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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Whither the 1/6 Commission?
      •  Liz Cheney Is Still a Staunchly Partisan Republican
      •  DeSantis and Co. Lash Out at Social Media Platforms
      •  The Performance of "Infrastructure" Will Soon Close
      •  Today's 2022 Candidacy News
      •  Don't Know Much about History, Part I: Rick Santorum

Whither the 1/6 Commission?

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) seems to be rather better at his job than House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). After all, it took McCarthy many weeks to decide whether or not he supported a 1/6 commission, and once he finally did decide he was opposed—and he put his foot down with his conference—he nonetheless had 35 defections. Given that is nearly triple the number of defections there were on impeachment, it's a very high number. By contrast, McConnell decided very quickly where he stood on the 1/6 commission, and once he put his foot down, his conference largely fell into line.

Or, so it seems, at least. Certainly, there are considerably fewer Republican senators speaking openly about their support for a 1/6 commission this week than there were last week. That said, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) announced yesterday that he was willing to vote in favor of the bill. The Washington Post has been counting Republican votes, and currently has it with four GOP Senators expressing various levels of support (Romney, plus Susan Collins of Maine, Mike Crapo of Idaho, and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana), 11 saying they are still thinking about it, 25 who have already given the thumbs down, and 10 who refuse to reveal their position. There are some of the "still thinking" senators (like Tommy Tuberville of Alabama) and some of the "refuse to reveal" senators (like Ted Cruz of Texas) who seem very unlikely to ever become "yes" votes. Still, it's not impossible that the 10 Republicans needed to invoke cloture eventually get on board with the bill.

One thing that might drag some Republican senators into the "yes" column is public pressure in favor of the bill. However, polling has been scant, and for those polls that have been conducted, it's hard to know what they actually reveal. For example, the preliminary numbers from the latest Harvard CAPS/Harris tracking poll were released yesterday, and say that 52% of Americans support the creation of a 1/6 commission while 48% think that the FBI's investigation is sufficient. The problem is that the 48% is made up of at least three different groups of people: (1) those who believe that an FBI investigation really is enough; (2) those who accept that there is going to be some sort of investigation, but would prefer as little investigating as possible; and (3) those who would like no investigation at all, but who were not given that as an option by the pollster.

Further, it's hard to believe that most respondents to that poll—or any other poll—fully grasp the issues in play here, and are in a position to meaningfully evaluate whether or not a 1/6 commission is apropos. After all, the difference between an FBI investigation, and an investigation by a standing House or Senate committee, and an investigation by a select House/Senate commission, and an investigation by a joint House-Senate commission, is kind of inside baseball. Luckily, inside baseball is the game we play on this site. So, here are the main arguments for a joint House-Senate commission of the sort that would be created by the current bill:

  • Credibility: Assuming the goal is to identify and solve problems, as opposed to engaging in partisan score-settling, then a joint, bipartisan commission picked by leaders from both parties will carry more weight than any other option available to Congress.

  • Expertise: Getting to the bottom of what happened on 1/6 will require many different types of insight and expertise, including understandings of national security, law enforcement, election management, constitutional law, the inner workings of Congress, etc. A standing House/Senate committee is likely to have expertise in some of these areas, but not all. The same is true for FBI investigators. Only a carefully chosen commission can plausibly cover all the bases.

  • Accountability: Some of the mistakes made on (or before) 1/6 were made by members of Congress, or by folks (like the Sergeants-at-Arms) who work for Congress. Only a committee appointed by leaders from both houses of Congress, and voted into existence by both houses of Congress, can plausibly hold Congress accountable for whatever mistakes were made.

  • Time: Sitting members of Congress, like the folks who make up standing committees, are busy people that can only hope to devote part time to something like this. A selected group of distinguished experts who are no longer in office will have more time.
  • Donald Trump: At the moment, none of the investigations that are already underway is focused on Trump's role in the insurrection. The FBI is identifying and prosecuting specific insurrectionists; going after a former U.S. president is somewhat beyond their reach. The congressional committees that are looking at the insurrection are also narrowly focused and are also unable or unwilling to go after Trump. Congress, as a whole, has a mandate to serve as a check on the presidency, and so only a committee drawn from and approved by the whole Congress can plausibly hold Trump to account, should that be called for.

  • Democracy: Also on the Trump front, he hasn't conceded the election yet, and he continues to push the false narrative that the election was stolen from him. A bipartisan investigation that specifically takes him to task for fomenting insurrection could be Congress' last, best, and only chance to crush "stop the steal."

This is not to say that establishing a 1/6 commission is a slam dunk; there are certainly valid arguments against it. The enabling legislation gives the commission too little time to do its work properly (it would be required to submit a report by December of this year). Further, if the Republicans appointed to the commission act in bad faith, then the whole thing may do more harm than good. One can imagine a Newt Gingrich or a Rick Santorum (more on him below) snagging a seat courtesy of McCarthy, and then using the investigation as a platform for grandstanding and for issuing their own "reports" about what really happened. Finally, there's no guarantee that a definitive report from the committee will actually be accepted as definitive by most or all of the general public. The 9/11 Commission was generally successful, for example. On the other hand, the Warren Commission concluded unambiguously that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing John F. Kennedy, and we all know what the conspiracy theorists did with that one. (Z)

Liz Cheney Is Still a Staunchly Partisan Republican

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) is, at the moment, the unquestioned face of the segment of the Republican Party that does not believe the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump. There are two primary reasons she might have chosen this role. The first is personal integrity and commitment to the core tenets of democracy. The second is personal advancement and laying claim to the anti-Trump lane in anticipation of future elections (presidential or otherwise).

Recently, Cheney sat for an interview with Axios reporter Jonathan Swan that was aired Sunday on HBO. Swan asked a series of probing questions about recent Republican vote-restriction efforts, and Cheney pointedly refused to denounce them, or even to offer the slightest bit of criticism. "Everybody should want a situation and a system where people who ought to be able to vote and have the right to vote should vote and people who don't shouldn't," she decreed, while also adding that "I will never understand the resistance, for example, to voter ID." She also explained that: "There's a big difference between that and a president of the United States who loses an election after he tried to steal the election and refuses to concede."

Actually, there isn't much difference, at least not any more. The "pressing need" for more restrictive voting laws is the Only-Slightly-Smaller Lie that complements, and derives efficacy from, the Big Lie. That Cheney declines to see a connection between the two—indeed, that she argues with a straight face that the two aren't even in the same ballpark—is instructive, we would say, when it comes to understanding her real motivation in coming out against Donald Trump. There are many Republicans (albeit not many officeholders) who are deeply concerned about the health of the American democracy right now, and who think the country is on the verge of an existential crisis. Cheney, for her part, does not appear to be one of them. (Z)

DeSantis and Co. Lash Out at Social Media Platforms

Speaking of Republicans who seem to regard the Constitution as an inconvenience to be brushed aside at any opportunity, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and his band of merry men (and women) in the Florida legislature were back at it on Monday. Their latest masterpiece, which the Governor has already signed into law, seeks to regulate social media companies, specifically those companies' ability to ban certain users.

The main provisions of the law are as follows:

  • Removal of posts from large news outlets would be forbidden.

  • Banning any candidate for any office being voted on by Floridians would be forbidden.

  • Fines for violations of either of the two previous rules would range from $25,000 to $250,000 per day.

  • Private citizens would be allowed to sue social media outlets that are "inconsistently" applying their content moderation rules.

  • Companies are exempt from the law if they own a theme park or another type of entertainment venue bigger than 25 acres.

The purposes of these rules are painfully obvious. The first would obviously afford OAN, Newsmax, Fox, etc. open season, compelling social media sites to provide a platform for any falsehoods those outlets choose to peddle. The second would force Twitter, Facebook, etc. to re-institute Donald Trump's accounts the moment he declares a 2024 presidential bid. And if you're confused about the last provision, keep in mind that Florida is home to Disney World and Universal Studios, whose parent companies just so happen to donate generously to state-level Florida politicians.

This law is laughably bad on a dizzying number of levels. To start with, it runs entirely contrary to the First Amendment. Specifically, there is a vast body of Supreme Court jurisprudence on the matter of compelled speech. Just as the government cannot censor free expression on the part of private citizens/entities (this is "protected speech") it also cannot compel private citizens/entities to express or repeat thoughts with which they disagree (this is "compelled speech"). Similarly, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act 1996, makes speech posted (or not posted) on social media platforms non-actionable from a legal perspective. "This is so obviously unconstitutional, you wouldn't even put it on an exam," remarked University of Miami law professor A. Michael Froomkin. Corbin Barthold, a lawyer who works for the tech policy think tank TechFreedom, described the law as a "First Amendment train wreck."

When asked about these issues, a spokesperson for DeSantis said that the Governor is confident that the law will survive any legal challenges. If so, then he must have slept through his Con Law classes while attending Harvard Law. But even if the law makes it past a judge, how exactly do the Floridians expect to enforce the law? Their courts would be absolutely overrun by cranky right-wingers (and left-wingers) who are angry that Facebook deleted this post, or that Twitter got rid of that tweet, or that Quora rejected this question, or that Tumblr deleted that photo. Meanwhile, do DeSantis & Co. really think that they can compel a multi-billion-dollar corporation like Facebook, which is chartered in California, to bow to the judgments of Florida courts? And what about the obvious loophole? Here is a 35-acre parcel in Wyoming available for the low, low price of $17,900. Facebook could purchase that, put up a sign that says "Facebook Fun Land," and then they'd be exempt. That's actually probably cheaper than hiring an army of attorneys to challenge the law.

If you want to bend over backwards to give DeSantis some credit here, then maybe you could squint just right and decide this gives Florida a puncher's chance at getting before a federal judge, and maybe getting Section 230 struck down or rolled back. But that's a Hail Mary at best, and is probably more like 10 Hail Marys in a row, given how shoddily the law is constructed. The truth of the matter is that this is just another performative action, wherein a bunch of politicians use the law-passing power they've been given to make a political statement. And it's on-brand for the GOP right now; see also Sen. Josh Hawley's (R-MO) new book The Tyranny of Big Tech. Incidentally, if you are interested in the Senator's ideas about how tech firms conspire to silence conservatives, you can buy the book from Amazon or Barnes and Noble, or you can read his numerous tweets about the book, or you can go to his YouTube Channel to watch interviews with him about the book, or you can just visit his Facebook page, where he has aggregated both videos and tweets. (Z)

The Performance of "Infrastructure" Will Soon Close

As we noted yesterday, folks in Washington are currently staging a kabuki production of "Infrastructure," with all the key players performing the roles that have been assigned to them. It's been held over for several months, dating back to roughly Jan. 20. However, the final curtain now appears to be imminent.

The Republicans, for their part, have made clear they will not budge off their current negotiating position, and that any changes to the 2017 tax cut are not tolerable. Progressive Democrats, for their part, are getting antsy and want to stop wasting time. Several folks, from both sides of the aisle, report that bipartisan discussions are "near collapse." Perhaps someone will pull something out of the fire, but don't bet on it. Congress is about to go on a brief Memorial Day recess. After that, it is expected that the Democrats will move forward, with or without Republican votes. At that point, we will reach the only part of the performance that is not already known to the members of the audience, namely what Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) will do in the third and final act. Should be riveting. (Z)

Today's 2022 Candidacy News

Election season begins earlier every cycle, it seems. And so, although the 2022 elections are still nearly 18 months away, we are right in the midst of prime season for candidates to make moves and counter-moves. Here are the main developments from the past few days:

  • U.S. Senate, Florida: Now that Rep. Val Demings (D-FL) has signaled her intention to challenge Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) has thought better of her plans to challenge Rubio. Maybe Murphy reached this decision on her own. Or maybe the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee waved a stick in her direction ("You're not getting any funding from us; it's all going to Val."). Or maybe they dangled a carrot ("If you step aside this year, we'll back you against Sen. Rick Scott, R-FL, in 2024."). Meanwhile, the other main threat to Demings, former Orlando-area prosecutor Aramis Ayala (D), has announced that she will instead run for the seat that Demings is vacating. The Representative might still face a challenge from former representative Alan Grayson (D), but her path to the nomination is basically clear now.

  • U.S. Senate, Vermont: Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) didn't make it 100% official, but he did say on Monday that he is leaning toward running for a ninth term in the upper chamber. If he wins and serves at least four years, he would break Robert Byrd's record for longest tenure in the Senate. Because Leahy has been serving since Vermont was a red state, and because the other seat was claimed by independent Sen. Bernie Sanders once The Green Mountain State started trending blue, Leahy is actually the only Democrat that Vermont voters have ever elected to the Senate.

  • U.S. House, Arizona: Arizona state Rep. Daniel Hernandez (D) announced this weekend that he's running in AZ-02, the seat held by his former boss Gabby Giffords, whose life he helped save when she was the victim of a mass shooting. The district is D+2, and is currently represented by Ann Kirkpatrick (D), who is retiring. It's looking like the Democratic primary field will be crowded; Hernandez will be relying on his connection to the still-popular Giffords (not to mention her husband, Sen. Mark Kelly, D-AZ), as well as the district's sizable Latino population (27.2%).

  • Governor, Texas: Beto O'Rourke said on Monday that he is thinking about challenging Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) next year. Abbott has developed some serious liabilities in the last year, between his handling of the pandemic and this February's disastrous blackouts, so he could be vulnerable to the right Democrat. But is O'Rourke that guy? On one hand, he's a heck of a campaigner and he's very popular with Texas Democrats. On the other hand, he came up short as both a U.S. Senate and presidential candidate, and the strong anti-gun stance he adopted in an effort to save his presidential campaign is not going to play well if he mounts a gubernatorial campaign. You don't mess with Texas, and especially not with residents' guns.

  • Governor, New York: This isn't really a candidate announcement, or even a candidate hint, but a new poll from Siena College says that for next year's gubernatorial race, New York AG Letitia James (D) leads "generic Republican" by 17 points (46%-29%), while Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) leads "generic Republican" by 10 points (48%-38%). When James looks at this poll, the message will be: "I'm the favorite to be the next governor." And when Cuomo looks at the poll, the message will be: "I still have enough support to be reelected." We foresee a rough primary in The Empire State next year.

Some days have more candidacy news than others, especially Mondays. In any case, you should expect a number of additional items like this one in the next couple of months. (Z)

Don't Know Much about History, Part I: Rick Santorum

Your average American high school graduate, or college graduate, has some knowledge of biology, but is hardly ready to commence practice as an M.D. tomorrow. And they have some knowledge of mathematics, but they are hardly likely to be hired by NASA to calculate orbital trajectories. And they have some knowledge of literature, but they are hardly likely to be named dramaturge-in-residence at the Royal Shakespeare Company.

We point this out because while the "historical illiteracy" of Americans is often lamented, history is a really complicated subject with a lot of moving parts. Developing a proper understanding of the reasons America declared independence, or the causes of the Civil War, or the significance of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, or the tactics and strategy of the Civil Rights Movement is an intellectual feat on par with understanding inorganic chemistry, or differential calculus, or the function of the tragic hero in Shakespearean drama.

Consequently, the professional historian who does not accept that the general public's grasp of things is sometimes going to be a tad superficial, and maybe a tad clumsy, and perhaps incorrect in a few details is going to spend a lot of time being frustrated. If a non-professional grasps the big picture, and has some sense of the various cause-and-effect relationships between events, that is very good, and is far more important than knowing what year the First Bank of the U.S. was chartered (1791), or who won The Battle of Seven Pines (inconclusive), or what the Platt Amendment was (it dictated the terms of U.S. withdrawal from Cuba at the end of the Spanish-American War, and bonus points to anyone who recognizes the movie reference here).

In short, we—and specifically, the professional historian on staff—understand the challenges here, and what is and is not realistic when it comes to historical literacy. And with those 3½ paragraphs of qualifying verbiage, we can now say this: Even granting a certain amount of tolerance for being non-experts, Republican politicians' grasp of U.S. history is often really, really bad. Hilariously, eye-rollingly, "What on earth are they thinking?" bad. Do Democrats sometimes botch things? Yes, they do. But (Z) can promise you that every time a politician has said something that caused him to smack his forehead and to say "Oh, my God!", it has been a Republican.

Today, as a case in point, we give you former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, who is in the news right now because he also just became former CNN contributor Rick Santorum. Santorum has caused (Z) to smack his head and to say "Oh, my God!" more than once, including his latest, which is also what caused the former senator to be axed by CNN. Here's what he said:

You know, if you think of other countries like Italy and Greece and China and Turkey and places like that, they've all sort of changed over time. I mean, they've been there for millennia in many cases. And their culture has sort of evolved over time, but not us. We came here and created a blank slate. We birthed a nation from nothing. I mean, there was nothing here. I mean, yes, we have Native Americans, but candidly that—there isn't much Native American culture in American culture. It was born of the people who came here, pursuing religious liberty to practice their faith.

It is remarkable that Santorum managed to cram that much ignorance and that much chauvinism into such a brief statement. It is perhaps equally remarkable that, after he'd had time to think about (and perhaps even research) what he'd said, and he knew he was in hot water, he stuck with it. And it is also remarkable that once his CNN contract was terminated, he felt entitled to run to Sean Hannity and whine about being "canceled." Actually, maybe that last part isn't so remarkable.

In any case—and get ready for some behind the scenes stuff—we have a lot of content backed up because teaching sucks up a lot of time, and some content takes a while to prepare. When Santorum first issued forth with this foolishness, we actually got a question from P.M. in Albany: "How accurate is it to say that there isn't much Native American culture in American culture?" We put that, and a piece on Native American genocide, on the back burner for want of time. But the semester just ended, and the list of Republican crimes against history is building up. So, the genocide piece will be along fairly soon, as will a couple of other "Don't Know Much About History" items. Right now, however, and for your reading pleasure, we present you with a list of significant ways in which Native American culture influenced American culture:

  1. Place Names: Roughly half of U.S. states have names that are definitely, or possibly, of Native American origin. Among the definites are Arkansas, Connecticut, the Dakotas, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah and Wisconsin. Meanwhile, 11 (or maybe 13) of America's 50 largest cities have names that are of Native American origin. We pretty much just gave you #25 Oklahoma City and #38 Kansas City, but can you guess, say, four of the others? The list is at the end of this item.

  2. Language: There are hundreds of English-language words that are of native origin. Here are three dozen of them (language, or language family, of origin is in parentheses).

    Avocado (Nahuatl)
    Barbecue (Arawakan)
    Bayou (Choctaw)
    Buccaneer (Arawakan)
    Cannibal (Carib)
    Caribou (Algonquian)
    Cashew (Tupi-Guaraní)
    Caucus (Algonquian)
    Chili (Nahuatl)
    Chipmunk (Algonquian)
    Chocolate (Nahuatl)
    Cocaine (Quechua)
    Condor (Quechua)
    Cougar (Tupi-Guaraní)
    Coyote (Nahuatl)
    Guacamole (Nahuatl)
    Hammock (Arawakan)
    Hickory (Algonquian)
    Hooch (Tlingit)
    Hurricane (Arawakan)
    Iguana (Arawakan)
    Jerky (Quechua)
    Moose (Algonquian)
    Pecan (Algonquian)
    Piranha (Tupi-Guaraní)
    Poncho (Mapudungun)
    Quinoa (Quechua)
    Raccoon (Algonquian)
    Sequoia (Cherokee)
    Shack (Nahuatl)
    Skunk (Algonquian)
    Succotash (Narragansett)
    Tapioca (Tupi-Guaraní)
    Toboggan (Narragansett)
    Totem (Narragansett)
    Woodchuck (Powhatan)

    The Native peoples also developed one of the first forms of sign language.

  3. Food: Among the foodstuffs developed in the Americas are potatoes, corn, peanuts, pumpkins, tomatoes, cranberries, squash, numerous peppers, numerous nuts, and numerous melons. We are guessing that Mr. Santorum dines on at least a few of these things when he celebrates Thanksgiving, a holiday that...well, you know.

  4. Military Service: Native Americans volunteer for military service at a rate higher than that of any other ethnic group. The most famous service rendered by Native soldiers is that of the Navajo code talkers during World War II, although there were other code talkers from other tribes in both that war and others. Ira Hayes (Iwo Jima), Gregory "Pappy" Boyington (Marine Corps ace, Medal of Honor winner), and Ely Parker (staff of Ulysses S. Grant) were also Native Americans.

  5. Leisure: Canoeing, lacrosse, and tug-of-war are among the sporting endeavors created by Native Americans. There are also a number of prominent athletes of Native descent, including Jim Thorpe, Johnny Bench, Charles Bender (better known by a name that we won't reproduce here because it's a slur), Tiger Woods, and Kyrie Irving.

  6. Popular Culture: Humorist Will Rogers, actor Graham Greene (though not author Graham Greene), singer Tori Amos, author Sherman Alexie, actor Jason Momoa, rapper Litefoot, painter Gail Tremblay, musician Anthony Kiedis, author Vine Deloria, ballerina Maria Tallchief, rocker Jimi Hendrix, pundit and author Sarah Vowell, and poet Sherwin Bitsui are all of Native descent. (Country singer Johnny Cash claimed to be part-Native, but probably wasn't.)

  7. Environmentalism: The Native Americans were environmentalists before it was hip. And their approach to natural resources and to preserving the environment was a major influence on the environmental movement, particularly on folks like John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt.

  8. Government: Before the fellows who wrote the Constitution got together, they made a point of studying other governments for pointers. One of those that they studied, per Benjamin Franklin, was what they knew as the the Iroquoian League of Nations or Iroquoian Confederacy (though the aboriginal name, which is more widely used today, is Haudenosaunee).

In short: Shut up, Rick, and keep your historical "knowledge" to yourself. Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. Meanwhile, the Top 50 U.S. cities whose names are of Native American extraction are Chicago (3), Seattle (18), Milwaukee (31), Tucson (33), Omaha (40), Miami (42), Tulsa (47), Tampa (48), and Wichita (50). In addition, the "Minne" in Minneapolis (46) is of Native American origin, while the "apolis," of course, is Greek, so it maybe qualifies for the list. A similar, but slightly weaker, case can be made for Indianapolis (17), since "Indian" is a name for the Native peoples, but not one of Native American origin. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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