Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: The personal and political

Abbreviated Pundit Roundup: The personal and political

August 4, 2022 0 By Ellen Novack

Mitch Smith, Lauren Fox, and Elizabeth Diaz of The New York Times report that the overwhelming victory for abortion rights at the ballot box in Kansas had a very broad coalition which included more rural and, perhaps, even more Republican voters than one would think.

DeAnn Hupe Seib is a fiscally conservative, churchgoing Republican from rural Kansas. When faced with a ballot question about whether abortion rights ought to be removed from her state’s constitution, she voted no. So did her home, Jefferson County, which favored Donald J. Trump by a 32-point margin in 2020.

“I was old enough that I remember stories of women who could not get abortions or had to defy their church in order to get in and get an abortion in order to save their lives,” said Ms. Hupe Seib, 63, a lawyer. “So it’s a very real issue to me, and I know it can be again.”

The sweeping victory for abortion rights in Kansas on Tuesday — the country’s first post-Roe vote on the issue — relied on a broad coalition of voters who turned out in huge numbers and crashed through party and geographic lines to maintain abortion access in the state. The result was an election with a stunning 18-point margin that is shaking up national politics ahead of the midterm elections.


Amy Davidson Sorkin of The New Yorker wishes that Democratic campaign organizations and consultants would stop interfering in Republican primaries on behalf of election-denying candidates.

But the tactic of manipulating Republicans into nominating proto-authoritarian election deniers is damaging even if it works, in the short term, exactly as intended—that is, even if it helps the Democrats win some seats. For one thing, it habituates Republicans—voters, activists, local officials—in the practice of uniting behind extremists after the primary. It cajoles them into discarding whatever taboos might be left at this point. And making the most conspiratorial voices the loudest changes the tone of the political conversation. Candidates of the sort who might vote to impeach Trump the next time—and it’s all too plausible that there could be a next time—will be driven from politics. (All but four of the ten impeachment-voting Republicans have now either retired or been defeated in primaries, and one of the four, Liz Cheney, is almost certain to lose her primary; notably, the three who survived are in states with nonpartisan “top-two” primaries.) The saddest aspect of Meijer’s comments is how bitter he sounds. “I’m sick and tired of hearing the sanctimonious bullshit about the Democrats being the pro-democracy party,” he told Politico.

Voters may tire of it, too—another risk for Democrats. If, when surveying the strange shape of the G.O.P. field, with its collection of the extreme, the improbable, and the outlandish, Democrats sound gleeful rather than dismayed or alarmed, voters’ faith in their seriousness could be diminished. They could come across as hypocrites and fakes, at a time when voters say they are looking for authenticity. And they could sound like part of a party that doesn’t have faith in its ability to win an election on the strength of its own policies and ideals.[…]

Why have some of the Democratic Party’s most prominent campaign organizations—the D.C.C.C., the D.G.A.—pursued such a terrible approach in these races? The fear for democracy’s future is real. But they or their political consultants may have become too enraptured by the idea of their own cleverness or toughness. Another explanation is that there is just too much money in politics these days chasing too few good ideas. Bad schemes get funded, too. OpenSecrets has documented more than five hundred million dollars in outside spending in the primaries alone, a number that is no doubt incomplete owing to the opacity of many of the organizations that are involved in elections in one way or another (and the primaries aren’t over yet); it doesn’t include spending by the campaigns themselves.

Keep playing with fire like that and you’re liable to get burned.

Heather Cox Richardson writes for her Letters for an American Substack about the significance of Alex Jones emails and texts, especially in light of the Rolling Stone exclusive reporting that those texts and emails will be subpoenaed by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol.

It has been a source of frustration to those eager to return our public debates to ones rooted in reality that lies that have built a certain right-wing personality cannot be punctured because of the constant sowing of confusion around them. Part of why the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol has been so effective is that it has carefully built a story out of verifiable facts. Because House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) withdrew the pro-Trump Republicans from the committee, we have not had to deal with the muddying of the water by people like Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH), who specializes in bullying and hectoring to get sound bites that later turn up in on right-wing channels in a narrative that mischaracterizes what actually happened.

But today something happened that makes puncturing the bubble of disinformation personal. In the damages trial, the lawyer for the Sandy Hook parents, Mark Bankston, revealed that Jones’s attorney accidentally shared a digital copy of two years’ worth of the texts and emails on Jones’s phone and, when alerted to the error, didn’t declare it privileged. Thus Bankston is reviewing the material and has said that Jones lied under oath. This material includes both texts and financial reports that Jones apparently said didn’t exist.

This is a big deal for the trial, of course—perjury is a crime—and it is a bigger deal for those who have believed InfoWars, since it reveals how profitable the lies have been. Bankston revealed that for all of Jones’s claims of low income, in 2018 InfoWars made between $100,000 and $200,000 a day, and some days they made $800,000. But there is more. People calculating the math will note that if indeed there are two years of records on that phone, the messages will include the weeks around the events of January 6, 2021.

Robin Givhan of The Washington Post  writes that even though activists for military families won a victory in getting the PACT Act passed in the Senate, the utter contempt and disrespect for those activists by some of the nation’s lawmakers was on full display.

On Tuesday, the veterans, military family members and their supporters were on their sixth day outside the Capitol. They were clustered under a few trees in the blessed shade just beyond the Capitol’s east plaza on a morning that was already sweltering. They were there to shame the Senate into passing the PACT Act, which extends health-care benefits to veterans who were exposed to toxins from the enormous pits in which the military regularly disposed of waste. Those burning garbage dumps have been linked to cancers, sleep apnea, and other respiratory and neurological ailments. Indeed, President Biden has noted that his son Beau served overseas near such a site and later died of a brain tumor. And so it was not surprising to see an activist holding a cardboard sign shaped like a tombstone that bore the words, “the troops.” Another sign warned: “vets are dying.”

A lot of Americans come to Capitol Hill to make a case for their interests or to raise awareness about looming emergencies. But these activists faced particularly galling circumstances. The Senate had passed the PACT Act back in June with an 84-14 vote, but it had been changed somewhat in the House; so last week the Senate had to vote again, and the second time around the dizzying carousel that is the legislature, the vote was 55-42. This might still seem like a win for veterans, but basic math isn’t so basic in the Senate because of the filibuster, which requires 60 votes before a bill can turn into a law. The legislation stalled and these determined citizens from Virginia and North Carolina and New York were sweating it out on the grass trying to get senators to give veterans something more tangible than a mere “thanks” for their service.[…]

In our democracy, there’s every reason to be proud of the people’s ability to protest and have their demands met. But in the process of making their voices heard on this subject, there have been constant reminders of just how loathe those in power are to listening to voices other than their own. As the bill — and amendments — were considered on the Senate floor, Rand Paul (R-Ky.), explained how he wanted to pay for the veterans’ health care by calling a 10-year moratorium on foreign aid distributed by USAID. Then he rattled off a list of the aid group’s expenditures that, based on the snarling disgust in his tone, he deemed offensively wasteful: encouraging tourism in Tunisia, teaching Korean students about climate change and encouraging millions of Filipinos to go to school. His colleagues did not approve of Paul’s amendment.

Jonathan Capehart, also of The Washington Post, says that for all of Sen. Josh Hawley’s “concern” about masculinity, what he is really selling is more racial resentment.

But as clownish as Hawley comes across, we dismiss him at our own risk. He is selling a vision of masculinity to White America that has much more to do with prejudice than manliness. It’s an old story — but a successful one, and one that’s poised to catch on. Stopping that from happening will require offering an alternative, with better examples of what being a man really means.

During a recent interview, Jason Kander, an Afghanistan War veteran who in 2018 stepped away from rising success in the Democratic Party to tend to his mental health, broke down his fellow Missourian’s plan. Hawley, he said, “is positioning himself, and therefore his movement — his far-right, White-guy movement — as, ‘If you’re a man, then you believe in these things.’” These things, you could probably guess, are archconservative values such as the patriarchy, opposition to women’s bodily autonomy, support exclusively for heterosexual marriage, an aversion to labor organizing. In other words, as Kander told me via email later, Hawley is “making manhood synonymous with conservatism.”

The pitch holds natural appeal for older White men who already hew to traditional morals. But what about the younger White men who, as Kander says, watch Ultimate Fighting but still like their LGBTQ co-workers and have friends who have had abortions? Hawley figures he can woo them too, so long as they share one potent trait with the older group: racial resentment. This vision of masculinity is as much about being White as it is about being a man.

Dave Zirin of The Nation says that Donald Trump is up to his old tired racist tricks again, this time with WNBA star Brittney Griner.

Trump’s one constant has been his racism and bigotry. Even when it seemingly makes no political sense, his unerring instinct moves him toward his happy place: hating others. Never underestimating the racism that lives in this country’s marrow has been his greatest political survival skill, and his survival has never felt more precarious. This is the best way to understand why Trump would look at the political landscape, see Brittney Griner rotting in a Russian prison, and say she should be buried under the cell. Instead of defending a US citizen, an Olympian, and a symbol of wrongful political detentions, Trump piled on. On some godforsaken fascistic podcast that I wouldn’t link to on a dare, Trump called Griner “potentially spoiled” (not sure what that means) and said she deserved to be behind bars.

He described her Kafkaesque situation as follows: “She went in there loaded up with drugs into a hostile territory where they’re very vigilant about drugs. They don’t like drugs. And she got caught. And now we’re supposed to get her out—and she makes, you know, a lot of money, I guess. We’re supposed to get her out for an absolute killer and one of the biggest arms dealers in the world.”[…]

It has largely been a given that everyone wants Griner to come home and be reunited with her family. But Trump doesn’t see the world in terms of easing human suffering. He sees Griner, and you can imagine the neon-blood-red words flashing in his brain—“Black,” “lesbian,” “WNBA”—and Trump immediately deducing that he can use her as a political piñata to bond himself to a frenzied base. It comes from his Colin Kaepernick playbook: demonize a Black athlete, lie about who they are and what they stand for, and reap the benefits.

Charu Sudan Kasturi of the Guardian writes that the spread of polio remains a global threat.

In June, the WHO reported cases of vaccine-derived polio – where a weakened virus in the vaccine itself spreads in the environment and infects people – in Eritrea, Ghana, Togo, Ivory Coast, Israel, Yemen, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And in July, a patient in a New York City suburb was diagnosed with vaccine-derived polio. Over the past six weeks, traces of this form of the virus have also been found in sewage samples in Kolkata and London.

These seemingly unconnected cases highlight a common threat: globally, polio vaccination levels in 2021 dropped to their lowest in 15 years, according to WHO data, with immunisation initiatives disrupted during Covid. India and Indonesia, two of the world’s most populous nations, have witnessed particularly sharp falls in vaccine coverage.

That makes the recent spate of cases a canary in a coalmine, say experts – warning that the paralysing disease eliminated in most of the world could come back, especially in densely populated regions, unless countries redouble their efforts on vaccinations and surveillance.

With such an overwhelming amount of media attention given to the optics of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan, Brian Hioe of The Diplomat takes a look at some of the substantive issues.

Pelosi’s motivations for the visit have been speculated to be anything from securing her political legacy to an attempt to tout the Democrats’ record as tough on China before midterm elections. When Pelosi’s plane touched down in Taiwan around 10:43 p.m., the Washington Post released an op-ed by Pelosi arguing for her visit. In that article, she provided her rationale for the trip: “In the face of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) accelerating aggression, our congressional delegation’s visit should be seen as an unequivocal statement that America stands with Taiwan, our democratic partner, as it defends itself and its freedom.”

As news reports increasingly suggested that Pelosi would, in fact, be visiting Taiwan, speculation revolved around which day she would arrive. Another open question was the length of her visit – whether she would only stay a few hours in Taiwan, as some sources indicated, or whether she would stay overnight – and then whether her visit would only involve meeting with President Tsai Ing-wen or if it would also involve speaking to the Taiwanese legislature.

In the end, Pelosi’s visit involved stops to the legislature and to meet with Tsai. The House speaker’s comments were similar on both occasions, stressing Taiwan-U.S. cooperation in terms of mutual security interests, economic cooperation, and “shared values of self-governance and self-determination,” a phrase she used during verbal comments in her op-ed. With regards to her points on economic cooperation, Pelosi touted the CHIPS Act as an arena for cooperation between the U.S. and Taiwan, a somewhat odd framing considering the CHIPS Act is sometimes understood as aimed at reducing U.S. reliance on Taiwanese semiconductors.

Hannah Roberts of POLITICO Europe writes that with the hard-right Brothers of Italy party poised to win next month’s Italian snap elections, there is a fear that fascism is creeping into Italy. Again.

The public discourse over the murder of Alika Ogorchukwu, beaten to death in front of bystanders in the coastal town of Civitanova Marche, has laid bare the divisions in society as Italians prepare to vote in a snap election next month.

For some, the killing is the fault of years of hate-stoking anti-immigrant rhetoric from politicians on the right, with disturbing echoes of fascism. Others accuse the left of trying to make political capital out of a tragedy.

The bitter dispute matters because, according to current polling, it is the anti-immigration parties on the right of Italian politics that stand to win most support at the election and form the next government.

At the head of them all is Giorgia Meloni, leader of the hard-right Brothers of Italy, who is on track to become the country’s next prime minister after the September 25 vote. It would mark a radical shift in Italian politics, posing potential risks to the country’s economy after a period of stability under outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s steadying influence. There are also fears a right-wing coalition could weaken European unity at a sensitive time.

The Grammarian writes for The Philadelphia Inquirer on the importance of clear and precise grammar even if it is a bit “clunky.”

But what’s a grammarian to do when precise and concise are at odds with each other?

The ways we talk about abortion and gender — particularly in the wake of Roe v. Wade’s downfall — illustrate the problem.

Take, for example, a recent viral exchange between Sen. Josh Hawley, lately known for running away from the same rioting Jan. 6 mob that he’d raised a fist in solidarity with, and Berkeley law professor Khiara Bridges. In a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Hawley objected to Bridges’ use of the phrase “people with a capacity for pregnancy,” which Hawley — ever the studious grammarian — thought should be shortened to just “women.” Bridges replied that Hawley’s questioning was transphobic, as it excluded trans men and nonbinary people who can become pregnant, as well as cisgender women who are unable to become pregnant. […]

Put aside (for only the briefest moment) the fact that Hawley’s motivation was likely not syntactic concision but the desire to pick a fight and spark a viral moment and a provocative Twitter post (mission accomplished, Senator). A pressing language question still lingers here.[…]

Where does that leave someone just trying to improve the ways they speak and write?

Finally today, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar writes a wonderful essay on his Substack about his 60-year relationship with Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell. (Pushing fair use a bit here to tell the story of a young Lew Alcindor meeting Bill Russell.)

As I wandered into the gym, I saw, sitting casually on the bleacher bench reading The New York Times, Bill Russell. The Secretary of Defense himself. My personal hero.

I also saw my coach, Jack Donahue, chatting with the Celtics coach, Red Auerbach. Being naturally shy and unnaturally polite, I decided to head downstairs to the locker room and wait patiently until they were done. Maybe I could find a copy of the Times to read too.

“Lew, c’mere,” Coach Donahue called to me.

I gulped. Me?

I shuffled over to Coach Donahue, who introduced me to Coach Auerbach. Coach Auerbach gestured at Bill Russell. “Hey, Bill, c’mere. I want you to meet this kid.”

Bill Russell dipped down his newspaper and looked me over with a frown. Then he snorted. “I’m not getting up just to meet some kid.”

I shrank to about six inches tall. I just wanted to run straight home.

Auerbach chuckled. “Don’t let him get to you, kid. Sometimes he can be a real sourpuss.” He grabbed my wrist and walked me over to Russell.

“Bill, be nice. This is the kid who just might be the next you.”

Bill looked at me again, this time taking a little longer. I was already 7’, two inches taller than him.

I stuck out my hand. “How do you do, Mr. Russell. Pleasure to meet you.”

He didn’t smile, but his demeanor had softened, just a little. He shook my hand. “Yeah, yeah, kid.”

That’s how I met my childhood hero.

Have a good day, everyone!