What Does It Take to End a Political Career Nowadays, Anyway?

Being our semi-regular weekly survey of what’s goin’ down in the several states where, as we know, the real work of governmentin’ gets done and where the people are many and their hands are all empty. This week’s Very Special Episode concerns a couple of case studies in why our politics don’t make any sense anymore, not even to the most cynical political mind, which happens to be mine.

It used to be that there were political sins and bungles so obvious and glaring that the politicians who committed them were recognizable as walking dead people. This was true even in places where one party or another held a monopoly on political power. (I grew up in Massachusetts just as the state’s Republican Party was beginning to blow away on the breeze, and this dynamic held even here, although admittedly our standards for unforgivable career-ending political sin were somewhat narrow.)

Now, though, in the places where the Republicans hold all the cards—as long as one stays faithful to the party ideology, as long as you pledge fealty to babies, guns and Jesus—then crimes and blunders receive the unconditional absolution provided by the unholy Trinity of dark money, voter suppression and gerrymandered legislatures.

texas governor abbott speaks at business coalition meeting

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott

Brandon Bell//Getty Images

The first example comes to us from Texas. Consider the case of Gov. Greg Abbott, whose commitment to ghastly social policies has made his state the country’s leader in that regard. Abbott is running for reelection. Just in the past month, there has been (another) mass school shooting in Texas in which the whole “good guy with a gun” strategy of public safety was shown to be an abject failure, and Abbott played a critical role in the incompetent initial response to the massacre.

From Texas Monthly:

We have seen a governor who could be mistaken for an automaton. His initial statement about the Uvalde shootings—”It could have been worse”—was jarringly tone-deaf, and pushed a false narrative about a supposedly brave and rapid response by police. Then there was his comment about the shooter who killed “incomprehensibly,” an adverb with which many would beg to differ, considering the number of mass shootings in Texas since Abbott took office. What words of comfort Abbott offered seemed purposefully selected from the Book of Clichés, and were delivered in a tone better suited to someone checking inventory at a Kroger. Abbott’s most noteworthy public expression of shame about guns in Texas occurred when he tweeted this back in 2015: “I’m EMBARRASSED: Texas #2 in nation for new gun purchases, behind CALIFORNIA. Let’s pick up the pace Texans. @NRA.”

He’s always been more interested in simply holding high office than in using it as an opportunity for leadership. He’s made a fetish out of many Texans’ long-held distrust of government, so that doing little or nothing, even in a crisis, can be made to look like a virtue. He’s been operating in a self-protective bubble for so long—able to avoid tough questions from reporters and confrontations from opponents—that he now seems both shocked and affronted when challenged, his responses to the Uvalde shooting being the latest case in point.

At the same time, Texas has fallen into yet another crisis with its antiquated electric grid, which Abbott vowed to do something about after its catastrophic collapse in the winter of 2021, when an estimated 700 of his constituents died.

Again from Texas Monthly:

The state’s natural gas industry, one of the most generous contributors to Abbott’s campaign coffers, resisted the common-sense regulations that kept the lights on in other states hit by the same winter storm. So Abbott has done little to prevent the next blackout. He has shown a profound lack of interest in the most basic form of leadership: to galvanize and unite the public during the worst of times.

It’s happening again, this time during a stifling, record-setting summer heat wave. From Reuters:

Earlier, ERCOT had urged residents to cut power use during the hottest hours of the day and warned of a risk for rolling blackouts. Residents were asked to turn up thermostats, defer the use of high-power appliances and turn off swimming pool pumps. The emergency notice came after ERCOT began paying suppliers an average of $5,000 per magawatt [sic] hour to keep generators running. That price is the highest the grid operator pays.

And where has Abbott been, now that, on his watch, the state’s electrical grid has proven its ability to put people at risk in both winter and summer—and no answer containing the phrase “climate change” is eligible because Abbott doesn’t believe in it?

Let those well-known socialist pamphleteers at Forbes explain:

The fact is that the Texas electricity grid is fully owned in a political sense by the Republican Party of Texas. In its current baseload capacity-starved form, it is 100% a creation of Republican governors from George W. Bush to Rick Perry to Greg Abbott, their appointees to the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) and to the ERCOT board of directors. The deregulated Texas grid was created by an act of the 1999 legislature, in which the Republicans controlled the Senate and Democrats the House of Representatives. That session passed Senate Bill 7, which was signed into law by Republican Governor George W. Bush in one of his last major acts before resigning to run for the presidency.
Gov. Abbott had been in office for six years before Uri came through, but neither he, his appointees at the PUCT and ERCOT or the Republican-dominated legislatures had chosen to take the actions they all knew were needed to correct the variety of weaknesses impacting the grid. It was always more politically expeditious to keep kicking the can down the road and hope ERCOT could continue holding things together with its figurative duct tape and bailing wire. But all the tape and wire fell apart during Uri, right in the middle of the 2021 legislative session, and Gov. Abbott famously promised in a statewide televised speech that he would keep calling the legislature back into as many special sessions as necessary to ensure all of those weaknesses had been addressed.

So, this guy is standing for reelection on the bodies of 21 victims of a school shooting and thousands of Texans who are, at the moment, living without relief in the functional equivalent of a Bessemer furnace because he didn’t do anything the last time, when 700 of their fellow citizens froze to death at the same latitude as Algeria and Libya. How is this guy even politically viable any more, let alone the favorite to win, let alone even marginally considered a national political figure?

Our second example comes to us this week from Ohio. In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, as a vivid demonstration of what the post-Roe world would look like, a story spread about a 10-year-old rape victim who’d had to cross over into Indiana to receive an abortion. The luxuriously financed wingnut media auxiliary leaped into action.

From the Guardian:

Tucker Carlson, Fox News’ most prominent host, said on his show on Tuesday: “Why did the Biden administration, speaking of lying, just repeat a story about a 10-year-old child who got pregnant, and then got an abortion or was not allowed to get an abortion, when it turns out the story was not true?” The New York Post ran an op-ed with the headline: “Activist tale of a 10-year-old-rape victim’s abortion looks like a lie”, before changing the title, Media Matters reported. One America News, a rightwing cable news channel, covered the story above the chyron: “The lies and deceit of abortionists”, while Benny Johnson, from Turning Point USA, said “there is no proof” that the 10-year-old victim “exists”. The Wall Street Journal, which, like Fox News and the New York Post, is owned by the Murdoch family, published an article from its editorial board with the headline: “An Abortion Story Too Good to Confirm”.
“All kinds of fanciful tales travel far on social media these days, but you don’t expect them to get a hearing at the White House,” the editorial began.

More relevant to our survey were the contributions of conservative Republican politicians to the feeding frenzy. Ohio’s Attorney General Dave Yost appeared on Fox News to call the story “more than likely than not a fabrication.” Which was the cue for other Republican politicians to join in on the electric Twitter machine.

Kristi Noem, the governor of South Dakota, and Jim Jordan, a congressman from Ohio also claimed the story was untrue. In an interview with CNN, Noem accused a journalist of attempting to “trap me” by asking about the case, Newsweek reported. “Now it looks like the story was fake to begin with,” Noem tweeted on 8 July. “Literal #FakeNews from the liberal media.” Jim Jordan, in a tweet which was later deleted, wrote: “Another lie. Anyone surprised?”

Then, on Wednesday, they busted a suspect for having raped the 10-year-old. From the Columbus Dispatch:

Gerson Fuentes, 27, whose last known address was an apartment on Columbus’ Northwest Side, was arrested Tuesday after police say he confessed to raping the child on at least two occasions. He’s since been charged with rape, a felony of the first degree in Ohio. Columbus police were made aware of the girl’s pregnancy through a referral by Franklin County Children Services that was made by her mother on June 22, Det. Jeffrey Huhn testified Wednesday morning at Fuentes’ arraignment. On June 30, the girl underwent a medical abortion in Indianapolis, Huhn said.

house republicans speak after caucus meeting

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio)

Kevin Dietsch//Getty Images

All political logic that I learned insists that people like Yost, Jordan and Noem should be fairly well blinded by the blinking red of their respective Career Termination Alarms. I mean, Republicans, if you’re going to spend all these years rigging our politics to perpetuate your own racist, misogynist, and generally white supremacist monopoly, can’t you at least do the rest of us a solid by declining to perpetuate it as the Reign of Morons? Thank you.

And we conclude, as is our custom, in the great state of Oklahoma, whence comes the saga of what happens when hobbyists go bad. From KOCO:

Larry Sanders told investigators that on Saturday he and Jimmy Knighten were noodling in the river — fishing for catfish with their bare hands — when a “confrontation ensued” and Sanders struck and strangled Knighten, according to the news release.

The management requests all patrons to click on the video to get, as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story. According to Pontotoc Sheriff John Christian:

The sheriff’s department says they uncovered a possible motive. “They appeared to be under the influence of something and so his statement was that Mr. Knighten had summoned a Bigfoot to come in and kill him and that’s why he had to kill Mr. Knighten.”

As one does—especially in Oklahoma, where longtime devotees of our survey will recall the state legislature passed a bill last year putting a $3 million bounty on the capture of a live Bigfoot.

Also from KOCO:

To collect the reward, however, Bigfoot must be unharmed, and the capture must be live and humane. “We don’t hunt Bigfoot. Nobody wants to harm Bigfoot. We’re going to do a live, humane capture of Bigfoot,” Humphrey said. “We’re extending this beyond just our region and throughout the state. We’re wanting the whole world to come to southeastern Oklahoma, to the state of Oklahoma and get involved in our bounty – Oklahoma bounty, Bigfoot bounty. So, we’re excited to invite the whole world to come and participate.”

Could be the guy that got strangled was using his noodling companion as Bigfoot bait. If I’m the defendant’s lawyer, that’s the story I’m sticking with.

This is your democracy, America. Cherish it.

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