Wisconsin GOP Assemblyman Rob Brooks vs. GOP Talking Point About Personal Responsibility

Many readers of this little site on the internet highway (a term that now sounds old-fashioned and dated) will recall when the Republican Party continually lectured about personal responsibility (a talking point that now also sounds old-fashioned and dated). If we are silent for just a few seconds, we can almost hear President Reagan talk about how leaving people alone so as to rise with their own abilities was the path the nation needed to take.  America just needed to unleash the notion of personal responsibility.

The words and tone from Reagan came to mind as I read the news report about Wisconsin State Assemblyman Rob Brooks and the bar he owns in Saukville.

Police in Wisconsin say the fentanyl-laced drugs that killed one person and caused three more to overdose in a village north of Milwaukee were bought at a state lawmaker’s tavern that has been the subject of multiple calls to police in recent years.

Republican Rep. Rob Brooks has owned the Railroad Station in Saukville since 2007 and said he was aware of issues with drugs at the bar shortly after purchasing it but thought they had been addressed.

Brooks has not reached out to the family or responded to their calls and did not publicly comment on the recent death or answer questions about the bar until Thursday.

“It ticks me off. It seems like he doesn’t care, like he doesn’t care about the community,” Joe Hamilton said on Wednesday.

When asked about other incidents police have responded to at the Railroad Station, Brooks said, “We’re a bar, and there is alcohol served.”

I was taken aback by Brooks’ cavalier tone about the problems at the bar that he has owned and operated for 16 years.  The level of irresponsibility and unaccountability runs counter to the rhetoric that comes from his party about how there need to be fewer regulations and rules for businesses to follow.  Equally troubling are the GOP talking points on the one hand about why law and order must be maintained and respected when facts clearly demonstrate on the other hand there is an obvious problem with criminal activity taking place inside the bar. When police are overburdened with too many social ills which they need to contend with, it is concerning that they need to be called repeatedly to an establishment run by a state representative.

“We’re a bar, and there is alcohol served.”

Brook’s words really struck me as a cop-out (pardon the bad pun) as it totally undercuts the GOP push about personal responsibility. What he said was there can be no personal responsibility. How can he be held responsible, after all, there was alcohol being served?  That sounds like examples used by Reagan and his fellow pols when talking about why there was always a reason given by people for something bad happening.  Socio-economic reasons were responsible for inner city crime, or a lack of birth control was the reason for teenage pregnancies.  How can Brooks be responsible, after all, alcohol was being served?

Political rhetoric is cheap. What matters, of course, is the behavior of any politician both in terms of keeping campaign promises and living in accordance with the values the majority of one’s constituents believe are essential to have if holding office.

Shame Is Lacking In Our Politics

My dad’s nephew robbed a bank when a young man.  Had he been better as a criminal that first line might have been written in the plural. He took the loot and stashed it under his bed at home, which made him a fast catch by the authorities and more a family story than a lingering series of headlines for the public to read.  As a boy, I wanted to know more about the events and wished to talk about them at the annual family reunions.  My parents always firmly reminded me how far it would be to walk home if I started a conversation about that forbidden topic with the larger family.

In later years, his ‘youthful adventure’ as it came to be termed by the older family members at a small town bank, would rank up there in the family tree with the man who slept in a car in the driveway of his home while the spouse lived inside their home. People knew the stories, but the propriety of the reunions made people somewhat circumspect in their conversations.  When as an adult I had long chats with the man who robbed a bank, and there was nothing holding me back from getting insight into the day it happened, I was held back by that sense of decorum, that cloud of shame if you will, that still was hanging about overhead.

I thought of that now departed man when reading a story in the Wall Street Journal today where it was reported Donald Trump’s close associates are bracing for his indictment concerning his criminal behavior of handling classified materials. They “anticipate being able to fundraise off a prosecution.” It seems hard to fathom if one takes a step or two back and reflects from a longer lens view, that a former president who repeatedly denied a return to the federal government of classified documents, once caught and indicted, would seek to make money over the criminal charges.

What happened to the people in our nation—and I can use my larger family tree to ask the question—where talking about the how and whys of a bank robbery were off limits—but the acceptance of the behavior of the likes of Trump and George Santos are accepted and abided?  Some of the reasons have to do with how public relations experts package the awful behavior along with the fact there seems to be a growing segment of politicians who harbor no sense of shame.

Decades ago, former Wisconsin State Senator Robert Welch, when seeking a primary nomination to run for the U.S. Senate spoke at a ‘porky-pancake’ breakfast in Hancock, my hometown.  Dad was involved with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the ones flipping the pancakes, and so much of our family was in attendance.  Welch talked about how shame as an ingredient for how people operated, or the lack of it, needed to be again a more visible force in society.  I was not aligned in any way with his views or politics, but these many years later recall that small portion of his longer presentation. I think he had a point worthy of attention.

I tend to think on the issue of shame the current barometer of decency might be Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney. The line from his encounter with a reporter regarding Santos seated at the State of the Union Address this year points to the values we once had in this nation about shame. “He shouldn’t be there and if he had any shame at all, he wouldn’t be there.” It is a sentiment that does not get voiced often in the nation anymore. After the outrageous behavior by Trump since 2015 and what we now know is acceptable to a certain segment of the electorate we might even conclude shame is dead.

But we know shame is a useful tool as it prods people in the larger context to act in accordance with values. We know slavery was our nation’s original sin, and the tug and pull to own up to that stain has produced an ongoing series of policies that still provokes and arouses passions. Shaming the federal and state governments and institutions to act for a better outcome has proved to be effective. How might leaders in our nation now arouse a sense of shame to counter the growing absurd behavior from the likes of Trump, Santos, and the far extremes in our politics?

GOP Hostage Taking With Debt Limit In Washington Costs Diplomatic Efforts By President Biden On World Stage

Beijing’s artificial island bases in the South China Sea

I lamented online Tuesday the loss to international efforts to deal with a growing threat from China due to Republican hostage-taking moves over the debt limit increase. President Joe Biden said he would end his overseas trip early to fly back to tend to the manufactured crisis from Congressional Republicans who think they can defy the rules of acting like grownups on this matter.  Had he stayed with his itinerary meetings with India, Japan, and Australia would have been held and a strong united message would have emerged in regard to threats ranging from shipping lanes to China’s bellicose military maneuvers.

As we know, federal law requires Congress to authorize the government to borrow any money that is needed to pay for the programs that Congress has passed.  Congress has increased or suspended the debt limit 78 times since 1960. We also know that Republicans voted to raise the debt ceiling three times when Donald Trump was in the Oval Office. (As they should have.) Making it now a political football for the basest of reasons is a tactic the GOP has latched onto, and one that must be rejected if one is interested in the process of how government operates.  We do not accept hostage-taking as a means for anyone on the world stage to extract what they wish, and we must not entertain that concept for domestic purposes, either. Raising the debt limit is the only path forward, and anything less is both reckless and irresponsible. 

Not doing so has undermined our nation on the world stage.

As we are aware there has been a strong and consistent theme from the Biden Administration, one that has also been promoted and advocated by key foreign policy hands over the years, of countering China’s growing influence across the western Pacific.  One of the problems from Washington over the years has been not paying attention to the needs and concerns of many countries. Beijing did take notice of that troubling matter and set up a variety of programs and funding to insert themselves into international equations. It is the use of that soft power that has been of great concern in the West to foreign policy thinkers. Rather than have an American president step foot in the next few days, and for the first time on a Pacific Island country, Biden instead needs to head back to Washington to hold Speaker McCarthy’s hands. The world is watching and saying things this family-friendly blog will only infer.

Forget that in Papua New Guinea, the host nation for this meeting scrambled to mobilize 1,000 security officers and invited the leaders of 17 other countries but that was then upended due to conservative members of Congress not understanding what the debt limit is, or the significance of unifying national interests against Chinese desires at usurping supply lines and attempting to expand their territory with the creation of islands. People who deal with these growing issues and confront them in their countries daily wonder what must be wrong with the Republican caucus to not be able to see real-world geo-political threats and not grasp they are of more importance than the whims of raising campaign money from a letter to the base about thwarted efforts at stopping an increase to the debt limit. The theatrics of the debt limit from the GOP is generated to garner campaign cash.

The Republicans play partisan games through their demands about paying for America’s debt.  Meanwhile, the international community looks at this absurd attempt at blustering, undermining a president on a foreign trip, and the damage it does to the actual policy needs requiring Washington’s attention and wonders what has happened to the powerful nation they once knew.  Republicans use their dysfunctional nature to make our nation look unreliable and weak on the world stage.  That must be called out and shut down.

President Biden should invoke his constitutional authority under the 14th Amendment to raise the nation’s debt limit without having to pass legislation through Congress.  There can be no hostage-taking if the would-be-victim refuses to be tied down or forced to kneel. Meanwhile, as this partisan mess spins and spins in D.C. we know there is growing evidence, as reported by U.S. surveillance, that some of China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea are now “fully militarized”.

Clarence Thomas And Nikki Haley Try To Deceive With Numbers…Numbers That Do Not Lie

Sir Walter Scott may have arrived in 1808 at the best line for the conservative Republican Party in 2023.  He penned “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!”   After reading the newspapers this weekend it appears both Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Nikki Haley have taken to heart the old quote and striving mightily to implement it in their daily lives. Thomas has been in the news lately for his severe lack of ethics and principles as a judge, namely for acceptance of hugely expensive trips from Harlan Crow, a major Republican donor for more than two decades. His lack of honor echoes when acting lewdly with his behavior regarding Anita Hill decades ago.  Meanwhile, Haley created a headline-making story that underscores what happens when detail-oriented work is tossed aside to chase a delusional case of Potomac Fever.

“Over the last two decades, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has reported on required financial disclosure forms that his family received rental income totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars from a firm called Ginger, Ltd., Partnership,” the Washington Post reports.

“But that company — a Nebraska real estate firm launched in the 1980s by his wife and her relatives — has not existed since 2006.”

“That year, the family real estate company was shut down and a separate firm was created, state incorporation records show. The similarly named firm assumed control of the shuttered company’s land leasing business, according to property records.”

“Since that time, however, Thomas has continued to report income from the defunct company — between $50,000 and $100,000 annually in recent years — and there is no mention of the newer firm, Ginger Holdings, LLC, on the forms.”

As if that slick numbers game was not enough for news readers on this cloudy, rainy, soon-to-be snowy day came a news story that is most telling about the GOP efforts at saying anything as they will believe it.

This morning it was reported that “The former U.N. ambassador’s campaign said it had raised $11 million between her mid-February launch and the end of the quarter on March 31. It got that figure by saying Haley’s campaign had $5.1 million in receipts, along with $4.4 million for Team Stand for America, a joint fundraising committee, and $1.2 million for Stand for America PAC, a Haley-launched leadership PAC.

“But after Haley filed her first-quarter report to the Federal Election Commission late Saturday, an altogether different story has emerged. Her campaign’s math didn’t add up.

“What Haley’s campaign and two affiliated groups actually raised was about $8.3 million. The discrepancy between the Haley campaign’s public statements and the numbers on the filings appear to be a case of double-counting.”

Haley got to $11 million by counting $2.7 million twice — once when it was taken in by her joint fundraising committee and again when it was transferred to two of the other committees.

These two cases are just the latest in a long list of what can be proven to have created the erosion of credibility that faces the Republican Party. Where once the GOP could be a place of think tanks and policy wonks (Jack Kemp) it has become nothing more than an exercise of ruthless power, both in attempting to amass it and then keeping it. As such, we can say the GOP is not only morally-adrift but also lacking in values. It is not news to my readers that the acceptance of lower standards from conservative Republicans is on the rise as many need to shape and morph their own moral and ethical beliefs to reduce differences with Donald Trump since 2016. Just another of the damaging consequences of Trump, which in and of itself is a topic on Caffeinated Politics, as the undermining of our political culture matters in a democracy. The longer-term problem, however, regarding lack of virtue as evidenced by the actions of Thomas for literally decades, to the recent out-right attempt at deception for a political narrative by Haley are glaring examples of what has befallen the party that once viewed Ronald Reagan as a model for pols. Or the decency of George H. W. Bush. That has now all been relegated to history books.

Jack Teixeira Rooted in Christian Nationalism And White Supremacy

Jack Teixeira gets grouped with Bradley Manning (my second cousin) when it comes to the unacceptable act of releasing government documents. An online chat group site was where the Massachusetts Air National Guardsman placed highly classified material that very well might undermine war efforts in Ukraine regarding our efforts to thwart Russia. When I wrote about Wikileaks and before knowing Manning, (now Chelsea) was involved I stated, “it is imperative that candid assessments of political leaders and political movements in other countries not be open to the general public in this manner.”   When it comes to the national security of a far higher order in the midst of war there can be zero tolerance given to anyone who releases such documents.  Governments have secrets and should have the ability to secure those they deem important.  (One can make that clear statement about military documents and still rightly argue that government often uses classified markings to secure too many facts from the general public, but that is another topic.)

What we are learning of Teixeira, 21, is troubling and begs the question of how he ever received clearance for having access to highly classified military documents. It is reported he would sometimes show up to class at Dighton-Rehoboth High School wearing camouflage and carrying a “dictionary-size” book on guns and tanks.  The New York Post reported that students recalled that Teixeira displayed some alarming behavior in school, including making purportedly racist remarks, and once showing up to class in a T-shirt emblazoned with an image of an AR-15 a day after the deadly Las Vegas mass shooting in 2017.  

Leaking hundreds of sensitive documents about the war in Ukraine is astonishing in and of itself, but having access to such documents by one who, as the Washington Post reported, posted a video of himself wearing protective glasses and ear covers at a shooting range as he “yells a series of racial and antisemitic slurs into the camera, then fires several rounds at a target” is beyond the pale.

Jack Teixeira seems mired in a racist swamp where one can find many young white men, who then act dangerously. In his case he provided online group information and data about the war in Ukraine, the very type of documentation our government strived to keep away from the eager eyes in the Kremlin. That he is white and strongly associated with Christian nationalism and white supremacy (in his own words) fits a broader profile that is one which this blog often notes to be a problem in this nation. When we think of anti-Jewish rants the names of the Proud Boys or the Oath Keepers come to mind. The video of Teixeira in this regard is most telling.

Many have discussed how the racism and listing of grievances on right-wing media are aimed at the easily led demographics. A large segment of Fox News’ viewer base was lulled into Tea Party politics and then further down the hole with Donald Trump, autocratic actions, and even supporting the undermining of a presidential election.  So when we see the anger—and yes, releasing military secrets and documents is a very visible act of anger—the nation is looking at it with the knowledge that white males in America have lived on a rainbow, but still are angry.  The entire power and governing structure of the nation were designed, from the drafting of the Constitution, to accommodate white males. And yet they are angry.

Trying to figure out what spurred Jack Teixeira will doubtless take us to right-wing media, a source of vitriol where President Obama or Vice-President Kamala Harris are scorned, mocked, and far worse. While there is a long list of cultural issues or economic matters such as large banks and past bailouts and COVID funding and now of all things, (drag shows!) that stir the rage of these people, the heart of it is always about race.

After all, a white majority population in America is not the future.  The world is brown, and the trend lines have this country moving in the same direction.  And quickly.  There is nothing wrong with that.  Embracing what makes us diverse has always been the way to social progress, and it also allows for personal enrichment.  But it also allows for a certain segment to lash out and act in ways that society, or a democracy, cannot abide by.

The world of Jack Teixeira is about to be investigated nine ways to Sunday, as my folks might have termed it back home, and sadly, I suspect one of the legs of the stool will be racism that fed his hatred and then his treacherous actions.

White Tennessee GOP Racists To Bring House Session To Quick End

The politically tin-eared and overtly racist behavior of Tennessee Republicans backfired.  The conservative ones planning to run away from the statehouse surely buy their white sheets in bulk. When the white male Republicans rose to speak on the floor to oust two duly elected Black members they felt it was their right to act most offensively. It was almost as if those Republicans felt their actions were justified akin to how Margaret Mitchell wrote of the attitudes and behavior of that type who would do so much harm in the Jim Crow period when Reconstruction progress was undone due to racism.

As we know from how racist actions have played out over the years there is only one way this could end in Tennessee.  It had to severely backfire.  The first consequence was felt immediately as the nation learned the names and messages of the two elected members who otherwise would not have had national recognition. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson have a national platform that will resonate in the 2024 presidential election. The nation is diversifying demographically with younger voters from a broad array of nationalities playing key roles in elections, (as seen in Wisconsin this month) but the GOP is determined to continue using overt racism to play to the dwindling and aging white rural voters.

This week news was reported that due to the increasing heat from the public Tennessee House leadership Republicans are telling their members to pack for a long week when they come back Monday. They hope to adjourn by the following Friday or Saturday.   The session seems to be coming to a rather abrupt end. Hmmmm…. This action of the GOP would be funny if not for the dead children from gun violence in a Tennessee school recently that requires to be addressed.  What the change in session plans underscores, however, is that the racist, anti-children, but pro-NRA and pro-gun Republicans are running away from the statehouse.  Rather than deal with dead school children that needed to be scraped off the classroom floor from bullets that obliterated their bodies, Tennessee Republicans want to end the national scrutiny of their sordid racist actions.

What has happened in the statehouse over the past number of days in Tennessee is remarkable. But even more remarkable is the awareness from the public that is taking place about the character (or lack thereof) of the Republican Party in that state. What has been unleashed by the GOP will not end just because the session draws to a close. As a reader of history, one lesson that is repeated in many books on the shelves behind me as I type is the one now heard by more and more citizens nationwide. Fascism fails when people pay attention.

Republicans Relenting on Medicaid Expansion, People Will Benefit

After years of calling mail-in voting a fraudulent means of casting a ballot and attempting to undermine the integrity of a growing segment of the nation who cast ballots in such a manner, Republicans are now reversing course to embrace that method of concluding elections. It takes time for some politicians to stop leaning on heavy rhetoric that runs counter to the factual foundation of an issue. The same can be said now about the expansion of Medicaid and how Republicans see the merits of a program many castigated for years.

The idea of expanding Medicaid has been, unfortunately, a needless political lightning rod.  The plan was a central component of the Affordable Care Act, which was termed ‘Obamacare’ so as to be used as a partisan wedge issue with the GOP base.  The program’s goal was to increase access to federal health insurance coverage for low-income residents, in exchange for a 10% state match of the federal spending. Now that there is a very obvious need for more of the rural poor to be covered in many states, and with continuous efforts to secure votes for the next election cycle, some conservatives are having a change of heart about their opposition to the expansion.

People who watch politics in North Carolina say that Phil Berger, a Republican who calls himself a fiscal conservative and a “social traditionalist,” is the most powerful man in the state. For years, as the top Republican in the State Senate, he blocked North Carolina from expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

But in a sunny outdoor ceremony at the governor’s mansion late last month, with the dogwoods blooming in a sign of spring, Mr. Berger looked on with pride as Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, signed Medicaid expansion into law. State officials estimate that the expansion will cover more than 600,000 North Carolinians.

Ten states remain where Republicans have refused to expand Medicaid, most of them in the South, leaving an estimated 1.9 million uninsured adults in the so-called coverage gap. Too poor to qualify for subsidized private insurance through the Affordable Care Act but ineligible for traditional Medicaid, they are forced to get by with patchwork charity care or skip care altogether. They are disproportionately people of color.

Nationally, the coverage gap is expected to grow in the coming months because of the end of a pandemic-era policy that provided states with additional funding in exchange for guaranteeing that recipients of Medicaid would not lose their coverage.

Since 2017, voters in seven states — most recently South Dakota — have approved ballot measures to expand Medicaid, despite longstanding Republican objections. Now the question is whether North Carolina will be a turning point.

Two factors are at work nationally concerning this matter.  First, and most obvious, is that Medicaid expansion continues to be broadly popular. So much so that even Republicans who have scorned, mocked, and ridiculed the idea are now moving to embrace it. The second reason is that many people read in newspapers or hear on the radio that small rural hospitals across the country are closing.  This exacerbates the healthcare crisis in many communities.  Generating more revenue from additional Medicaid recipients is one step towards addressing the needs of these hospitals.

From a policy and ethical point of view let us be honest.  Denying the health care needs of people living below 138% of the poverty line (or nearly $19,000 annually for one person) is far more costly to society than fixing the glaring problem. If one just factors in the positive results of preventative health care and a lessening of the need for costly emergency room visits the rationale for Medicaid expansion becomes a no-brainer.

The learning curve on this matter was never the issue for Republicans. Instead, it was one of when the political utility of the issue with their base no longer proved to be beneficial. Sad, but true.

Scott Walker Just Sounds Petulant

When people leave elected office, either willingly such as when Tommy Thompson stepped down as governor to serve as a cabinet secretary in Washington, or when they depart office such as with Tony Earl upon losing his bid for a second term, there is a certain tone and even grace about what follows in life.  On the national stage, perhaps the best ‘recent’ example is how President George Bush took up paint brushes and found contentment outside of the limelight.

Not everyone who is ushered out of the doors of power, however, has the same poise and ability to move on in life without looking peeved, even years after the door has closed.  While former governor Scott Walker rarely comes to mind or can be found as a reason for a news story in the papers, he has achieved a fair amount of media recognition since the outcome of Wisconsin’s Spring Election was noted across the nation.  The state’s Supreme Court shifted to liberals, and as a result, Walker tried to spin the defeat suffered by conservatives away from their seriously flawed candidate Dan Kelly and instead placed the blame on young voters.

“Younger voters are the issue,” Walker said. “It comes from years of radical indoctrination — on campus, in school, with social media, & throughout culture,” he wrote in a tweet, alongside a clip from a Fox News interview in which he elaborated on this theory. “We have to counter it or conservatives will never win battleground states again.”

Walker did not mention that it is usually more problematic for Republicans to win in state races that are not gerrymandered by his party.  But it is not his comments that I want to focus on, but rather his tone.  He once again comes across as brittle and not adjusted to his life as someone without an elected title.  He seems not to be comfortable in the role that the voters selected for him. 

There is a lack of dignity when Walker, a former elected official who courted voters, now challenges younger voters for undertaking their civic responsibility. There is a lack of reasoning when trotting out the well-worn trope about higher education being to blame for expanding the horizons of college students. Two students, one from Boston and the other from Arizona spent the final weeks housed with a neighbor on the Madison isthmus. They worked across the state on college campuses informing students about the importance of the court race, and making sure students were registered to cast a ballot for Janet Protasiewicz, who won by 11% when they were counted. Who would now argue against the maturity shown by those energized to wade into statewide campaigns or the young adults who took their role as citizens seriously as they cast a ballot?

I understand Walker needs a paycheck and his work as president of Young America’s Foundation keeps the light bill paid. But it does not make him look good, given what it seems he is required to do and say in that role.  I find myself pointed concerning this matter because I think at the end of the day Walker is a decent person.  I have had many serious disagreements about his policies and his politics, but I have never strayed from my bottom line which I wrote on this blog in 2010 as the final days were passing in the race for governor between Democratic candidate Tom Barret and himself.

As we wind this long and far-too-often nasty campaign down to the final days I am reminded we could have done far worse than the final two contenders for governor.  We can, and will, argue the politics of the race.  But in terms of electing a nice person, I suspect we will win either way.

I hope Wisconsin has a chance to see that nice guy again, as opposed to what was offered this past week.