevin McCarthy.
Many people, myself included, have declared for years that the G.O.P. is no longer a normal political party. It doesn’t look anything like, say, Dwight Eisenhower’s Republican Party or Germany’s Christian Democrats. But it bears a growing resemblance to the ruling parties of autocratic regimes.
The only unusual thing about the G.O.P.’s wholesale adoption of the Leader Principle is that the party doesn’t have a monopoly on power; in fact, it controls neither Congress nor the White House. Politicians suspected of insufficient loyalty to Donald Trump and Trumpism in general aren’t sent to the gulag. . . . . . Yet such is the timidity of Republican politicians that these mild threats are apparently enough to make many of them behave like Caligula’s courtiers.
Unfortunately, all this loyalty signaling is putting the whole nation at risk. In fact, it will almost surely kill large numbers of Americans in the next few months.
The stalling of America’s initially successful vaccination drive isn’t entirely driven by partisanship. . . . But politics is nonetheless clearly a key factor: Republican politicians and Republican-oriented influencers have driven much of the opposition to Covid-19 vaccines, in some cases engaging in what amounts to outright sabotage. And there is a stunning negative correlation between Trump’s share of a county’s vote in 2020 and its current vaccination rate.
How did lifesaving vaccines become politicized? As Bloomberg’s Jonathan Bernstein suggests, today’s Republicans are always looking for ways to show that they’re more committed to the cause than their colleagues are . . . . . the only way to do that is “nonsense and nihilism,” advocating crazy and destructive policies, like opposing vaccines.
That is, hostility to vaccines has become a form of loyalty signaling.
None of this should be taken to imply that Republicans are the root of all evil or that their opponents are saints; Democrats are by no means immune to the power of special interests or the lure of the revolving door.
But the G.O.P. has become something different, with, as far as I know, no precedent in American history although with many precedents abroad. Republicans have created for themselves a political realm in which costly demonstrations of loyalty transcend considerations of good policy or even basic logic. And all of us may pay the price.
Monday, July 19, 2021
Karma is a Bitch: Pence Flatlines As 2024 Presidential Nominee
Mike Pence was met by a respectful, even warm, crowd in his first trip back to Iowa since the election. Republicans at a picnic in the northwestern corner of the state stood and clapped for him on Friday. In Des Moines later that afternoon, a ballroom full of Christian conservatives did the same.
He was “honorable,” a “man of faith,” attendees at the annual Family Leadership Summit said. Evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats called him “a very consistent conservative voice in Congress and then as governor, and then as vice president.”
What few people said they saw in Pence, however, was the Republican nominee for president in 2024.
Many Iowa Republicans had seen the results of the most recent Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll, released just days earlier, in which Pence flatlined, drawing no more than 1 percent support. Before that, they’d watched the video of Pence getting heckled and called a “traitor” at a major gathering of conservatives in Florida last month.
“I don’t imagine he’d have a whole lot of support,” said Raymond Harre, vice chair of the GOP in eastern Iowa’s Scott County. “There are some Trump supporters who think he’s the Antichrist.”
“I don’t see him overcoming the negatives.” Six months after he left the vice presidency, that is the prevailing view at the grassroots and among the GOP political class. By most accounts, both here and nationally, Pence is dead in the early waters of 2024.
“Who?” Doug Gross, a Republican operative who was a chief of staff to former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, replied flatly when asked about Pence. “It’s just, where would you place him? … With Trumpsters, he didn’t perform when they really wanted him to perform, so he’s DQ’d there. Then you go to the evangelicals, they have plenty of other choices.”
At the moment, Pence occupies a political no-man’s land. Vocal elements of Trump’s base remain furious at him for his refusal to reject the results of the November election, despite him having no authority to do so. Moderates, meanwhile, see too little distance between Pence and the president he catered to for four years. They’re wary the association may turn off the independents and suburban women Trump hemorrhaged in 2018 and again in 2020.
At 62 — and with several contenders in their 40s — Pence is too old to represent a new generation of Republican leadership. His deep well of support among Christian conservatives, which served as a critical validator for Trump, will matter less in a field where the religious right has other candidates to pick from.
“He’s got to justify to the Trumpistas why he isn’t Judas Iscariot, and then he’s got to demonstrate to a bunch of other Republicans why he hung out with someone they perceive to be a nutjob,” said Sean Walsh, a Republican strategist who worked in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush White Houses and on several presidential campaigns.
Three years before an election — and especially for someone with Pence’s name recognition and expansive donor and political network — no campaign is irredeemable. But not since another former vice president from Indiana, Dan Quayle, ran for president in 2000, has such a prominent Republican politician’s pre-presidential campaign seemed more forlorn.
“Will some of the base ever get past this perception that he could have done more?” said Brett Doster, a Florida-based Republican strategist who served as the state’s executive director for the Bush-Cheney 2004 presidential reelection campaign. “I’m not saying it will, but I’m just saying it’s way too early to count the guy out. I just think he’s got too big of a profile, too big of a donor network.”
Pence needs more than time or the traditional ebb and flow of a presidential campaign to revive his prospects. His path to the nomination, more than most contenders, hinges on the highly uncertain prospect that the primary electorate’s view of the November election — and Pence’s role in it — will change. A majority of Republicans still believe Trump’s lie that the election was stolen, according to numerous polls. And Trump supporters are not letting go, with a controversial audit continuing in Arizona and with Trump devotees pushing for similar reviews in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and other states, despite no evidence that the election results were skewed.
It isn’t only Trump supporters broadly who pose a problem for Pence. White evangelicals, in particular, feel burned by the last election, more likely than members of any other religious group to believe the November contest was stolen. Those voters once constituted Pence’s base.
Pence is trying to hold on to that constituency — if not to change the minds of his Republican critics, to shift their focus.
In some corners of the MAGA movement, that will likely be impossible. Steve Bannon, the former Trump campaign strategist whose “War Room” podcast has served to amplify Trump’s claims that the election was stolen, said that Pence is “dead now” but that as Republicans draw more attention to ballot reviews in Arizona and other states he is “officially going to be buried.” . . . . . He said, “Mike Pence’s political career is over … It’s done.”
The overarching problem for Pence, however, is that even if a large number of Republican voters do get over the last election, and respond to the policy contrast with Biden, it’s not clear that Pence will be the beneficiary. Election truthers, like those who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 and chanted “hang Mike Pence,” will remain a segment of the electorate unavailable to Pence.
Trump supporters who liked Trump’s policies but not his behavior — the “Trump without the tweets” constituency — will have an entire stable of contenders who aren’t burdened by Pence’s baggage from crossing Trump. And never-Trump Republicans will likely have other, more Trump-skeptical candidates to choose from, potentially including Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming.
Pence had an opportunity to hold the presidency - all he had to do is invoke the 25th Amendment. One has to wonder if he regrets not having done so now.
Republican Indifference to the Rise in Covid Cases
In the last two weeks of June, the United States averaged between 11,250 and 13,500 new coronavirus cases per day — the lowest numbers since the virus began spreading widely across the country in early 2020. As of Saturday, it was 31,464 cases per day. With multiple vaccines widely available, this rise was entirely preventable. The backsliding is due in part to Republican politicians and right-wing commentators who have spread misinformation about the virus, as well as colleagues too scared to confront them.
Asked on CNN’s “State of the Union” whether “Republicans need to stop questioning the vaccine and start pushing it instead,” Ohio Sen. Rob Portman ducked. “The vaccines are a miracle,” he replied, before crediting former president Donald Trump for their development.
On “Fox News Sunday,” Portman’s colleague Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) correctly framed the problem as “choosing between vaccination or accepting higher rates of death.” Yet, bizarrely, he blamed distrust of the vaccines not on the many Republican voices raising doubts about them, but on “partisan comments coming out of the White House regarding new Jim Crow laws, or people like Senator Schumer and the White House not cooperating on a bipartisan bill.”
A few Republicans are speaking up as the case count rises. “We have these talking heads who have gotten the vaccine and are telling other people not to get it,” said Utah Gov. Spencer Cox. “That kind of stuff is dangerous, it’s damaging, and it’s killing people.” Utah Sen. Mitt Romney called the politicization of the vaccines “moronic.” But these few voices are trying to fill a void left by their counterparts.
In this vacuum of silence, right-wing voices such as Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham have spread lie after lie about vaccination efforts. And Republican governors such as Kristi L. Noem (S.D.), Ron DeSantis (Fla.) and Mike Parson (Mo.) have encouraged “personal responsibility” or sown fears about government efforts to vaccinate more Americans. Never mind that those governors got their shots months ago. Never mind that, according to some estimates, nearly half of South Dakotans have been infected, or that Florida’s daily case average has quadrupled in the past month. The residents of their states will have to bear the risks, for the good of the governors’ poll numbers.
The most recent Washington Post-ABC poll found that 29 percent of Americans probably or definitely won’t get vaccinated, up 5 points from the last survey, in late April. Forty-seven percent of Republicans said they likely or definitely wouldn’t get vaccinated, compared with just 34 percent of independents and 6 percent of Democrats. The ideological split is, if anything, more obvious: 46 percent of conservatives probably or certainly set against vaccination, vs. only 21 percent of moderates and 16 percent of liberals.
Not all vaccine hesitancy is due to red vs. blue politics, to be clear. The broader anti-vaccine movement that existed before the pandemic remains depressingly prevalent. Some haven’t gotten vaccinated because they simply don’t see it as urgent . . . And there are many Americans who may be hesitant thanks to disinformation and hoaxes spread on social media platforms such as Facebook.
But, as the Post-ABC poll shows, those groups are likely a minority of the unvaccinated. What makes vaccine resistance among Republicans different is that it’s being fanned for partisan gain and right-wing media profit. The result will be hundreds and hundreds — if not thousands — of avoidable deaths. But for those Republicans who stay passive like McConnell, indulge in silly whataboutism like Cassidy, or openly fan the flames like Noem, DeSantis and others, one can only conclude they see this toll as acceptable.
Sunday, July 18, 2021
How Evangelicals Abandoned Christianity
As a pastor I was always uncomfortable using God's word to pressure people to give money to the church. It seemed like a dirty trick: Play on the fear of disappointing God by convincing people on fixed incomes to provide for my livelihood. So I never did, much to the chagrin of my board of trustees. For the past 70 years, however, evangelical leadership has used this fear of God to raise billions of dollars to fight those the evangelicals have deemed to be the enemies of God. This naturally requires a private jet, a television network, a super PAC and a con artist pastor and politician to lead the way.
The first set of enemies were of course the feminists, the pro-choice advocates and the LGBTQ community. Jerry Falwell Sr. said in 1980, "We must stand against the Equal Rights Amendment, the feminist revolution and the homosexual revolution." From that point forward, the blueprint to effect political change for God — and to raise money for that cherished cause — was created. God's call was clear, or so the congregations were told, and the enemies were equally clear. The evangelical movement was born and money started flowing to numerous evangelical organizations. Politicians used evangelical language to win elections, and the God vote became more and more aligned with the Republican Party.
My problem is that the Christian faith was lost — as I have argued previously in Salon — during these massive fundraising campaigns. Donald Trump and the evangelical political machine raised millions of dollars, while completely removing anything that even remotely looked like the Christian faith. I believe a Christian reformation in American evangelical politics is desperately needed — not only to save my beloved faith, but to save the country.
True reform of the evangelical political machine will never happen, however, as long as the current evangelical leadership holds the reins. Understand that the leaders who have recently been fighting for control of the Southern Baptist Convention are no different than Jerry Falwell Sr. or Pat Robertson in the past, or Robert Jeffress and Franklin Graham today. These new evangelicals feel the need to be more discreet about their homophobia and anti-equality agenda. . . . . The problem here is that this relationship between the evangelical leadership and the Republican Party has become what Christians call a covenant.
Over the last 70 years, Christian theology has been steadily replaced, within the evangelical world, by Republican or "conservative" ideology. I noticed this in my time at an evangelical seminary and during my years in ministry, whenever political discussion would go beyond abortion and gay rights. When the conversation turned towards gun rights, immigration, taxing the wealthy, education or health care, the tenets of Christian theology disappeared behind Republican talking points.
The evangelical political message was that the Bible should be used in politics to attack certain people, but never to question oneself. That's how you get people to donate: Make the enemy clearly visible and easily definable. That's why the Bible is almost never used in politics as a justification for serving the poor, welcoming the foreigner, healing the sick or promoting equality. That agenda is not likely to motivate donations from wealthy white heterosexual men. Therefore, over time the evangelical message became that "American" and "Republican" were more important labels than "Christian" — or that they were effectively the same thing.
The ugliest part of this agenda is that evangelicals have come to believe in rejecting the foreigner and keeping their guns because they are protecting what is "rightfully theirs." A true Christian should understand that nothing except condemnation is rightfully theirs. This country, their home, their freedom and their very lives belong to God. So how in God's name can a Christian support an agenda based on violence and racism?
I have never understood the appeal of gun culture, but I understand that Jesus was a man of peace. He certainly had a large enough following to fight back with force against the false sedition charges brought against him. With one speech, Jesus could have caused great political and religious difficulty in Jerusalem by doing what Trump did on Jan. 6. But that is not the Christian way.
This issue around immigration is quite clear in the Bible. Leviticus 19 tells us, "The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt." There is no greater call on a Christian than to embrace the foreigner. In fact, there is a theory that if a Christian does not accept the foreigner, then God may reject that Christian at those pearly gates of heaven.
Evangelical leaders have focused their agenda on protecting things they feel entitled to, while focusing the attention of their followers on what they define as the enemies of God. That fear of God's enemies has allowed billions of dollars of donations to flow into the hands of religious hypocrites. They have convinced millions of Christians that the enemies of God are people who live south of the border, who are coming for their guns, their jobs, their property, their health insurance, their taxes and even their families. Trump tapped masterfully into the fear planted by evangelical leaders in the hearts of their followers. In the end, millions of Christians have abandoned their faith for a narrow-minded political ideology.
True Christian theology commands quite the opposite. A person of faith is not driven by fear, but by love. Grace is extended to the foreigner, forgiveness is offered to the prisoner, health care is offered to the sick, food is offered to the hungry and equality is offered to all.