On August 16, the State Board of Elections (SBOE) met and unanimously passed new, stricter rules on the behavior of partisan "poll observers," who are allowed by law to stand silent watch in precinct polling enclosures. There have been problems with some poll observers in the past, who have clearly intended their presence to intimidate certain voters or who have actually not kept silence but rather spouted something either incorrect about the voting process or something clearly partisan in nature.
▪ Poll workers could be removed from duty for making political statements, telling voters falsehoods about how elections are run, or discriminating against voters based on their race, gender or other characteristics.
▪ Observers would have to stay in specific areas at each polling place. State officials indicated this was to stop them from leaving to make private calls to party officials, getting into altercations with voters, or attempting to look at “confidential voter information” like someone’s filled-out ballot — all actions that drew complaints during the primary election this spring.
▪ Observers would be banned from handing out any written materials to voters, or posting any fliers or signs. Campaign volunteers are allowed to do that nearby, but never inside the polling place.
That unanimous vote by the SBOE included the "aye" vote of board member Stacy "Four" Eggers, most famous in Watauga County for attempting to suppress the vote of college students starting in 2013, so his "aye" seems like a signal that the most partisan Republican walking sees the new rules as appropriate.
But not so the Trumpists behind an outfit called the Election Integrity Network, who say they've already trained over 1,000 partisan poll observers in their gospel that the 2020 election was stolen and that all sorts of bad people are being allowed to vote who shouldn't and that there's no way under God's blue sky that a Republican should ever lose a statewide election in North Carolina if everyone is honest.
The Election Integrity Network is being led by lawyer Cleta Mitchell, most famous for being on that call Trump made to the Georgia election officials demanding that they find a few thousand more votes for him. So Cleta, very unhappy with Four Eggers and the rest of the SBOE, appealed to the NC Rules Review Commission on Thursday to void the SBOE's action, which they did. Also unanimously.
The NC Rules Review Commission members -- all 10 of them -- are appointed by the Republican bosses in the NC General Assembly. Who are they? "Many are GOP insiders or former Republican politicians — including former state Sen. Bob Rucho, former state Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jackson, longtime Jesse Helms staffer Wayne Boyles, Greensboro-based activist Jeffrey Hyde and several conservative lawyers from the Raleigh area" (Will Doran).
Apparently, the SBOE can take the matter to court, which we hope and trust they will.
The right-wing movement to keep everybody unconscious throughout their schooling --that's happening in Watauga County. It's happening in Transylvania County (see the last post down-column). It's happening all over North Carolina. It's really been happening in Tennessee next door, gangbusters! And it's presumably happening just about everywhere across the continent -- insurgency campaigns with know-nothing school board candidates who intend to take public schooling back to pious praise for the heroism and virtue of white male Europeans of the 17th and 18th centuries, and leave all that sensitivity and "diversity" out of it.
Guilt is magical, but in the case of what these people like to label "critical race theory," the magic is dark arts, as the historic facts about the subjugation of brown and black people provoke shame in some people who then feel the need to smash the faces of those who made them feel guilty.
"I was comfortable not knowing. Now I'm pissed off. And anyway, it didn't happen like that."
I've been listening a little to a guy from Michigan named Larry Arnn. He's the president of strictly Christian Hillsdale College and the intellectual juice behind the nation-wide school-board takeover. Arnn recently hosted an invitation-only private confab at a Cool Springs, Tenn., conference center. Don't know exactly who attended, but the governor of Tennesse was there, Bill Lee, who shared the stage with Arnn and fawned on him as "the champion of American exceptionalism."
A hidden camera caught Arnn's keynote address at Cool Springs about American education and how he intends to reform it, based on his understanding that the American Republic actually began to get weird after the Civil War and go on the wrong path that led inevitably to all the racial and gender sensitivities and political correctness imposed on American public school teaching at this present hour.
On the Black struggle for equality, Arnn teaches that "the civil rights movement was almost immediately turned into programs that ran counter to the lofty ideals of the Founders." On federal laws opening up lunch counters and outlawing discrimination in restaurants, hotels, and theaters, Arnn says, "This was where the line between private conscience and government coercion began to blur." He doesn't like that, and the big money that backs him doesn't either.
Salon reported in athree-part investigative seriesin March about "how Hillsdale quietly became one of the most influential forces in conservative politics. The school's 1,500-student campus in southern Michigan draws leading right-wing intellectuals, politicians and even Supreme Court justices. Its Washington, D.C., branch hosts a rotating cast of conservative pundits and Republican staffers as guest faculty."
Arnn sparked controversy nearly a decade ago with a sarcastic reference to minorities as "dark ones": "And the administrators you hire are all diversity people — and that helps you, by the way, with your federal requirements that you have a certain number by color," he continued. "Now, because they are appointing all these diversity officers, what are their degrees in? Education. It's easy. You don't have to know anything." (I know I have former colleagues shaking their heads up and down at that, which might go under the heading of Arts and Sciences snobbery. But note: Congresswoman Virginia Foxx's doctorate is in Education. So there's that.)
Watch the hidden Cool Springs video (provided to the Nashville reporter by an attendee). Arnn's thin, high voice and careful enunciation reminds me strongly of an actor playing a Nazi. Arnn says that modern education is akin to "enslavement" and has become "the plague that destroys generations of people." He says that he aims to prove "that you don't have to be an expert to educate a child. Because basically anybody can do it." The current crop of public school teachers come from "the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country." He's talking about students of color.
He said that and a lot more about the teaching profession, with the governor of Tennessee sitting beside him with his own unused mike in his hand, and Gov. Bill Lee disagreed with nary a thing that Arnn said. In fact, he praised him as the guiding national voice for conservative school reform. Lee had already endosed Hillsdale as the owner/operators of 50 new Charter schools in Tennessee.
That hidden video, which got aired as a special investigatory piece by reporter Phil Williams of News Channel 5 in Nashville, has caused a good deal of heartburn in Tennessee, with Gov. Lee beginning to hum "Arnn who?" and Arnn himself saying he never meant what he said. He meant something general and abstract and rather poetic.
This fall there are two open seats on the Transylvania County Board of Education, with four candidates in the running. The two Democratic candidates include one incumbent. You can see their pictures on the county Democratic Party website.
Chris Wiener, promoting the Convention of States
On the other hand, the two Republicans for school board are missing from their website’s picture gallery of candidates. They are known to the general community mainly by rumor, though there have been a few sightings.
Chris Wiener flies a Three Percenter flag in his front yard in Brevard, although he has said he doesn’t belong to that group because it’s not really a group.
At a 4th of July festival a few years ago, Chris recruited passers-by for the Convention of States, an organization that advocates limiting federal powers. His campaign yard sign claims he is a Christian Constitutional Conservative, with an elephant logo that suggests Republican.
Chris’ Facebook page celebrated July 4th with a call to arms, below. You could say this meme is just American history theater, but his Facebook likes include 1911 Builders (of handmade guns), 2nd Amendment Rights, and 2nd Amendment Supporters. Look them up.
At the August 23 school board meeting, Wiener used public speaking time to read Lincoln’s Lyceum speech, ending with, “… nothing left to be done in the way of building up, he would set boldly to the task of pulling down.” Was this a campaign speech about his intentions for our county school system?
The second Republican school board candidate, Tanya Dalton, has been seen recently at a meeting of the local chapter of Moms for Liberty but reportedly did not speak there. She has been known to speak, however, for her husband Jake, an incumbent Transylvania commissioner who is also on the ballot this fall. In one of his campaign videos, filmed outside a church, Tanya smiles up at Jake and tells us she “got him” with her ”sweet tea.”
Barring an unexpected public statement, it seems fair to assume that a vote for Tanya will be a vote for Moms for Liberty. What does she want?
Moms for Liberty works with right-wing funding and Heritage Foundation strategies to replace school boards across the country. They use “parents’ rights” to rally “war moms,” overrule school administrators, and direct school policy, to ban and remove from school libraries books with racial, gender, sexual, historical, or “emotional” subject matter and replace them with their own, and to maintain a watch list for intimidation and offering bounties for teachers who don’t comply. If masks and other Covid precautions become important this winter, Tanya will fight them.
Deda Edney is a Transylvania County voter who writes a regular Substack blog, "Postcards from Deda."
You know there's a critical teacher shortage in North Carolina and elsewhere across the country, right? As of last week, Wake County (Raleigh) alone had over 400 teacher vacancies, with school about to start. The vacancies are not so bad in Watauga (though I haven't gotten hard numbers yet), but if you're looking for another reason for why people are leaving the profession, or never entering it at all, though they trained for it, look no further than the continuing crusade against public education carried out by smug ideologues like Dr. Mark A. Murphy, Ph.D., of Blowing Rock.
He published another letter yesterday in the High Country Press, his second on the topic, alleging what amounts to a conspiracy to induce "woke indoctrination" into Watauga County schools "by explicitly covering political topics" -- he calls them political, as the clearest indication of his own bent attitudes -- to address problems such as youth mental health, suicide prevention, substance abuse, sexual abuse prevention, sex trafficking prevention, and teenage dating violence.
So, according to Dr. Murphy, it's "political" to minister to a brown child being bullied, or to a queer kid being bullied, or to a young girl being urged into premature sexual activity, or to attempt behavioral remediation for those doing the bullying and the sexual forcing, and to open their minds to treating everyone like a fellow human being who can be hurt and even destroyed by prejudices and by a callous disregard. Lord! Alert the authorities!
According to Murphy, it amounts to an actual conspiracy: He says that the Watauga County Board of Education (and others higher up) "quietly initiated" (the sneaky bastards!) "woke" teaching methods and materials "under the guise" of recovering from the stress of the pandemic. Sounds like a conspiracy to me. Where I think most parents tend to think the best of a school board trying to do their best for the students, Dr. Murphy insists they're doing their worst and doing it secretly.
Murphy's letters get longer, and as his verbiage gets more elaborate, his complete absence of evidence becomes more glaring: "But many parents will find some parts of these plans highly objectionable because they support some parts of the radical political agenda." Good lord! Pile the trigger word radical on top of breathtaking vagueness -- "some parts of these plans," "some parts of the radical political agenda" -- without offering ever a single example of what this means, and you've landed in the sump of knee-jerk reactionary politics of the Trump era.
Murphy is evidently laying track for the hoped-for takeover of the school board this November by a Republican team of far different ambitions. Murphy, apparently, is not the parent of a school-age kid. He's a 68-year-old retiree who, as far as I can tell, only first voted in this county in the May primary this year. But he's all in as an enemy of teaching tolerance and fellow-feeling in our public schools.
No, the North Carolina Supreme Court did not overturn the voter ID amendment to the state's constitution (which has never been enforced anyway, because of legal challenges). The Court, voting 4-3 along partisan lines, suspended a final decision on the legality of not one but two amendments -- voter ID and an income tax cap -- and sent the case back to the original Wake Superior Court judge who heard it (and who had found the voter ID amendment was unconstitutional because some 28 legislators who wrote it and passed it had been racially gerrymandered into their districts, which were guaranteed to elect them and then to keep them in Raleigh 'til the ending of time).
The original Superior Court judge has now been ordered to find more facts:
If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” the amendment should be invalidated:
Does the voter ID amendment immunize legislators from democratic accountability?
Does the voter ID amendment perpetuate the ongoing exclusion of a category of voters from the political process?
Does the voter ID amendment intentionally discriminate against a particular category of citizens who were also discriminated against in the political process leading to the legislators’ election (redistricting of House and Senate seats)?
If the answer to all the questions is “no,” or if there were not enough legislators elected in unconstitutionally gerrymandered districts to make a difference in getting proposed changes to voters, the amendment must stand. (Lynn Bonner)
In other words, the Democratic majority on the NC Supreme Court, led by Associate Justice Anita Earls, is perfectly prepared to make a new, shattering precedent.
According to law professor Rick Pildes, the Court held that the House and Senate legislators in office due to racial gerrymandering (already identified by district in the Federal law suit against voter ID that went to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2020), they absolutely can enact legislation, anything they want to dream up, any repugnant insult to basic human decency. They can also propose constitutional amendments (as the Republican super-majority did in 2018, proposing a total of six constitutional amendments). The one thing they cannot do, according to the Court, is propose amendments that earn a "yes" on the three questions above.
Unprecedented Court action? (if the voter ID amendment ends up invalidated by this court, as seems likely), a big Yes. Professor Nick Stepanopoulos, 'nother law school professor: "This [Earls' opinion] is the remedy that redistricting violations have always logically required — but that courts have been too timid, until now, to impose. An unlawfully constituted legislature shouldn’t be able to make law (at least not law that depends on that illegal composition)."
“We now have a North Carolina Supreme Court decision declaring that our legislature does not have unlimited authority to amend the constitution,” Kym Meyer, a lawyer representing the NAACP, said in an interview. “It’s a huge win on that point.”
So, yeah, it's important what came out of the NC Supreme Court this week, but it ain't over. (And the Republicans are going ape-shite. BergerMoore will manage to get the case in front of the conservatives on the US Supreme Court, you watch!)
NOTE: The case is NAACP v. Moore/Berger. You might remember that the NAACP wanted Justice Phil Berger Jr., defendant Phil Berger’s son, and Justice Tamara Barringer, who voted to approve the constitutional amendments when she was a member of the state Senate, to recuse themselves or be disqualified from hearing the case (see "The Berger Dominion"). In the end, all seven justices participated.
Editor's Note: On August 10th, the High Country Press published a letter to the editor from Mark A. Murphy Ph.D. alleging that "woke" philosophy is being spread by Watauga County teachers. Murphy's letter was subsequently discussed on this site.
Response to Dr. Murphy [intercepted email]
Dear Editor, I am compelled to respond to Dr. Mark Murphy's letter published in the High Country Press on Aug 10, 2022. I am a member of the Watauga Board of Education, but this is my personal response; I do not speak on behalf of the board.
In his letter, Mr. Murphy advances a number of general fears, primarily voiced in more extremist information-entertainment venues, concerning "woke political indoctrination and/or critical race theory and identity politics." Allow me to provide some factual context so that your readers have specific information to make their own judgments.
On April 11th, Dr. Murphy and another person spoke to the Watauga Board of Education during public comment expressing the same fears shared in his letter. Dr. Murphy also made formal Freedom of Information Act requests on April 11th and June 3rd on these same matters. There were clarification emails from Dr. Murphy on April 26th and June 23rd. In all instances, Dr. Murphy was acknowledged and provided responses to his requests within a few days by the Watauga County Schools administration.
After the April meeting, I received relevant materials from the superintendent and visited classrooms in each of our schools. It is my opinion that our teachers are professionally following instructional standards in content selection and delivery. Dr. Murphy identified NewsELA as a particular instructional resource of concern. NewsELA provides a very large number of resources across a wide range of topics, authors, and genres. The materials are well vetted as they are used in 90% of schools, by 2 million teachers and 25 million students nationwide, including many home, private, and charter schools. The NewsELA website is very transparent about their material selection process. And it’s important to remember that NewsELA is not a curriculum but just an instructional supplement.
Watauga County Schools welcomes any parent to speak with their child’s teacher if they have any concerns at all about what their child is learning. The strong and personal relationships between our schools and our families have always been and remain today an important part of the backbone of our community. Our teachers are education professionals. They have earned and deserve our respect and trust.
Lastly, while Dr. Murphy may lament that our schools teach more than “the three Rs,” we are required by the NC Standard Course of Study to teach 12 content areas that also include Science, Arts, Career Technical subjects, World Languages, and Healthful Living among others.
Federal prosecutors say the former owner of a Jackson County tea house took part in the Capitol riot in one of its "most violent" locations and are recommending a sentence that would be among the harshest of those convicted in the Jan. 6 storming of the country's legislature.
U.S. attorneys for the District of Columbia made the recommendation thatLewis Easton Cantwellbe imprisoned for five months, saying in an Aug. 12 sentencing memorandum that he helped a mob as it fought with police in what amounted to a "grave threat" to democracy and an act of "domestic terrorism." Under sentencing guidelines, Cantwell could face up to six months in prison.
If imposed by a judge, the sentence would be one of the longest of those given to 237 "Capitol breach defendants," falling in the top 11%, according to a Citizen Times analysis of a sentencing table submitted by prosecutors….
Cantwell, a 37-year-old Haywood County resident, military veteran and former owner of the Jackson CountySip' Sumkava and tea house in Sylva, signed on to a Feb. 16 plea deal, admitting guilt to one felony charge of obstructing, impeding, or interfering with law enforcement during the commission of civil disorder….
After the riot, Cantwell defended his actions in a Facebook post….
"Oh my goodness before everyone gets their panties in a wad! It is my right to go to any event I want!" Cantwell said in the post.
Cantwell said he "helped people both police and protesters" and that he was not a domestic terrorist but a "patriot who loves my country I treat people with love and respect I help people in need and I expect that you will be a decent human and understand what and why I did it." …
It was very recently announced that former NC Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin was returning to North Carolina to become the founding dean of the brand new High Point School of Law. When Martin resigned his seat on the NC Supremes, he went to become dean of the law school at Regent University, the school founded by evangelist and Jehovah whisperer Pat Robertson.
Then came this bombshell news: The New York Times reported that Martin served as an informal advisor to Trump in the days following the election and supported an unsuccessful lawsuit that sought to overturn Joe Biden’s wins in Georgia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.
The Times also reported that Martin told Trump that then-Vice President Mike Pence had the power to reject state election returns — a move Pence rejected.
The Washington Post reported that Trump spoke with Martin on Jan. 6, 2021, the day Trump supporters overran the U.S. Capitol. Martin has repeatedly declined to comment publicly about his involvement.
Martin’s appointment as dean has raised eyebrows since it was announced in June. Last month, the editorial board of the nearby Greensboro News & Record chided Martin and the university for failing to "address the brontosaurus in the room."
Carolina Forward intensified the debate this week when it purchased an interstate billboard near High Point University saying, “Mark Martin betrayed our constitution.” Carolina Forward is pressuring High Point University (which is affiliated with the United Methodists) to rescind Martin's appointment as dean of its law school.
“Mark Martin’s repeated attempts to help Donald Trump steal the 2020 election were a blatant violation of basic Constitutional principles,” said Blair Reeves, Carolina Forward’s Executive Director. “Martin was an eager and willing participant in an effort to overthrow a duly-elected American government, and helped inspire the horror of January 6th’s right-wing terrorist assault against the U.S. Capitol. He is no longer fit to practice law, let alone guide the course of legal education based on a Constitution for which he shows pure contempt.”
A law prohibiting abortions after the first 20 weeks of pregnancy has been on the books in North Carolina in some form since 1973. But it has not been enforced recently. Federal Judge William L. Osteen Jr. of the Eastern District of North Carolina ruled the law unconstitutional in 2019, based on Supreme Court precedent at the time. Osteen's decision was affirmed by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2021.
Then came Amy Coney Barrett who joined all the Catholic boys on the Court, and they overturned Roe v. Wade.
Osteen reinstated the 20-week ban on abortions yesterday, essentially saying his hands were tied by Coney Barrett et al. "Under Dobbs [v. Jackson Women's Health Org.], there is now no constitutional right to a pre-viability abortion, thus depriving the injunction of any constitutional basis from which to enjoin the challenged North Carolina laws regulating abortion .... Neither this court, nor the public, nor counsel, nor providers have the right to ignore the rule of law as determined by the Supreme Court."
Attorney General Josh Stein had refused to seek the overturning of Osteen's original injunction. Stein had announced last month that the N.C. Department of Justice would not “take action that would restrict women’s ability to make their own reproductive health care decisions.” But BergerMoore were only too happy to take up the crusade against women's rights: “North Carolina’s abortion statutes are undeniably lawful under Dobbs, and there is no longer any basis for an injunction to shackle the state from pursuing its legitimate interests,” Berger and Moore wrote in their brief to Osteen.
So now North Carolina is minutes closer to midnight.
As he was about to be sentenced for his role in the January 6th attack on the Capitol, John Cameron, a real estate agent from the Seattle area, attempted to signal to the judge that he and the judge ought to be buddies: “Can you guess who my favorite president is?” Evidently, Mr. Cameron knew that Judge Thomas F. Hogan had been appointed to the Federal bench by President Ronald Reagan some 40 years ago.
When Judge Hogan stared at Cameron and didn't answer, Hogan proudly announced, "Ronald Reagan," as though he was due a dish of congratulatory ice cream (Rocky Road). The judge instead lowered the boom:
He had questions of his own. How, he asked, could Cameron claim to have seen no violence or clear sign he could not enter the Capitol during the riot? Did he not hear murderous chants and blaring alarms, smell tear gas, see people climbing up scaffolding and through windows? Did he think, as he said on Facebook, that it was all “fun”? And if so, was he withdrawing his plea to a misdemeanor charge?
Cameron changed his tune double-quick:
“No,” Cameron replied, after a moment’s hesitation. “I picketed within the Capitol, and that was illegal. ... I would never do it again.”
That remorse seemed convenient and actually fake to the judge:
“I keep hearing from Jan. 6 defendants, ‘We’re being prosecuted,’ like it’s a surprise, or ‘We’re being persecuted,’ like it’s unfair. I do not understand that psychology,” Hogan told him. “What irritates me most is that all of you are claiming you’re patriots; you’re not patriots when you attack the Capitol of the United States.”
He compared the Jan. 6 rioters to “a lynching mob” in which the support of encouragement of more passive members like Cameron was crucial: “A mob doesn’t act alone.” ...
Hogan told Cameron that he was lucky prosecutors had not moved to charge him with a felony after his recent social media statements.
“If you had pleaded to a felony, I would just put you in jail for a long time,” he said. Instead he gave him 30 days in jail and three years of probation, as requested by the government, with the incarceration made intermittent to conform with his understanding of the law.
“The court at least hopes that in this three-year period, you don’t engage in any such conduct again,” Hogan concluded.
Whatya wanna bet he does "engage in such conduct again"?
The National Republican Senatorial Committee announced it's canceling $13.5 million in TV ad spending, because it doesn't have the cash to waste any more on hopeless cases like a natural born loser in Pennsylvania (Dr. Oz). They also canceled TV buys in Arizona (Blake Masters), Wisconsin (Ron Johnson), and Nevada (Adam Laxalt), but whether those cancellations signal abandonment of an unsustainable long-shot I know not. I haven't done that research.
Politico reports that Dr. Oz in Pennsylvania, Ted Budd in North Carolina, and J.D. Vance in Ohio haven't done well with fundraising, which perhaps signals a lack of enthusiasm in Republican ranks, though all three have been as Trumpist as possible. We hear that the NRSC will begin pumping TV money for Budd into North Carolina because Cheri Beasley has been rising in the polls. (You might want to be prepared for some nasty attacks on the Black woman.)
I try not to focus on Trump at all on this site (though I lapse sometimes, like when I got recently fascinated by the theory of Trump and "the Drunken Fist"), but "Trumpism" became a search label on WataugaWatch before 2020 and has racked up many pings in 2021 and 2022. The Trumpists are raging. They're mad. They smell blood (which may turn out to be turtle poo), and they have plans for you. Especially you. They aren't afraid to say what some people consider outrageous things because they're just being themselves, finally released from the bindings of political correctness.
Women, they have further plans for you. And you, the young and the restless, and you, Black and brown people, and newcomers to these shores from non-European nations. They have plans for all of you (and their Christian nationalist branch has definite plans for public schools and public libraries and the regulation of private behavior.
"The Purge," 2013, Universal Picts.
Gosh. The Trump GOP has created a brand -- "We stand for cruelty and force" -- that just might scorch them.
What does it mean, after all, that Trumpists love a purge? They run off their best talent, censor them, vote them out in nasty primaries. Because those people do not kiss the ring. Those interior eliminations by the Republicans themselves become ultra mean because that's the way their leader behaves. That's his identity, and now it's become the identity of an entire political party. Hey candidates: do your best Trump, talk tough, spout conspiracy theories and rabid ideas, make your nonsense sound unassailable, and push extreme laws that strip, say, women of equal citizenship in the name of religion.
Today it's as though Liz Cheney got denounced to the Congregation of the Holy Office (Inquisition) and was quickly condemned to an auto-da-fe ("act of faith") when the Pope Hisself marked her for death, and the Republican voters cult-like piled up the dry wood for her immolation. She's being (by all reliable reports) burned at the stake today, an actually thoughtful, knowledgeable, philosophically consistent member of Congress whose integrity cannot be abided by Trump or by his Trumpists.
Because counter-reformation Christians considered it an "act of faith" to burn certain people at the stake, the above is a contemporary illustration of an Auto-da-fe in Valladolid, Spain, May 21, 1559
“I think this is much bigger than Trump. This is about a radical MAGA Republican Party that wants to take away your rights, your benefits, your freedoms,” DCCC Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) said. That's it, that's the message and the issue that can energize the Democratic base and draw the Unaffiliated.
More than two weeks ago, after the Kansas vote affirming abortion rights, I let my inner Little-Mary-Sunshine loose (I'm always the eternal optimist, often cock-eyed too) and expressed impatience with the opinions of professional yakkers and political handicappers that the Democrats were absolutely doomed by a coming Red Wave in 2022:
I'm coming to resent the poor-mouthing I hear from some Democratic activists. Maybe we lose the Democratic House and the Democratic Senate, and maybe we don't. You cherry-pick your intimations of doom, and I'll cherry-pick ... my cherries. The prediction that 2022 is going to rival 2010 for the Democrats has become conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom is a ass and a idiot (to paraphrase Mr. Bumble).
So it pleasures me to note that the professional yakkers (especially) are beginning to express doubt that the Democrats are going down hard. The Sunday morning shows today had examples of it, and then I happened on Amy Walter's "Summer Breeze" essay on the Cook Political Report. Maybe the winds are blowing the other way now, not that Democrats can really avoid at least some losses in the House. Walter quotes her colleague David Wasserman's analysis: "... the better-than-expected showings by Democratic candidates in NE-01 and MN-01 House specials mean 'we're no longer living in a political environment as pro-GOP as November 2021'."
Other tangible signs:
At the start of the summer, Republicans had a 2 point advantage on the generic congressional ballot. Today, the two parties are basically tied (Democrats up 0.1 in the FiveThirtyEight average).
...polling taken this month and last by Monmouth found a 'generic Democrat' running anywhere from 11 to 14 points better among independent voters than Biden's job approval ratings with these same voters. For example, the most recent Monmouth poll found a Democrat pulling 47 percent of the vote from independent voters — which is 14 points higher than Biden's anemic 33 percent job approval rating with these voters. A late July Quinnipiac poll, which found Republicans ahead by just one point on the generic ballot question (44 to 43 percent), also found Democrats doing 12 points better among independents than Biden's anemic 23 percent.
It's that turn among independent voters that's most significant for us in North Carolina, where by last count the Unaffiliated population of voters has overtaken both the Democrats and the Republicans. It's the unaffiliated who hold our fate in their hands, and don't they see Trump and Trumpists for what they are?
A couple of days ago, Alexander H. Jones over at PoliticsNC published a column titled "Is a Red Wave On the Way? Maybe Not," both exhibiting the fracturing of the convention wisdom while still wearing the mask of tragedy: ":...the Democratic party looks as if it may well have the power to blunt Republican momentum and sustain a smaller blow to their majorities than almost everyone in the political class had confidently predicted...."
Still gonna take a hit, sez Jones, especially to its majority in the US House, but "a smaller blow." I both like that and resist its ingrained down-at-the-mouth bracing for disaster. But then, I work campaigns as well as write about them, and I demand hope to carry on.
Nothing so aggravates an earnest person as a passive resistance.
--Herman Melville, "Bartleby the Scivener: A Story of Wall-Street"
The quote from Melville ties in at the bottom, but first, thanks to my friend JDG, I've been thinking about the Drunken Fist style of fighting as an explanation for pretty much everything happening in the 21st Century. The Drunken Fist totally explains the eel-like slipperiness of Donald J. Trump along with the Democrats' earnest inability to grab him and hold on.
His hallmark has been getting away with outrageous breaches of decorum -- “Do you believe in Santa Claus? I know it’s marginal at seven.” The artlessness of saying such a thing to a seven-year-old is beyond parody, as is “Look at my African American.” To criticize such is to get sucked into a whole different energy, where you'll always look like a pursed-lip librarian.
Trump’s not the first American president who could disarm his opponents by being willing to play the fool. On camera once, George W. Bush, on the golf course, talking about the Middle East -- "We've got to stop the terror" -- then ending with, “Watch this drive,” and hitting a good line shot. “See ya in church,” he says, and drives off in his electric cart. We all know it’s somehow wrong behavior or silly tone-deafness for a president, but trying to explain why it’s wrong only comes across as a fuddy-duddy's self-parody.
Abbie Hoffman – he nominated a pig for president, he levitated the Pentagon, and when our elders brought him up as an example of godless unAmericanism, didn't they all sound like impossibly square citizens who didn't even recognize that the joke's on them.
That’s the heart of it. That's the secret of the drunken fist.
"Drunken Fist" as Kung-Fu Style
I'm aware there's a bunch of movies exploring the drunken Kung-Fu fighter, but I haven't seen them and clearly I need to. Drunken Fist, I found out, is considered a "bona fide style" in the Kung-Fu schools and uses footwork and surprise strikes "developed out of the stumbling gait of a drunken fool." It's a technique used by the accomplished kung fu master when trying to confuse and trick his opponents "into thinking he is incapacitated, insignificant, and unworthy of attention."
Recently (if you'll indulge me), I was socially incapacitated, like by a drunken fist, when the energy I was exhibiting met a totally different wave. Here's the story: I heard while deep inside my house a loud banging somewhere out in our front yard, which was shielded by plantings of shrubs and trees. So I walked out there and came on a scene on the very grass that I mow, an employee of the DOT pounding into the turf, on my property (the state owns zero right of way on Old 421), a big steel post for a highway sign.
The man's wearing ear plugs, because the work is loud. He can't hear me at first, sees me gesticulating behind him, jerks out the earplugs, and I repeat, "We own this property, all the way to the pavement."
That tickled him. "You probably own to the center of the pavement." He said it in the best good humor, and I knew he was right, for when the old 421 was built in the early '30s, the state retained no right of way. We learned that when they wanted to put a gasline through our yard and take out three 70-year-old shade trees. The man from DOT was laughing at the obviousness of it.
I countered with, "We didn't get any notification that this was happening." And that tickled him even more. "Oh, we never do that!" like I'm an idiot for thinking such a thing. The state doesn't need right of way to regulate the road, obviously, or there'd be no signage at all on Old 421. And in that moment, I'm completely defeated. After a little more apologetic fact-finding by me, I slink off back to the house and report to higher authorities. Embarassing.
When I tell this story, laughing at my own weakness, JDG says, "You got drunken-fisted." Thereby launching a discussion that's been going on now for days.
It's all about energy, cooling or confusing an opponent's own aggressive energy or his assumed social dominance. And then Pow! the uppercut you didn't see coming. It's Donald Trump when he tries "dancing" on stage, his little hands in fists and his arms pulled up like chicken legs, and those little dainty steps. Then a minute later he's stirring up people to look forward to a day of violence and vengeance on his enemies.
How do you counter the politician who would be King, if he's playing the fool?
Bartleby the Scivener as Model Drunken-Fister
JDG reminded me of Bartleby, the Herman Melville character who works at a Wall Street law office as a hand copier of legal documents, a well paid job in the 1850s (waaay before typewriters and copier machines), and who one day begins refusing certain tasks. "I would prefer not to." That line from that story became a knowing joke in my day, when many of the anti-war university crowd that I was adjacent to quoted it as comeuppance for the establishment, especially, say, the Selective Service.
"I would prefer not to" -- its mysterious politeness mixed with brazen affrontery has puzzled generations of readers and spawned multiple high falutin interpretations about the meaning of Bartleby's placid (and ultimately self-destructive) stubbornness. As the story progresses, Bartleby's Wall Street employer -- who's actually telling this story -- is totally disarmed and defeated as an employer. Bartleby unaccountably remains in the office all the time, day and night, and prefers not to do any number of things including eventually refusing to recognize his own dismissal from the firm. Ultimately, and to the employer's actual guilty regret, he's physically removed from the premises but remains perched on the stairs outside until he's carted off to an asylum where he dies, still preferring not to.
Here's the first appearance of "I would prefer not to" in the story:
Imagine my surprise … when … Bartleby in a singularly mild, firm voice, replied,"I would prefer not to."
"Prefer not to," echoed I, rising in high excitement, and crossing the room with a stride, "What do you mean? Are you moon-struck? I want you to help me compare this sheet here--take it," and I thrust it towards him.
"I would prefer not to," said he.
I looked at him steadfastly. His face was leanly composed; his gray eye dimly calm. Not a wrinkle of agitation rippled him. Had there been the least uneasiness, anger, impatience or impertinence in his manner; in other words, had there been any thing ordinarily human about him, doubtless I should have violently dismissed him from the premises.
"Had there been any thing ordinarily human about him." I can't but flash on the Trump we know, and I feel like I understand the principle that playing the fool can be an almost infallible first step to turning the tables.
I might appreciate the warning letter from one Mark A. Murphy that was published in High Country Press, raising the prospect that "Woke Political Indoctrination" has infiltrated Watauga County Public Schools and is on the verge of making our children culturally and racially tolerant. I might appreciate it, but I don't, because it looks like pure unsubstantiated provocation. (And I get the Trumpist implication of capitalizing those words, Woke Political Indoctrination, like it's on a par with Marxism and -- eek! -- Unitarianism.)
Mark A. Murphy trails some high educational credentials after his signed name -- Ph.D. and J.D. -- but apparently missed class the day they taught using examples to make your argument clear. Murphy claims he's found multiple instances in on-line educational resources used by Watauga County teachers -- "...it is clear that the Newsela materials are filled with the concepts and language of Critical Race Theory, racial and sexual Identity Politics, and 'woke' political indoctrination" -- and I would surely like to see an example of what he's talking about. Murphy offers nary an example, not a single quote of this "wokeness" that alarms him.
No, he's throwing around hard-right lingo like a drunk throws chairs in a Saturday night dive-bar. And trying to stir up parental resentfulness, anger, and fear just for fun, apparently, or out of boredom. If he had an actual case to make, let him make it in clear terms with examples, and we'll make up our own minds.
As predicted, Republicans are now dodging the abortion issue, or publicly softening their previous extremist positions, or finding more "exceptions" in their absolutist anti-abortion ideology. Suddenly, they're as weak as kittens, and this headline in the NYTimes this morning gathers up many examples of how their once super-hot brew is becoming a much weaker tea: "Republicans Begin Adjusting To a Fierce Abortion Backlash."
...In swing states and even conservative corners of the country, several Republicans have shifted their talk on abortion bans, newly emphasizing support for exceptions. Some have noticeably stopped discussing details at all....
In Pennsylvania, Doug Mastriano, the Republicans’ ardently anti-abortion candidate for governor, has lately taken to saying “the people of Pennsylvania” will “decide what abortion looks like” in the state, not the governor. In Minnesota, Scott Jensen, a family physician who said in March that he would “try to ban abortion” as governor, said in a video released before the Kansas vote that he does support some exceptions: “If I’ve been unclear previously, I want to be clear now.”
Republican consultants for Senate and House campaigns said Thursday that ... candidates are going to have to talk about abortion to blunt Democratic attacks that the party’s position is extreme. They have started advising Republicans to endorse bans that allow exceptions for pregnancies from rape or incest or those that threaten the life of the mother. They have told candidates to emphasize care for women during and after their pregnancies....
Messaging alone will not free the G.O.P. from accusations that it is out of step with voters. Several Republican-led states have passed abortion bans that do not include allowances for victims of rape or incest, including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana and Texas. While all bans allow an exception to save the life of the woman, those in some states do not also cite protection of her health.
On Friday, after a prolonged debate, the Indiana House approved a ban that included exceptions for rape, incest and the life and physical health of the mother....
On Thursday, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who has recently avoided talking about abortion, suspended a state attorney from Hillsborough County who refused to prosecute people who try to provide abortions prohibited by the state’s new 15-week ban, prompting angry recriminations from Democrats.
...Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade ... many Republicans were slow to detail what would come next. As they rush to enact long-promised laws, Republican-led legislatures have learned how difficult banning abortion can be.
“Not just the pro-choice movement but the pro-life movement was caught by surprise” by the Supreme Court, said Brandon Steele, a West Virginia delegate who pressed for an abortion ban without exceptions in a special session of the legislature that ended this week with the Republican supermajority stymied. “Without having the talking points, without being told what to do, legislators had to start saying what they were actually going to do. You could see the confusion in the room.”
“We’re finding out who is really pro-life and who is pro-life only to get elected, not just in West Virginia but across the country,” Mr. Steele said....
They think "talking points" are gonna save them? These dogs caught that bus, and we can enjoy watching them lose their teeth.
J.W. Williamson was the founding editor in 1972 of the Appalachian Journal: A Regional Studies Review, which he edited until July of 2000. He has taught college classes in Appalachian history, cultural politics, and literature, and he has lectured widely on the pop-culture history of "Appalachia" in the American consciousness. His books include Interviewing Appalachia, Southern Mountaineers in Silent Films, and Hillbillyland: What the Mountains Did to the Movies and What the Movies Did to the Mountains. He has won the Thomas Wolfe Award given by the Western North Carolina Historical Society, the Laurel Leaves Award given by the Appalachian Consortium, a special Weatherford Award given by Berea College, and the Cratis Williams-James Brown Award given by the Appalachian Studies Association.
The views expressed on WataugaWatch are solely those of J.W. Williamson or individual contributors and are not necessarily shared nor endorsed by the Watauga County Democratic Party nor by any other adults of sound mind in this or any other universe.