Law, order, and dishonor

Many Republicans seem to me to be confused about law and order. I am hearing decidedly mixed messages on public safety and public corruption both here in Mississippi and from Washington, DC. It’s hard to figure exactly where that party is coming from.

First, here in Jackson the Governor used his line item veto to take money away from the local planetarium because there is too much crime in Jackson. The connection between crime and star gazing is loose, unless you know that the Governor likes to criticize the City of Jackson where the planetarium is located.

To be clear, the Governor (and the Republican state legislature) have a pretty soft commitment to public safety outside of the planetarium threat. State policies around COVID contributed to among the highest death rates in the world here in Mississippi and the near collapse of the health care system, which is starved for resources in part because of opposition to Medicaid expansion. The legislature is slow to spend infrastructure funds which could help provide reliable and safe water service in Jackson, nor does it do much for the city except occupy it a few months a year when the legislature is in session.

I conclude that these Republicans care about public safety from some threats but not from others. They like beating up on the majority African American capital city but don’t do anything helpful about public safety unless it helps make their, shall we say, “anti-urban” argument.

Next, two of the three Republican members of Congress from Mississippi were forced into run-off elections for what appear to be opposite reasons. Representative Steven Palazzo has been the subject of multiple accusations that he struggles with both truth-telling and campaign finance law. His failure to win 50 percent was predicted, although he came in first. He faces a local Sheriff in the run-off.

Representative Michael Guest, on the other hand, in whose district I reside, was forced into a runoff by a newcomer to Mississippi, Michael Cassidy, who accuses Guest of being a RINO because he voted for a January 6th Commission. So Guest, a conservative former prosecutor is accused of failing to represent Mississippi by a guy from the DC area whose principal complaint was that the prosecutor wanted to investigate a crime. Whatever.

That brings me to the main event of the week, the January 6th Committee hearings. Dramatic. Fact-based. Headed by a Mississippian (a real one; not like me and Cassidy) who acknowledged in introducing himself that Mississippi’s history and his own had prepared him for the moment. The hearing also featured two very tough women: the extraordinarily clear-headed daughter of a Republican Vice President, and a law enforcement officer who had put her life on the line for her job and for her country. The Committee presented hard evidence of a carefully planned and executed coup against the United States government and its peaceful transfer of power.

The Republican leadership response? They would rather address inflation than sedition. That seems non-sensical. Like announcing they can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. Or that Jackson’s crime rate means it can’t have a planetarium. High inflation does not make the attempted coup OK.

Representative Cheney’s statement that their dishonor will remain was the central quote of the night. And I really don’t know what the Republicans think they stand for. Its not public safety. I am clear on that. Chaos and violence? Greed and unchecked power? Or what I have euphemistically called here “anti-urbanism”? They really aren’t leaving themselves with much else.

At least most Republicans aren’t leaving themselves much else. I am sure I have many disagreements with Representative Cheney on matters of policy. But I admire her courage, toughness, clarity, and patriotism. I hope in the coming months to see that our country and my adopted state honor those qualities.

Its not about abortion (alone)

The leaked draft of the Supreme Court decision produced a torrent of texts and emails from friends and former colleagues many of whom had worked in the political sphere to advance women and women’s rights for their entire adult lives. That a legal right won 50 years ago and considered settled law since could be so readily erased was upsetting personally, politically, and professionally to many women. Assuming the decision holds – and the very politicized Supreme Court could modify it for legal or extra-legal reasons – the upset will last a long time; until, frankly, it is undone.

I concur with those who believe the decision may mobilize younger voters in November. No one wants to lose rights their grandparents had and while younger voters have long been dubious that this could be taken away, now they know there are no permanent victories.

Democrats must also meet the messaging challenges. A lot today seemed off the mark on that front. Abortion will be an issue in November but it wont be the only one. Voters are indeed more focused on inflation and their immediate economic realities than on the loss of their rights. For the roughly 50 percent of voters who own stock, things cost more while they have less. For the 50 percent who don’t own stock, things cost more and they didn’t have much to begin with. The message that “Democrats deliver” doesn’t resonate with either group.

“Whack-a-mole” messaging is not the answer: If you care about abortion rights, we are going to fix it; if you care about voting rights, hey, we’re on it; if you care about inflation; its getting better (not that anyone can tell). And then there is COVID which apparently isn’t quite done with us. Mission accomplished is not a good message when, well, it isn’t. It seems unfocused, at best, to list the litany of problems we are trying to address. No one wins whack-a-mole. It just times out.

So what to do? It is hard as the party that is at least nominally in power to run against the party that isn’t. It can sound whiny and partisan. We can, however, run against a worldview that undergirds much of what is wrong.

The enemy is a power-hungry minority that wants to impose their views and their interests on everyone else. It is a worldview that power means you get to decide. In that worldview people get to keep power because they have it. They use it to cheat. They use it to steal. And they use it to take away from the rest of us.

Not all Republicans subscribe to the world view, although the wimps who are unwilling to stand up to it don’t get an exemption. And I recognize there are a few Democrats who are of the “because I said so” school themselves. They should cut that shit out – if you can’t explain how your view or policy is consonant with my views or my interests you won’t convince me of it. Asserting my ignorance makes you part of the problem.

Strong messaging requires modification in our presentation of ourselves as well as aggressive opposition to those who take power for their own sakes. On our side, (1) we need to listen and reflect what we hear (and listening is not the exclusive province of pollsters). Reflect on what people are saying about their own lives – it is tough out here. Tell us how it happened and how you are addressing it. (2). The message should be about voters not about Democrats – Democrats deliver just says we are self-aggrandizing and out of touch with someone who doesn’t believe they have been delivered to. (3). Trim the ideological statements way back. (Yes, I do believe the worldview I am describing is about white male supremacy but describe it as acts of greed, arrogance, and corruption: say what it is not why it is.)

When we sound a little more like regular people and less like politicians, it is time to go after those who have used the money we put in to spur the economy in corrupt ways or not at all. Here’s one example (https://mississippitoday.org/the-backchannel/) of misspent federal funds but there are a dozen states that aren’t spending their federal stimulus funds. The story is that there is corruption stopping a lot of what Democrats are doing. There is corruption in state governments, at big drug companies, in anti-trust violations, and at the Supreme Court. It is all about greed and power. It is not about progress and people. We are for progress and people. They are for themselves in ways that are greedy and corrupt. Don’t start with the conclusion, but do tell the stories for which that is the (unstated) but self-evident conclusion.

Then there is perhaps the most corrupt thing of all – the conspiracy on the part of people in the White House and the U.S. Capitol to overturn the results of the 2020 Presidential Election. And those aware of the corruption who stood by and did nothing or defended it out of fear of those who are corrupt. That is part of the same worldview that people with power get to keep it and be damned to the rest of us. Donald Trump, with his own deep roots in greed and corruption, made corruption fashionable for his cronies.

There are Republicans who have stood up. They include Members of Congress, state and local election officials, and judges. Go after the corruption not the party name. Republicanism isn’t inherently corrupt. But a whole lot of them became so under Trump.

As for Trump himself, he is a very painful and visible symptom but he is not the whole disease. Even if he goes into remission, there is still a need to fight the notion that power is there to advance the views and interests of the powerful. Power does corrupt and it has done so quite absolutely in some quarters.

The Supreme Court is politicizing women’s health and taking away women’s and family’s rights to make decisions because they believe power means imposing their viewpoint on the rest of us. Its not for our good; its not advancing the protections in the Constitution; its simply an exercise of power for its own sake. That is wrong. That is corrupt. It is the same mindset as people who stormed the capitol because they wanted to.

There is nothing new in “might makes right.” But saying we want to “protect democracy” is like saying “we oppose kratocracy;” Tell the story of corruption instead. People will understand it. At the moment they are concerned it applies both to Democrats who say they deliver and to Republicans who say they care. The story of what’s true, however, is often the story they will find more credible.

Republican Governors’ Conundrum

Most of the states with low vaccination rates have Republican Governors. That is because they have majority Republican constituencies who don’t like government telling them what to do.


There are a lot of reasons people are not getting vaccinated. There are still some access issues and not everyone knows the vaccines are free. But a main reason is resistance to government, which wants you to get the vaccine, and resistance to elites saying it is stupid not to.


The latter problem should just stop. I get the frustration but it is counterproductive and feeds an “Us v. Them” polarization that is part of the problem. Getting a vaccine is a choice. And, in the end, so is wearing a mask in most circumstances because it is often true that “no one can make me.”


Now, some Republican Governors in states with low vaccination rates just care about being demagogues and playing to their base, and so loudly oppose mandates of any kind by anybody. If as Governor you really believe that mandates are the main problem and that low vaccination rates are fine, well, bless your (cold) heart and God love ya. I have nothing more to say.


But if you would like to encourage vaccination and mask wearing, here are some thoughts. These likely go well beyond what your own message consultants suggest. While your consultants care about your political future (it is theirs too), there is no reason to think they care about your constituents. Then I come from the old school in which consultants are supposed to help you accomplish your goals, not just keep you out of trouble. And, of course, I am a Democrat, and all for vaccinations and mask wearing.


First, I was really impressed with Senator Bill Cassidy on the subject who was so careful to say he was speaking as a Doctor, not as a government authority, and as a doctor, he favored vaccination and mask-wearing. Most Republican office holders are not doctors, although they can quote them – I wouldn’t recommend quoting Dr. Fauci, or anyone in Washington, but I bet you have local family doctors you can quote. For example, “I’m not a doctor and I don’t believe everything I hear, but I have talked to a lot of doctors here in _, and they all seem to have confidence in these shots. I had one six months ago, and my wife (most Republican Governors have one) and I brought our kids to get shots as soon as we could. We thought that was safest for them.


Second, you have a significant role in tamping down disinformation. I am sure you have heard that you can’t get COVID if you have Type O blood, that you can’t transmit it unless you are showing symptoms, that young women who get vaccines can’t have children, etc. I have heard all of that and I am not out and about that much. Try: “I know people here don’t believe everything they hear. (You can even insert and example here that would offend me but exhibits your conservative credentials.) And people shouldn’t believe everything they read on the Internet either. That thing that you can’t get COVID if you have Type O blood has long been disproven. Seems like everyone can get it, and a lot of people don’t ever get past it.”


Third, recognize that people are only successfully persuaded when they have some sense of conflict. People don’t generally flip, but if they are nervous about the vaccines, and don’t trust government, but nervous about COVID too, then you have some opportunity. Try: “I was a little nervous about this vaccine myself. I don’t like shots and I didn’t trust all the initials in Washington like the C-D-C and the F-D-A and what have you. But I was more concerned about getting this virus and maybe giving it to my family so I got the shot. It’s been six months now, and I believe I am safer.”


Finally, there is the truth about your own conflicts: “I am a conservative. To me that means keeping government out of people’s personal decisions. It is your choice whether you get a vaccine. I believe it will make you and your family safer. Now, I have thought long and hard about requiring masks (or vaccines for state employees, or masks in schools). It is counter to my nature to put requirements on people unless it is absolutely necessary. (Insert an example of when you have stood up to unnecessary regulation.). But we are in a crisis here – hospital beds are full and kids are going back to school where they can infect other kids. So for 60 days, I am requiring people to wear masks indoors in public settings or large groups. It is going to make some people mad at me, and I understand that, but sometimes we all have to do things we don’t want to do.”


Note, none of these rely on federal government advice, nor do they intentionally disrespect anybody. They are about your personal thought process in the hope that others will share it or at least respect it.


Good luck.