Describing Mike Pence

Every Monday, Gail Collins and Bret Stephens have a “conversation” on the op-ed page of the New York Times. As I have noted on several occasions, I am a huge fan of Gail Collins, who argues for the liberal side in those conversations, and although I disagree with Bret Stephens–representing the conservative side– on a number of issues (not all), he makes me nostalgic for the time when Republicans a/k/a conservatives could be engaged in actual discussions. Today,  they prefer to emulate monkeys throwing poo….

Unlike the inarticulate Trump Republicans hurling verbal poo, Stephens also has a real talent for witty invective, and that talent was on display in his conversation with Collins last Monday.

The column was titled “The Mike Pence Saga Tells Us More Than We Want to Know,” and after touching on a number of other issues, including New York’s mayoral primary and Trump’s Ohio rally, the conversation turned to Indiana’s ex-Governor and America’s ex-Vice-President, Mike Pence.

Here’s that portion of their back-and-forth:

Bret: You know, I probably spend more time thinking about Mike Pence than I ought to, given my high blood pressure. He reminds me of Mr. Collins, the unctuous clergyman in “Pride and Prejudice” who’s always bowing and scraping to the overbearing, tasteless, talentless Lady Catherine de Bourgh while he lords it over the Bennet family because he stands to inherit their estate. Alternatively, Pence could be a character out of Dickens, with some ridiculous name like Wackford Squeers or Mr. Pumblechook.

Gail: Wow, great analogies. Plus, it is indeed possible you spend more time thinking about Pence than you ought to.

Bret: Here’s a guy who makes his career on the Moral Majority wing of the Republican Party, until he hitches his wagon to the most immoral man ever to win a big-ticket presidential nomination. Phyllis Schlafly deciding to elope with Larry Flynt would have made more sense. Then Pence spends four years as the most servile, toadying, obsequious, fawning, head-nodding, yes-sirring, anything-you-say-boss vice president in history. He’ll do anything for Trump’s love — but not, as the singer Meat Loaf might have said, attempt to steal the presidential election in broad daylight.

For this, Trump rewards Pence by throwing him to a mob, which tried to hunt him down and hang him. But even now, Pence can’t get crosswise with his dark lord, so the idea of him ever taking the party in an anti-Trump direction seems like a fantasy.

Those of us who follow such things have watched as Pence tries to appeal both to Trumpers and to the majority of Americans who were appalled at efforts to withhold certification of the election results. He is continuing his adulation of his “dark lord” while insisting that his courageous fidelity to the Constitution kept him from refusing to perform his electoral duty. That balancing act is unlikely to mollify either the crazies who form the base of today’s GOP or anyone who spent four years observing Mike Pence. (It’s especially unlikely to endear him to Indiana voters, who found his preference for pontificating over governing during the prior four years very tiring).

Pence’s effort to cast himself as a defender of the Constitution is coming at the same time as Bill Barr’s equally tardy effort to distance himself from the Big Lie. (“It’s all bullshit.”)

Neither man is very persuasive, but the efforts are instructive. When two of his biggest sycophants attempt to distance themselves from the disaster that is Trump, it is a clear sign that his influence is waning–that those who were happy to carry his water when he was in office don’t expect him to regain power or influence–or be in any position to do them any good. (It’s too little, too late–Bill Barr is never going to regain the respect of the legal community, and Pence never had the respect of anyone other than a few naive fundamentalists.)

Wackford Squeers sounds about right…


An Un-sedated Colonoscopy

Gail Collins is one of my very favorite columnists. Lately, I have especially enjoyed her weekly “Conversations” with Bret Stephens. Collins is liberal and Stephens is conservative-but-not-batshit-insane, so their Monday Times discussions have been both informative and entertaining.

We can all use some entertainment these days, so I thought I’d share some “highlights” from Monday the 10th.

The linked column  began with a discussion of Trump’s recent speech to his golf club buddies. Both Collins and Stephens agreed that this “allegedly presidential speech” was really just a campaign rant about Joe Biden —” interspersed with reminders that the virus and everything that followed in its wake is ‘China’s fault.'”

Stephens pointed out that the President’s recent “Executive Orders” were unconstitutional (only Congress controls the nation’s purse). That was followed by the following exchange:

Gail: Before I had to listen to him address the nation via his cheering golf partners, I was going to ask you how far the Trump terribleness had driven you. We talk all the time about our mutual desire to clean out the White House. But what about the Senate? Are you rooting for a Republican majority? For Mitch McConnell? For Susan Collins? Tell all.

Bret Stephens: Gail, when it comes to Donald Trump’s Republican Party, I’m a reluctant member of the “destroy-the-village-in-order-to-save-it” school. Obviously I’d much rather see Susan Collins keep her seat than Mitch McConnell keep his post as majority leader, for the same reason that I want moderate Republicans to prevail within the party.

But the most important thing is for the G.O.P. to take such a shellacking in November that they will remember it as the political equivalent of an unsedated colonoscopy.

The thought of handing today’s iteration of the GOP the equivalent of an un-sedated colonoscopy cheered me immensely. I could almost forgive Stephens for some of what I consider his retrograde policy positions.

Stephens followed that zinger up with a good summary of what (the few remaining) rational, unTrumpian Republicans find so unacceptable in this administration:

The kind of Republican Party that didn’t think the term “family values” meant an enrichment scheme for Trump’s children and in-laws; that believed in the power of immigrants to refresh and reinvent the nation; that understood that Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un were the enemy, not Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer; that respected federalism even if it meant deferring to the wishes of Democratic governors and mayors; and that worshiped at the political altars of Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, as opposed to P.T. Barnum and Archie Bunker.

Later, he excoriated the Trump supporters–the “Mark Levin types whose default setting is certitude and fury. And Sean Hannity types whose default is obsequiousness and fury. And Tucker Carlson types whose … ” Well, you know.

And– in yet another bodily reference– Stephens noted that

The only good thing that might have come from putting a libertine at the head of the G.O.P. was to get the party to unconstipate itself. And he couldn’t even get that right.

The column became more serious with a discussion of potential Biden running mates, and then concluded with the following exchange:

Gail: Whenever we get on this subject a wave of sadness overtakes me. Still yearning for Elizabeth Warren. But really, anybody who’s part of a change of administration would be OK by me in the long run. One thing I have to give Trump credit for is a general lowering of expectations.

Bret: Gail, rest assured that before the year is out he’ll lower them some more.

I keep thinking about that initial description of what is needed in November: a defeat that Republicans would experience as an un-sedated Colonoscopy.

Believe it or not, I know a lot of formerly dependable GOP voters who would be happy to contribute to such a defeat, if they thought it would lead to a resurrection of the party they had originally joined.

Personally, I’m with the guy in one of those “former Republican” ads who says he’d vote for a can of tomato soup if it would deliver the country from the chaos of Trump. It reminded me of my sister’s declaration that she’d vote for toenail fungus over Trump.

Our job is to make sure everyone who feels that way casts a vote, and that it gets counted!


The Best Worst

Note: This is tomorrow’s blog. Accidentally posted early.

When I was growing up, there was a widespread assumption that you could judge people by the friends they chose. Did Johnny run around with a bad crowd? Was Susie attracted to “bad boys”? In political life, we had a similar shorthand: did the Mayor or Governor or President surround himself (back then, it was always a him) with quality people? Knowledgable, ethical people? If not, it was a bad sign.

Which brings me to Gail Collins’ recent contest. Collins asked her readers to vote for Trump’s worst cabinet member. As you might guess, the competition was fierce. She began with a warning:

No fair just yelling “Wilbur Ross!” Our secretary of commerce appeared to be trying to sweep the field last week when he expressed bafflement that federal workers were going to food banks during the government shutdown rather than taking out loans.

Collins described several other contenders: Kirstjen Nielsen generated false evidence to justify the president’s ugly immigration policies, oversees the execution of those policies, and consistently lies about them. She’s a strong contestant.

And she’s been pretty effective in carrying out her plans, which is important when you’re part of a crew where ineptitude often cancels out bad intentions.

For instance, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos would certainly like to privatize the nation’s public schools, but she barely seems organized enough to get dressed in the morning. Still, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, believes DeVos should get Worst points for having “basically spent her time in that office working for everyone but the kids.”

If I were voting, DeVos would definitely be a finalist.

Although Collins listed Rick Perry, Mr. “Oops” has managed to look positively benign next to most of the other cabinet members.

Some cabinet-watchers are discovering, to their shock, that they miss Scott Pruitt, who won last year’s competitionas the anti-environment head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt was famous for his public relations disasters. Remember security agentswho were sent to pick up his dry cleaning and drove him from one place to the next in a search for a special moisturizer?

Now we’ve got E.P.A. Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist who’s way better at the job. Presuming you believe the job is screwing up the air and water.

Collins points out that a quarter of the cabinet are “acting”– she terms them “high-end governmental equivalent of temps.” It’s quite a list; it  includes the E.P.A., and the Departments of Defense, Justice and Interior.

People who care about land conservation were unnerved when the inept Ryan Zinke was replaced by Acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, a former oil industry lobbyist. Can you imagine Bernhardt and Wheeler plotting together?

I don’t know where those “people who care about land conservation”–or clean air and water–are, but it’s pretty obvious none of them are serving in this Administration.

Collins acknowledges the challenge in picking a Worst Cabinet Member–as she says, there is so much competition.

Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, ticked off Pompeo, DeVos, Nielsen, Steve Mnuchin (“Certainly the slimiest Treasury secretary ever”) and Housing Secretary Ben Carson.

Let’s face it. The most apparent qualification for a cabinet position in this administration is a belief that the agency you are heading is illegitimate.

Pruitt and Wheeler both prioritize fossil fuel interests over pesky concerns about clean air or water; DeVos (recommended by Mike Pence–need I say more?) has an animus toward public education–both she and Pence want schools to “bring children to Jesus”–and her background included pretty much destroying Michigan’s public schools. Maybe Ben Carson was a good surgeon, but he has often expressed bias against “handouts” like affordable housing, also known as the mission of his agency.

It’s really hard to choose a “worst” from this assortment of incompetents and crooks, otherwise known as Trump’s “best people.”

My favorite description of this pathetic assemblage was posted by a Facebook friend, who said “I’ve seen better cabinets at IKEA.”


Experience Really Does Matter

When I grow up (like that will ever happen!), I want to be Gail Collins.

The witty New York Times columnist has an uncanny ability to hit political nails on their pointy little heads. Most recently, she considered the emergence of Presidential candidates like Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson, both of whom are touting their total lack of political experience as a reason to vote for them.

Virtually every elected president in American history — not counting the occasional military hero — made his way to the top by getting elected to other offices first. There are a couple of exceptions who just served in the cabinet, like Herbert Hoover. We can all look forward to hearing a candidate vow to return us to the golden days of the Hoover administration.

(Here in Indianapolis, we have some recent experience with a chief executive who knew nothing about politics or the governance of a city–or even what a city ought to look like– when he was elected. His steep learning curve has cost Indianapolis in numerous ways.)

When she was in business, I doubt that Fiorina would have hired a high-level executive who had no experience relevant to the position being filled, so one wonders why she thinks her own lack of experience somehow qualifies her for the presidency. (I won’t even raise the issue of her ignominious departure from Hewlett-Packard, after controversies which suggest she wasn’t all that successful in the private sector, either.)

I’ll leave the final word to the better wordsmith. As Collins wrote

People who run for president boasting that they aren’t politicians are frequently just trying to compensate for a lack of political skill. Carson (who presumably wants to run government like an operating room) is going to appeal to the folks who think the military is plotting to take over Texas, but otherwise, his only political gift seems to be for making outrageous statements. Fiorina ran for the Senate in 2010 and was beaten by Barbara Boxer, who was thought to be a vulnerable incumbent until Fiorina got hold of her, racking up a grand total of 42 percent of the vote.

On the plus side, Fiorina’s campaign produced one of the all-time great attack videos, in which her more moderate primary opponent was depicted as a Demon Sheep, portrayed by a man crawling across the grass with what looked like a wooly rug over his back and a piece of cardboard on his face. After that it was downhill all the way.

If you’re shopping for candidates with no experience in the business they want to lead, I’d say at least go for the one with the Demon. But really, there are smarter buys.