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Westneat: Nothing too low for politics

Point of maximal partisanship reached; anything now goes

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Published: May 19, 2019, 6:01am

It’s pretty remarkable, or one would think it ought to be, that we currently have one elected official in this state who is a registered foreign agent for an authoritarian regime. And another who appears to be plotting with extremists for a homegrown, biblical civil war.

But what’s most remarkable? That there’s apparently nothing remarkable about this.

Because nothing is going to happen to either of them. There probably won’t be any political price to pay within their own party, the Republicans. But more importantly, I bet there won’t be among the voters, either.

We are reaching the point of maximal partisanship. In which seemingly anything, no matter how unethical or flat-out bonkers, goes.

The first case is that of Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, who last month registered as a $500,000-per-year foreign agent to the Kingdom of Cambodia. Sure, you may say, a guy’s got to eat. But this is the same Cambodian regime that a lead Republican on the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee just labeled “a brutal dictatorship,” as well as “a sham” when it comes to democracy.

The other case is that of self-proclaimed patriot and last-days enthusiast Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, who continues to ready himself for that heavenly moment when God will ask him to take up muskets and swords against anybody who isn’t a certain slice of Christian.

You may think I’m exaggerating. But last year he wrote and distributed a four-pager called “Biblical Basis for War,” a plan for holy crusade that envisions making everyone “surrender on terms of justice and righteousness.” It included some standard conservative goals like no same-sex marriage or communism, but also said that everyone “must obey biblical law.”

“If they do not yield — kill all males,” Shea added.

Yikes. These ravings did cost him a position in the House GOP leadership. But voters in his district rewarded him with a landslide re-election win last November. Just as they did after he pulled an illegal gun on a driver in a road-rage incident in 2012. And just as they probably will do again, even with the news this past month that he joined an extremist chat group calling for violent attacks and surveillance against left-wing protesters.

Partisan tribalism

Wondered the liberal activist group Fuse Washington: “After these outrageous stories about Matt Shea and Doug Ericksen in just the last two weeks, what does someone need to do to get kicked out of the Republican caucus in Olympia?”

I don’t know, maybe shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue? But as the president has mused, that probably would draw yawns these days as well.

This isn’t solely a one-party phenomenon. Remember Virginia? There the governor, the lieutenant governor and the attorney general, all Democrats, were mired in scandals for wearing blackface or allegedly sexually harassing multiple women. Yet to date nothing has happened to any of them.

At the core, it seems to me, is partisan tribalism. Not just among elected officials, where it’s to be expected. But among the voters.

Increasingly, little seems to matter to us but what team you’re on.

Recently the Pew Center found in its polling that a majority of voters now say it’s more important that politicians “stick to their principles,” no matter what, than compromise with the other side. It represents “a substantial shift,” Pew said. Polling has shown that this rigidity has long been a trait of Republican voters, but it’s increasingly becoming one for Democrats, too.

It makes a warped sort of sense. The more crazies there are in either party, the less trust there is for compromise, which fosters more partisanship, which leads to more crazies getting elected. It also leads to them being protected — even, it seems, if they grift onto the payroll of dictators, or fantasize about a holy war.

You know who loves politics to be like this?

“Leadership is not the ability to compromise. It’s the ability not to.”

Matt Shea likes to say that in his fiery anti-government speeches, according to the Inlander newspaper of Spokane.

So that’s what’s truly remarkable — alarming, even: What this guy is saying may have somehow become the majority view.

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