The C Word

NOTE: Pardon me for the long post. It’s been a while. But hang in there with me. Read this in parts or as a whole. But read it. Please.

The day before that dreadful election in 2016 I wrote a piece (“America’s Bone Marrow Biopsy”) that detailed an old blood cancer scare of mine while comparing that scare to what the presidential election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Tr-mp might mean if the unthinkable happened. I wrote: “What is going on in our national bones?” Then:

This election will ultimately decide whether the obvious infection coursing through our democratic blood—Donald Tr-mp and the alt-right racists and xenophobes and conspiracy nuts he has attracted and normalized—is actually cancer or whether it is something less severe, but still troubling, still able to negatively affect our quality of life as Americans.

No matter who wins on Tuesday, America—understood as one nation united under certain political and moral assumptions—is sick. And we cannot blame our sickness only on Donald Tr-mp. The pathology he represents has been with us since our founding. It afflicts every self-governing civilization to some degree or another. In modern times, America’s democratic immune system has mostly been strong enough nationally to fight demagoguery, bigotry, xenophobia, and other forms of blood- and marrow-fouling hate. In the past we have been strong enough to reject malignant figures like Tr-mp, who has cheated his way through life, molesting women, workers, and the truth.

But there are signs our immune system is weakening. We have symptoms of something terrible going on inside us.

The day after the election I lamented:

The doctor, armed with our election test results, just told us what somehow we already knew: America has cancer. Stage 4.

I did not know at the time that, as I was writing those words, cancer had taken root in my own body. I did not find out for sure until July 24 of this year, my granddaughter’s ninth birthday, but somehow it was something I “already knew.” So, like our Tr-mpism-plagued country, I have cancer. Whether cancer will ultimately have me has yet to be determined. Officially, my cancer diagnosis involves two primary malignant tumors (“synchronous neoplasias”), Image result for cancerand I will, of course, write more about my own personal encounter with the C word in a future post. For now, because I’ve learned a little about the disease and because I am incorrigibly interested in our national social and political health, I want to focus on the fight to save our flawed democratic system. After all, our country, in one form or another, will still be here long after I am gone.

As I suggested in November of 2016, I think it is important to diagnose the problem we have and give it a name—a serious name—to communicate how serious the situation is. Cancer, obviously, is among our deepest, darkest fears. That’s what first came to my mind when I contemplated a country under the rule of Tr-mp and Tr-mpism. And others have done so, too. On Friday, Steve Schmidt, a conservative who was a senior campaign strategist for the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush and John McCain, wrote on Twitter (emphasis mine):

Trump is vile, dishonest and corrupt. He is stoking a cold civil war in our land. He is assailing our institutions, traditions, alliances and is a party to the global regression of democracy. He is incompetent and mentally unfit. This is a national emergency.

This National emergency has every potential to cause a disaster of immense proportions. Should that happen generations will look back with wonder that people didn’t proactively understand the causal effect of the emergency to the disaster. There is also a crisis in America.

The crisis is different than the emergency. There is a crisis of cowardice. The GOP majority are complicit quislings enthralled to a dime store Mussolini who they know is morally, intellectually and mentally unfit for his office. This crisis of cowardice is making the emergency worse because these cowards have chosen their tribe and personal ambitions over America and have failed their oaths to defend the Constitution. They refuse to fulfill their oversight obligations as a coequal branch of government and have effectively obliterated the system of checks and balances that makes the American Republic work. I think it is important to think about the nature of the Emergency, the nature of the crisis and the possibility of real disaster as three distinct but interrelated metastasizing cancers. We don’t at our collective peril.

Also on Friday, President Obama finally broke his post-presidency silence. In a surprisingly combative speech given in front of students at the University of Illinois, he essentially defined the cancer that is Tr-mpism, that is the Republican Party these days, telling the young folks:

…even though your generation is the most diverse in history with a greater acceptance and celebration of our differences than ever before, those are the kinds of conditions that are ripe for exploitation by politicians who have no compunction and no shame about tapping into America’s dark history of racial and ethnic and religious division. Appealing to tribe, appealing to fear, pitting one group against another, telling people that order and security will be restored if it weren’t for those who don’t look like us or don’t sound like us or don’t pray like we do, that’s an old playbook. It’s as old as time.

And in a healthy democracy, it doesn’t work. Our antibodies kick in, and people of goodwill from across the political spectrum call out the bigots and the fear mongers and work to compromise and get things done and promote the better angels of our nature.

But when there’s a vacuum in our democracy, when we don’t vote, when we take our basic rights and freedoms for granted, when we turn away and stop paying attention and stop engaging and stop believing and look for the newest diversion, the electronic versions of bread and circuses, then other voices fill the void.

A politics of fear and resentment and retrenchment takes hold and demagogues promise simple fixes to complex problems. They promise to fight for the little guy, even as they cater to the wealthiest and most powerful. They promise to clean up corruption and then plunder away. They start undermining norms that ensure accountability and try to change the rules to entrench their power further. They appeal to racial nationalism that’s barely veiled, if veiled at all. Sound familiar?

Of course it sounds familiar. Maybe it sounds too familiar for some folks. Maybe people are tired of hearing about all the incompetence and corruption. Maybe there is some exhaustion, or cynicism, setting in, thwarting the will to fight the disease and fight the fear of the disease. That remains to be seen. But I want to emphasize something Obama said:

Our antibodies kick in, and people of goodwill from across the political spectrum call out the bigots and the fear mongers and work to compromise and get things done and promote the better angels of our nature.

His talk of “antibodies” in our politics reminded me of something Barbara Ehrenreich wrote in her recent book, Natural Causes. Ehrenreich is best known for her political activism and writings on various social issues, but she holds a PhD in cellular immunology. She’s also a breast cancer survivor. In Natural Causes she relates how she discovered something “deeply upsetting” about our immune system and cancer, something so upsetting that she “could only think, This changes everything.” What she found was,

the immune system actually abets the growth and spread of tumors, which is like saying that the fire department is staffed by arsonists. We all know that the function of the immune system is to protect us, most commonly from bacteria and viruses, so its expected response to cancer should be a concerted and militant defense. As a graduate student, I had worked in two different laboratories dedicated to elucidating the defenses mounted by the immune system, and had come to think of it as a magical and for the most part invisible protective cloak. I could walk through the valley of the shadow of death, so to speak, or expose myself to deadly microbes, and know no evil, because my immune cells and antibodies would keep me from harm. But here they were—going over to the other side.

I found this shocking. I found it disturbing. Does our immune system actually betray us, when it comes to cancer? Does it actually “enable the growth and spread of cancer,” as Ehrenreich claims? Yes. The culprit is a type of immune cell, a type of white blood cell, called a “macrophage.” Apparently there are “good” macrophages and “bad” ones, the bad ones helping to make, as the British Journal of Cancer puts it, “the tumour microenvironment conducive to tumour progression and metastasis.” Yikes. There’s even a name for these traitors: tumor-associated macrophages, or TAMs, which, as The Scientist magazine alarmingly notes, “can make up as much as 50 percent of a tumor’s mass.” Ehrenreich, writing about the state of biological science at the end of the 20th century regarding the immune system, wrote:

…as the century came to a close, it became increasingly evident that the immune system was not only giving cancer cells a pass and figuratively waving them through checkpoints. Perversely and against all biological reason, it was aiding them to spread and establish new tumors through the body.

Now, hopefully you know me well enough by now to know where I am going with this. The most basic definition of “cancer” is “the disease caused by an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in a part of the body.” As far as out body politic, as far as our Republic and the Tr-mpism that plagues it, we can apply that definition. There are “abnormal cells” of people who find Tr-mpism strangely appealing. But there is another definition of cancer: “a practice or phenomenon perceived to be evil or destructive and hard to contain or eradicate.” We can also apply that definition to our national nightmare. What we see with Tr-mp and his most ardent and faithful followers (and his abettors in Congress) is destructive and hard to contain. And the very immune system we rely on to protect us from corruption and demagoguery—our free press—often is like Ehrenreich’s bad macrophages that perversely and against all reason give Tr-mpism a pass and figuratively wave it through the checkpoints.

We saw it during the campaign, even though generally our press is mostly good at fighting corruption in our politics. Journalists normally excel at exposing compromised politicians (bacteria) and demagogic rhetoric (viruses), but in too many cases they do what they did in that 2016 campaign. They spread a cancer like Tr-mpism. In Tr-mp’s case, because they had not seen anything like him in national politics, the press gave him countless hours of free air time, which was worth a gazillion dollars. They disseminated his demagoguery. They featured, almost endlessly, his misinformed and bigoted voters and their cultish devotion to him. All the while they went about thoughtlessly “raising questions” about Hillary Clinton for what amounted to a relatively harmless handling of her emails and, by comparison to Tr-mp, a rather tiny amount of corruption involving the Clinton Foundation and her speeches to Wall Street bankers. By doing that, they unwittingly helped spread the cancer that we now face.

And the aiding and abetting of the disease continues.

After Obama’s anti-Tr-mpism speech on Friday, TV journalists waited breathlessly for Tr-mp’s response from Fargo, North Dakota, part of which was broadcast live on MSNBC (and probably CNN) an abc news.jpghour after Obama’s. On Friday evening’s ABC’s World News Tonight, the first story featured was “CLASH OF PRESIDENTS,” as if we were witnessing a typical political fight between moral equals. And add to that the fact that for over a week journalists of all kinds offered nearly undiluted praise for John McCain, who got a lot of deserved credit for his heroism but a lot of undeserved credit for being part of the “resistance” to Tr-mpism. Then, when that weird Op-Ed came out in The New York Times three days ago, part of the press made the coward behind it a hero for the “courage” to come forth and tell the world that his or her boss was mentally challenged or just plain nuts but that don’t worry, the nasty conservative agenda was marching on.

But I want to focus on something that one member of the press did last weekend that will be repeated as we draw closer to the 2020 presidential election. In this case, the damage was done by CNN’s Dana Bash, who was filling in for Jake Tapper on the network’s Sunday show, State of the Union. The guest was the just-elected Democratic Party nominee for Florida governor, Andrew Gillum, who is now running against a Tr-mper named Ron DeSantis. I’m going to post most of the long transcript in order to make a point. Read it and imagine the same thing happening to a Democratic presidential candidate two years from now, all of which feeds the cancer of Tr-mpism:

BASH: Thank you so much for joining me this morning. Let’s start with the president himself putting you in the spotlight and your race, of course, describing you this way in a tweet: “A failed socialist mayor named Andrew Gillum who has allowed crime and many other problems to flourish in his city, this is not what Florida wants or needs.” You’re now in a general election in a state that Trump won. You ran pretty far to the left in the primary race. In order to be governor, you need to win voters in the middle. How are you going to do that?

GILLUM: Yes, Dana, let me first say how extremely proud I was yesterday watching Senator McCain’s funeral. The comments from his daughter Meghan, from the president, all the former presidents, really was a display of really who we are as a country. Ron DeSantis, Donald Trump are at the far other extremes of what we want, not only as a country, but as a state. And I will tell you, I don’t believe that any of the issues that I stood on in the primary are in any way disqualifying in this general election. We’re going to win this race because the people of my state are interested in having an education system that their kids can get a good, quality education. And right now, we rank 40th of 50th in quality. The people in my state want access to good and affordable and accessible health care.

BASH: And I want to…

GILLUM: They want to see teachers paid what they’re worth.

BASH: And I want to get to a lot of those issues and dig deeper on them in just a moment. Before, though, I want—I have to get this out of the way. I don’t want to give undue attention to this. But, this week, a white supremacist robo-call came out in your state of Florida against your campaign. You, of course, are the first black nominee for governor in the state of Florida. How are you going to fend off against attacks of what really are not just racially tinged, racist things like we’re seeing there now?

GILLUM: Yes. Yes. Well, first of all, I have to tell you, I do find it deeply regrettable. I mean, on the day right after I secured the Democratic nomination, we had to deal with some of the dog whistles directly from my opponent. And I—and I honestly want to sincerely say this, Dana. We can have a challenge between ideas and around what we think the people of the state of Florida deserve. What I don’t want this race to turn into is a race of name-calling. I want to make sure that we don’t racialize and, frankly, weaponize race as a part of this process, which is why I have called on my opponent to really work to rise above some of these things. People are taking their cues from him, from his campaign, and from Donald Trump.

BASH: And we should…

GILLUM: And we saw in Charlottesville that that can lead to real, frankly, dangerous outcomes.

BASH: And I also want to make clear that your opponent, Ron DeSantis, has—has condemned this robo-call, which, again, we’re not playing. It is beyond offensive. I want to look…

GILLUM: Of course.

BASH: … talk about what the president mentioned also in that tweet, which is the crime rate in your city. Mr. Mayor, it’s true that your county has the highest crime rate in the entire state of Florida. The number of murders there hit a new high just last year. How do you explain to Florida voters why they should trust you with their state, when those crime rates are so high?

GILLUM: Well, I’m the mayor of the city of Tallahassee, not the county of Leon. And in the city of Tallahassee, we actually are experiencing a five- year low in our crime rate. In fact, we’re on par to see historic lows in our crime rate this year if we keep on the pattern that we’re currently on. And, Dana, we didn’t do that by arresting more people and throwing away the key, but by leaning into smart justice, restorative justice, second chances, because the best way to control a crime rate, frankly, is to reduce the number of people who re-offend. We’re very, very proud of, I think, the very progressive way in which we have addressed crime in my city. And it’s evident by the numbers. I’m extremely proud of where we are. And, frankly, I would like to see those kinds of strategies scaled up all around the state of Florida.

BASH: Let’s move on to health care. You mentioned that you support Medicare for all. A study earlier this summer from George Mason University estimates that Medicare for all, that plan, would cost the government $33 trillion—with the T—dollars over the next decade, which obviously would require a significant tax increase. Florida has—has a reputation, as you know, for being a tax-averse state. Are you ready to tell the people of Florida that they need pay a lot more in taxes to fund your health care plan?

GILLUM: Well, let me first say there was also a report, Dana, that showed that, should we move to cover more people to a Medicare-for-all system, we could actually save the system trillions over an extended period of time. But I will tell you this, because I…

BASH: You could. But in the short term, in order to do that, you need to raise taxes. Fair?

GILLUM: So, what I would say is, first of all — and I want to be clear about this — the state of Florida could not take this road by itself. We would need to do it as part of a federation of other states coming together. Think of Florida, New York, California, and a few of the other larger states.

BASH: But, sir, are you—in order to do that, taxes would have to be raised. Is that—is that fair? Do you agree with that?

GILLUM: I don’t buy that. So, let me just say, for instance…

BASH: How do you do that? How do you find that kind of money for the government without raising taxes?

GILLUM: So, first, I would say, one, Florida could not do it by itself. But, secondly, we have the opportunity to expand Medicaid for over 700,000 of the most medically needy people here in the state of Florida. My governor and legislature refuse to do that. Do you know it cost us about $6 billion in money that should have come from the federal government to the state of Florida that we never received? And so I’m simply saying—and this is—I want to be clear, Dana. This is very personal to me. I remember growing up as a kid having to wait for the mobile dental clinic to come to the neighborhood in order to have my teeth cleaned. The biggest concern for people…

BASH: Yes, I know you have experiences.

GILLUM: Sure.

BASH: And you’re coming from a real place, a personal place in supporting this. But as a government official, you have to make it work, and you have to make the numbers work.

GILLUM: Absolutely.

BASH: And so I don’t—I still don’t understand how you would do it without raising taxes.

GILLUM: So, the first step we would take is expand Medicaid and pull down about $6 billion a year from the federal government. That’s important. Secondly, as governor of the state of Florida, I would work to bring a number of the largest states into a conversation around how it is, together, we might be able to negotiate prices and access to health care to cover more people and ensure that even those who — of us who are in insured, who are right now paying premium increases year over year over year, all because Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump have worked overtime to make access to health care more affordable.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Will you say that you will not support raising taxes to make your health care plan work?

GILLUM: I will absolutely not raise taxes on everyday working Floridians to give access to additional people.

BASH: What about wealthier people?

GILLUM: So, what I said—and I ran on this, by the way—is that we will increase taxes for the—for corporations in our state who right now, just so you are aware, only 3 percent of companies in the state of Florida pay the corporate tax rate, 3 percent. And that 3 percent under the Donald Trump tax scam got a windfall of $6.3 billion overnight, due to the tax reform that took place in Washington, D.C. We’re not asking for all of it. We simply said, we believe that we ought to bring a billion of that money back into the state’s government, because being a cheap date state has not worked for the state of Florida. And, unfortunately, we have got to do that if we’re going to be leading state.

BASH: One more—one more issue. We have spent a lot of time, understandably, on health care. On immigration, you have joined growing calls for replacing ICE, the Immigration Customs Enforcement agency. The state of California actually passed a plan last year to become a so-called sanctuary state, which limits state cooperation with federal immigration officials. Would you support that plan for the state of Florida?

GILLUM: No. What I would support is the policies of this current administration have been wholly misguided and, in my opinion, are quite un-American. Not one of us wants to undermine the work of ICE to do the important work of making sure that we end sex trafficking and human trafficking, making sure that we are precluding drugs and other sort of insidious entrances into our state.

Unfortunately, this border crisis that the president created is all of his own making. We have not had the level the border crossing into this country since 2010. This is a straw man argument meant to speak to his base. It doesn’t keep any of us safer. And he’s turned this — the work of this important agency into a deportation and family separation force. And I simply believe that it’s un-American, and it also makes all of us less safe.

BASH: Before I let you go, I have to ask about something that’s going on back home in your city. There’s an ongoing corruption probe into development deals in your city of Tallahassee since you have been there. I understand that you’re cooperating in that investigation, you want to see justice done. But this investigation has already breached your inner circle. A subpoena went out to your longtime friend, former aide. You’re the mayor. Does the buck stop with you on this?

GILLUM: Yes, so, first of all, not a former aide of mine. But I will say this much. I — no one in my government is under FBI investigation.

BASH: He was a campaign aide, correct?

(CROSSTALK)

GILLUM: A volunteer.

BASH: OK.

GILLUM: Volunteer, not an aide. But the point being though, Dana, is nobody wants more for any activity that is illegal or corrupt that has occurred, we want to make sure that any individual that participated in that is held fully accountable. The good news is, is that it doesn’t involve my government or myself. We have all been fully cooperating. And the difference between how we have addressed this and how Ron DeSantis and Donald Trump have addressed the FBI is that we have welcomed them and have tried to aid in their work.

Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis have tried to undermine and undercut the FBI at every single turn, the president even going so far as to suggest a deep state as a way to undermining that work. That is an absence of leadership. And I think that what we have done here has, frankly, been a model of how you deal with these kinds of things as a way to root out any bad players, any bad activity. And nobody wants to bring that to a conclusion quicker than I do.

BASH: Final question.

Bernie Sanders was one of your big supporters, particularly towards the end of your primary race there. You endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016. Would you support Bernie Sanders for president in 2020?

GILLUM: Oh, Dana, I’m trying to get elected governor.

(LAUGHTER)

GILLUM: We’re trying to save this state.

But I will tell you, I’m deeply appreciative of the support of Senator Sanders. And you’re right. I did support Secretary Clinton. I spoke to her earlier last week, she and the president, President Clinton. I value their friendships. And I think what is important is that what we showed is that we have got the ability to bring together all the wings of the Democratic Party.

BASH: Thank you.

Now, really there are two points here. One is that at no time has Tr-mp or any Tr-mper ever received such anus-probing scrutiny. That may be because most Tr-mpers avoid the real press and prefer the friendly confines of Fox or talk radio. But it also may be because Tr-mpers attract the attention of the legitimate press for completely different reasons than do the average liberal Democrats, who for the most part are focused on policies and helping people with those policies. Journalists know how to handle such liberals because such liberals are willing to submit to anal examinations by real journalists and real journalists understand how to interview politicians about policy issues.

But when it comes to Tr-mpers, journalists don’t even imagine that they will get a straight answer from them. For many reporters, the attraction of interviewing Tr-mpers has to do with their utter shamelessness, their utter adulation or cynical use of Tr-mp, their unwillingness to admit the obvious: that Tr-mp is at least partially out of his mind and a corrupt narcissist and a certified grifter. So, journalists, knowing they won’t get a straight answer from such people (think: Kellyanne Conway), instead use their platforms (think: CNN’s Chris Cuomo interviewing Conway countless times to no avail) to spread the cancer, albeit not out of malice or with an underhanded purpose. It’s just the nature of the beast, like those misguided macrophages, who although they are supposed to be protecting us from cancer, actually help it spread and eventually kill us.

So, to end this lengthy essay, what is it we can do? What treatment will work to eradicate the cancer of Tr-mpism, the cancer of today’s Republican Party? As he often does, Obama has an answer. We, you and me, we are the treatment. We are the chemotherapy. Our votes and activism can radiate the Tr-mp tumor and shrink it until the cancer goes into remission or, Allah willing, dies a final political death:

You cannot sit back and wait for a savior. You can’t opt out because you don’t feel sufficiently inspired by this or that particular candidate. This is not a rock concert. This is not Coachella. We don’t need a messiah. All we need are decent, honest, hard-working people who are accountable and who have America’s best interests at heart. And they’ll step up and they’ll join our government, and they will make things better if they have support.

One election will not fix everything that needs to be fixed. But it will be a start. And you have to start it. What’s going to fix our democracy is you.

People ask me, what are you going to do for the election? No, the question is what are you going to do? You’re the antidote. Your participation and your spirit and your determination, not just in this election, but in every subsequent election and in the days between elections. Because in the end, the threat to our democracy doesn’t just come from Donald Tr-mp or the current batch of Republicans in Congress or the Koch brothers and their lobbyists or too much compromise from Democrats or Russian hacking. The biggest threat to our democracy is indifference. The biggest threat to our democracy is cynicism.

I urge all of you, especially young people, to read Obama’s entire speech. If there is an anti-cancer agent in our body politic, it is young people. We older people have screwed up this experiment in self-government. We, especially baby boomers, have really done a lot of damage to the country. We’ve used up and not replaced the things we were given, while stealing from the future, and we’ve allowed Tr-mpism to flourish. But it’s not too late. Along with an empowered and empowering youth, we can fight and beat this thing, this ugly, ugly thing.

________________________________________________________________

[photo credit: Cleveland Clinic; ABC News]

“As Christianity Fades, The Birth Rate Falls And Third World Immigration Surges”

The White establishment is now the minorityThe demographics are changing. It’s not a traditional America anymore.”

—Bill O’Reilly, November 6, 2012

y now we’ve all noticed that some of the adults in the Republican Party are talking about the party doing some soul-searching, making it more appealing to women, Latinos, young people, and, yes, even African-Americans.

These Republican grownups, folks like political gurus Steve Schmidt and Mike Murphy, realize the electorate is changing before their eyes and know that Republicans have to change too.

Ain’t gonna happen.

Not only are the extremists in control of the Republican Party not going to change—can anyone imagine Rush Limbaugh embracing immigration reform, for God’s sake?—it makes no sense for them to change, given what it is that really animates most of them.

There are two major forces that serve to energize the base of the Republican Party today. One is fundamentalist or quasi-fundamentalist religion, which is waging war against Constitution-blessed secularism. The other is an increasingly acute cultural anxiety over the browning of America.

Those two forces meet and merge in the mind of Pat Buchanan, who wrote three years ago:

In what sense are we one nation and one people anymore? For what is a nation if not a people of a common ancestry, faith, culture and language, who worship the same God, revere the same heroes, cherish the same history, celebrate the same holidays, and share the same music, poetry, art and literature?

…The European-Christian core of the country that once defined us is shrinking, as Christianity fades, the birth rate falls and Third World immigration surges.

You see, to people like Pat Buchanan—I give him credit for honesty—a diverse nation is not a nation at all. True Americans must all have European blood and belief. All others represent an existential threat to the country.

About one-half of all American children under five have Buchanan skin, a fact that makes Buchanan’s thin cultural skin crawl. And there is evidence that Americans are slowly embracing the secular nation that our Constitution establishes.

Thus it is that those in the Republican Party who care deeply and disturbingly about the threat to the “European-Christian core of the country” —those misguided but earnest folks who nominated Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, for instance—are not going to tolerate any talk of moderating the party’s positions on the social issues.

The Republican Party platform in 2016 will look much like it did this year, a document that reeks of uncompromising extremism, such as the party’s stance on reproductive rights and the status of homosexuals. The party primary process will continue to produce extremist true-believers who honor that extremist document.

Because people who are moved by faith and fear, folks who are on a mission from God or who are defending their waning cultural dominance, will not be deterred by an unfavorable election outcome. They will not be coaxed or coerced into compromise by people in their party who don’t share their enthusiasm for lost-cause crusades.

So it is that we will continue to see Tea Party-types dominate the Republican Party until such time that there is nothing much left to dominate, at least on the national scene. Republicans will always have a voice at the local and state level, even a voice in the Congress, but with uncompromising crusading conservatives in charge of its national prospects, it will one day become irrelevant as a governing national party.

When that happens, when the browning of America forces Republicans into waging only regional and state and local battles, then perhaps the adults can take the party back.

And America would be all the better for it.

Heretic Hunters And The Hunted

Steve Schmidt, who was the senior campaign strategist for John McCain in 2008, made an insightful comment this morning on MSNBC’s The Daily Rundown about the unexpected retirement of a frustrated Olympia Snowe:

The Republican Party I think is inarguably stronger with its moderates in the party. Is the Republican Party a stronger party with Olympia Snowe a member of the United States Senate? I think the answer is yes.

We’ve heard so much talk over the last couple of years, purging the party of its RINOs, purging the party of its moderate members.  And there are just two types of churches. One that tries to go out and bring in converts and one that goes out and hunts heretics. And we have been a party that’s done a lot of heretic hunting over the last couple of years.

Ronald Reagan talked about the fact that someone who agrees with me 80% of the time is not my political opponent, you know, they’re my ally. And it was a stronger party with Olympia Snowe in it, and what the likely result’s gonna be now is that it is gonna be harder for Republicans to get the majority in the U.S. Senate and almost impossible for Republicans to serve the state of Maine in the United States Senate.

All I can say to that is,

Thank you, Olympia Snowe!

I am not one of those who celebrated Senator Snowe’s so-called moderation, since she was a part of nearly all Republican obstructionism in the Senate over the last three years.

I remember her saying she urged President Obama to “take the public option off the table” in his address to Congress in September of 2009, implying that she could support the bill without it. She said back then,

I don’t support a public option and none of my Republican colleagues do.

Well, there was no public option and Senator Snowe still did not vote for the health care reform bill, a piece of legislation largely crafted (and weakened) to get votes from Republicans like her.  You may remember that she famously supported the bill in the Senate Finance Committee, using the now-ironic words,

Is this bill all that I would want? Far from it. Is it all that it can be? No. But when history calls, history calls. And I happen to think that the consequences of inaction dictate the urgency of Congress to take every opportunity to demonstrate its capacity to solve the monumental issues of our time.

Apparently, when history came calling for a vote on final passage of the Affordable Care Act, Snowe was in her garage painting a Tea Party placard. She knew then that uber-conservatives would excoriate her for a “yes” vote and raise up a candidate to challenge her in this year’s primary.

How sad that Ms. Snowe, who gets a lot of credit—only some of it deserved—for being a reasonable, moderate Republican, chose to say no to history, when history came not just calling, but begging for her support.

And given her behavior related to one of the most significant pieces of legislation in recent memory, and given her support for Republican filibusters during Obama’s first term, how strange for her to say about her pending retirement:

Unfortunately, I do not realistically expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term…I see a vital need for the political center in order for our democracy to flourish and to find solutions that unite rather than divide us. It is time for change in the way we govern…we must return to an era of civility in government driven by a common purpose to fulfill the promise that is unique to America.

To repeat what Steve Schmidt said,

…there are just two types of churches. One that tries to go out and bring in converts and one that goes out and hunts heretics. And we have been a party that’s done a lot of heretic hunting over the last couple of years.

And there are those, like Olympia Snowe, who herself never hunted heretics in her party, but who sat in the pews keeping the seats warm for those who did.

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Here is Olympia Snowe’s “take the public option off the table” moment:

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Sarah Palin And The End of Civility

Now that the fractional governor, Sarah Palin, has been exposed for all—even the gullible—to see (something I repeatedly maintained would happen), I think it is time to examine two uncomfortable details from the 2008 campaign that I shall never get over and that perhaps changed the nature of our politics for generations.

Number one: On October 4, 2008, Ms. Palin, a candidate for Vice President of the United States, said this about Barack Obama:

This is not a man who sees America as you see it and how I see America. We see America as the greatest force for good in this world. If we can be that beacon of light and hope for others who seek freedom and democracy and can live in a country that would allow intolerance in the equal rights that again our military men and women fight for and die for all of us. Our opponent though, is someone who sees America it seems as being so imperfect that he’s palling around with terrorists who would target their own country.

The Associated Press reported at the time:

The Republican campaign, falling behind Obama in polls, plans to make attacks on Obama’s character a centerpiece of presidential candidate John McCain’s message with a month remaining before Election Day.

But the attacks on Barack Obama were more than just desperate, last-minute campaign tactics. They turned out to be a glimpse into the post-election future, as the Republican Party and its extremist allies conspired to demean, delegitimate, and destroy the presidency of Barack Hussein Obama.

And, oddly, I don’t completely or even largely blame Sarah Palin for the initial unprecedented attack—and suggesting that Barack Obama sympathized with terrorists “who would target their own country” is unprecedented as far as I’m concerned— on a political opponent who was aspiring to be President of the United States.

I blame people like Steve Schmidt and Nicolle Wallace, not to mention John McCain, who ultimately picked her.

Which leads me to the number two detail about the 2008 presidential campaign:

Steve Schmidt was the top campaign strategist for John McCain and Nicolle Wallace was a senior advisor. Today, you can see them both frequently on cable television.   Three years ago they were essentially Palin’s “handlers” after she was chosen for VP, and both of them came to find out that she was, essentially, unfit for the office she was seeking.

Ms. Wallace just confessed to Time magazine (in a stunningly strange interview that lacked proper follow-up questions) the following about the inspiration for a VP character in her latest book of fiction:

The idea of a mentally ill vice president who suffers in complete isolation was obviously sparked by the behaviors I witnessed by Sarah Palin. What if somebody who was ill-equipped for the office were to ascend to the presidency or vice presidency? What would they do? How long would it take for people to figure it out? I became consumed by this question.

Wallace went on to suggest that like the character in her book, Palin was in a “troubled state of confusion, despair and helplessness,” and,

Palin vacillated between extraordinary highs on the campaign stage — she ignited more enthusiasm than our side had seen at any other point — to debilitating lows. She was often withdrawn, uncommunicative and incapable of performing even the most basic tasks required of her job as McCain’s running mate…

There certainly were discussions — not for long because of the arc the campaign took — but certainly there were discussions about whether, if they were to win, it would be appropriate for her to be sworn in.

Now, Steve Schmidt, who don’t forget was running John McCain’s campaign, was asked about Nicolle Wallace’s remarks and this is what he told Lawrence O’Donnell Thursday night:

…during the campaign after the economy collapsed we were essentially out of it. We were never closer than six or seven points again. But if the question is, did all of us, you know,  a bunch of us, who had been around the West Wing of the White House, did we see behavior that we found deeply troubling? And the answer to that question is,  yes, we did. Uh, did we talk about it? Uh, yes, we did. You know, was there, you know, legal considerations? No, there were not. But did we talk about a pattern of behavior that we found troubling during the campaign? Of course we did.

Now, forget, if you can, how  cold-dead frightening are the admissions by Wallace and Schmidt.  Let’s go back to Palin’s appalling and unprecedented remarks about Barack Obama.  They were made on October 4.  And remember that Schmidt referenced the economic collapse of 2008, asserting that after the collapse, “we were essentially out of it.” When did that collapse happen?  September 15, 2008.

So, we have Sarah Palin making her  famous “palling around with terrorists” remark after Schmidt recognized that the campaign was doomed, and after he and Nicolle Wallace recognized that Palin’s behavior was, in the words of Schmidt, “deeply troubling,” and in the words of Wallace merited discussions about whether “it would be appropriate for her to be sworn in.” 

Those aren’t my words.  Those aren’t the words of any Obama supporter. Those are the words of those closest to John McCain and his campaign in 2008.

Let the cynicism sink in.  Let it penetrate your brain like WD-40. 

These disgusting people were using Sarah Palin to trash Obama in unthinkable and country-dividing ways, even when they knew the race was lost, when they knew that their vice presidential candidate was profoundly and dangerously flawed.  For his part, to this day John McCain defends his decision to unleash the quit-in-a-fit governor on the rest of the country.

Just a few days after the 2008 election, when the anti-Palin stories were trickling out from “anonymous” campaign staffers,  I wrote a column for the Joplin Globe, partly defending Sarah Palin on the basis of her obvious ordinariness:

Ms. Palin’s naiveté included the fact that she did not understand how her Republican handlers used her; how they cynically chose her to appeal to women; how they disgracefully structured her stump speeches to question Barack Obama’s patriotism; and how they finally discarded her when she failed to convince a majority of the electorate to take her seriously as a candidate.

While she deserves part of the blame for such crass cynicism, the real culprits were the Republican Svengalis who, confident in their own ability to hoodwink the electorate one more time, plucked her from her Alaskan nest, knowing she could not fly.

I have little doubt that she honestly believed in what she was doing. That’s what makes it so sad and pathetic to watch her fellow Republicans cut her up and now suggest to the world that the whole Palin phenomenon was founded on a lie.

Using her anti-elitist persona as a hook to attract similarly lowbrow voters, the campaign insisted she was nevertheless qualified to be commander in chief. Turns out that presenting her as merely “common folk” wasn’t just a phony campaign tactic. Ms. Palin was as common as advertised, but she was uncommonly unfit to lead the free world.

That was November, 2008, and Ms. Palin, of course, has since learned a thing or two about how to manipulate those anti-elitist types for her own financial gain. But much of the fault for what Sarah Palin did—and continues to do—to our politics, lies with people like Nicolle Wallace and Steve Schmidt and John McCain, who were willing to use the  ‘ill-equipped” “pit bull” Palin to  jump-start the prejudices and fears of part of the American electorate in order to win an election and achieve power.

And as the 2012 general election season approaches, those prejudices and fears will be stoked once again, and the campaign to come—largely because of what happened in 2008—will feature a cyclone of cynicism which will likely blow away what’s left of our political civility.

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