There’s a difference between shock and surprise. People say, write and tweet shocking material all the time. Their actions, too, can be shocking, often intentionally so. Rarely is any of it surprising.
When you see a politician step to the microphone or when you start reading a political piece written by a name you recognize, it’s no different from when the overserved know-it-all at the end of the bar, or at the dinner table, starts pontificating about current events. You know the gist of what’s coming with a remarkably high degree of certainty.
Talking points. Party line. As surprising as sunrise.
It’s so much better when we don’t know what we’re going to get. When a Republican or Democrat says or does something against the grain, at odds with what the party is saying or doing. Not to curry favor. Not to stay on message. But because it’s something they believe in.
Former President George W. Bush made news by breaking with the majority of current Republicans in Washington and calling out the Jan. 6 Capitol riot for what it was, daring to criticize now-former President Donald Trump.
“I was sick to my stomach,” Bush told the CEO of the Texas Tribune in an interview recorded last month, “... to see our nation’s Capitol being stormed by hostile forces.” He went on to say he is still disturbed and that what happened that day “undermines rule of law and the ability to express yourself in peaceful ways in the public square.” He also answered “no” when asked directly if the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.
(Bush has been consistent. The day of the attacks he put out a statement that read, in part, he had been “appalled by the reckless behavior of some political leaders since the election.” None of it will ever top what Bush reportedly said after Trump’s inauguration speech in 2017 — “That was some weird s---” — but it’s pretty good, nonetheless.)
Contrast what Bush said about the insurrection with what Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson said on a nationally syndicated radio show: “I knew those were people who love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law, so I wasn’t concerned.”
People chanting that the vice president should be hanged “love this country”? People not listening to and in some cases assaulting police “respect law enforcement”? People breaking and entering, some armed with weapons, “would never do anything to break the law”?
Johnson’s words have no basis in reality. Yet they are in some ways less surprising than Bush’s. Of course, Bush is retired and doesn’t need to worry about his “base.”
Trump remains the most popular figure nationally with Republicans and scares the bejesus out of anyone planning to run for office as an (R) in the near future because of the perceived need of his endorsement to win.
Democrats, of course, don’t worry a whit about criticizing Trump, but they need to toe the party line, too, lest they be seen as too moderate to have a (D) next to their name.
Those on that side of the aisle are most frustrated, exasperated even, by Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from a state (West Virginia) that twice voted overwhelmingly for Trump.
Manchin is perhaps the most powerful person in Washington, able to bend legislation to his will lest the Dems lose their razor-thin hold on Senate votes. He nearly derailed the most recent COVID relief bill and was more or less responsible for eliminating the minimum wage requirement, for capping the eligibility on stimulus checks some 20% lower than his partymates had wanted and for forcing a minor compromise on unemployment insurance.
He also has angered Democrats in confirmation hearings and by not supporting the elimination of the filibuster. According to fivethirtyeight.com, he voted in line with Trump’s position more often than not. He has feuded with AOC on Twitter.
Manchin is a current elected official, of course, so maybe everything he does is politically motivated, part of a calculus designed to curry favor with voters. But his detractors don’t seem to think West Virginians benefited from his COVID relief bill negotiations. And he is, after all, 73 years old and in the midst of a term that runs through 2024.
Maybe then, just maybe, he is guided by principles and says and does what he thinks is right, not worrying about the consequences?
In today’s political climate? Now that would be surprising.
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Bob Blubaugh is the editor of the Carroll County Times. His column appears Sundays. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.