Rothman At-Large

Mitch the Snake: How to Defeat Mitch McConnell, The Second Evilest Man in Town

July 17, 2019

How to defeat Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the second-evilest man in town—Donald Trump’s main enabler? The cause gained even more urgency Tuesday when McConnell denied that Trump was a racist despite clear evidence such as his bigoted smears against four nonwhite Congress members.


Here’s my suggestion. Democrats should out-McConnell the Senate majority leader at the gut level in a way highly customized for Kentucky. Amy McGrath, the ex-fighter pilot who has just begun her campaign against him, should hit still harder than she is now. She should start with a good counter-slogan. McConnell’s people already have unveiled a YouTube saying, “Amy McGrath: Too Liberal for Kentucky.” Democrats should fire back with: “Mitch the Snake: Too Crooked for Kentucky.” Merely portraying McConnell as an enemy of progress isn’t enough. Draw the voters in with vivid—and accurate—language.


In highly visual TV commercials and campaign rhetoric, Democrats should exploit to the max the image of McConnell as a creature in the Washington swamp. Be as corny as needed. Just strive for results.


Do not call Mitch McConnell a “Turtle Man” based on the famous weak chin. He can’t help the chin. But McConnell can help the trickiness, manipulation and other negatives that have made him loathed even by many Republicans in Kentucky—despite Donald’s Trump’s popularity there. “Snake,” thus, fits, especially if the Democrats show a cartoonish Mitch Snake slithering around in a swamp and covered with slime. We can even hear him hiss. One or more of the Democrats’ many Hollywood friends could help make the Mitch Snake a masterpiece.


Yes, snakes at times can aid farmers and others, such as by killing mice and other rodents eating crops. I’ll not brook cruelty to snakes in real life. But our Mitch Snake can be a menacing, venomous killer. He can be treacherous, too. Bible-toting Kentuckians know which creature tempted Eve with an apple: a serpent. The sobriquet of “snake,” in McConnell’s case, even carries the Donald Trump seal of approach in a sense. Consider Trump’s warm reaction to McConnell’s harsh treatment of a fellow participant in the great healthcare debate, a Democratic senator the President said he liked.


“This guy’s mean as a snake,” Trump said of McConnell’s hopes of crushing West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin “like a grape” in the 2018 election. “I like it, though, Mitch,” the President said, according to a former presidential aide’s book. Then Trump patted McConnell on the back—twice.


Now, just what to mention in the commercials? As McGrath realizes, she’ll lose with a direct attack on McConnell for speaking out against impeachment. Never mind that Trump is a bigoted crook, sexual predator and aspiring dictator. To many voters in states like Kentucky, it just does not matter that Trump isn’t Mr. Rogers. For better or worse, Trump enjoys a high popularity rating in Kentucky even if it isn’t at its peak.

But without taking on Trump directly, McGrath can home in on the bugs that do count—in ways that focus on McConnell’s serpent-level treachery in the context of the well-being of the average Kentuckian.


Taxation of the wealthy and the corporations in which they own stock: Tell what the super-rich have done with the tax breaks that McConnell helped push through Congress (after having uttered the usual platitudes in favor of lowering the national debt). The money hasn’t gone toward job creation to the extent promised–the rich have lived it upthrough stock buybacks and in other ways. Go graphic with pictures of the Koch brothers and of billionaires’ yachts. Taxes, healthcare and Social Security should be the main show in the Democrats’ campaign against the snake. Amy McGrath has already gone after McConnell on those issues and others, but still could step up her attacks by way of the snake commercials. Remember, Kentucky is an affordable media state, just right for experiments of the kind proposed here.


Healthcare: Point out that when all is said and done, McConnell and most other Republicans don’t want good, comprehensive coverage despite all the misleading rationalizations to the contrary. As is usual, the Mitch Snake is the leading obstructionist. Say it in the most visual way! Show sick Kentuckians—oxygen masks, crutches, the whole works—begging for the Snake to care. The money would be there with appropriate taxation of the rich.


Social Security: Again and again, the 79-year-old Mitch Snake has been gunning for it. Actually we should be increasing, not decreasing benefits–through means ranging from heavier taxation of the rich to higher contributions that the well-off make to Social Security. But the Mitch Snake hisses out all kinds of misleading excuses against this. Put a cash-strapped Social Security pensioner on camera, someone likable who worked her rear end off before retirement, and tell of her on-going struggles. Social Security, like it or not, is a major source of retirement money for countless Americans, especially in poor states like Kentucky. Remember, Social Security is not a handout—recipients have paid for it.


The pension crisis and the Mitch Snake’s related nepotism: Joining President Trump in showing contempt for the American worker, the McConnell-led Senate confirmed the starkly underqualified Gordon Hartogensis as head of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. A major pension crisis could devastate the retirements of tens of millions of working people, and Hartogensis lacked and lacks the government and management experience to deal with the ongoing crisis. He is simply a lucky startup millionaire who retired at age 29. But who cares? Hartogensis’s brother-in-law is Mitch McConnell. Let’s see TV commercials with his name: make voters care. Who comes first? The Snake’s family or workers with pensions?


Energy: McConnell says that coal must be “part of our country’s energy future.” Huh? Despite global warming? And even though the coal industry is contracting? The long-term numbers don’t lie. Only McConnell does–in suggesting that there’s hope here. McGrath should tell where the real possibilities are, in alternative technologies such as solar.


Health-related environmental issues: Needless to say, the Snake opposes strong environmental regulations. Get Kentuckians on camera who are dying of pollution-related diseases. Talk about the Snake’s campaign contributions from polluters. Tell the voters how hazardous the Snake is to their health.


The Mitch Snake’s contribution to government gridlock and the decline of the legislative branch: McConnell is so much of an obstructionist that of the 127-plus most recent Senate votes, just 21 related to legislation. The Mitch Snake focused the Senate instead on rubber-stamping the Trump Administration’s appointments. Forget about meaningful legislation to deal with trifles like the heathcare crisis or Russian cyber attacks. In the words of U.S. Senator Tina Smith, the Mitch Snake has “transformed the Senate into little more than the Trump administration’s personnel office, the place where good ideas go to die.” Impeachment, as I see it, would be at the top of the list of good but Mitch-doomed ideas. Alas, Mitch sees the Republican party as his employer and Donald Trump as a CEO to be protected—especially given Trump’s appointments of the Snake’s relatives. Not just Hartogensis. McConnell's wife, Elaine Chao, is secretary of transportation.


Nationally, Democrats love to play up other issues, important ones, such as abortion and equal pay for women and LGBTQ rights, and in fact, fund-raisers should press these buttons in countrywide fund-raising campaigns against the Snake. But in a conservative rural state, such arguments won’t take the McGrath campaign very far and might even hurt it.


What will work in a rough-and-tumble place like right-leaning Kentucky can be learned from the late Roger Ailes, the satanic media genius who created Fox TV and helped more than a few troglodytic politicians with his brilliance as a political consultant. I abhor the distortions and other sleaze that Ailes made a hallmark, but he was right on target with his punch-to-the-gut approach. I’d rather this not be true. But Kentucky is Kentucky, not gentler, more progressive Vermont or Minnesota. McGrath needs to learn from Ailes’s effort on behalf of an ambitious young politician to defeat a veteran senator.


“Do you want to look nice, or do you want to win this thing?” Ailes said in urging the pol to go negative.


The client listened to Ailes. He signed off on commercials that did not simply tell how the incumbent was missing Senate votes to make remunerative speaking engagements. Instead the commercials showed humans and dogs hunting for the AWOL Senator. The Ailes client benefitting from this visceral, cartoonish approach was none other than Mitch McConnell, and the commercials were a major reason why he reached the Senate.


If McGrath wants to fend off potential Democratic primary opponents like Kentucky Sports Radio owner Matt Jones, she needs to go after McConnell to the fullest—in line with Ailes’s advice to “win this thing.” She should demonstrate what she’ll do in the general election. McGrath should play fair and stick to the facts in context, but a negative campaign, please, without the least shyness about name-calling, especially when so many people already despise the Snake. Nice, ethical opponents deserve respect, but neither adjective fits McConnell.

In some ways, the Snake is even more evil than Trump, who, despite his carnival-barking talents, so often comes across as a half-sentient mix of man and beast. The senator earned a B.A. in political science and later a law degree, so he should know how much damage he is doing to the American system through his protection of Trump against impeachment. Former House Speaker Paul Ryan, once Trump’s main enabler, is gone. McConnell remains. Now’s the time to defang the Mitch Snake by giving him a dose of his own medicine.

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Oblige Trump. Impeachment, Please.

June 5, 2019

Our “extremely stable genius” loves to depict himself as a victim of witch-hunters. Impeachment? Bring it on! That’s what Donald Trump has said. Although Trump has been sending off mixed signals, I still believe that he pangs for impeachment.


But what if witch-hunters and friends came up with a well-crafted impeachment strategy for the here and now—mixed with a good, actionable vision for the 2020 campaign?


The key is to make a solid case for impeachment in the Democratically controlled House while expecting that the Senate Republicans almost surely will fail to follow through. Be proactive. Vaccinate the voters ahead of time against Republican lies and excuses. Then use this outrageous stubbornness—the GOP’s protection of the odious Trump—to the Democrats’ advantage in 2020 in congressional as well as presidential campaigns.


Ahead I’ll discuss the most promising areas for an impeachment inquiry. Then I’ll tell how the full impeachment process could work politically.


For those insisting on a legalistic approach to impeachment, keep in mind that Special Counsel Robert Mueller contradicted both Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr and refused to say Trump did not obstruct justice. Mueller has broached the obstruction question in 10 instances, and hundreds of former federal prosecutors now believe that Trump would indeed face “multiple felony charges” if he were not in the Oval Office. For example, with the Russian investigation mainly in mind, Trump fired FBI director James Comey. He also tried to get rid of Mueller himself. Those are examples of starting points with which countless legal experts and voters would feel comfortable.


With an official impeachment inquiry underway, Democrats would stand more chance of obtaining the court rulings and documents they need to prove what would surely be the underlying crimes. Questions abound on matters like the bromance between Trump and his good buddy Vladimir Putin. Chances are excellent that congressional investigators will discover money laundering on behalf of Putin’s pet oligarchs.


Just by doing their jobs, congressional Democrats may also discover tax evasion, fraud and other crimes happening domestically—if we go by New York Times reports on the Trump family’s massive tax dodges in the past. And the results could be lethal to Trump as a candidate even if he is not prosecuted while in the Oval Office.


Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist in the White House, is a right-wing nut, but in speaking to journalist Michael Wolff for a book titled Siege: Trump Under Fire, he was dead on. “In the book,” as summed up by the Daily Beast, “Bannon predicts Trump’s presidency will fall after investigations into his finances reveal to his supporters that he’s not some incredible self-made billionaire, but a crook. ‘This is where it isn’t a witch hunt—even for the hard-core, this is where he turns into just a crooked business guy, and one worth $50m instead of $10bn,’ Bannon is quoted as saying. ‘Not the billionaire he said he was, just another scumbag.’”


Those facts and more could come out as a daily TV production, not only a written report. The hearings could take place while Democrats kept pounding away on bread-and-butter issues such as healthcare and wealth and income distribution, along with the increasingly saleable climate change.


Yes, many of Trump supporters live inside the Fox News bubble. But in spreading the results of their investigation, Democrats can still reach The Base through massive, well-targeted spending on programs on other networks likely to appeal to Trumpish demographic groups. They can also try social media.


Other targets of the Democrats’ pro-impeachment campaign could be:

  • Nonvoters–the real ones who elected Trump. Motivate and anger them. So many of them are young or poor and distrustful of the political system. An aggressive investigation of Trump could help win many of them over.
  • Independents upset over Trump’s abuses of the system–and open to many of the same arguments.
  • Democrats who feared the ugly discord that impeachment could spread. The revelations from the hearings could make this issue less relevant.

By enlightening the citizenry about both Trump and his senatorial stooges in one swoop, Democrats can weaken the GOP before the 2020 election, when 22 of 53 Republican Senate seats are up for grabs. A loss of just several seats would give the United States a Democratic Senate, and presumably the House would remain blue.

Meanwhile, the more mud oozes out about obstruction, Russia and the rest, the more likely Trump will regret saying he’d love impeachment. In some of his latest mixed signals, he refers to impeachment as a “dirty, filthy, disgusting word.” May the Democrats work hard to make this his overwhelming sentiment!

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Joe Biden's Kickoff Video Made Me Appreciate Mayor Pete All the More

April 28, 2019

Charlottesville. Neo-Nazis. Kluxers. Joe Biden homed in on Trumpish grotesqueries in the video kicking off his presidential bid—as if to say, “You need me to return us to the good old days of yore.” No one except bigots or Republican hacks would deny the cosmic-level threats here, or President Trump’s crooked and traitorous ways.


Why, then, did Biden’s well-crafted video disappoint me and make me grateful that more promising Democrats are running for president?


Simple. Albeit outstanding artistically, the video just reinforced a common perception of the 76-year-old Biden as more rooted in the past than eager to move on to the future. Ahead I’ll opine on my favorite of his primary rivals so far, the more forward-looking Mayor Pete Buttigieg, 37, while not glossing over Buttigieg’s own flaws. But first back to Uncle Joe.


A smarter video still could have reeled in viewers via Charlottesville images, but only briefly for the sake of contrast. We would have cut to Biden in a factory churning out clean electric cars, then to him on a hilltop overlooking a pastoral scene of windmills, then to Joe in a high-tech hospital room, then to him talking to workers at a bridge construction site, then to teachers at a multiracial, multi-ethnic school. All this time he would have been discussing the related issues—the environment, jobs and energy sources for the future, healthcare reform, infrastructure, education, race and immigration. Timely bread-and-butter appeals worked just fine for many Democrats during the 2016 congressional elections. America, on the other hand, is sick of Trump, even attacks on him. I love the idea of continued investigations leading perhaps to impeachment. But it’s most telling that even the Mueller Report, for now, hasn’t claimed its full due of public indignation toward the president.


The Charlottesville fixation wasn’t the Biden campaign’s only mistake in the anti-Trump video. Inflation-adjusted wages for working people have been more or less stagnant for years—before millions of young voters were even born. Is this the glorious past Biden wants to return us to? The same messes that commentators have rightly said helped give us Trump in the first place? Similarly, racism has long been a part of the American scene; and in an increasingly diverse Democratic Party, reflecting the country’s changing demographics, a 76-year-old white dude’s nostalgia just isn’t going to fly even though he says he has evolved. Same in regard to gender matters and me-too issues.


No, millions of voters have not been so enamored of America, either in recent years or going back to the late 20th century. Corporate-friendly politicians opened us up to free trade without adequate protections for workers through job retraining or decent payments to see them through the transition. The weakening of labor unions didn’t help, either.


Likewise, in past statements, Biden has unwittingly come across as too much of a creature of the Northeast, as opposed to someone in touch with the country as a whole. In 2017 at the University of Pennsylvania, Biden complained: “You didn’t hear a single solitary sentence in the last campaign about that guy working on the assembly line making 60,000 bucks a year and a wife making $32,000 as a hostess in a restaurant.” Please, Joe. The real median household income in the U.S. in 2017 was a mere $61,372, well below the $92,000 in the Biden scenario.


Now, compare Biden to Democrats more in touch with America’s current and future concerns. In Pete Buttigieg, we have a relatively young Rhodes Scholar and gay veteran of Afghanistan who has wreaked miracles in turning around South Bend, Indiana. High-tech start-ups there are thriving in a former Studebaker plant, and condos are springing up downtown. Even Buttigieg’s homosexuality, in the end, may be a tailwind rather than a headwind. The most gung-ho homophobes will probably go for Trump anyway. And even some conservative voters on the fence may be swayed by Buttigieg’s brains, military service and religiosity.  


On top of everything else, the man is just plain likable. Buttigieg projects an air of calm, open-mindedness, empathy and optimism—a stark contrast to the self-absorbed, callous and grumpy Trump. Here is a devout Episcopalian willing at least to try to engage the evangelicals. He is “normal” and above-normal enough in various ways to counter the demonization of LGBT Americans. That, in turn, chips away at the credibility of Pence-style bigots, not just on gender issue but also others. Buttigieg exemplifies the competence that gender-related discrimination, just like racial and ethnic kinds, can cost the country in an era of stepped-up global competition.


Granted, Buttigieg comes with his own negatives, such as the controversy over the firing of a black police chief. Furthermore, many African-Americans in South Bend apparently regarded the mayor’s urban renew efforts as a form of at least accidental “Negro removal,” to use an old expression. If a Huffington Post article is right, that’s far from his only lapse in regard to the poor and minorities (the result not of bigotry but rather of classic technocratic lapses, such as not considering all data). What’s more, I agree with critics calling for more policy specifics from him, even though it’s clear he’s a fast learner capable of picking up ideas from others to complement his own.


The good news is that the defects are repairable—in part through the policy papers and other documents that Buttigieg has yet to share. Take race. Elizabeth Warren drew applause from black women after she came up with a plan to deal with the outrageous rate of maternal mortality among African-Americans. I want to see Buttigieg catch up in such crucial areas. As somebody interested in libraries as poverty reducers, I would urge Buttigieg to propose multiplying the number of K-12 and public librarians from disadvantaged backgrounds, especially people of color. Thousands of school librarians, particularly in minority communities, have lost their jobs in recent years amid mean-spirited budget cuts. Not the best way either to reduce poverty or help assimilate immigrants. I doubt that illiterates make the best medical technicians or computer coders.


For further inspiration, Buttigieg and his policy team should scrutinize The War on Normal People: The Truth About America’s Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income Is Our Future, by his rival Andrew Yang, which brilliantly lays out problems and possible solutions, such as a guaranteed income for all, including the millions of Americans whom automation will displace while enriching billionaire shareholders. Even National Review, albeit with caveats, has taken notice of Yang as a useful tracker of present and future crises.


How much better to look ahead with a fresh perspective rather than just talking over and over again about the same tired old nostrums dear to the Biden generation. Of course, if Biden can surprise us and beat Buttigieg to the punch, thereby disproving my current belief that he isn’t future-minded enough, that would be wonderful. But don’t count on it happening.

So go, Pete! Just please show us that you’ve learned your lessons from South Bend and can use policy papers, not just rhetoric and campaign glad-handing, to prove you’re sincere.

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