Democratic v. Republican Sense of Order
On Friday evening, July 17, 2020, on a residential street on the South Hill in Spokane outside the home of Dr. Bob Lutz, there was a boisterous protest of about 30 people. We were just four months into the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States. Bob Lutz was still the Spokane County Health Officer. (This was four months before Administrator Amelia Clark, Spokane County Commissioner Al French [and others] controversially fired Dr. Lutz.)
The protest was organized by Joey Gibson of Portland-based Patriot Prayer and Casey Whalen of “People’s Rights”, an organization founded by Ammon Bundy. The protest featured a megaphone. The coverage of the event in the Spokesman quoted several of the protesters. Spokane Police “officers were outside Lutz’s home to protect everyone’s right to free speech and safety”. Months later the Spokesman published an article by Shawn Vestal detailing the protesters linkages to the militant, radical right. Despite the obvious disturbance to Dr. Lutz’ family and his neighbors and despite the likelihood that some of the protesters were armed, I heard no voices from either political party (and can find nothing in print) suggesting the protest was illegal or inappropriate.
Nary a peep was heard from local Republicans about the inappropriateness of a loud protest disturbing the peace at a public official’s home, after all, this was “free speech”. The local media treatment of the frequent protests and vocal harassment of patients organized by Matt Shea’s and Pastor Ken Peters’ Covenant Church (now dubbed the “Patriot Church”) held under the name “The Church at Planned Parenthood” was never disowned by Republicans, no matter how “main stream”. After all, this was “free speech” too, and must be protected by the First Amendment.
These protests make me cringe, but I understand First Amendment rights, so I’ve been a bit startled by the media coverage and official pronouncements by both Republicans and President Biden concerning protests out the homes of right wing Supreme Court Justice’s and some members of the U.S. Senate, media coverage that shifts the narrative to the supposed disorder and inappropriateness of the protests rather than the message of the protesters. Republican propagandists must be smiling. A reader sent me a link to an article by Jordan Zakarin of the Progress Report which I think hits the nail on the head. I’ve reproduced it below.
Keep to the high ground,
This is how the war is lost
Solidarity of the elites
In the same way that the leaked Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade laid bare the extent to which the judiciary has been captured by the money and malice of the fringe right-wing, the past few days have provided a window into the political and cultural failings that enabled and even facilitated the minoritarian high court hijacking.
While last week’s news cycles mostly focused on the dire consequences of the Roe reversal and the onslaught of human rights violations that will follow the court’s decision to repeal the right to privacy, most of the conversation since Sunday has been about the apparently sacrosanct right to privacy that’s been suddenly bestowed upon the public officials directly responsible for the coming calamity.
It began on Sunday, when small protests held by Brett Kavanaugh’s neighbors began to grow in size and fervor. The assembly of locals picketing outside Kavanuagh’s suburban Maryland home over his vote to overturn Roe was never anything but peaceful and measured, but the mere thought of people in power being inconvenienced sent a shockwave through DC.
A who’s who of useless personalities, whose ongoing relevance is directly dependent on the ongoing existence of a permanent class of unimpeachable political elites, were quick to condemn the protestors for standing outside Kavanaugh’s house and begging him to not strip away their fundamental rights.
Paul Begala called it “counter-productive.” That line alone demonstrates a hopelessly sclerotic understanding of politics and the electorate that was divorced from reality in the 1990s. If there is a voter willing to say “I support abortion rights but protesting at the house of the guy who stripped them away from 70 million people is a bridge too far for me,” they don’t actually support abortion rights and they’re not going to vote for Democrats at all.
Bill Kristol admonished protestors to “organize politically, be civil civically.” Kristol spent much of his career opposed to abortion rights and sold decades of society-poisoning neoconservatism through lies and distortions.
David Frum, the George W. Bush speechwriter whose only interactions with people outside of the DC bubble come when he yells at call center workers as they try to help him with his TV remote, questioned the utility of protesting altogether.
The list goes on and on, covering much of the class of pundits that make most of their money through speeches and secret corporate consulting that hinges on their connections to entrenched power. There always has and always will be a chattering class of salon bourgeoisie. The problem arises when they so easily dictate the direction of news coverage and political calculations of those with actual power, as is happening right now.
On Monday, outgoing White House press secretary Jen Psaki issued an unprompted statement from President Biden, condemning any protests outside a public official’s home.
The Washington Post’s editorial board latched on to the issue and this morning published a willfully delusional op-ed about how it is wrong to bring “direct public pressure to bear on a decision-making process that must be controlled, evidence-based and rational,” as if any of those words could describe the current Supreme Court.
Later today, reporters asked a number of Democratic senators about the matter, and agreed that anything that might make their lives even mildly inconvenient should be off-limits. (To his credit, Chuck Schumer said he didn’t mind the frequent visits by protestors to his Park Slope apartment.)
The Senate also hurriedly passed legislation to provide security to Supreme Court justices, before even taking a vote on codifying Roe.
The result? A resentful base of voters who feel admonished yet again for simply standing up for their rights. A full three days of news stories that paint Republicans as victims. And an emboldened GOP happy to play up the narrative — Susan Collins felt emboldened enough to call the cops over some sidewalk chalk near her home! Now Republicans are again painting peaceful protestors as violent thugs, using Democrats’ discouragement as an implied agreement.
Suddenly, the national conversation is no longer about the end of Roe or the onslaught of nightmare restrictions that will follow. Democrats will take their vote in the Senate to codify Roe on Wednesday, it will fail, and that will be that, at least for a month or so until the Supreme Court officially issues its decision. And then when protests break out all across the country, and people are bursting with rage and fear, the political press will go back to the well and again ask Democrats how they feel about the location and character of the marches and rallies.
This happens like clockwork. Democratic leaders completely divorced themselves from the Black Lives Matter movement after the 2020 election, choosing to trash its slogans and then shower police departments with record amounts of money. They’ve allowed the abortion debate to be waylaid by the debate over where people peacefully protest. They’re so afraid of being linked to a scary narrative about protestors, they’re actually enabling Republicans to shape it in real-time, thereby blundering away an issue on which a vast majority of Americans agree with them.
This is where the GOP excels. Republicans use that fear and self-loathing and that media coverage to bury the real issues, rile up their base, and continue their attacks on three-quarters of the country. When the debate becomes about process, substances loses. And in this case, that puts us all in danger.
Democratic leaders seem to hate the idea of accountability for anybody, because it means that they might actually have to deliver on the promises they’ve made over and over since 2006. They like to raise money off outrage. But no one is going to buy the #resist schtick any more. Telling voters that they just need a bigger majority to enact legislation already rings hollow when they’re backing corrupt, conservative, anti-abortion establishment candidates, but it’ll be even harder to swallow if they’re also trying to dictate how their supporters mourn such a catastrophe.
Instead, Democrats need to behind those willing to stand up to evil. Encourage protests. Embrace the idea that powerful figures should be forced to reckon with their decisions instead of being allowed to live in a safe, idyllic cul-de-sac of wealth, privilege, and impunity.
There is little to no path for the party to maintain its majorities in this fall’s elections, and gerrymandering means future elections are also dubious. Public outrage is going to be the one check on the power exerted by these eager-to-terrorize theocrats. If that’s silenced instead of harnessed by the supposed opposition party, there will be no real opposition, and this country could descend into an even darker future — if it continues in its current form at all.