Friday, July 14, 2017


Slate's Ben Matthis-Lilley is puzzled by Ben Sasse:
Ben Sasse is not OK with Donald Trump’s tweets. On June 29, the president began yet another day by barfing out insults on Twitter, this time regarding MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski’s face. Sasse was one of the first Republicans to respond. “Please just stop,” wrote Nebraska’s 45-year-old junior senator. “This isn’t normal and it’s beneath the dignity of your office.”

Dignity is one of Ben Sasse’s things. He’s also into duty, thoughtfulness, empiricism, and respect for democratic traditions—and while most politicians would probably claim to support those ideals, Sasse sets himself apart by frequently challenging his party on their behalf. The Morning Joe incident was not nearly the first time Sasse has criticized Trump without rationalizing or minimizing his behavior the way so many in the GOP do; during the 2016 presidential campaign, Sasse refused to endorse the real estate heir even as almost all of his Republican peers in elected office folded.... Just this Sunday, Sasse called Trump’s claim to be working on a cybersecurity commission with Vladimir Putin “bizarre” and noted (correctly) that it “should obviously not happen.”

But at the same time, Sasse’s Senate votes have so far aligned with Trump’s wishes 95 percent of the time....
Gosh, I can't imagine why anyone would want to display such flagrant, obvious hypocrisy.

No, wait -- of course I can understand. Being a Republican who exhibits what liberal journalists regard as virtuous behavior is a surefire ticket to national fame, and it doesn't matter at all whether your voting record jibes with your pieties. Look at John McCain, who continues to be regarded as a principled "maverick" even though he signs off on virtually every agenda item of his party's leadership in Congress, as well as whatever GOP presidents want. Or look at Paul Ryan, who's praised as a serious-minded wonk even after it's repeatedly demonstrated that the numbers in his bills don't add up, and who's been allowed to palm himself off as a charity-minded Christian despite his flint-hearted Randianism.

Sasse knows he can go national with this act. He'll rarely be challenged on his voting record, and even when he is, as in Mathis-Lilley's piece, the criticism will be tempered because he's so darn virtuous. Even as Mathis-Lilley tells us that "so far, Sasse’s practical participation in our democracy—he was elected to the Senate in 2014—has mostly advanced the interests of an increasingly authoritarian, unreasonable Republican Party," he's praising Sasse as a moralist intellect:
He is a performatively deep thinker, an advocate of public decency who makes a case for good-faith discourse that is both eloquent and, in the FAKE NEWS!!!!!!1! era, timely. He states that case convincingly in his new book about raising hard-working and civic-minded children, The Vanishing American Adult....

He stands out by educating himself earnestly and speaking honestly about complicated matters of history and policy.
Most of the press won't even spot the contradiction -- Chuck Todd and his ilk assume that Republican positions are never beyond the pale, so Sasse's voting record is going to be fine with them. And the deep thinking ... it's so dreamy! This is a great market niche for Sasse to occupy. We will live to see him on a GOP presidential ticket, and a few liberal-media legs will tingle if he wins.

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