In the November 2018 Issue of The Atlantic is an article entitled: The Man Who Broke Politics; Newt Gingrich turned partisan battles into bloodsport, wrecked Congress, and paved the way for Trump’s rise. Now he’s reveling in his achievements. I encourage you to read it.
Gingrich was elected to Congress for the first time from the 6th Congressional District of the State of Georgia in 1978, after unsuccessful runs for the same seat in 1974 and 1976. Before Gingrich’s success in 1978, the incumbent Democrat, Jack Flynt, decided to retire. Gingrich beat the Democratic candidate for Flynt’s seat, Virginia Shapard, by 7500 votes.
From the Atlantic article:
During his two decades in Congress, he pioneered a style of partisan combat—replete with name-calling, conspiracy theories, and strategic obstructionism—that poisoned America’s political culture and plunged Washington into permanent dysfunction. Gingrich’s career can perhaps be best understood as a grand exercise in devolution—an effort to strip American politics of the civilizing traits it had developed over time and return it to its most primal essence.
The Gingrich story intersects with the story of eastern Washington, specifically, Congressional District 5. In 1994 Tom Foley was both the WA CD5 Representative to Congress and the Speaker of the House. In November of that year George Nethercutt beat Foley at the ballot box by a tiny margin, ending much of eastern Washington’s influence on the national stage. In that election Republicans acquired the majority of seats in the House for the first time since 1954. Newt Gingrich was instrumental in this takeover with his in-your-face tactics. As part of the strategy Gingrich and Dick Armey wrote and popularized the Contract with America,” a document that helped focus the 1994 election on a national Republican agenda and minimize regional and local issues. Newt became Speaker of the House partly because of his militant bluster and Republican’s electoral success. In 1994, Gingrich was only fifty-one years old.
After stamping his brand of pugilistic politics on the Republican Party in the 1994 election, Gingrich lasted in Congress, and as Speaker, only four years. In late 1998, after the Republicans lost five House seats (the worst showing in 64 years for a Party not holding the Presidency) and facing a rebellious Republican Caucus, Gingrich resigned the Speakership and announced he would resign his House seat, less than a month into the term for which he had just been re-electied. In an interview after his resignation he said, “I’m willing to lead but I’m not willing to preside over people who are cannibals. My only fear would be that if I tried to stay, it would just overshadow whoever my successor is. Frankly, Marianne and I could use a break.” [Marianne was the second of three wives.]
Gingrich hasn’t held an elected public office since January 1999, but his name re-appears frequently in Republican politics. He appears on Fox News as a commentator. At age 75 he is enjoying the good life in Rome, while his third wife, Callista, serves as ambassador to the Vatican, courtesy of Trump’s nomination and the Republican Senate’s approval. Gingrich keeps sending me emails praising Trump and fundraising for him.. He lives in style on money he makes giving speeches, and revels in the form of militarized politics with which he has afflicted the nation.
Gingrich started out in Congress in January 1979, age 35. He was already an assistant professor of history. He was already a man with high aspirations and an inflated opinion of himself and of his place in history. To me he is an example of intelligence gone awry. He and his brand of politics rank right up there with Mitch McConnell and Steve Bannon.
Contrast the lasting influence of a Newt Gingrich to that of our Representative McMorris Rodgers. She rode in on George Nethercutt’s coattails in 2004 with hardly a fight, no three attempts for her. Her supposed expertise is in communicating the national Republican message, not shaping it, and, now, post election, even her pretense of leadership as chairwoman of the Republican caucus is gone.
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. Gingrich, as revealed in the Atlantic article, is fascinated by dinosaurs and with his Darwinian concept of struggle in the natural (and political) world. It is no stretch to assume that Gingrich understands and appreciates the science around geologic time and biological evolution. Nonetheless,from Wikipedia: “As Speaker, Gingrich sought to increasingly tie Christian conservatism to the Republican Party. According to a 2018 study, Christian conservatism had become firmly ingrained in the Republican Party’s policy platforms by 2000.” Note the irony of his courting a segment of the voting public many of whom strongly reject concepts central to Newt’s understanding of the world. Politics makes odd bedfellows…
* Many of the policy ideas in the Contract with America originated at the Heritage Foundation, an institution heavily supported by funds from the Koch donor group of libertarian leaning business people and one of the first institutions to pop up in response to the Powell Memorandum.
Each Monday morning I look forward to reading The Weekly Sift written by Doug Muder. His Monday emails (two of them nearly every Monday) is a marvelously rational roundup of news from the past week. The article from the Weekly Sift from which I lifted the title of the Indivisible email today can be found here. I urge you to click on that link, read his article, and then add your email address in the left hand column under “Subscribe by email.” Then click “Sign me up!” You will not regret it. [You will likely receive a confirmation email to which you must respond to complete the loop. That’s to prevent someone else from signing up your email address.]
This last Monday’s Weekly Sift’s “featured post” email is a summary of a new book, “Network Propaganda.” I have not yet read the book, but Mr. Muder’s summary and the quotes he offers strike me as essential to understanding the gravity of our current situation. For me the single most chilling thing about Trump is his denigration and demonization of all media with which he does not agree. Having put all mainstream media and the entire fact base in which the mainstream media work into a box, he proceeds to belittle and demean. “Don’t listen to them. They are fake news. They represent the agenda of the ‘deep state,’ the grand conspiracy against me and against you, MY people.”
Once he has his chanting followers in thrall, isolated from any and all opposing views, he can take them anywhere. Fox News and others who are part of this far right media ecosystem laid the groundwork before Trump was even part of the picture, but he, in synergy with those media, has assembled a core group worthy of a Jim Jones, people subscribing to an ideology divorced from any reality many of us even recognize.
There are core crazinesses of this ecosystem, like the conspiracies of Infowars with pedophile operations run out of pizza parlors near D.C., but not so far from that are ideas taken up by McMorris Rodgers and Sue Lani Madsen when they solemnly cite George Soros as the liberal bogeyman, the evil name that lights up a whole construct in the minds of the faithful.
But enough of my rambling. Click on this link here (or the one above–they go to the same place), read Doug Muder’s article and sign up for his email. I will try to get back to a more local focus.
Keep to the high ground,
The news we consume both nationally and locally is written by someone, and no one writes without some point of view. All news offers a story, a story based at some level on facts, numbers, and quotes, but always facts, numbers, and quotes selected and presented by a writer. I used to read newspaper articles without paying attention to the byline. That was naive.
I have not met Daniel Walters personally, but I have read a lot of his writing…and I like it. Daniel Walters is a staff writer with The Inlander, the Spokane weekly free newspaper. Mr. Walters is in his early thirties. He is Spokane through and through, North Central High School, Whitworth University, to staff writer with the Inlander starting in 2009 (all that comes from Facebook). Pay attention to his byline. He is worth reading.
I offer an extended quote below Daniel Walters’ November 9 Inlander article, McMorris Rodgers wins the battle, but her House Republicans lose the war. Was it worth it? . The first part of the article was a little jarring as it pointed out the result of the CMR/Brown contest “wasn’t even close.” You might be forgiven if, in the election aftermath, you had quit reading there–but it got a lot better. I like the way Daniel Walters thinks. I will pay more attention to the Inlander and a bit less to the Spokesman:
But in McMorris Rodgers’ speech, at least, there’s no trace of regret over the night’s events. Instead, she reminisces about the time she was called to give the State of the Union response in 2014, the one where she promised that Republicans were the ones with the solutions to “affordable health care.”
“No, we shouldn’t go back to the way things were, but this law is not working,” McMorris Rodgers said back then. “Republicans believe health care choices should be yours, not the government’s.”
But that just underscores McMorris Rodgers’ mixed legacy in leadership: Today, Obamacare remains the law of the land. In fact, McMorris Rodgers spent the last phase of the campaign arguing, dubiously, that she had been a champion of the defense of one Obamacare’s crucial tenets — the pre-existing condition guarantee.
McMorris Rodgers’ House Republicans spent eight years in power — the last two with control of every branch. But they haven’t funded the wall. They didn’t pass comprehensive immigration reform. They didn’t successfully pass a bill to protect DACA recipients. This year, in fact, they haven’t even been able to successfully pass a Farm Bill.
Instead, I wait patiently as a scrum of TV reporters lob mostly softballs at McMorris Rodgers for a few minutes. Then, as the small press conference looks to be ending, I jump in:
“Would you rather have lost and the Republicans keep the House—”
But then, like a Secret Service agent leaping in front of a bullet, McMorris Rodgers’ campaign manager, Patrick Bell, shuts me down.
“Sorry that was the last question,” Bell says, maneuvering in front of me. “Thanks, Daniel. Thanks, everybody.”
At the encouragement of another McMorris Rodgers campaign staffer, I spend the rest of the party trying to catch McMorris Rodgers as she shakes hands and takes selfies with her supporters.
“Do you have a moment for print?” I ask as she walks out of the party. “All the TV guys got to ask questions? Print doesn’t get anything?”
Again, Bell shuts me down.
“We did it! We did it! We did it!” McMorris Rodgers cheers as she readies to leave. “56 percent and counting.”
I try one last time as McMorris Rodgers stands in the door to the Davenport Grand Hotel, and get the closest thing to an answer.
“We won right here tonight in Eastern Washington,” she says. “Focus on tonight, Daniel.”
And then, like that, she’s gone.
To be sure, during the Obama years, the House Republicans made for fearsome opposition: They shut down the government in 2014. They successfully pushed back against federal government spending. Yet the House’s biggest legislative legacy from the past two years of Republican control is the major tax cut bill — a bill that is anticipated to keep sending the deficit soaring. Few, if any, vulnerable House Republicans based their campaigns on the effectiveness of the tax cuts.
And for all that? Democrats look like they’re going to be picking up about 37-40 House seats, despite the booming economy. It’s the best Democratic performance since Watergate. In the end, it wasn’t even close.
Asked by a TV reporter about the changing landscape in the House, McMorris Rodgers stresses her ability to be bipartisan: “I have great relationships. I can work across the aisle,” she says, talking about her successes in areas like hydropower and forestry.
But by Thursday, CNN reports that Cathy McMorris Rodgers will not run again for House conference chair. Rep. Liz Cheney is running for that spot instead.
So here’s my final question: If you were Lisa or Cathy, which would you rather have: A personal victory? Or control of the House for your party?
Would McMorris Rodgers have rather lost on Tuesday night if the House Republicans won? Would Lisa Brown prefer to have been elected if it meant Republicans had maintained control of the House?
When I asked Lisa Brown that question, she doesn’t hesitate: She’d rather Democrats have control of the House than for her to be elected personally.
“That’s really what motivated me to get into it,” Brown says about her race. In fact, Brown believes that she played a small role in the Democrats’ victory.
In years past, McMorris Rodgers has been flying all around the country, working to fundraise and stump for her fellow House Republicans.
“I believe she would have been doing the same thing during the campaign if she hadn’t had a competitive race,” Brown says.
Instead, she was spending money and holding events in her district, fighting Lisa Brown. I intended to ask McMorris Rodgers the same question. I assumed I’d have a chance. During the campaign, McMorris Rodgers has spoken with the Inlander for lengthy, challenging in-depth interviews on multiple occasions.
But on election night, neither the Inlander nor the Spokesman-Review get their questions answered by McMorris Rodgers.
Keep to the high ground,
(click to see the pdf of the document)
The belief systems, the worldview, of the people who claim to represent us at all levels of government deserve close examination. These belief systems reflect on their constituents. Check this out: on November 14, the Spokesman published a letter to the editor by Stevan Alburty of Liberty Lake:
Now that Matt Shea and his Biblical babble have enabled him to be re-elected, I am even more encouraged to proceed with my imaginary plan to hire about 100 bulldozers and raze the entire Spokane Valley from Freya to Barker in one cold swoop.
Start over, I say. It’s physically and intellectually a wasteland, a strip mall of gargantuan proportions. Its allegiance to a fanatic such as Mattt Shea is justification enough for my fantasy of its demolition.
Matt should spend less time trying to fulfill his prophecy about “killing all males,” and spend a little more time on urban planning.
Hmmm. That might be a little overblown. I did quite a lot of canvassing in the City of Spokane Valley in the two weeks leading up to the November election. I followed the national and local coverage of Matt Shea and his worrisome manifesto, “Biblical Basis for War,” a tract I first encountered in a Spokesman article on October 31st, just six days before the election. Regardless of the national news coverage of Mr. Shea’s extremism, many I spoke with in the City of Spokane Valley barely recognized the name, Matt Shea, much less any detail of his ideology.
I smiled reading Mr. Alburty’s letter to the editor, but his way of thinking is a trap. The re-election of an incumbent is more a matter of name recognition and party affiliation than a test of the incumbent’s belief system. We tend to imagine everyone is paying as much attention to these things as we are. We need to get over that.
When Matt Shea was confronted with his manifesto (reproduced above) his response was:
“First of all, it was a summary of a series of sermons on biblical war in the Old Testament as part of a larger discussion on the history of warfare,” Shea said in a Facebook Live video on Wednesday. “This document, in and of itself, was not a secret. I’ve actually talked about portions of this document publicly.”
Well, today I bring you the document itself. If you haven’t already read it where it is posted above, I urge you to do so. There is no question of it’s authenticity. I downloaded it from the link in the October 31st article in the Spokesman. Here is the direct link to the online pdf. Read it for the full effect. Shea’s defense of his outline as an academic exercise, one part of a series of sermons, is absurd. Sections “10 Rules of War” and “11 Organizational Structure for War” are not academic or sermonic, they are a modern day prescription with modern day issues and terminology,
The controversy over this document broke only in the last days of the election. It had a modest effect on the voting I will address in a later post, but the document did not have enough time or promotion to sink into the consciousness of the average voter. That will take time…and it will only happen if we absorb its contents and spread them.
Mr. Alburty’s letter to the editor is premature. His bulldozer fantasy neglects the nearly 30,000 LD4 voters who cast ballots for Ted Cummings, and others who voted for Shea only because he “Prefers Republican Party,” voters blissfully ignorant of Shea’s extremism. Even some staunch local Republicans have denounced the man, notably Sheriff Knezovich and Bob McCaslin Sr. (McCaslin Jr.’s father and a former Senator from LD4, now deceased.) Others have accepted Shea’s endorsement (McMorris Rodgers, for example) or even defended Shea’s document (Rob Chase). One hopes McMorris Rodgers’ lack of discrimination will eventually catch up with her, but for now she is too much a chicken to repudiate Shea risk losing the votes of his extremist followers. (Or does she agree with Shea while she remains careful not to be too open about it?)
Read “Biblical Basis for War.” Talk it up. Spread it around. [Download from here.] This document is no dry exercise in Biblical interpretation or academic discussion of the history of armed conflict. It is a prescription for modern day religious warfare. No denial from Shea should change that plain fact.
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. On a picky note, Mr Alburty’s bulldozers had better start at Havana St, not Freya. If they start pushing east from Freya they will plow up part of the City of Spokane and part of Legislative District 3 before entering LD4 and the City of Spokane Valley, the territory he says he wants to level. Review the LD boundaries using this interactive map. Orient yourself!
Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy friends and family and all the things for which we can still be thankful.
If you’re concerned how conversation around the Thanksgiving meal might go, there’s a great article in the New York Times entitled “How to Have a Conversation With Your Angry Uncle Over Thanksgiving” It is part humor and part just good advice. If you have a few minutes you can spare from Thanksgiving preparations it might be interesting to check it out. It might save you some discomfort… (may be hidden behind a paywall).
Keep to the high ground,
Today I offer a story without a lot of commentary. It is the story of Steve Berch, a Democrat, who just won a seat in the Idaho legislature, winning 54.5% of the vote against a five term entrenched Republican in what had been considered a deeply red legislative district, LD15, just west of Boise. Here’s the link: The article is entitled “Persistence.” It appeared on November 9 in the Daily Kos. For a better presentation of Mr Berch than the photo in the Daily Kos article visit here.
I offer this story hoping all the Democratic candidates for offices in eastern Washington whom I’ve met in the last two years will have a chance to read it. All of them I’ve gotten to know a little are decent, honest folk, people with expertise and life experience with which I can identify and resonate. None is a career politician. Each of them put an enormous amount of time, energy, and personal funds into their election effort. Nearly all faced a disappointing result…at so far.
I hope all of them take heart in this story of Steve Berch (as well as the story I told of Georgia’s Congressional District 6 that I told a few days ago). There is a crying need to take back our country. There is a lot of new found energy in eastern Washington to do just that, energy fueled by these candidates who stepped up and ran for office in a region of Washington State where Democrats were beginning to feel abandoned, overtaken by the din from the Washington Policy Center, some “Christian” preachers, Rush Limbaugh, and the incumbency of the McMorris Rodgers regime.
I thank all the intrepid citizens who stepped up and ran. They and we have learned a lot…a lot we can build on in the next go-round.
Talking with voters on their doorsteps I heard, “You send them to ____, and over years they become part of the corrupt system that is no longer working. I’m not going to vote at all. It’s hopeless.” They spoke of term limits. There are few specifics with which I agree with McMorris Rodgers. but we share partial agreement on this: standing for election every two years can and should be an effective term limit. The problem with that is several fold: 1) Incumbents have many inherent advantages, including money, established connections, and influence, 2) Voters bias toward incumbents based on name recognition and reluctance to change, 3) when an incumbent stumbles there has to be an attractive replacement at the ready in the next election.
Steve Berch’s story of persistence is a study in all of that: Over several elections, thousands of doors knocked and people talked with he developed name recognition, gathered monetary support, and came ever closer to a majority of the votes. I have not studied his campaign in detail, but I suspect Mr. Berch benefited from voter anger over the incumbent’s persistent and vocal disapproval of Medicaid expansion–an issue front and center in the form of an Idaho ballot initiative, Prop. 2. Mr. Berch was on the ballot, armed with name recognition and an opinion when the incumbency shield of his five term opponent cracked over the Medicaid expansion issue.
No one can win an election if they are not on the ballot. An incumbent running effectively unopposed is an incumbent empowered to follow his or her worst instincts.
Thanks to all those Democrats, especially those first timers, who ran in eastern Washington this election. May it be that many of them are willing to try again. Many of us, knowing them better than we did, will still be here and ready to support them.
Keep to the high ground,
The 6th Congressional District of the State of Georgia has had an outsize influence on the U.S. House of Representatives for decades through the men it has sent there. For twenty years (1979-1999) Georgia’s CD6 was held by Newt Gingrich. Gingrich succeeded Tom Foley as Speaker of the House (1995-1999) after Foley fell to Nethercutt in 1994. Gingrich was the author of the infamous “Contract with American.” He is arguably the man most responsible for pulling the Republican Party toward the flapping right fringe…and for the poisonous political polarization from which we now suffer. (More on him in a later post.) Gingrich’s stepping into Foley’s shoes is only one of several places were GA-CD6 and WA-CD5 (i.e. we in eastern Washington) intersect.
Georgia CD6 elected Dr. Tom Price to the House in 2004, the same year McMorris Rodgers sailed into Congress on George Nethercutt’s coattails. Dr. Price, an orthopedist turned politician, was a vocal critic of the Affordable Care Act starting with its becoming law in 2010. In the 2012 presidential election, after Price had served four terms, he faced a redrawn district following the 2010 census. No problem. The redrawing left him with a district political analysts judged had only shifted 3 points from a Republican lean of 66% to 63%. It was secure enough for Dr. Price to retain his seat in 2012 with 65% of the vote, in 2014 with 66%, and 2016 with 62% regardless of the new boundaries.
McMorris Rodgers ran unopposed for vice-chair of the House Republican Conference in 2009 (after Barack Obama’s first win). From that position, as a young, supposedly tech savvy up-and-comer, she was instrumental in “expand[ing] the party’s digital imprint.” In late 2012 the Republicans were reeling from the re-election of Barak Obama, a re-election fueled in part by a 18 point lead with female voters. From her position as vice chair McMorris Rodgers saw her chance: She bid to become chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, the position for which she was touted as “the most powerful Republican woman in the country” for several elections, including the most recent one. In vying to become chairwoman she was at the time one of only 24 Republican woman serving in Congress (there will be even fewer come 2019, 17, maybe less, depending on re-counts).
McMorris Rodgers’ opposition for the chairmanship position’s closed door vote in late 2012 was none other than Dr. Tom Price of Georgia’s CD6, an old (15 years her senior) white man, precisely the image the voters had just rejected nationwide. (see The Atlantic, September 19, 2014.)
Despite his loss to McMorris Rodgers for the chairmanship, Dr. Price’s CD6 seat seemed secure following re-elections in 2014 and 2016 by margins greater than 20 percent. Trump’s handlers must have had that in mind when, in February 2017, Trump appointed Price to oversee dismantling the Affordable Care Act as United States Secretary of Health and Human Services. Price lasted just seven months, resigning amid scandals involving a million dollars of taxpayer money spent on private jets and major conflicts of interest surrounding his dealings in health care stocks. (wikipedia)
Do you remember the young (31yo), well-spoken Democrat, Jon Ossoff, who ran against a Republican woman (age 56), Karen Handel (Georgia’s Secretary of State), to replace Tom Price in GA CD6? In a widely watched Special Election held June 20, 2017 Handel won by around 7000 votes on a base of votes cast of 260,000, a spread of under four percentage points. Handel’s victory over Ossoff was a major disappointment…but last week the Democrats got their revenge: Karen Handel (R) (after just 17 months in office) lost the Georgia CD6 seat to Lucy McBath (D) a black 58 yo gun control advocate who has never held public office. The margin of victory was only a little over 3,000 votes, but, get this, turnout was high, with nearly 317,000 votes cast, 57,000 more than in the Special Election.
We will take our victories where we find them. This is one is worth savoring…
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. More on the home front, as McMorris Rodgers’ star slowly sinks toward the horizon, she stands to be replaced as Chairwoman of the House Republican Conference by another of the dwindling number of Republican U.S. Representatives, Liz Cheney (R-WY). Ms. Cheney is the daughter of the former Vice President to GW Bush, Dick Cheney. She has served in public office only since January 3, 2017 when she was elected to U.S. House. She is a former Fox News contributor who has been a substitute host for the Hannity show. Ms. Cheney is the single Representative from the State of Wyoming, representing the small and deeply conservative population of the state, only 580,000 people (compared to the national average of 733,000). From this secure minor perch, Liz Cheney can serve as more of a attack dog for Trump than McMorris Rodgers could. You can read more of Ms. Cheney’s hyper-partisanship in her wikipedia biography.