Rokita Again…

A week or so ago, a reader sent me a private message about a “thin blue line” flag he’d seen displayed in a window of the Indiana Statehouse. It concerned him, because he was aware that the flag was associated with the White Supremacy movement.

I was totally unaware of the flag’s message or existence, so I consulted Google.

According to Wikipedia, “The thin blue line US flag has appeared regularly at Trump rallies. The flag, which ostensibly stands for solidarity with the police, appeared as well at the January 6 United States Capitol attack, during which police officers were beaten and attacked by the mob of Trump supporters and far right extremists.”

Police departments in Madison, Wisconsin and Los Angeles, California have banned police display of the flag because of its associations with views described as “undemocratic, racist, and bigoted.”

According to the Los Angeles Times,

For some, the “thin blue line” flag is an expression of solidarity with police officers who have lost their lives on the job.

To others, the black-and-white American flag with a single blue stripe is a potent symbol of the ties between right-wing extremism and American law enforcement.

The tension between those irreconcilable interpretations spilled over in the Los Angeles Police Department this month, when Chief Michel Moore ordered the flag, which was widely displayed in station lobbies around the city, to be removed from public view….

In a department-wide email, Moore said the flag’s original meaning of support for police had been overshadowed when it began appearing at rallies for the Proud Boys and other far-right extremist groups.

“It’s unfortunate that extremist groups have hijacked the use of the ‘Thin Blue Line Flag’ to symbolize their undemocratic, racist, and bigoted views. Flags serve as powerful symbols with specific meanings,” he wrote, adding that officers would still be allowed to display the flag in their personal work spaces, lockers and personal vehicles

My correspondent’s knowledge of the contested meaning of the flag led him to do some further digging; after attending a downtown meeting, he visited the Statehouse in an effort to determine just whose office was responsible for the display. He learned that–as you have probably guessed from the title of this post– the office was that of Indiana’s Attorney General, Todd Rokita.

That would be the same Todd Rokita who has consistently pandered to the GOP’s extreme Right, the Todd Rokita who has enthusiastically repeated his endorsement of indicted former President Trump, and thrown the weight of his office behind anti-abortion extremists– the same Todd Rokita who has now been charged by an Indiana judicial watchdog with violating professional conduct rules while conducting his unhinged vendetta against the Indiana University doctor who performed an abortion on a 10-year-old rape victim from Ohio.

The complaint against Rokita was filed by the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission–not by a partisan political body. (Rokita is currently paying the  outside lawyers defending him against those charges with our tax dollars.)

Is it possible that Rokita was unaware that the “blue lives matter” flag had been hijacked by White Supremacists? Sure. (Rokita isn’t known for doing meticulous research.) But even giving him the benefit of that doubt, display of the flag is problematic. It originated in response to the multiple demonstrations organized by Black Lives Matter following the murder of George Floyd, and even at the beginning was widely seen as a criticism of Black activism and support for “active” policing tactics.

Purposeful display of that flag thus sends a message to Black Hoosiers about the loyalties of their state’s Attorney General, who is supposed to serve the interests of all of the citizens of Indiana without favoritism or bias.

The office is supposed to represent the state in cases involving the state’s interest, provide legal defense to state officials or agencies in court, and provide formal advisory opinions on constitutional or legal questions to state officials. 

Rokita has used it to wage culture war.

He regularly joins with other Republican AGs in national, highly partisan cases that do not involve Indiana, and he is currently fighting to keep an ethics opinion involving his own “side” employment secret. His persistent, unwarranted attacks against the doctor who aborted a ten-year-old who’d been viciously raped–a doctor who’d followed all applicable laws–is beyond disgusting.

Given what we know of Rokita and his ambitions, I’d be willing to bet that he knew about the White Nationalist associations of that flag, but even if he didn’t, its display is a highly inappropriate signal of where his partialities lie.

I don’t know who the Democrats will run against him, but that person already has my vote–and deserves yours. Rokita needs to go.

A Case Study

Wisconsin is currently providing us with a lesson about the state of American democracy.

It isn’t just the arrogance of Republicans who are threatening to overturn the expressed will of the voters with a trumped-up impeachment of a state supreme court judge; the state is a case study for Democrats elsewhere whose voters face similarly manufactured limits on their ability to win elections.

Last December, just after the midterms, the Guardian ran a report on how Democrats had managed to fight back in what the article called “the nation’s most gerrymandered state.”

Ben Wikler spent so much time poring over polls ahead of the midterm elections that it eventually became too much to bear.

“I was throwing up with anxiety,” Wikler, the chair of Wisconsin’s Democratic party, confessed to the Guardian.

It wasn’t merely out of concern, common to Democrats nationwide in the run-up to the early November vote, that voters were set to give their candidates the traditional drubbing of the party in power, powered by Joe Biden’s unpopularity or the wobbly state of the economy.

Rather, Wikler feared that in Wisconsin his party was on the brink of something worse: permanent minority status in a state that is crucial to any presidential candidate’s path to the White House.

What the party faced in Wisconsin was dire: if Democratic Governor Tony Evers lost re-election, or if the state’s GOP achieved supermajority control of Wisconsin’s legislature, the GOP could have ensured that its electoral college votes never helped a Democrat win the White House.

As Wikler said, Wisconsin is “a state where Republicans have tried to engineer things to make it voter-proof.”

According to several studies, Wisconsin is the most gerrymandered state in the country, and the fourth most difficult state in which to cast a ballot. It also has laws that make it practically impossible to conduct voter registration drives.

But Wisconsin’s Republicans are looking to tighten access to polling places further, and passed a host of measures to do so, all of which fell to Evers’s veto pen. With a supermajority in the legislature, they would have been able to override his vetoes. In a speech to supporters, Tim Michels, the Republican candidate for governor, made it plain that if he was elected, the GOP “will never lose another election” in the state.

Amazingly, despite being faced with enormous structural barriers,  Evers was re-elected, and Wisconsin Democrats narrowly managed to keep Republicans from a supermajority in both houses of the legislature. Democrats’ success at standing their ground in Wisconsin was one of the most pleasant surprises the party experienced in the midterms.

What accounted for Evers’ robust win?

The fact that statewide races can’t be gerrymandered is obviously key. And according to various news sources, Evers had a clear advantage over Michels among those age 18 to 44 years old, an age cohort that made up more than a third of voters in Wisconsin.

Evers also had stronger support for the issues he ran on than Michels did.

The AP VoteCast survey showed the most important issue facing the country for Wisconsin voters was overwhelmingly the economy and jobs. However, Evers focused much of his campaign on abortion, which was only slightly more important to voters than the issue of crime, something Michels made a prominent theme of his candidacy.

Voters who cared most about the economy split their votes between the parties–but Wisconsin voters who said the abortion issue was very important to them were lopsidedly pro-choice. Evers attributed the strength of his win to that issue.

There is a lesson here for Indiana in next year’s statewide elections.

As with Wisconsin, Indiana’s extreme gerrymandering will be irrelevant in the upcoming statewide races. And–mirroring the Wisconsin gubernatorial contest–the Hoosier electorate cares about economic and public safety issues, but is divided on which party is best able to address those issues.

As in Wisconsin, however, Hoosiers who care about reproductive rights are lopsidedly pro-choice.

All but one of the five Republicans running for Governor are running ads professing their “pro-life” and “Christian faith” credentials. The already-endorsed Republican Senate candidate (Indiana’s male version of Margery Taylor Green) is a flat-out culture warrior who supports a ban on abortion with no exceptions, along with a multitude of other far-Right positions. (He recently called President Biden the “most corrupt person to ever occupy the White House.”  No kidding.)

I will grant that Indiana’s state Democratic party structure ranks somewhere between weak and “where the hell are you?” but the party has lucked out with strong and appealing statewide candidates–Jennifer McCormick for Governor and Marc Carmichael for U.S. Senate. Both  are on the right side of the issues Hoosier voters care about, and–if adequately funded– both can win next November.

We can learn from Wisconsin.

From Your Mouth To God’s Ears…

My grandmother had a favorite response whenever one of us made a rosy prediction. That phrase– “From your mouth to God’s ears!”–was her way of expressing hope that the prediction would come true.

I had a very similar reaction to a column by Greg Sargent in the Washington Post. Sargent asserted that a MAGA “doom loop” would defeat Trump and the GOP next year–an outcome I devoutly hope to see. His thesis is as follows: Republicans continue to defend and embrace Trump’s authoritarianism. That backfired when voters responded by defeating the predicted Red wave in the 2022 midterms and continuing to defeat Republican candidates in multiple ensuing special elections.
 Subsequently–as Sargent accurately reports–rather than learning the rather obvious lesson from those defeats, Republicans have dug in. They’re going even further Right, responding to electoral losses “with even more flagrantly anti-democratic maneuvers all around the country.”

The pattern is becoming clear: Even as voters are mobilizing to protect democracy at the ballot box, Republicans are redoubling their commitment to the former president’s anti-majoritarian mode of politics. And this, in turn, is motivating voters even more.
Call it the “MAGA doom loop.” It’s playing out in state after state.

Sargent supports his thesis by surveying the disarray and infighting in several state-level Republican parties–notably, Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin (where the GOP is threatening a bizarre, anti-democratic response to the electoral loss of a state supreme court seat.)

As Sargent predicts about Wisconsin,

Democrats will surely be able to use those MAGA-approved tactics to mobilize voters against Trump and Republicans in 2024. “The threat to overturn an election through impeachment pushes MAGA attacks on democracy to the top of voters’ minds,” Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair Ben Wikler told me.

He also reminded readers of the recent shenanigans in Ohio, where Republicans tried to  raise the threshold for amending the state constitution to 60 percent of votes cast, in order to head off an almost-certain victory for reproductive rights in an upcoming referendum. Despite scheduling the vote on this single, arguably technical issue for August, turnout was robust, and the change was defeated by a crushing 14-points.

Research confirms that Issues become salient for voters when elites talk about those issues a lot, and in the U.S., concerns about democracy have increasingly taken center stage. A newsletter I subscribe to recently and helpfully included a partial list of current GOP threats to democracy:

In May, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed into law a measure that will create a commission that can punish and remove prosecutors, saying it will curb “far-left prosecutors.” That includes a certain prosecutor pursuing the case against former President Donald Trump.

In April, Iowa’s Republican-led legislature introduced a bill that restricted information the state auditor—the only Democratic Statewide office holder—could access. “Let’s be clear about this, this is the destruction of democratic norms,” State Auditor Rob Sand said.

Immediately after last year’s nonpartisan Ohio State Board of Education election created a majority of members aligned with the Democratic party, conservative legislators moved to transfer the body’s power to a new department under the governor’s authority. While the bill failed during that year’s session, a similar bill passed in the Senate in January of this year and was introduced into the House in March (it’s currently in committee).

In 2021, Republicans in Arizona, using the state budget, stripped the Arizona Secretary of State—a Democrat–of the right to defend the state’s election laws in court—handing it over to the attorney general who happens to have been—you guessed it—a Republican. Any pretense that it was done as a move to strengthen some legal principle was undermined by the fact they intended the move to expire simultaneously with the end of the term of the secretary of state. Taking aim at secretaries of state is no accident, as these officers have authority over how elections are conducted. Legislators similarly trimmed the power of secretaries of state in Georgia and Kansas. In fact, Republicans have moved to take control over the election process in at least eight states.

In recent years, after Democrats were elected to statewide offices in North Carolina , Wisconsin, and Michigan, Republican-led legislatures and governors moved to severely weaken their powers.

This doesn’t even begin to address the gerrymandering and the changing of rules over the last decade or so to make voting harder, more complicated, and less likely, especially among people of color, including restrictive voter ID laws and aggressive voter purges.

The “chattering classes” tell us that democracy is on the ballot in 2024. They’re correct–it is. 

I just hope Sargent’s “doom loop” thesis proves to be equally correct…..


Research Supports A UBI

During the pandemic, the Biden administration instituted a childcare tax credit. The credit provided families up to $300 per child and broadened eligibility rules. The result? Child poverty rates plummeted.

But as Robert Hubbell, among others, has reported     

Senator Joe Manchin joined with Republicans to kill the childcare tax credit because Manchin reportedly believed that caregivers were using the money to purchase illegal drugs. A new study by the US Census Bureau released on Tuesday reports that child poverty nearly doubled as a result of the termination of benefits by Manchin and the GOP.

An article written by a social worker addressed that widespread, distorted view of poverty and poor people. 

If my decades of work as a social worker taught me one great lesson, it’s this. Poverty is an entrenched system of political choices by self-serving lawmakers, not a personal failing of ordinary people…..

Not one person I’ve ever met wants to be poor, sick, disabled, struggling, or on the receiving end of public assistance programs. These programs are vital but often inadequate and difficult to access…

In 21st-century America, people have to be in extreme hardship to be eligible for help, even as they sometimes work multiple jobs. Not one mother relishes taking three buses in terrible weather to get to the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) office to prove her worthiness to get help buying cereal for her toddler’s breakfast.

While the importance of hard work and individual talent to self-sufficiency shouldn’t be minimized, neither should it be exaggerated. When the focus is entirely upon the individual, when successes of any sort are attributed solely to individual effort, we fail to see the effects of social and legal structures that privilege some groups and impede others. When marginalized groups call attention to additional barriers they face, members of more privileged groups cling even more strongly to the fiction that only individual merit explains success and failure.

Anyone who has studied the issue, even superficially, knows that America’s social safety net is punitive and woefully inadequate. Too much of what we spend on the  patchwork of programs we sneeringly refer to as “welfare” supports a needlessly complicated bureaucracy, rather than the people who desperately need help. (The working poor are basically ineligible.)

Worse still, these various programs are incredibly and arrogantly paternalistic. Bureaucrats–many well-meaning–decide what “those people” need, and legislate accordingly. Don’t buy a steak with those food stamps! Don’t continue to live in that neighborhood–we’ll move you to one we’ve decided is more appropriate. 

If we just gave poor people money, and let them make their own decisions, it would be cheaper– and far more effective.

I have written before–and at length–about the multiple merits of a Universal Basic Income (UBI), and I hope at least a few of you will click through and read that expanded explanation, but today, I want to address the current “system” (note quotation marks) and the very expensive efforts to control what poor folks do with the benefits government provides.

A variety of UBI pilot projects have tested Manchin’s belief that idlers and other “unworthies” would simply use public money for booze or drugs. One such program has reached its halfway point, and its results mirror those of numerous other pilot projects.

Preliminary data is now available showing the effectiveness of guaranteed income as a means of combating poverty in Georgia – slightly more than half the women have saved some money, compared to none at the project’s outset; three times as many women have been able to afford childcare; and the share of women whose cellphone service was interrupted due to unpaid bills dropped from 60 to 40%.

These and other findings come as more than 100 projects centered on giving cash with no restrictions or requirements have started in the last several years, leading a group called Mayors for a Guaranteed Income to launch a nationwide speaking tour in recent weeks, screening a new documentary on these efforts called It’s Basic.

How did the recipients use these “no-strings-attached” funds? Most of the money went to utilities, food and rent. There were other positive effects; program researchers are measuring improved mental health, and researching whether participants are more likely to reach life goals with the help of guaranteed income. 

Even homeless people act responsibly when given money. Washington Post article reported on the results of a Canadian project that provided a lump sum of 7,500 Canadian dollars (about $5,540 today) to 50 people experiencing homelessness in Vancouver. Recipients spent fewer days homeless, increased their savings and put more money toward essentials compared with a control group of 65 people who received no cash transfer. It also saved the government money.

The study, which was published in the peer-reviewed PNAS journal this week, followed individuals for one year after they received the lump sum and reported no increase in spending on what researchers call “temptation goods,” defined as alcohol, drugs and cigarettes. By decreasing time spent in shelters, the intervention led to a decrease in public spending of 777 Canadian dollars (about $574) per person, the paper said.

Furthermore, a robust social safety net supports market economies. As Will Wilkinson, vice-president for policy at the libertarian Niskanen Center, argued in National Review, capitalists and socialists both misunderstand economic reality. The Left fails to appreciate the important role of capitalism and markets in producing abundance, and the Right refuses to acknowledge the indispensable role safety nets play in buffering the socially destructive consequences of insecurity.

Even capitalists would benefit from a simpler, more equitable and more reliable social safety net.


A Partisan Political Pitch

Warning: the following is a partisan political screed….

As many of you know, I left the Republican Party in 2000, when I foolishly believed that the GOP had hit bottom with George W. Bush. (If you’d told me that twenty years later I would look back on George with something approaching fondness, I’d have said you were crazy…)

In the intervening years, I’ve all too often found myself voting for Hoosier candidates I considered the lesser of two evils–people running for Governor or Senator who were at least not crazy.(I know–low bar.) But this year–okay, really next year–I am in a very different place. There are Democratic candidates for both offices that I am enthusiastically supporting, and I am especially involved with and supportive of Marc Carmichael’s campaign for the U.S. Senate.

Last night, I was one of several co-hosts for a fundraiser for Marc, and I introduced him to an unusually large turnout  for what was a relatively high-ticket event. As I explained to a crowd of some eighty attendees, sometime in late July, I’d read an announcement by a guy I’d never heard of, named Marc Carmichael. He was running for U.S. Senate, and his announcement listed his top twelve priorities.

I agreed with every single one of them.

In a conversation about the upcoming elections, I told a friend of mine what I’d read. I’d have left it there, but he said we should meet this person, and he arranged a lunch for the three of us–something that would never have occurred to me.

We lunched.

We met a down-to-earth, engaging man with an excellent grasp of the issues–and, importantly, a politically savvy man with significant elective and legislative experience, who very clearly understands the challenges that face Democrats in Indiana. (You can read about his priorities and experience here.)

As those of you who are regular readers of this blog already know, I was hooked.

Jim Banks, who will be Marc’s Republican opponent, is a male version of Margery Taylor Green. He is one of the crazy Right-wingers currently threatening to shut down the government–a pro-gun, anti-abortion (with no exceptions!), anti-“woke” MAGA culture warrior who has endorsed Trump and called President Biden “corrupt.”

Hoosier voter’s choice is clear: sane and hardworking versus crazy and embarrassing.

In his speech at our fundraiser (interrupted several times by applause), Marc said he wanted to go to Washington to actually do the job. That line reminded me of something my own political experience has taught me: some people pursue public office because they want to do something–the job– and others just want to “be someone.” Marc has thrown his hat into this particular ring because, like many of us, he has grandchildren and he wants to leave them a habitable planet and a country in which they can flourish.

It is so refreshing to work for a candidate you can respect and admire, rather than someone you support because he or she is the lesser of two evils. Defeating Banks would certainly provide me with political motivation, but defeating him with a first-rate candidate would be icing on the cake.

So, I’m all-in on this campaign, and I am convinced that–assuming Marc can raise enough money to get his message out–he can win, even in Red Indiana.

Here’s my partisan pitch: go to the linked website, or to my previous post on Marc’s priorities. If you agree that he’s the “real deal,” and you share my opinion that Banks is appalling, volunteer or send money.

About the money: Marc doesn’t need to match the Club for Growth and Banks’ other far-right funders, but he needs enough to get his message out. The data I’ve seen confirms that most Hoosiers agree with that message–but they need to hear it. Marc has been out of elective office for many years, and when voters hear his name, they need to know who he is, what he’s done, and what priorities he will support.

Send him money. 

If you are a reader of this blog who sees the world as I do, I’m asking you to trust me on this, and to put your money where our common political hopes and aspirations are.

Candidates in places more purple than Indiana won’t have trouble raising enough money to compete in 2024. We Hoosiers need to fund a repeat of 2008 –when Barack Obama won Indiana– by funding and electing Democrats as Governor and Senator in 2024. It’s time.

We CAN do this!

This blog will return to its usual preachy-ness on the issues tomorrow…..