Lee and Those Lasers
Lee Zeldin, the Republican member of Congress from eastern Long Island, has no trouble deciding. When forced to choose between what’s good for Trump world and what’s good for everybody else, it’s simple: Zeldin goes with Trump.
Take the National Defense Authorization Act, the annual humongous legislation that funds the military. Like Zeldin, I’m a veteran, but I am always deeply suspicious of this bill, because it spends way too much on useless weapons systems and endless wars. For Zeldin, though, it should be a bill that he loves, because he’s so fond of projecting his support of the military. His “Vote for a Vet” lawn signs have been a staple in his campaigns. When Trump vetoed the NDAA for a variety of petty reasons, and both houses had to vote on a veto override, Zeldin had to choose between funding the troops or sustaining Trump's veto. He chose to support Trump.
Then, as this past week’s headlines told us, there’s his decision on Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the newly elected, pistol-packing, Trump loyalist Republican from the northwest corner of Georgia. Among the many outrageous things Greene has said or approved of others saying, the most memorable and mockable has been her speculation about laser beams from outer space starting California wildfires. Among her suggested perpetrators: the Rothschilds, a wealthy Jewish family of financiers and a frequent target of anti-Semitism. The shorthand idea of Jewish laser beams and fires became a staple of late-night comedy. But the not-so-latent anti-Semitic trope wasn’t funny.
Another frequent target of anti-Semitism has been the Hungarian billionaire and philanthropist George Soros. Right-wingers routinely imagine Soros as the manipulator of multiple worldwide nefarious plots. As the Anti-Defamation League has explained it, many of these conspiracy theories are rooted in anti-Semitic ideas, “particularly the notion that rich and powerful Jews work behind the scenes, plotting to control countries and manipulate global events.”
So, what does Soros have to do with Greene? Well, a March 2019 video, now widely circulated, shows her using that name as she follows and heckles David Hogg, a young activist lobbying in Washington for gun control. He is a survivor of a mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that took the lives of 14 students and three staff members. In the video, as Hogg walks through DC, Greene trails behind him, calling him a “coward” and questioning his use of kids as gun-control advocates, as if kids had no right to comment on mass shootings in schools. Then she stops, turns to the camera, and refers to Hogg as “this guy with his George Soros funding.”
In a Dana Milbank column in the Washington Post, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan Greenblatt, said: “Marjorie Taylor Greene will be remembered for breaking new ground for her wild anti-Semitism.” That anti-Semitism, plus her expression of violent ideas about Democrats such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, ignited loud calls for her to resign—or at least be stripped of her committees. They included the Education and Labor Committee—a profoundly bad assignment for someone who has harassed survivors of school shootings. Republican leadership declined to act, which made a full floor vote necessary. In that vote, only 11 Republicans voted to remove her from her committees, but the resolution passed.
Milbank wrote that he had been warning Republicans for five years about the “creeping anti-Semitism” that Trump brought to the GOP. “But I never expected I would see in my lifetime, in the United States of America, what occurred on the floor of the House this week. One hundred ninety-nine Republican members of Congress rallied to the defense of a vile, unapologetic anti-Semite in their ranks who calls for assassination of her opponents.”
In that roll call, Zeldin—one of only two Jewish Republicans in the House—faced the choice of standing up against anti-Semitism or standing with Trump-loving Greene. So what did he do? Simple: He voted to protect Greene. If Zeldin runs for re-election in 2022, the choice for voters should be equally simple: Just vote him out.
Stacey to the Rescue
It's time to put Stacey Abrams in the White House.
No, I'm not talking about the presidency—not yet, anyway. Her time will come for that. Right now, there's no vacancy.
What I'm saying is that President Joseph R. Biden Jr. should create a new position, special assistant to the president for democracy, and make her its first occupant. Abrams is perfect for that role. She is stunningly brilliant, she knows all about the brokenness of our republic, and she knows how to fix it. The repair begins with making it easier for people to vote, not harder.
In the wake of the presidential election that the Republicans lost, they are doing what they always do, using their power in state legislatures to erect more obstacles to voting. The Brennan Center at New York University, a vigilant voting-rights watchdog, reports that 28 states have put forward more than 100 bills to limit voting. We've seen this movie, and it's always a horror film.
Abrams knows all about the bag of tricks that vote-stifling Republicans use. Take the purging of voters from the rolls—the technique that was far more responsible than hanging chads for Al Gore's loss to George W. Bush in Florida in 2000. Abrams experienced the Republican urge to purge painfully in her 2018 campaign for governor of Georgia. Her Republican opponent, Brian Kemp, was also the secretary of state, the chief overseer of elections. He shamelessly used that power to purge tens of thousands of voters from the rolls, for flimsy, bogus reasons. Had he been, let's say, state secretary of agriculture at the time, without the power to shape the electorate precisely to his needs, Abrams would be governor today.
She also knows about the Republican lust to curtail early in-person voting and the availability of no-excuse absentee ballots by mail. She knows how hard Republicans like to make it for people to register, how they love to mandate forms of voter ID that are difficult for poor people to acquire. She knows the vote-suppressing effects of inadequate numbers of polling places and voting machines. She knows how Republicans work to make sure that undercounted people remain undercounted in the US Census, then use the census data to draw legislative districts that keep them in power, no matter what the one-person-one-vote principle requires. To get a sense of her granular knowledge of this whole set of issues, all you have to do is read her book, Our Time Is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America.
Long before Abrams "lost" to Kemp, she had been focused on voting rights, and that election turned her attention even more pointedly to expanding the number of voters and making voting easier. And what a job she did! Without her spectacular organizing work in Georgia in the past two years, Biden would almost certainly have lost the state, and Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock would not be senators today. So Biden owes Abrams—big.
But this is not about old-fashioned political payback: "You helped me get elected, so I'm giving you a paycheck." No, it's about saving the republic. In the aftermath of the big lie about the past election and the insurrection that it bred, think of this as a crucial time for the nation, a time when America needs to expand voting rights, not shrink them. This pivotal moment feels as intense as the bottom of the ninth inning in World Series game seven, with the home team clinging to a one-run lead. So it's time to call the bullpen and bring in a Hall of Fame closer to seal the victory: Stacey Abrams. As Biden likes to say, "Come on, man!" Do it, Joe.
First in my class in Officer Candidate School. Late to the conclusion that our attitude toward the military is idolatrous.