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Another Two Horsemen: Thoughts on the Midterm Election

Added on by Nadine Friedman.

The New Yorker’s Andy Borowitz recently ran a bitterly amusing headline: Boehner, McConnell Seek Two Additional Horsemen. The list of new nominees is long. It’s also sexier than the last round and, per David Brooks, exemplifies “the beau ideal of American Republicanism.”  After the majority of registered voters made the democratic decision to stay home, our new Congressional majority is comprised of Conservative action figures, “prudent business leader[s]… active in the community, active at church and fervently devoted to national defense.” But there’s no need to celebrate or fret the Apocalypse. The midterm election didn’t signal End Times, nor a powerful shift towards Conservative policymaking; rather, it’s a rehash of our last two electoral Olympics which ushered in the likes of Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin and Co., whose main distinguishing characteristic from 2014’s crew were being specifically old and white (and forgetting to shut their mics off). Brooks maintains this slicker, more ethnic GOP reflects the building blocks of American virtue: “the business community, the military, the church and civic organizations,” and will make waves. But besides the irrelevancy of these “pillars” (no science? Education?), he’s also wrong. Though the GOP brand is undergoing renovations, it won’t change Washington’s inertia anytime soon. They’re just Horsemen of a Similar Color.


Confidence the new Congress will pass anything substantial is already low, per Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. “About one-in-five Americans (21%) say Republican control of the Senate will change the way things are going in this country ‘a lot’ and 37% say it will change things ‘some.’ Nearly four-in-ten (38%) expect little or no change as a result of the election. Republicans are about twice as likely as Democrats to think that the GOP winning the Senate will usher in major changes (32% vs. 18%).” There was little change in public opinion from 2010’s election to 2014’s. As for Brooks’ gloat the latest Republicans have their fingers on the economy’s pulse, he’s again out of touch. Of course, Pew reported, upper-income households favored Republicans on economic and tax issues. But, “among those with family incomes of less than $30,000, just one-in-four think the Republicans have the best approach.” Those Republican ideals suit a small percentage of Americans; this new cast of characters is unlikely to please the rest.

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is focused more on pressing issues like upholding the gay marriage ban and making public assistance cards a bright, scolding red than petty problems like the state’s multi-billion dollar shortfall. Closer in line with Brooks’ “pillars of business” model, Brownback‘s back-scratching deal with the Kochs (fossil fuel patriarchs) meant turning his back on recorded support for renewable energy. As for Brooks’ praise of Republican patriotism, re-elected Horseman McConnell’s consistently opposed expansion of veteran rights. H.R.5683 (Veterans' Job Corps Act), which would have returned our service members to work, was blocked by McConnell and his ilk in 2012. And little changed under the new GOP vanguard: just this year, Bernie Sanders eviscerated McConnell for blocking aid again. At the paltry (relative to Iraq war price tags, at least) cost of $21 million, a bill would have expanded vet education and medical services. Sanders addressed the GOP’s fingers-in-their-ears policy towards bipartisanship: “I had hoped that at least on this issue--the need to protect and defend our veterans and their families--we could rise above the day-to-day rancor and party politics that we see here in Congress." If today’s GOP won’t agree on vet rights, what will they agree on?

Brooks namedrops private sector hero Larry Hogan and his Change Maryland, “an activist group,” as symbol of the GOP’s new civic advocacy arm. The Change Maryland website, however, is dedicated only to taxes and a vague “How We’re Going to Do It” manifesto: “Educate, Engage, Energize”. Change Maryland’s Facebook page aims to bring “common sense to Annapolis”, but it’s mostly disturbing user rants about “liberal socialist brainwashing” and Islam in schools. There are suggestions, though: say, eliminating mass transit services to urban areas (a racially-tinged issue), and advancing Concealed Carry laws (legislation one confused Facebooker believes is granted by “the 14th Amendment.”) These are the progressive “bipartisan” efforts Brooks lauds Hogan, and other millionaire GOP seat-warmers, for?   


There’s Thom Tillis, formerly of PricewaterhouseCoopers (recently fined $25 million for compliance with foreign money laundering) as harbinger of modern Republican business ideals. Aside from his PwC association, we know we can trust Tillis with numbers: he once reassured his constituents, though Hispanic and Black voter populations keep growing, the "traditional population of North Carolina and the United States is more or less stable." That’s the civic-minded voice of the 21st century Republican Brooks is talking about! Further evidence of Tillis’ forward thinking is anti-abortion legislation he sneaked into a motorcycle safety bill. We can’t be sure where this type of maneuver fits into Brooks’ “beau ideal” but it’s a relief to know our reproductive organs could be carefully regulated as Harleys. Speaking of advocacy for 51% of the population, the GOP is tripping over itself to trot out Utah’s new black female rep, Mia Love. Her anti-choice position and plan to defund Planned Parenthood goes against the interests of all women, especially minorities; she embodies Brooks’ bygone “inexplicable oddities from another age,” except it’s 2014. She doesn’t look like Todd Akin, but she’s singing the same old song.


Cognitive dissonance is again at work when Brooks reminds us of Sarah Palin’s existence but neglects to mention her second coming in Smith and Wesson totin’, pig castratin’, climate change rejectin’ Joni Ernst. Among the litany of ideas put forth by Iowa’s newest Senator: eliminating the EPA, shuttering the DOE, threatening to shoot people and (of course) a Personhood amendment. A joint resolution she signed “would’ve defined and defended life from conception.”  Details of the legislation, unfortunately, escape her: “I’m trying to remember how we phrased it, but basically that there was an inalienable right to life.” Devil’s in the details (and in premarital sex and Big Bang Theory education, apparently), and she’ll need to back this up next election.


“If the party is to fully detoxify its image, something will have to pass next year,” says Brooks.  Hard to imagine what that something might be. Attach reproductive rights to motorcycle maintenance? Pander to CEO’s? Shut down the government over the Socialist Black President’s health plan again? With all these impressive resumes, Mitch and John will have their Horsemen shortly. But luckily, due to vicious bipartisanship, reliably prehistoric Republican ideology and Democratic spinelessness, Congressional action will be glacial. Republicans will create bills, Obama will veto them. Republicans will ignore science, women and vets while people like Brooks crow about modernity and Democrats pretend to get a phone call in the other room. And after two years and millions more spent in the name of Citizens United, fair-weather voters will turn out and the whole mess will start again.