Discover more from Truth and Consequences
The GOP's Wokeness Problem
Republicans are obsessed with divisive, cultural issues that most Americans simply don't care about.
I’m Michael A. Cohen, and this is Truth and Consequences: A no-holds-barred look at the absurdities, hypocrisies, and surreality of American politics. If you were sent this email or are a free subscriber and would like to subscribe, you can sign up here.
I have some quick thoughts on last night's State of the Union address.
One thing I'll say about Joe Biden is that he rises to the occasion for major speeches (his 2020 DNC acceptance speech is perhaps the best example), and last night was no different. Biden was feisty, unapologetic, optimistic, passionate, and surprisingly conciliatory. This was not an overtly partisan or divisive speech. Don't get me wrong: Biden hit Republicans, particularly on the debt limit and potential cuts to Social Security and Medicare, but as has often been the case over the past three years, he talked about bipartisanship and working across the aisle. That is the president's brand and a key source of his political appeal, and he leaned into it last night. It certainly didn't hurt that many House Republicans acted like they were at a football game, openly heckling Biden as he tried to speak. The contrast between their boorish behavior and his confident, optimistic tone was both stark and politically beneficial to Biden.
The political importance of State of the Unions is generally overrated, but if these are the themes that Biden is running on in 2024 — and the contrast he is seeking to exploit — I think he's well-position for reelection.
But what I'd rather talk about today was the Arkansas Governor, Sarah Huckabee Sanders's response to Biden's speech. In fact, I wrote something about it for The Daily Beast.
After a midterm campaign in which Republican candidates underperformed across the board, due in large measure to the party’s embrace of culture war politics at the expense of kitchen table issues, the newly inaugurated Arkansas governor offered more of the same.
Here are a few choice excerpts:
“He’s the first man to surrender his presidency to a woke mob that can’t even tell you what a woman is.”
“In the radical left’s America, Washington taxes you and lights your hard-earned money on fire, but you get crushed with high gas prices, empty grocery shelves, and our children are taught to hate one another on account of their race, but not to love one another or our great country.”
“His administration has been completely hijacked by the radical left.”
“The dividing line in America is no longer between right or left. The choice is between normal or crazy … Americans want common sense from their leaders, but in Washington, the Biden administration is doubling down on crazy.”
“Most Americans simply want to live their lives in freedom and peace, but we are under attack in a left-wing culture war we didn’t start and never wanted to fight.”
“Every day, we are told that we must partake in their rituals, salute their flags, and worship their false idols…all while big government colludes with Big Tech to strip away the most American thing there is—your Freedom of speech.”
To whom is this messaging supposed to appeal? How many Americans are sitting around the kitchen table worried about being “under attack in a left-wing culture war”? Who looks at the first two years of the Biden administration — or Biden himself — and concludes he "has been completely hijacked by the radical left" or that he’s “surrender(ed) his presidency to a woke mob”?
What Sanders is describing is basically an alternate reality that only makes sense to people who watch Fox News eight hours a day.
And honestly: who thinks the party of Marjorie Taylor Green, Mike (“the Pillow Guy”) Lindell, Lauren Boebert, Paul Gosar, and Donald Trump is America’s “normal” party?
Sanders’ speech captures the Republican Party's entire political problem in a nutshell—and it has nothing to do with Donald Trump. The GOP simply has no economic or cultural message that appeals to non-Republicans.
All its party members know how to do is preach to the converted. They have no policy agenda, it seems, other than divisive culture war issues or trying to own the libs. They have no economic agenda, no health care plans, and no ideas for easing the burdens on middle-class families.
It also speaks to a much bigger for Republicans: the party is increasingly branding itself as a collection of kooks and out-of-touch elites. I know that’s the charge they usually level at Democrats. But honestly, Biden talking about health care access, job creation, and getting rid of junk fees from credit card companies, cable providers, airlines, and Ticketmaster seems far more attuned to the issues Americans care about than gas stoves, border security, drag races, and wokeness. To listen to Democrats is to hear an optimistic and aspirational message about America’s future. Republican rhetoric is increasingly bleak, pessimistic, and divisive.
You see this on Capitol Hill, with Republicans crowing about meaningless resolutions condemning socialism. The GOP has no economic agenda, no health care plans, and no ideas for easing the burdens on middle-class families — and with speeches like Sanders’, it shows. This is simply not a serious political party, and for all the sturm and drang about Donald Trump, that is a much more problematic long-term issue for Republicans.
Last night, with this shot, LeBron James became the NBA’s all-time scoring leader.
Back when LeBron started, he played for the Cavaliers, competitors of my beloved Detroit Pistons. Then in his ill-fated “Decision,” he left Cleveland to go to Miami. I wasn’t a fan of his there. But, after two titles with The Heat, he returned to Cleveland, won a title, and changed a lot of people’s opinions about him (including mine). Now he’s playing for a lousy Lakers team, but he’s arguably one of the ten best players in the NBA and doing it at age 38. In short, LeBron James is awesome, and I have nothing but respect for him as a basketball player and a person.
One more thing, though. This picture above is fascinating because, by my count, all but two members of the crowd are holding up their phones (the gray-haired, non-plussed man in the front row is Phil Knight, the co-founder of Nike). I don’t get the obsession with recording moments like this but to each their own. Still, it’s a telling insight into our current popular culture. The contrast with Michael Jordan’s final shot of the 1998 NBA Finals is quite something.
What’s Going On
I mostly agree with this NYT write-up of Biden’s speech, especially this point:
“At key moments, Republicans heckled Mr. Biden with shouts of “liar” and angry shakes of their head. But if the goal was to rattle the president or demonstrate his frailty, it had the opposite effect. Mr. Biden snapped back at the Republican shouters with sharp retorts and even a sense of humor in some moments. When Republicans accused him of misstating their desire to cut Medicare and Social Security, the president turned the heckling against them, saying quickly that he was glad to see their “conversion” on the issue.”
Getting Republicans to rise and applaud a call for no cuts to Social Security and Medicare was truly a gangsta presidential move.
Susan Glasser says Biden has the best enemies. She’s not wrong.
Mitt Romney called Rep. George Santos an embarrassment to his face … and I continue to be fascinated by Romney’s transformation into a politician of unique integrity and truth-telling. I may not agree with everything Romney says or does, but his willingness to confront the malignant political forces within his party is quite impressive.
For The New Republic, I wrote about why the ridiculous meltdown over the Chinese spy balloon could have dangerous long-term consequences for the US-China relationship.