Tag Archives: pandering

Rokita Again

I really try to ignore Indiana’s Attorney General, Todd Rokita, and his pathetically obvious ploys for attention–part of his persistent effort to position himself for a gubernatorial run. But it’s hard.

I have previously posted about his (mis)behavior as a Congressperson, about his improper private employment while holding elective office, and about episodes in his constant pandering to the GOP’s right wing. I’ve ignored his anti-vaccine rants, since I really thought  my previous posts would be enough to give readers an accurate picture of this sorry little man.

But he continues to bait me….

Rokita has evidently watched the recent governor’s race in Virginia, and is trying to adopt a strategy that worked for Glenn Youngkin, the Republican who won that contest. Youngkin, as you may recall, made Critical Race Theory and “inappropriate books” (i.e., written by Black people) a centerpiece of his successful campaign. Rokita–who never met a dog-whistle he didn’t like–immediately latched on.

As an article in the Northwest Indiana Times reported:

Attorney General Todd Rokita is taking his unprovoked battle with Indiana’s local school boards and the state education establishment to the next level.

The Republican, originally from Munster, recently issued a second, expanded edition of his “Parents’ Bill of Rights” that in 54 pages goes well beyond his initial 16-page screed over Critical Race Theory (CRT) and other “Marxist ideologies” that he originally claimed are “consistently being backdoored into Indiana classrooms.”

Rokita’s new handbook practically is a call to arms for Hoosier parents to swarm school board meetings, school administrator offices, teacher classrooms and the Indiana Statehouse demanding answers about everything their child may potentially encounter in a school building on any given day.

You may wonder–as I do–why the Attorney General is sticking his nose in an arena that is very clearly under the jurisdiction of Indiana’s Department of Education, especially since Indiana citizens no longer choose the head of that department. (When a prior, elected Secretary of Education proved unwilling to follow the party line down various rabbit-holes, the post was made appointive; presumably, occupants of the position are now more obedient.) But then, as my previous posts have demonstrated, Rokita consistently shows little or no interest in the enumerated duties of the Attorney General’s office unless those duties offer him a PR opportunity.

In this latest screed, he writes

“Having your child’s school and its employees work against you as you raise your family according to your Hoosier values shouldn’t be allowed.”

And what are those “Hoosier values”? Whatever they are, they are evidently under attack. Rokita enumerates a series of GOP wedge issues that parents should be particularly be concerned about because–or so he tells them– they have a “polarizing effect on education instruction.”

Those “polarizing” topics include: Critical Race Theory, Critical Theory, Critical Gender Theory, “Teaching for Tolerance,” “Learning for Justice” and gender fluidity.

Rokita also observes that, unlike other states, Hoosier lawmakers have not taken steps to prohibit instruction on these topics in Indiana classrooms, and he reminds parents they have a right to petition the Republican-controlled General Assembly to take such action….

Rokita’s guide also delves into the rights of parents to make health care decisions on behalf of their minor children, advises parents how to complain about school face mask requirements amid the COVID-19 pandemic and discusses the abstinence-only foundation of Indiana’s human sexuality instruction.

“It should be noted that schools are prohibited from asking students about their gender identity or sexual behaviors or attitudes in sex education classes, or any other classes,” Rokita said.

The entire “Parents Bill of Rights” is a “look at me–I’m with you” message to the angry and misinformed parents who have descended on school board meetings to demand a curriculum with which they can feel comfortable. I will refrain from characterizing their desired curriculum, except to note that historical accuracy and civics education–especially study of the First and Fourteenth Amendments (Separation of Church and State and the Equal Protection clause)– are not what they are demanding.

If we’re looking for the causes of “polarization,” we need look no farther than Rokita, the lawmakers who agree with him, and the parents that they and the other Republican culture warriors are gleefully manipulating.

I would love to believe that the transparency of Rokita’s pandering, along with his other off-putting behaviors, will repel Indiana voters and dash his gubernatorial ambitions. He is, after all, held in considerable disdain among Hoosier politicos– very much including Republican ones.

But this is Indiana.

 

 

How To Choose A Candidate

There’s a reason I keep repeating “vote blue no matter who,” even though the presidential candidates the Democrats are fielding all have their flaws–and it isn’t simply because Trump represents the worst of the worst.

Several years ago, someone asked me how I would choose between two unpalatable candidates for office, and I shared my simple formula for making such choices: I vote for the candidate who is pandering to the least dangerous people.

We all know that Trump is deeply corrupt, as well as monumentally ignorant. We also know that his egomania, racism and narcissism outweigh any actual policy preferences–that in order to feed his massive ego, he will adopt whatever positions he thinks will be rewarded with attention, power and the adoration of the misfits who attend his rallies.

Trump, who has been both a Republican and a Democrat, found success pandering to the people with whom he feels most comfortable–white nationalists and corrupt businesspeople– constituencies that dominate today’s GOP.

We can concede that today’s Democratic Party is hardly a monolithic organization of angels and still recognize the superiority of its core beliefs: climate change is real; women are people entitled to control of their own bodies; background checks are not inconsistent with the Second Amendment; African-Americans and LGBTQ citizens are entitled to equality; immigrant families should not be separated; our water should be drinkable and our air breathable; vote suppression is anti-democratic…and much more.

Any Democrat running for political office, from President to County Clerk, needs the approval of the people who have organized around those positions and beliefs. Those are the people to whom all Democratic candidates must pander if they are to have any chance at victory.

I know this sounds cynical, but I am much less concerned with the sincerity of a candidate’s embrace of the Democrats’ core positions than with the fact that he/she must publicly affirm and work for them in order to get elected or re-elected.

Trump is not a bright man, but even he can read the writing on the wall; the Senators who essentially voted to let him ignore the Constitution and the rule of law were elected by pandering to the same bigots who support him. Whether in their “heart of hearts” they recognize and reject the evils they are empowering is irrelevant–so long as they believe they must pander to evil, they are evil.

During the presidential primary contests, people of good will–Democrats and “Never Trump” Republicans alike–will have different perspectives on candidate electability. But once a candidate has been chosen, no matter how disappointed we may be in that choice or in the process–we will confront a very simple decision, and not just for president.

We can vote for people running on the Republican ticket–those endorsed by the party whose candidates have no choice but to pander to bigotry and corruption–or we can vote for Democratic candidates who have no choice but to pander to people who overwhelmingly believe in science, reason and civic equality.

This isn’t a contest between individuals. Trump didn’t emerge from a void. There’s a reason  that during the past couple of decades Americans have “sorted” ourselves into two wildly different parties–it is because we hold profoundly opposed understandings of what American “greatness” is based upon. We will continue to be polarized until one of those diametrically-opposed visions of America prevails.

“Vote blue no matter who” recognizes that the 2020 election isn’t about the candidates–it’s about which of those visions triumphs.

 

Gerrymandering Is A Two-Sided Sword….

There’s an old adage heard among real-estate developers and businesspeople: If you owe the bank several thousand dollars, you have a problem; if you owe the bank several million dollars, the bank has a problem. Guess which debtor is most likely to be successful in renegotiating the terms of the loan?

So–I hear you asking–what in the world does that have to do with our currently dysfunctional GOP, or with partisan redistricting, aka gerrymandering?

Among the Republicans in Congress, there are plenty of “true believers”–fanatics and zealots of various types. (Honesty compels me to note that there are also some nut jobs among the Democrats, although not as many.) The crazies in the GOP, however, are widely outnumbered by people who do actually know better, people who have managed to get elected by playing to the ignorance and bigotries and extremism of voters who probably do not represent the majority of their constituents, but who can be depended upon to turn out, volunteer and vote.

The problem is, once they have energized that “base,” it owns them. The voters who make up the GOP base–in both senses of that word–demand fidelity to their passions, and their Representatives know it. That base controls a significant number of districts.

When the national Republican Party engaged in a wholesale redistricting coup after the 2010 census, that effort was wildly successful. (I have referred to the book “Ratf**ked” before; it sets out chapter and verse of “Operation Redmap.”)

Too successful.

There were two consequences of that wholesale gerrymander. The first was intended: Republicans won many more seats than their vote totals would otherwise have garnered. The second consequence, however, was both unanticipated and extremely damaging. The people elected to Congress from those deep-red districts the mapmakers created don’t feel any allegiance to the leaders of their party, or to reasonable or productive policymaking. They are only interested in doing the bidding of the voters to whom they are beholden, and avoiding a primary battle that–thanks to the gerrymander–can only come from the right.

The political reporters babbling on cable news consistently express surprise at the inability of the Republican part to govern, to control the factions that range from Hard Right to “wow, that guy’s a Nazi.” The answer is the success of their 2011 gerrymander.

The sane among them have a problem–and a choice.

If they have any integrity, they can follow their consciences, risk being primaried and defeated, or quit. (Every day, it seems, a GOP Representative announces a decision not to run again, and it isn’t hard to see why.) If they don’t have any integrity, they accept that they are wholly owned by the most rabid members of their base, and they simply pander accordingly. (In Indiana, we have a delegation composed entirely of True Believers and panderers. If you live in the state, you can decide who’s who.)

Unfortunately, this country needs two rational parties populated with adults in order to function. So not only is the GOP broken, our whole government is broken.

Happy Valentine’s Day…

 

Why Voting for the Man, Not the Party, Doesn’t Work

A few years ago, after choosing between two particularly uninspiring candidates on election day, I told my husband that I would no longer vote for the lesser of two evils. Instead, I would vote for the candidate who was pandering to the least dangerous constituency.

It sounds snarky, but I would argue that it isn’t a bad rule to follow.

Take Mitt Romney, the likely GOP Presidential nominee. My guess is that beneath that wooden exterior, he’s probably a capable enough manager–and not nearly as asinine as he sounds on the campaign trail. The problem is, if he were to be elected, he would still be beholden to the Tea Party crazies and Good Ole Boy racists he is frantically trying to woo during the primaries. Etch-A-Sketch or no, the systemic realities of our political system would operate to prevent moderation or compromise or evidence-based decision-making.

Here in Indiana, we have two major-party candidates for Governor, both of whom are well to the right of center. Pence, of course, is entirely a creature of the extremist Christian Right–if he’s ever had a truly independent idea, he’s hidden it well. Gregg is a conservative Democrat from Southern Indiana. If Pence wins, he won’t skip a beat: his policies will be tailored to his base, which is fundamentalist Christian, exploitative capitalist, and allergic-to-taxes Tea Party. If Gregg wins, however, he will have to moderate his positions in order to satisfy the Democratic base, which is far more diverse and progressive than he is. (As my youngest son likes to say, your vote for Governor will depend upon whether you want to return to the 1960s or the 1690s.)

Of course, if Rupert the Libertarian wins, all bets are off.

Candidates are captured by their political parties in a number of ways; they are not unembedded political actors no matter how much they’d like us to think they are. In some ways, that’s comforting; we rarely know what we need to know about the candidates themselves, so there is some logic in casting your vote for the person who belongs to the party with the philosophy closest to your own. Party affiliation is one among many “markers” that allow us to shortcut the decision-making process.

On the other hand, when one party goes “off the rails”–when the only people who can get nominated are those prepared to grovel to the basest of the base–average voters are deprived of the benefit of sound policy debates between serious candidates.

When elections devolve into battles between the bumper stickers, when candidates endlessly parrot  focus-group tested pieties, it isn’t possible to vote for the “best candidate.” It isn’t even possible to figure out who that is.

 

Running Against a Tsunami

I know it’s easy to critique a campaign from the sidelines, but it’s really difficult to understand what Dick Lugar is thinking. I catch his television commercials from time to time, and as a past supporter and contributor, I get email blasts from his campaign daily.

It is increasingly painful and off-putting to watch.

The Dick Lugar I used to know and admire was a statesman. I didn’t always agree with him–even when I was still a Republican, he was sometimes too conservative for me–but I always respected him; he was reasoned and thoughtful, gracious to his opponents and informed in his positions. It’s true that, as the party moved right, Lugar moved with it, but never to the fringe. He never stooped to the sort of hateful rhetoric and flat-earth know-nothingness that has so diminished the Grand Old Party. He was never an ideologue.

Until now.

Lugar is being challenged by the worst elements of an increasingly irrational base. Mourdock, his primary opponent, is a bad joke. But as Jim Shella wrote in an earlier column on this race, Mourdock isn’t the point.  While there are certainly legitimate criticisms that can be leveled at him (or any other long-serving elected official), Lugar’s opposition is largely fueled by a veritable tsunami of anger and resentment and fear that has focused on him as a part of the hated status quo. 

And therein lies the challenge.

Shella was right: the Tea Party fanatics who want Dick Lugar gone don’t care who replaces him. They detest Lugar for the very characteristics that have generated consistent voter support over the years. That very obvious reality puts his campaign squarely between the proverbial rock and hard place–if he remains true to himself and his record, if he campaigns on that record with his head held high, he won’t win the votes of the ideologues most likely to vote in the primary. But if he tries to reinvent himself as a rabid True Believer, he betrays his own principles, diminishes an otherwise admirable legacy–and still may not get their votes.

Despite the risks, the campaign has chosen the latter strategy.

So we are treated to grainy commercials featuring the Senator using “good old boy” terminology he’s never previously employed. We get emails from his campaign demonizing the President of the United States, stooping to a level of disrespect that would have been inconceivable coming from the “real” Dick Lugar. We are assured that the Senator no longer supports measures, like the Dream Act, that he had previously–and admirably–championed. We get messages that are absolutely devoid of the nuance and civility characteristic of the statesman he used to be.

It is so pathetic, so inauthentic, it’s painful.

I don’t know whether this all-out pandering will allow Lugar to eke out one last term. He has a lot of money, and a deep reservoir of good will, and it may be enough–although if I were a wagering woman, I wouldn’t bet on it.

I know a number of Democrats who had earlier considered “crossing over” to vote for Lugar in the GOP primary. I was one of them. Had the campaign chosen a different course–had it mounted a full-throated defense of an impressive record–I think many of those crossover votes would materialize, although probably not enough to change the outcome. Fewer such votes will be cast for a man running away from his own most admirable traits.

The longer this primary contest goes on, the more I want to ask the Senator two questions: is winning another term, at age 80, so important that it is worth this unseemly (and unpersuasive) groveling? And if you win, if you return to Washington after this dispiriting display, which Dick Lugar will you be?