Discover more from Letters from an American
February 4, 2022
Today the January jobs report showed the U.S. added 467,000 jobs. With more than 6.6 million jobs since Biden took office, 2021 under Biden created more jobs than any other year in history. The jobs report also revised the numbers for November and December upward by more than 700,000. The first 12 months of Biden’s presidency mark the best job creation on record. The unemployment rate is at 4.0%.
The other big news today is that the Republican National Committee, meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah, censured Representatives Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) for joining the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol. Defending the events surrounding January 6, the RNC said that the investigation is “a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.”
That is, the Republican National Committee says that the January 6 attack on the Capitol—in which nine people died, more than 150 law enforcement officers were injured, offices were ransacked, and rioters spread feces on the walls—was “legitimate political discourse.”
These two wildly different headlines are the outcome of 40 years of U.S. politics.
For a long time, the idea that that economy thrives when the government supports ordinary Americans was not controversial. Democrats began to make it the centerpiece of our system in the 1930s when, after a decade in which the government worked only for the wealthy, they offered a “New Deal” for the American people. Over time, lawmakers from both major parties embraced it, believing they had finally figured out a truly American system that would serve everyone.
A member of Republican president Dwight Eisenhower's administration explained that “Our underlying philosophy…is this: if a job has to be done to meet the needs of people, and no one else can do it, then it is a proper function of the federal government.” This, he said, was the “authentic American center in politics…a common meeting-ground of the great majority of our people on our own issues, against a backdrop of our own history, our own current setting and our own responsibilities for the future.”
But in the 1980s, Republicans argued that this system stifled economic development by hampering the ability of producers to put their money where they thought it would do the most good. Instead of supporting workers, they argued, government should cut taxes to enable those at the top of the economic ladder to accumulate capital and invest in the economy. Tax cuts became their go-to solution for any sort of economic crisis. The government should support the “supply side” of the economy. Any attempt to use the government to help the “demand side” was, they said, “socialism.”
Shortly after Biden took office, the Democrats returned to the old system. To address the economic wreckage left behind by the pandemic, Democrats in March 2021 passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, without a single Republican vote. That measure is behind the extraordinary U.S. economic recovery, proving that, no matter what its supply-side opponents have alleged over the years, supporting the demand side of the economy works.
That the Republican Party has now retreated into the delusion that a deadly attack on our government was “legitimate political discourse” is also a product of 40 years of political rhetoric saying that those who oppose Republican policies are anti-American. The idea behind the insurrection, and behind the Big Lie that inspired it—the idea that Biden stole the presidential victory from former president Donald Trump—was that a Democratic victory could not be legitimate. Indeed, in the letter censuring Cheney and Kinzinger, the RNC charges that “[t]he Biden Administration and Democrats in Congress have embarked on a systematic effort to replace liberty with socialism.” In this framing, any attempt to overturn such an “illegitimate” election would be an act of patriotism.
It would be “legitimate political discourse.”
But overturning elections on the claim that the usurper must defend a nation’s legitimate government is so much a part of authoritarian coups that it is almost a cliché.
And so we stand, on this one day, seeing the reclaiming of an old bipartisan consensus, on the one hand, and the justification for an authoritarian coup on the other.
This extraordinary statement by the RNC has brought the fight for control of the party into the open. This morning, news broke that the January 6 committee has evidence that Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH), who has been evasive about his contact with Trump on January 6 and who has said he did not recall if he spoke with the president that morning, in fact did. The president called Jordan on the morning of January 6, and they spoke for ten minutes—hardly a call one would forget, it would seem.
Jordan rejected an invitation from the January 6 committee to testify, saying that its request “is far outside the bounds of any legitimate inquiry.”
But if most Republican leaders are lining up behind Trump and the insurrectionists to make up an authoritarian wing of the party, former vice president Mike Pence hinted today he was hoping to carve out some distance from them. Although Trump focused his fury on Pence on January 6 because he would not overturn the election, and although the rioters brought a gallows to hang Pence, the former vice president has largely kept quiet about the event until today.
Hours after the RNC’s statement, Pence told the Federalist Society that January 6 had been a “dark day.” Pence said, “President Trump is wrong. I had no right to overturn the election. The presidency belongs to the American people and the American people alone.” He added that “there’s nothing more un-American” than to have “any one person...choose the American president.”
Pence’s team, including his chief of staff, Marc Short, have been cooperating with the January 6 committee, and the committee will get a pile of records from Pence on March 3 unless a court stops Archivist of the United States David Ferriero from delivering them. It is likely Pence knows there is plenty that will come into the open to make siding with the Trump folks politically problematic. But there is more to his statement than that. While Pence stopped short of saying Biden won the election fairly, his rejection of the plot to overturn Biden’s victory and destroy our democracy suggests he is courting the old business wing of the party.
Pence has been closely allied with the billionaire libertarian Koch family throughout his political career and likely hopes to be a 2024 presidential candidate with their backing. Short, too, is allied with Koch family interests, and according to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), foundations and trusts associated with the Kochs are among the deep-pocketed funders of the Federalist Society, where Pence made his statement. The oligarchical wing of the party is, perhaps, making a bid to regain control over the party in the hopes that the insurrectionists will crash and burn.
Certainly, Trump loyalist Stephen Bannon recognized Pence’s words as a defection. On his podcast, Bannon addressed Pence, saying: “You are a stone cold coward…. My head’s blowing up.... I can’t take Pence…and Marc Short and all these Koch guys up there ratting out Trump up on Capitol Hill right now.”
I’m not one to romanticize our history, but it does seem worth noting that it was on this day in 1789 that the Electoral College unanimously elected George Washington the first president of the new United States. It seems that we might be able to choose better leaders than ones who are leaving us at the end of this day in 2022 with the truly legitimate political question: “Ratting him out for what?”
Bannon is recorded and reproduced on Ron Filipkowski’s Twitter feed. (I won’t give Bannon the airtime here.)