Opinion | Mike Pence and the Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations


It is clear that one of the political objectives of the Jan. 6 hearings is to strengthen the anti-insurrection wing of the Republican Party. The vice chair and leading member of the House select committee is Liz Cheney, a Republican. The leading witnesses, like the retired judge J. Michael Luttig and Greg Jacob, are Republicans. And the heroes of the narrative, like the former vice president Mike Pence, are Republicans.

It is Pence, specifically, who has been the subject of a good deal of praise.

“Thanks in part to Mike Pence, our democracy withstood Donald Trump’s scheme and the violence of Jan. 6,” said Representative Bennie Thompson, a Democrat who chairs the select committee. “Vice President Pence understood his oath of office was more important than his loyalty to President Trump. He did his duty,” said Cheney.

Yes, the vice president ultimately refused to take part in Donald Trump’s power grab. But this isn’t heroic. He did not go above and beyond his constitutional obligations. He simply chose not to break the law. He did close to the absolute minimum of what we should expect from a person in his position. To borrow a phrase from President George W. Bush, it is the soft bigotry of low expectations to act as if Pence did anything exceptional.

There’s also a factual problem. Far from resolute against the president’s scheme to overturn the election, Pence was originally inclined to help. He even contacted one of his predecessors, Dan Quayle, for advice on what to do. We know this because it is documented in the book “Peril” by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. Here’s how they describe the conversation:

Over and over, Pence asked if there was anything he could do. “Mike, you have no flexibility on this. None. Zero. Forget it. Put it away,” Quayle told him. Pence pressed again. “You don’t know the position I’m in,” he said. “I do know the position you’re in,” Quayle responded. “I also know what the law is. You listen to the parliamentarian. That’s all you do. You have no power.”

This does not sound like a man whose first instinct was, according to his counsel at the time, “that there was no way that our framers would have ever put one person in a role to have decisive impact on the outcome of the election.”

It sounds like a man who did the right thing only after he couldn’t find a legal rationale to do the wrong one. It sounds like a man who still won’t fully repudiate Trump or what he stands for. It sounds like a man who still won’t testify, lest he alienate the voters who are sure to power him to a sixth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses.

Yes, when it mattered most, Pence bucked Trump. That doesn’t make him a hero.


My Tuesday column was on the ruinous optimism of the Democratic leadership with regard to the Republican Party.

What’s missing from party leaders, an absence that is endlessly frustrating to younger liberals, is any sense of urgency and crisis — any sense that our system is on the brink. Despite mounting threats to the right to vote, the right to an abortion and the ability of the federal government to act proactively in the public interest, senior Democrats continue to act as if American politics is back to business as usual.

My Friday column was on why Democrats should be much more aggressive about questioning Ginni and Clarence Thomas.

Democrats do not need to mimic Republican behavior in all of its deranged glory, but they would do well to heed the lesson that for many voters, where there is smoke, there must be fire.

The most recent episode of my podcast with John Ganz was on the 1993 film “Sniper.” And if you live in New York, I’ll be giving two lectures on the problems with and the future of American democracy, at the New York Public Library next week. Details here.


Rebecca Traister on Dianne Feinstein in New York magazine.

Harold Meyerson on the history of socialism in the United States for Dissent magazine.

At the center of downtown Charlottesville, Va., is the rotting husk of an unfinished hotel building. A local civic group has attempted to make it look less terrible by decorating it with some artwork. This is a photo of that artwork. I liked the shapes and contrast in the scene, and the dark-clothed man walking through is a happy accident.


For dinner tonight, we’re having lentils with pan-fried fish, and I thought I would share the recipe for the lentils. It is very straightforward. You don’t have to use French lentils. Black beluga lentils would work just as well. Recipe comes via Serious Eats.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (7 ounces; 200 grams) French le Puy lentils, picked over for stones

  • 1 medium carrot, trimmed and peeled

  • 1 medium yellow onion, halved through the root

  • 1 medium rib celery

  • 2 medium cloves garlic

  • 2 or 3 sprigs rosemary, thyme or sage (or some combination)

  • Kosher salt

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

  • ½ pound (225 grams) very finely diced combination of shallot, carrot, celery and turnip (from about ¾ pound [340 grams] vegetables total)

  • Red wine vinegar, to taste

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • Small handful minced flat-leaf parsley leaves and tender stems

Directions

In a large saucepan, combine lentils with carrot, onion and celery. Tie garlic cloves and herbs into a cheesecloth sachet and add to pot. Cover lentils with at least 2 inches of water, season generously with salt (the water should taste as salty as you like your food to be) and set over medium heat.

Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low and cook at a bare simmer until lentils are just tender enough that you can smash one against the roof of your mouth with your tongue, about 25 minutes. (Begin checking around 15 minutes, then continue checking until lentils are perfectly cooked.)

Add a handful of ice cubes or a generous splash of cold water to the lentil pot to lower the water’s temperature and halt cooking. The lentils can be refrigerated in their cooking liquid at this point for up to two days before continuing with recipe. Discard carrot, onion, celery and herb sachet.

In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat until foaming. Add finely diced vegetables and cook, stirring, until barely tender, about 2 minutes. Add drained lentils along with just enough of their cooking liquid (about ¼ cup) to moisten slightly. Bring to a simmer, then cook until lentils are heated through and enough liquid has evaporated that the lentils are coated in a creamy glaze.

Add vinegar 1 teaspoon at a time until the lentils have a pleasantly bright flavor. (It should taste like a light contrasting tang but not strongly sour.)

Season with salt and pepper. Stir in parsley and serve warm.



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