Thoughts on Life, Love, Politics, Hypocrisy and Coming Out in Mid-Life
Saturday, January 28, 2023
The House GOP's "Bread and Circuses"
Rep. Victoria Spartz was hopping mad. “We cannot have these kangaroo courts — it’s unacceptable,” the Indiana Republican declared this week. Her criticism was all the more biting because she directed it at the Chief Marsupial of this particular tribunal, Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
Why such indignation aimed at her fellow Republican? It turns out Spartz possesses that rarest of attributes among her colleagues: intellectual consistency.
Two years ago, when the Democratic House ousted two Republicans from committees for glorifying violence against their colleagues, McCarthy (Calif.) railed against the removals as evidence of a “broken Congress.” Now, voters have given McCarthy the majority — and he is doing exactly that which he decried: He has already removed two Democrats from committees without due process, and he plans to evict a third.
“Speaker McCarthy needs to stop ‘bread and circuses’ in Congress and start governing for a change,” Spartz said in a statement objecting to the “charade” of kicking members off their committees.
It was an apt invocation of the Roman writer Juvenal’s lament 2,000 years ago that the people had abdicated their duties as citizens of the Republic in favor of “bread and circuses” provided by their imperial rulers.
Emperor McCarthy grinned when Spartz’s words were read to him this week. Asked how he would respond, he replied, “Not at all.”
In truth, the new majority doesn’t have much bread to dole out (aside from the free doughnuts and Chick-fil-A that Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) offered reporters this week in lieu of answers about his fabricated life story). But it has more clown acts than could fill the Circus Maximus.
In a column earlier this month, I referred to the growing number of “bomb throwers” in the House GOP caucus. It was more accurate than I knew.
Freshman Rep. Cory Mills (R-Fla.) this week celebrated his appointment on the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees by handing out grenades to members of Congress. . . . This is not Mills’s first stint as arms dealer: He previously claimed to have “sold tear gas used on Black Lives Matter protesters.”
When it comes to productivity, though, the new majority is so far unarmed. McCarthy berated the previous Congress for failing to deal with the “chaos on the southern border,” “out-of-control crime” and the economy. So what is he doing about those issues now?
As for crime, the new majority had to pull two pro-police bills from the floor over internal Republican disagreements.
As for the economy, Republicans are squabbling over a bill imposing a national sales tax, which McCarthy promised the far right he would bring to the floor.
And their plan to address “chaos on the southern border” has itself devolved into chaos.
Chairman Jim Jordan (Ohio) announced that the House Judiciary Committee will hold its first hearing next week on “The Biden Border Crisis.” In case that’s too subtle, seven immigration hard-liners assembled in the House TV studio this week and alleged that President Biden is running “narco-slavery support programs.”
But the new majority isn’t actually doing anything about the border. The GOP border bill, which McCarthy promised to bring to the floor as a condition for securing the speakership, is now bogged down in intraparty disagreements. When the seven hard-liners were asked about the endangered legislation, Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa) acknowledged: “I’m not sure where negotiations stand.”
Rep. Tony Gonzales of Texas, co-chair of the Republicans’ Congressional Hispanic Conference, complains that the GOP bill is “not Christian” and “very anti-American,” and he worries the party is being “hijacked” by those who would block all asylum seekers, who include unaccompanied children and victims of torture and human trafficking.
While Republicans have so far stalled on crime, the economy and the border, they are moving ahead rapidly with more pressing matters — such as Hunter Biden’s artwork.
Chairman James Comer (Ky.) of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee fired off a letter Wednesday demanding information from the Georges Bergès Gallery about paintings done by the president’s son.
In the letter, Comer (his training is in agriculture) played art appraiser, declaring prices for the younger Biden’s work “exorbitant.” He wants answers from Hunter Biden’s dealer (art, not drugs) by Feb. 8. That is also the day Comer’s committee plans to hold a hearing on another matter of national urgency: Hunter Biden’s laptop.
House Republicans are saying they’re willing to risk default — an economic disaster — unless Biden agrees to cuts. But they won’t specify which cuts they want; Biden will just have to guess. “I want to look the president in the eye and tell me there’s not one dollar of wasteful spending in government,” McCarthy said, in his inimitable syntax.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has already washed his hands of the looming disaster, saying no bipartisan debt limit deal the Senate reaches “could actually pass this particular House.”
In an account of the tender friendship that has blossomed between McCarthy and Rep. Marjorie “Jewish Space Lasers” Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), the New York Times had this touching remark McCarthy made to a friend: “I will never leave that woman.” . . . . McCarthy has displayed his affection with gifts, seating Greene not just on Comer’s Oversight Committee but also on the select committee probing covid-19’s origins. Greene already has ideas on the subject: She has speculated that NFL player Damar Hamlin’s collapse and the death of Diamond and Silk’s Lynnette Hardaway were both vaccine-induced.
Greene’s appointment is part of a wholesale takeover of key committees by the far right. The House Freedom Caucus, about 20 percent of the GOP caucus, now controls 38 percent of the Oversight Committee, 44 percent of the Judiciary and coronavirus panels, and 50 percent of the “weaponization of the federal government” select committee, the Post’s Aaron Blake calculates. The far right also has effective veto power over the House Rules Committee, which determines what goes to the House floor.
With so many committees overloaded with loons, it’s but a matter of time until things blow up. . . . . This is life in the circus.
Friday, January 27, 2023
Poll: 73% Say GOP Has the Wrong Priorities
Fewer than one-third of Americans believe that House GOP leaders are prioritizing the country’s most important issues, according to a new CNN Poll conducted by SSRS. Neither party’s congressional leadership earns majority approval, and Republicans are particularly likely to express discontent with their own party leadership.
Just 27% of US adults say they think Republican leaders in the House have had the right priorities so far, while 73% say they haven’t paid enough attention to the country’s most important problems. . . . . The GOP’s ratings are weighed down by relatively high dissatisfaction within their own party: 42% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents disapprove of their party’s congressional leaders, compared with the 22% of Democrats and Democratic leaners who disapprove of their party’s congressional leadership.
Nearly half of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, 46%, also say their party’s House leadership hasn’t displayed the right priorities. By contrast, in CNN’s October polling, only 34% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said that President Joe Biden had the wrong priorities . . . . Americans overall hold a negative view of McCarthy (19% favorable, 38% unfavorable) and are split in their views of Jeffries (21% favorable, 22% unfavorable),
Asked to name the most important issue facing the country, nearly half (48%) of Americans cite economic issues, particularly related to the effects of inflation on housing, food and gas prices. Other top concerns include immigration (11%), gun violence and crime (6%), government spending and taxes (6%) and political divisions or extremism (5%). Covid-19, which topped the public’s list of issues at 36% in the summer of 2021, was mentioned by only 1% of the public in the latest survey.
Although the economy is a top concern among members of both parties, other priorities differ. Immigration is the top issue for 18% of Republicans and Republican leaners, compared with 7% of Democrats and Democratic leaners; conversely, 10% of Democratic-aligned Americans cite gun issues or crime, compared with 3% of those aligned with the Republican Party, with much of that difference between the two parties coming in the share citing gun control specifically (7% on the Democratic-leaning side name gun control as a top issue, compared with 1% among Republicans and Republican-leaners).
Americans’ outlook on the US remains generally bleak: 70% say things in the country are going badly, an uptick from 65% in December. Much of that shift comes from rising pessimism among Democrats: 58% now say things are going badly, a 16-point rise from last month.
But while public discontent with the state of the nation remains widespread, the severity of Americans’ unhappiness appears to be abating. Just 15% say that things in the country are going “very badly,” down from last year’s peak of 34% during the summer and lower than at any time since May 2018.
Frighteningly, the extremists now control Kevin McCarthy, so one needs to very afraid for what damage the GOP will do to the nation and everyday Americans.
Thursday, January 26, 2023
Rural America's Resentment is Fueling the GOP
Rural America has become the Republican Party’s life preserver.
Less densely settled regions of the country, crucial to the creation of congressional and legislative districts favorable to conservatives, are a pillar of the party’s strength in the House and the Senate and a decisive factor in the rightward tilt of the Electoral College. Republican gains in such sparsely populated areas are compensating for setbacks in increasingly diverse suburbs where growing numbers of well-educated voters have renounced a party led by Donald Trump and his loyalists.
The anger and resentment felt by rural voters toward the Democratic Party is driving a regional realignment similar to the upheaval in the white South after Democrats, led by President Lyndon Johnson, won approval of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Even so, Republicans are grasping at a weak reed. . . . “Between 2010 and 2020, rural America lost population for the first time in history as economic turbulence had a significant demographic impact. The rural population loss was due to fewer births, more deaths, and more people leaving than moving in.”
The shift to the right in rural counties is one side of a two-part geographic transformation of the electorate . . . . rural Republican areas are becoming more Republican predominantly due to voters in these places switching their partisanship to Republican. This is in contrast to urban areas becoming increasingly more Democratic largely due to the high levels of Democratic partisanship in these areas among new voters entering the electorate.
There are few, if any, better case studies of rural realignment and the role it plays in elections than the 2022 Senate race in Wisconsin. The basic question, there, is how Ron Johnson — a Trump acolyte who derided climate change with an epithet, who described the Jan. 6 insurrectionists as “people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement” and who proposed turning Social Security and Medicare into discretionary programs subject to annual congressional budget cutting —- got re-elected in Wisconsin. . . . . The simple answer: white rural Wisconsin.
She summed up the basis for the discontent among these voters in a single sentence: “First, a belief that rural areas are ignored by decision makers, including policymakers, second, a perception that rural areas do not get their fair share of resources, and third a sense that rural folks have fundamentally distinct values and lifestyles, which are misunderstood and disrespected by city folks.”
David Hopkins, a political scientist at Boston College, described how the urban-rural partisan divide was driven by a conflation of cultural and racial controversies starting in the late 1980s and accelerating into the 1990s . . . . “the 1992 presidential election began to signal the emerging configuration of ‘red’ and ‘blue’ geographic coalitions that came to define contemporary partisan competition.”
Hopkins compares voter trends in large metro areas, small metro areas and rural areas. Through the three elections from 1980 to 1988, the urban, suburban and rural regions differed in their vote by a relatively modest five points. That begins to change in 1992, when the urban-rural difference grows to roughly 8 percentage points, and then keeps growing to reach nearly 24 points in 2016.
[M]ounting rural resentment over marginalization from the mainstream and urban disparagement is a driving force in the growing strength of the Republican Party in sparsely populated regions of America. . . . . while “place-based resentment” can be found in cities, suburbs and rural communities, it “was only consistently predictive of vote choice for rural voters.”
In this respect, conditions in rural areas have worsened, with an exodus of jobs and educated young people, which in turn increases the vulnerability of the communities to adverse, negative resentment. . . . . the key factor driving rural voters to the Republican Party: anger at perceived unfair distribution of resources by government, a sense of being ignored by decision makers or the belief that rural communities have a distinct set of values that are denigrated by urban dwellers.
Trujillo and Crowley conclude that “culture differences play a far stronger role in determining the vote than discontent over the distribution of economic resources.” Stands on what Trujillo and Crowley call “symbolic” issues “positively predict Trump support and ideology while the more material subdimension negatively predicts these outcomes, if at all.”
While rural America has moved to the right, Trujillo and Crowley point out that there is considerable variation: “poorer and/or farming-dependent communities voted more conservative, while amenity- or recreation-based rural economies voted more liberal in 2012 and 2016” and the “local economies of Republican-leaning districts are declining in terms of income and gross domestic product, while Democratic-leaning districts are improving.”
Democratic efforts to regain support in rural communities face the task of somehow ameliorating conflicts over values, religion and family structure, which is far more difficult than lessening economic tensions that can be addressed though legislation. . . . . it comes down to brain drain and college-educated voters. It has always been about the mobility of the college educated and the folks getting left behind without that college diploma. Not one high school dropout we encountered back when we wrote about Iowa managed to leave the county (unless they got sent to prison), and the kids with degrees were leaving in droves.
Urban rural “apartheid” further reinforces ideological and affective polarization. The geographic separation of Republicans and Democrats makes partisan crosscutting experiences at work, in friendships, in community gatherings, at school or in local government — all key to reducing polarization — increasingly unlikely to occur.
Republicans' 30% Sales Tax Would Harm Working Americans
A small minority of House Republicans may force a vote on the creation of a national sales tax. This will needlessly give Democrats a political cudgel in exchange for a flawed bill with no hope of passing.
The Fair Tax Act has been introduced by a small handful of Republicans in every Congress since 1999. The bill proposes to abolish the Internal Revenue Service and eliminate the federal income tax. So far, so good. Unfortunately, the bill would replace the income tax with a 30 percent national sales tax on all goods and services . . . . .
Replacing our current tax code with a national sales tax would create a system of double taxation on retirees. Take, for example, a 65-year-old who has spent a lifetime saving after-tax income and has retired, expecting to draw down that income without paying further taxes. Instead, they would now face a 30 percent sales tax on everything they buy. Representatives seeking reelection may want to remember that people over the age of 65 tend to vote.
The Fair Tax Act would also strip any work requirements from the tax code—an approach that is completely antithetical to conservative principles. Under the bill’s plan, all households would receive a monthly check from the federal government regardless of earned income.
Fair Tax proponents typically frame the prebate as a replacement for the current standard deduction allowed under the federal income-tax code, as well as an advance refund on sales taxes that will be paid. But this argument carries little weight given that these payments would be untethered from taxpayers’ actual consumer spending.
Despite all of these shortcomings, the Fair Tax Act’s lead sponsor, Representative Buddy Carter of Georgia, recently told reporters that as part of a deal to drop their opposition to Kevin McCarthy’s effort to secure the speakership, holdout members in the House had been privately promised an up-or-down vote on the bill. But, luckily, the Fair Tax Act has no hope of passing in the House.
In the 24 years of the Fair Tax proposal’s existence, House Republicans have declined to hold a single hearing or mark-up session in committee, let alone a floor vote. The number of lawmakers sponsoring the bill has actually declined with each Congress, falling from a peak of 76 House Republicans in 2015 to 24 today. The Fair Tax effort is not gaining momentum but losing it.
The bill probably won’t even get a vote in committee: Republican opposition is reportedly so strong that Carter is likely to soft-pedal the bill to avoid the embarrassing spectacle of Republican committee members unanimously rejecting it. But should the bill somehow reach the floor of the House, it is safe to assume that roughly 90 percent of Republicans will vote against it. In addition, the bill would stand no chance in the Senate, and the president has said he would veto it.
None of this has stopped Democrats from seizing the opportunity to claim that Republicans now want to raise taxes on the poor and middle class. President Biden bludgeoned Republicans from the presidential podium a week after it was reported that the bill would receive a vote. . . . .he said sarcastically. “It would raise taxes on the middle class by taxing thousands of everyday items, from groceries to gas, while cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans.”
Later, Biden’s chief of staff openly mocked Carter on Twitter for his statement that if consumers don’t want to pay a 30 percent sales tax on some item, then “don’t buy it. It’s as simple as that.” Democrats are right to be confident they have the winning message there.
This past election cycle showed how Democrats are still succeeding in tagging mainstream GOP candidates with unrepresentative minority positions on tax policy. Before the midterms, Senator Rick Scott of Florida put out a list of policy ideas that included a remark that all Americans “should have skin in the game” when it comes to federal income taxes.
Even though Scott ultimately dropped the point, his status as chairman of the Senate Republican Campaign Committee gave Democrats what one Democratic operative called a fundraising “godsend,” enabling attack ads that painted all Republicans as plotting to raise taxes on retirees and low- and middle-income Americans.
Imagine what Democrats will be able to do if they get the opportunity of an actual House vote on a federal sales tax. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already taken aim at House Republicans in competitive seats in recent elections with negative ads focused on the Fair Tax.
To mitigate the political damage already done, Republicans need to kill the bill. Denounce it. In public. Loudly. This may seem harsh, but it’s no less than the Fair Tax deserves.
Wednesday, January 25, 2023
Has Putin Set the Sage for His Own Ultimate Demise?
Wartime leaders change generals when they’re losing, not winning. On Jan. 11, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Valery Gerasimov, chief of the general staff, was to replace Sergei Surovikin, who was appointed just a few months earlier in October, as his new overall commander of Russian military forces in Ukraine. The only reasonable conclusion: Putin understands that Russia is losing in Ukraine.
This shake-up at the top of the military is not the only sign of Putin’s recognition of failure. He canceled his annual end-of-year news conference, evidently reluctant to take questions even from a mostly loyal and controlled press corps. His solitary and subdued appearance at the Cathedral of the Annunciation in the Kremlin on Orthodox Christmas communicated little confidence.
His propagandists sound depressed. Strikingly, one of them, Sergei Markov, summed up the previous year by stating bluntly, “The USA was the main winner of 2022. Especially Biden.” Newspaper reporter Maksim Yusin recently said on a talk show that Russia’s “special military operation” had achieved none of its original goals. Former Putin adviser Sergei Glazyev lamented in public that Russia does not have a clear end objective, a sound ideology or the resources to win the war against the collective West.
Putin plans to reverse 2022’s Russian losses by launching a spring offensive after drafting several hundred thousand more soldiers. But even with incremental successes, he will never be able to restore the reputation he once enjoyed among his subjects as an all-powerful and all-knowing leader. Putin will not recover from his disastrous war in Ukraine.
First, major Russian victories on the battlefield are unlikely. Russia’s armed forces have neither the capabilities nor the will to capture all four Ukrainian regions that Putin annexed on paper last fall. Successful Ukrainian counteroffensives are more likely, especially if President Volodymyr Zelensky receives the offensive weapons — tanks, longer range missiles and jet fighters — he requested from the United States and NATO.
Second, Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine triggered the most comprehensive sanctions we’ve seen imposed against a single country, ending two decades of Russian integration into the global economy. This isolation will continue for as long as Putin is in power. Sanctions are sticky. They will begin to unwind only when new leaders who are less aggressive and autocratic come to power. In the meantime, Russians will face economic malaise and stagnation, a fact the economic elite already understands and laments. Tens of thousands of Russia’s best and brightest have left; thousands more are trying to do so.
Third, Putin’s societal support is soft and declining. Public opinion polls show he still enjoys popular support. But these polls in Russia have high refusal rates, . . . . The minority responding to these polls supports the regime, but the majority who choose not to respond likely do not. And even these highly flawed polls show little enthusiasm and declining support for the war, and a solid majority ready to support Putin if he ends the invasion. Anxiety about the conflict is growing. And the demographics of his support are clear: The older, more rural, less educated and poorer support Putin in greater numbers than the younger, more urban, more educated, wealthier Russians. Putin is losing the future.
Other indicators look equally grim for Putin. Organic mass movements in support of Russian imperialism have not emerged over the past year, but antiwar protests have. . . . If the war was truly popular, why would Putin’s regime need to arrest these allegedly marginal, unpopular critics?
Likewise, a paranoid Putin felt compelled to shut down many independent media channels — including TV Rain and Echo of Moscow radio — and ban Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Yet viewership of Russian state-controlled media outlets is declining while audiences increasingly consume independent media operating from exile.
Revolutions are hard to predict, but Putin remains in little danger of being overthrown through a palace coup or a popular revolt. Over two decades in power, he has constructed a highly repressive dictatorship; his inner circle fears him, while his main critics sit in prison. And in the unlikely event that one of his hawkish critics were to seize power, such a regime would not last long, since none of these militant nationalists enjoy mass followings or ideological appeal. The most likely scenario is Putin will remain in control for the near future, albeit discredited and diminished.
It is hard to escape the sense though that the best days for Putin and his ideas are behind him. Like Leonid Brezhnev in Afghanistan, Putin has overreached in Ukraine. He and his regime will never recover. . . . Putin’s colossal failure in Ukraine could well be the beginning of the end of Putinism. The Russian president’s recent behavior suggests that even he might understand this fact.
Tuesday, January 24, 2023
DeSantis Continues to Pander to White Supremacists
Florida’s Republican governor and presidential aspirant Ron DeSantis has made a name for himself by harassing Black voters, setting up a system to sue teachers for teaching race in ways that might offend Whites, singling out LGBTQ youth (while gagging teachers) and engaging in extreme gerrymandering to reduce the voting power of minorities.
Now he’s gone full-blown white supremacist, banning the College Board’s Advanced Placement for African American studies course from Florida’s schools.
In what is surely among its most explicitly racist actions, the DeSantis administration determined (on what basis?) that the course is “inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value,” according to a Jan. 12 letter from the Florida Education Department to the College Board.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre blasted the move (while clarifying that the White House does not dictate curriculum). Jean-Pierre declared that it is “not new from what we’re seeing, especially from Florida, sadly.” She pointed out that state officials “didn’t block AP European History. … They didn’t block our art history. But the state chooses to block a course that is meant for high-achieving high school students to learn about their history of arts and culture.”
I hate to point out — for fear of putting a target on its back — that the University of Florida has an esteemed African American Studies program (as does virtually every other well-regarded university). . . . The university goes on to provide the essential historical context for the program: “Before 1958, a state law in Florida banned black attendance at public universities in undergraduate, graduate and professional programs. Between 1945 and 1958, 85 black students applied for admission to all levels of UF, and all were rejected.” The University of Florida, like many institutions in the South, was the site of “massive resistance” after Brown v. Board of Education mandated desegregation:
In 1949 Virgil Hawkins was public relations director of Bethune-Cookman College at Daytona Beach when he applied to the University of Florida’s law school. Five other blacks applied with Hawkins to UF graduate and law programs, but all were refused admission. They sued in the Florida Supreme Court for an order requiring UF to admit them. The state of Florida offered to send them out of state. Also, the Board of Control voted to establish a segregated law school at [Florida A&M University]. …
The U.S. Supreme Court ordered Florida to immediately enroll [Hawkins] in 1957, but the Florida Supreme Court concluded that federal law could be superseded by state law in some instances (the now-discredited “interposition” doctrine).
That sad chapter in Florida history gets at the heart of the problem. This is fact-based history, and Florida did not explain how the AP course supposedly contravened state law. If it is referencing last year’s Stop WOKE Act, which blocks the teaching of material that could make students feel guilt or responsibility for historical racism, then one has to wonder whether something as simple and straightforward as the state’s own history of segregated education can be studied.
The DeSantis administration’s actions put to lie the notion that the attack on “critical race theory” is aimed at “socialist ideas” or educationally suspect pedagogy. This is about rewriting history to wipe out a critical part of our American experience, to deny the wrongs done to millions of Americans and to exempt institutions from the obligation to take a hard look at remedying past injustice.
It will be interesting to see if former senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), the new president of the University of Florida, has anything to say about this decision. It provides an early test as to whether he is a serious educator or a political hack.
In any event, DeSantis can expect more litigation over this latest move to appease the right-wing base. Janai S. Nelson, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, told me, “If the new Advanced Placement Course on African American Studies violates Florida laws, as alleged by the Florida Department of Education, it only proves the unconstitutionality of the state’s laws.”
Historically, a key aspect of white supremacy has been the denial of Blacks’ own suffering, their historical experience and their current scholarship. It’s the ultimate expression of contempt for certain Americans as unworthy and peripheral to the story of “real” — read “White” — America. The goal here is unmistakable: eradication of African American historical experience.
DeSantis and those playing to White grievance may prefer that students never learn about such figures and incidents. But considering the damage already done in under-educating Americans, perhaps African American studies (and a complete study of the diverse American experience) should be included in every K-12 curriculum for every student.
Ron DeSantis should remind us that if we want a fully aware, educated population capable of functioning as competent citizens in a diverse democracy, the rest of us need to push back against nefarious attempts to erase history.
DeSantis is despicable. As for Floridians who support him, I can only conclude they are morally bankrupt and I will now think twice before vacationing in Florida again.
Monday, January 23, 2023
Is the GOP Finally Losing Older Voters?
Is it time to call the next election “the most important in American history”? Probably. It seems like it may involve a judgment on democracy itself. Americans with a lot of history will play a key role in determining its outcome.
And judging in part by November’s midterms, they may not play the role that older voters are usually assigned. We at Third Act, the group we helped form in 2021, think older Americans are beginning a turn in the progressive direction, a turn that will accelerate as time goes on.
A lot has been written about the impact of young voters in November’s contests, and rightly so. The enormous margins that Democrats ran up among voters under 30 let them squeak through in race after race. Progressives should be incredibly grateful that the next generation can see straight through Trumpism in a way too many of their elders can’t.
But there were also intriguing hints of what looked like a gray countercurrent that helped damp the expected red wave. Yes, older people by and large voted Republican . . . . But in the 63 most competitive congressional districts, the places where big money was spent on ads and where the margin in the House was decided, polling by AARP, an advocacy group for people over 50, found some fascinating numbers.
In early summer, Republicans had a sturdy lead among older voters in 50 of those districts, up 50 percent to 40 percent. Those had Republicans salivating. But on Election Day, voters over 65 actually broke for Democrats in those districts, 49 to 46.
That doesn’t surprise us at Third Act. . . . . Some of the issues that benefited Democrats are obvious, of course. Republican messaging included calls for weakening Social Security and Medicare even though most older beneficiaries rely on Social Security for most of their income, and for an estimated 40 percent it’s all their retirement income. The cruelty of toying with people’s life support systems is matched only by its political foolishness. Among voters 65 and over, Social Security and Medicare were among the top concerns.
But something else happened, too. When the Supreme Court tossed out Roe v. Wade in early summer, most of the pictures were of young women protesting . . . . But people we know in their 60s and 70s felt a real psychic upheaval: A woman’s right to choose had been part of their mental furniture for five decades. And they’ve lived their entire lives in what they had imagined was a stable and working democracy.
The top concern to voters 65 and over, especially women, was “threats to democracy,” according to AARP. And exit polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that among women 50 and older, the court’s decision overturning the constitutional right to abortion had a major impact on which candidate they supported. . . . Voters who said the Supreme Court’s abortion decision was the single most important factor in their vote supported Democrats by a margin of 2 to 1.
And it’s not only abortion: The Supreme Court also took on the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. We helped win these fights once, turning out by the tens of millions to oppose the war in Vietnam or for the first Earth Day. And we can help win them again — we have the muscle memory of what organizing on a big scale feels like.
With the election past, Third Act is now digging into work on climate change — in particular targeting the big American banks (JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Bank of America) that are also the biggest lenders to the fossil fuel industry. On March 21 we’ll be cutting up bank credit cards and picketing bank branches across the country.
But here’s the thing. Many of us are going to be here for quite a while. Ten thousand Americans turn 60 every day, and on average we’ll live another 23 years. The last of the baby boomers, will be 65 or older in 2030. Youth voters, moreover, are youth voters for only about a decade. One guarantee for 2024: We’ll vote in huge numbers, as we always do. One possibility is that we’ll help turn back the clock a little, toward the world we actually built in our youth. We’re not your parent’s grandparents.
Sunday, January 22, 2023
Did the Dobbs Decision Violate the Establishment Clause?
“How is your interest anything but a religious view?” Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked the lawyer for the state of Mississippi during oral arguments in the case that would later eliminate the constitutional right to abortion. “So when you say this is the only right that takes away from the state the ability to protect a life, that’s a religious view, isn’t it?”
Sotomayor didn’t receive much of an answer. “The people should get to debate these hard issues,” replied Mississippi Solicitor General Scott Stewart. Nor did the court’s eventual opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization grapple with the question of how the ruling aligns with the Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom and its prohibition against state establishment of religion.
But such questions have bubbled up in the chaotic aftermath of Dobbs, as abortion rights advocates scramble for alternative arguments to protect a woman’s right to choose. In Florida, a progressive synagogue sued to block the state law prohibiting abortion after 15 weeks, arguing that it conflicts with Jewish law, under which, the synagogue said, abortion “is required if necessary to protect the health, mental or physical well-being of the woman.”
The lawsuit, filed in state court, contends that the law violates the religious freedom guaranteed by the Florida constitution and “threatens the Jewish people by imposing the laws of other religions upon Jews.”
Now, a lawsuit filed by 13 members of the clergy in Missouri picks up on Sotomayor’s question and builds on the companion constitutional protection against establishment of a state religion.
On a federal level, this argument would be an almost certain loser, with a Supreme Court that has demonstrated increasing willingness to blur the line of separation between church and state. Even in 1980, when the court took a stricter view of church-state separation, it refused to hold that the law barring Medicaid funding for the procedure violated the establishment clause.
The outcome in Missouri courts could be different, though its abortion law — passed in 2019 with a near-complete ban on abortion in anticipation of Roe v. Wade being overturned — is explicitly grounded on religion. It states that the legislature is acting to regulate abortion “in recognition that Almighty God is the author of life.”
Lawmakers urging its passage were not coy about their religious motivation. “As a Catholic, I do believe life begins at conception and that is built into our legislative findings,” said state then-Rep. Nick Schroer, the lead sponsor. Said then-Rep. Holly Thompson Rehder, “God doesn’t give us a choice in this area. He is the creator of life. And I, being made in His image and likeness, don’t get to choose to take that away, no matter how that child came to be. To me, life begins at conception, and my God doesn’t give that option.”
As the Missouri lawsuit argues, “Questions such as the point at which life begins and whether or when ensoulment occurs are quintessentially religious ones, about which different religions hold differing views. … The explicit invocations of conservative Christian notions of ‘conception’ and sanctity of life in the text and legislative debate on H.B. 126 to justify banning abortion impose these particular religious beliefs on all Missourians, coercing people and faith communities with different beliefs and commitments to adhere to religious requirements of a faith that is not their own.”
In addition, the Missouri Supreme Court has taken a more exacting view of separation of church and state under the state constitution than its federal counterpart, saying that the charter “contemplates a strict and pervasive severance between religion and the state.”
There wasn’t much severance going on when Missouri passed its law. “Abortion bans impose one narrow religious viewpoint on all of us,” said Rachel Laser of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which brought the case along with National Women’s Law Center. “They violate church-state separation.
Even if the lawsuit succeeds, cases such as these are Band-Aids, not cures. Missouri legislators could presumably still enact a new antiabortion law without some of the religious language that makes its current statute at least theoretically vulnerable.
Whatever its ultimate resolution, the Missouri lawsuit highlights the religious tensions unavoidable in the post-Dobbs debate. Yes, other religious and moral views are written into civil law — “Thou shalt not kill.” But abortion is uniquely grounded on metaphysical and, ultimately, religious convictions about when life begins.
“How is your interest anything but a religious view?” I still haven’t heard a convincing answer to Sotomayor’s vexing question.