Tag Archives: GOP

A Perfect Candidate For The Fact-Free Party

I haven’t commented on the increasingly bizarre stories that continue to emerge about George Santos, the Republican candidate who won a Congressional race in New York, and was later “outed” as a serial liar–or, as several articles like to label him, a “fabulist.”

Initially, I ignored the story. After all, the media was all over it and it was unlikely that anyone who follows political news would be unaware of it. But a recent recap in the New York Times yesterday– just before Santos was scheduled to be sworn in– made me realize that Santos is the candidate who really epitomizes the current state of the once Grand Old Party.

On the off-chance that readers are unaware of the extent of Santos’ fraudulent biography, I’ll share part of the Times’ very abbreviated description:

Mr. Santos has said that he grew up in a basement apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens. Until Wednesday, Mr. Santos’s campaign biography said that his mother, Fatima Devolder, worked her way up to become “the first female executive at a major financial institution.” He has also said that she was in the South Tower of the World Trade Center during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and that she died “a few years later.”

In fact, Ms. Devolder died in 2016, and a Brazilian community newspaper at the time described her as a cook. Mr. Santos’s friends and former roommates recalled her as a hardworking, friendly woman who spoke only Portuguese and made her living cleaning homes and selling food. None of those interviewed by The Times could recall any instance of her working in finance, and several chalked the story up to Mr. Santos’s tendency for mythmaking.

His apparent fabrications about his own life begin with his claims about his high school. He said he attended Horace Mann School, a prestigious private institution in the Bronx, and said he dropped out in 2006 before graduating and earning an equivalency diploma. A spokesman for Horace Mann said that the school had no record of his attending at all.

There is much, much more: his claim to be Jewish and a descendant of Holocaust survivors, an attendee of universities that have no record of his ever being a student, an employee of firms that never heard of him…it goes on. He is evidently still wanted by the police in Brazil, where he admitted to stealing checks from an elderly man.

The extent of his fabrications was uncovered by the Times after the election, which raises all sorts of questions about the failures of both opposition research and the media covering the race. (A tiny Long Island paper, The North Shore Leader, had raised timely questions about his claims, but was ignored.)

Whatever lessons we may want to draw from those failures is one thing. More to the point, what  the revelations really do is shine a bright and unforgiving light on the increasing disaster that is today’s GOP.

Kevin McCarthy has refused to comment on Santos’ deceptions, because he desperately needs the new Congressman’s vote for Speaker of the House–a vote he has thus far been unable to secure despite prostrating himself to the lunatic caucus. There’s a down-and-dirty fight for the position of Chair of the RNC–a fight featuring arguments over who has the most fidelity to Trump, and “serious “candidates like The Pillow Guy.

Santos’ campaign evidently focused heavily on his presumed (invented) bona fides–a perfect representation of the current Republican Party, which has abandoned even the pretense of policy advocacy in favor of a full-blown dependence upon identity politics.

I know that very few voters actually read the party platforms that have routinely been produced by the parties until now, but the significance of the Republicans’ refusal to even bother creating one is obvious. Today’s GOP relies for support on two groups: rich people who don’t want to pay taxes, and White Christian Nationalists frantic not to be “replaced” by Jews and/or people of color. Its subservience to both doesn’t need to be spelled out in a platform.

Really, when you think about it, Santos is a perfect representation of today’s GOP–a party devoted to the Big Lie(s) perpetrated by a more successful con man. Like Trump, Santos won an election by pretending to be something he isn’t–in Trump’s case, a successful businessman–and has evidently used campaign dollars to enrich himself.

It remains to be seen whether Congress will be stuck with this character for the entirety of his two-year term, or whether he’ll be forced out. Either way, I think it’s safe to say that the next two years will feature the inevitable implosion of the current iteration of the Republican Party.

Pass the popcorn.

 

 

Follow The Money…

A recent diatribe posted to the progressive site Daily Kos made me think. It began with a recitation of the many indisputably negative elements of our current social and political environment.

Violence toward women and minorities has exploded. Armed militias tried to assassinate the Vice President and Speaker of the House in an attempted coup directed by the Republican President of the United States. They tried to kidnap and murder the Democratic governor of Michigan. They’re blowing up power substations from Oregon to the Carolinas. They’ve embedded themselves in DHS, police departments, and our military. They’re coordinating with fascists overseas.

“They” are the MAGA extremists, Neo-Nazis and Christian Nationalists who perpetrate most acts if domestic terrorism, and those who facilitate and/or excuse them.

The writer blamed all of this on “Reaganism” and the GOP, an accusation that vastly over-simplified the complexities of social outcomes. (That said, I agree that the rise of populism and the takeover of the Republican Party by radically Rightwing extremists Is hugely implicated.)

What caught my attention was the post’s reminder of a 1971 memorandum written to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce by former Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell prior to his elevation to the Court. Historians and political scientists have noted the influence of that memorandum on businesses seeking to influence government policies in ways that would benefit their bottom lines.

Powell asserted that “leftists” — whom he defined as “middle class socialists and communist sympathizers” — had taken over the “government, universities, the Supreme Court, and our media.”

Current examples of the impotency of business, and of the near-contempt with which businessmen’s views are held, are the stampedes by politicians to support almost any legislation related to ‘consumerism’ or to the ‘environment….

Business must learn the lesson, long ago learned by labor and other self-interest groups. This is the lesson that political power is necessary; that such power must be assiduously cultivated; and that when necessary, it must be used aggressively and with determination — without embarrassment and without the reluctance which has been so characteristic of American business.

On the Court, Powell was part of the majority opinion in Buckley v Valeo–the decision equating money with speech and striking down legislation intended to limit the influence of money in political campaigns. The author of the post correctly noted that Buckley struck down “nearly a century of campaign finance legislation going all the way back to Teddy Roosevelt’s Tillman Act.”

It’s hard to argue with the post’s assertion that the Court “tripled down” on the equation of money and speech in Citizens United or with his assertion that between 1933 and 1981, pretty much everything that went right for middle-class Americans was the result of progressive policies: the right to unionize, unemployment insurance and workplace safety rules, Social Security and Medicare…

A top personal income tax rate between 74% and 91% throughout that period kept wages strong for working people and prevented the corrosive wealth inequality we see today. We didn’t get our first billionaire until after the Reagan revolution.

It’s easier to argue with the characterization of that period  as one of ” uninterrupted political and economic progress”–a description that conveniently  ignores much of the inequality and turmoil of those years–but the description of America after Buckley and Reagan is accurate:

Republican-leaning businesses bought up radio stations from coast-to-coast and put “conservative” talk radio into every town and city in America. Wealthy people began running for political office or supporting those politicians who’d do their bidding.

Conservative donors demanded rightwing economics and political science professors in universities across America. Rightwing think tanks and publishers were funded to support them. Billionaires founded a movement to pack our courts, including the Supreme Court.

The rise of neoliberalism has decimated the middle class and further enriched the wealthy. While I would quibble with details of the writer’s lengthy diatribe, I do echo his conclusion: we need to turn back to

the lessons of the New Deal and Great Society, embraced by presidents and politicians of both parties for a half-century, and rebuild our middle class and our democracy, along with our trust in each other.

The question, as always, is “how do we accomplish that?”

Thanks to the availability of huge amounts of money, a distinct minority of Americans  currently control many state governments, and is vastly over-represented in Congress. The money that has poured into the political system in the wake of Buckley has funded  sophisticated gerrymandering, misleading lobbying, and  overwhelming political influence via campaign contributions. It has supported the messaging that has drawn a variety of culture warriors, racists and their ilk to the GOP.

Perhaps it’s a failure of imagination, but unless the current iteration of the GOP suffers a crushing  electoral defeat–and soon–I don’t know how we begin to fix this.

 

Politics Kills

The Washington Post recently ran an article with a provocative headline: “Can Politics Kill You? Research Says the Answer Increasingly is Yes.” Here’s the lede:

As the coronavirus pandemic approaches its third full winter, two studies reveal an uncomfortable truth: The toxicity of partisan politics is fueling an overall increase in mortality rates for working-age Americans.

In one study, researchers concluded that people living in more-conservative parts of the United States disproportionately bore the burden of illness and death linked to COVID. The other, which looked at health outcomes more broadly, found that the more conservative a state’s policies, the shorter the lives of working-age people.

It turns out that it is state-level policies that determine these health outcomes. States — those “laboratories of democracy” so often lauded by more conservative politicians– shape the environments in which we live our lives in more ways than we commonly recognize, and those environments have a significant effect on people’s well-being and longevity.  As the article notes,

Some states have expanded their social safety nets, raising minimum wages and offering earned income tax credits while using excise taxes to discourage behaviors — such as smoking — that have deleterious health consequences. Other states have moved in the opposite direction.

Indiana is one of those “opposite direction” states.

Covid death rates were 11 percent higher in states with Republican-controlled governments and 26 percent higher in areas where voters lean conservative. Similar results emerged about hospital ICU capacity when the concentration of political power in a state was conservative.

Researchers from Harvard found that the disparities in rates of  death and disease aren’t limited to COVID: In states where a “chasm of inequality” persists, communities of color face a much higher risk of chronic conditions that leave immune systems vulnerable to multiple serious diseases.

Another  study calculated that, in 2019, if all states had implemented liberal policies on the environment, gun safety, criminal justice, health and welfare, labor, marijuana, and economic and tobacco taxes, at least 170,000 lives would have been  be saved. On the other hand, if states all had conservative versions of those policies, 217,000 more people would have died.

It’s likely to get worse in those Red states, thanks to the overturning of Roe v. Wade. 

With abortion services no longer legal nationwide, university researchers have estimated that maternal deaths could increase by up to 25 to 30 percent, worsening the nation’s maternal mortality and morbidity crisis. Americans live shorter lives than people in peer nations, in part because it is the worst place among high-income countries to give birth.

The stark differences between Republican and Democratic responses to COVID may have  benefitted Democrats politically, as well as medically.

Some midterm election postmortems suggested that the significantly higher numbers of Republican deaths had  diminished Republican turnout sufficiently to help Democratic candidates win tight races. While most knowledgable observers discounted that likelihood, or opined that it operated only in extremely close contests, researchers did identify a less obvious way in which COVID death rate disparities benefited Democrats politically.

Per Politico:

Data from the U.S. Postal Service and Census Bureau shows how the pandemic drove urban professionals who were able to work remotely — disproportionately Democrats — out of coastal, progressive cities to seek more space or recreational amenities in the nation’s suburbs and Sun Belt. This moved liberals out of electoral districts where Democrats reliably won by large margins into many purple regions that had the potential to swing with just small changes to the map.

Politico looked at several close races in places that had gained population during the pandemic–races that seemed to confirm that hypothesis. One was in Arizona.

In one of the most watched 2022 races, Arizona’s Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake — an ardent election denier and so-called Trump in heels — was expected to narrowly defeat Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs. FiveThirtyEight simulations gave her 2-to-1 odds and a 2.2-point margin.

But Arizona’s most populous region, Maricopa County gained nearly 100,000 people since 2018, and Democrats’ margins rose by 17 points since that year. Lake lost by just 17,000 votes.

A major study published by the National Bureau of Economic Researchers concluded that there was a “substantially higher excess death rates for registered Republicans when compared to registered Democrats, with almost all of the difference concentrated in the period after vaccines were widely available.” Overall, the study found that the excess death rate for Republicans was 76%, higher than the excess death rate for Democrats.

Despite the overwhelming evidence of vaccine efficacy, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis–object of the GOP’s current enthusiasm–  is ramping up his vendetta against vaccination. DeSantis is a perfect representative of today’s GOP, a party peddling policies that really are killing people.

Our Freudian Politics

Warning: this post contains a number of sexual references, so if you find discussions of genital endowments inappropriate, you should probably skip this one.

Why am I addressing sexuality in a blog devoted to policy and politics? Because I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that a great number of America’s dysfunctions can be traced to misogyny–and that a great deal of that misogyny is the result of men’s concerns over the adequacy of their endowments–concerns that explain a number of, shall we say, “odd” fixations.

Some of those fixations are pretty well known: the racist obsession during slavery and Jim Crow with Black men’s “endowments” (and fears that Southern women might enjoy being “ravished”) , and the more recent “Incel” phenomenon, where men who can’t find women willing to have sex with them (gee, I wonder why? they sound so nice…) express their grievances by attacking women. And of course, there are those “tough” men who carry their guns to the local Kroger (compensate much?).

But there are less recognized aspects of this particular obsession.

Recently, an article in The New Republic considered some of the weirder aspects of the Right’s fixation with Hunter Biden and his laptop. The article was prompted by Elon Musk’s equally weird “expose” of Twitter’s earlier decision not to indulge the original frenzy around what appeared to most credible journalists as a very sketchy story. (After all, the laptop had been in the possession of Rudy Guliani for a period of time–if there had really been something damaging to Joe Biden, it’s likely we’d have heard about it.)

Despite Musk’s breathless implication that he was about to reveal some nefarious plot to hide wrongdoing, the communications he dredged up and published basically showed a discussion by Twitter’s then content moderators considering whether the story violated their standards. Ho-hum.

But then the article noted the “prurient interest” aspect of the whole matter.

Now: Here’s the psychotic part. As Miller put it: “The offending material that Taibbi revealed was removed by Twitter at the Biden campaign’s request turns out to have been a bunch of links to Hunter Biden in the buff.” And these photos revealed to the world that Hunter has … well, you know … let’s just say that he has been blessed by nature. The New York Post reported over the summer on its actual size. You can go look that up if you wish.

So here, clearly, is still one more thing for the right to hate about Hunter. Don’t laugh. Men don’t talk about it much in polite company, but this is something many men think about to the point of obsession. And isn’t it particularly acute among conservative men, all full of that macho swagger? Isn’t that swagger a form of compensation, like that bright orange Dodge Charger the 61-year-old balding man suddenly decides he can’t live without? And isn’t Donald Trump, who still smarts 30 years later from being dubbed “short-fingered” by Spy, the most insecure of all men along these lines? You surely don’t forget the time he actually made his penis a campaign issue in 2016. It’s not the kind of thing you can unremember.

OK, I’ll admit that I can’t look deep into the psyches of all these right-wing men and so I should not overgeneralize about them. I am not asserting that James Comer, the incoming chairman of the House Oversight Committee who has vowed to make the 118th Congress entirely about Hunter Biden, is thinking about how the first son holsters his Dillinger as he contemplates how he’s going to cut him down to—as it were—size. But I am saying, absolutely, that there is something strange and psychological about the Hunter obsession.

Perhaps it comes down to simply this: It’s all they have, and that makes them insane. Joe Biden has been in public life for half a century and has never been attached to a whiff of financial scandal. It makes the right, especially the Trumpy right, nuts. In Trumpworld, everyone is corrupt; that’s a given. Only schmucks aren’t out to cut corners and game the system. The only difference is between those smart enough to get away with it and those dumb enough to get caught.

Democrats have responded to the GOP’s threat to make the next two years all about Hunter Biden–who has never been part of government– by pointing to the multiple grifts of the Trump offspring, who made out like bandits while occupying high government positions for which they were manifestly unfit. True enough–and certainly more appropriate material for public discussion.

But have you looked lately at squirrelly Jim Jordan, and some of the other Republicans engaged in this particular vendetta?

Just asking…

 

 

Too Weird To Win?

The problem with living in a bubble…

One benefits of a truly mass media is that it exposes its audience to the larger popular culture. Today, it’s easy to occupy an information bubble occupied by people who share your particular  beliefs.

A few days ago, I shared some of the positions of the New Right’s “intellectuals.” Those positions weren’t just extreme; as a recent essay from The New Republic characterized them, they were also weird. The essay argued that when these people run for office, they tend to be too weird to win elections. (Herschel Walker was a different kind of weird, but the observation still holds.)

The right is getting weirder. That might begin to cost Republicans elections in years to come and undermine their own appeals to American patriotism in a way policy extremism alone could not. American voters see the political parties as equally extreme in policy, ignoring evidence that Republicans have moved right much faster than Democrats have moved left. However, a party fixated on genital sunning, seed oils, Catholic integralism, European aristocracy, and occultism can alienate voters not because of its positions but because of how it presents them—and itself. Among the right’s intellectual avant garde and media elites, there is a growing adoption of habits, aesthetics, and views that are not only out of step with America’s but are deliberately cultivated in opposition to a national majority that the new right holds in contempt.

This is a different—though parallel—phenomenon from the often raucous, conspiratorial personality cult that surrounds Donald Trump and his devoted base. This new turn has predominantly manifested among the upper-class and college-educated right wing. Indeed, as Democratic strategist David Shor noted, as those with college degrees become more left leaning, the remaining conservatives have gotten “really very weird.” In this well-off cohort, there exists a mirror of the excesses often attributed to the college-educated left, fairly or unfairly: an aversion to mainstream values and an extreme militancy.

This segment of the Right has evidently abandoned American exceptionalism, along with the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Their “disgust with equitable citizenship, personal liberty, and democratic self-governance” are common threads running through their pronouncements.

These New Right thinkers consider America’s philosophical foundations not just mistaken, but immoral; they express “a new fascination with medieval Catholicism and imported European extremisms.” According to the essay, this faction of the Right

has shed its American and conservative roots and seeks a radical shift—a national “refounding.” Indeed, leading right-wing intellectuals like John Daniel Davidson have said that “the conservative project has failed” and that people like them constitute the educated vanguard of a “revolutionary moment.”

Whatever else one might say about this rejection of Americana–whatever other danger these people may pose to civic peace–  this is not a politically salable approach. Research confirms that nine out of 10 Americans believe being “truly American” involves respecting “American political institutions and laws.”

Americans consistently affirm that liberty, equality, and progress—the core values of republicanism and the Enlightenment—are ones they try to live by. While the content and meaning of those values have always been contested terrain, opposing them is a nonstarter.

In the midterms, candidates embracing these positions did not do well, even in states where an R next to one’s name virtually guarantees a win.

John Gibbs, a Republican nominee for a Michigan swing seat, founded a think tank that argued for overturning the Nineteenth Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. The country, he said, had “suffered” from women’s suffrage. He narrowly lost his bid. Blake Masters and J.D. Vance—two Republican candidates for Senate funded in part by tech billionaire and new-right linchpin Peter Thiel—have embraced new-right ideas and actively courted the “weird right.” Vance has questioned whether women should leave violent marriages; Masters has praised domestic terrorist Theodore Kaczynski’s infamous manifesto, argued against legal access to contraception, and openly said that democracy is a smokescreen for the masses “stealing certain kinds of goods and redistributing them as they see fit.” (Americans on balance like democracy; legal contraception is almost universally popular; and Kaczynski’s unpopularity is so widely assumed that pollsters rarely ask about him.) Masters, perhaps unsurprisingly, lost his bid to unseat Mark Kelly, and Vance badly underperformed in his blood-red home state.

The claims that characterize this slice of the body politic are increasingly bizarre: the essay points to assertions that meat substitutes will turn men into women. (One Texas Representative has declared that a man who eats cultured meat, “will turn into a SOCIALIST DEMOCRAT.”)

At the base of all this is misogyny. (Perhaps these guys all  have small winkies…)The New Right wants American women to be subservient to men and dependent upon male breadwinners.

Sorry, weirdos, but that horse has left the barn…