Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) wants to have hearings on “cancel culture” (which presumably would not feature Republican Rep. Liz Cheney as a witness to the right’s reflexive condemnation of anyone with a conscience). Fox News spent all day on Tuesday — and it really was all day — bemoaning Dr. Seuss books taken out of circulation for racist imagery. (Disclosure: I am an MSNBC contributor.) The worst secretary of state in recent memory, Mike Pompeo, claims that calling him the worst secretary of state amounts to “canceling" him.
Here we have a display of the many reasons Republicans prefer to talk about amorphous memes than about policy or legislation. As with all things relating to Jordan and his MAGA-crazed colleagues, hearings on grievances play three roles.
First, they feed the insatiable need for anger and resentment to fuel the base. Republicans need to fill their supporters with irrational, unchecked fury so as to remain the MAGA cult’s warriors in a forever war against the “left.” There will always be another Dr. Seuss story to fixate on; hence, the fodder for the base never runs out. Moreover, by convincing the base that politics is a cultural floor show, they deflect responsibility for their own inept governance.
Second, Dr. Seuss fulmination sure beats talking about policy issues for which Republicans have no answer or unpopular proposals (e.g., continue to freeze the minimum wage, reject $1,400 stimulus checks). There is nothing to be done about cultural phenomena; hence simply hollering about them serves to establish their political bona fides.
Finally, Republicans take shelter in these empty memes with particular intensity when their own conduct and that of their white-supremacist allies are front and center (as was the case on Tuesday when FBI Director Christopher Wray testified about the role “racially motivated extremists” played in the Jan. 6 violent insurrection).
There is another critical use for vague references to undefined cultural phenomena: Pompeo and other disgraced Republicans, such as fist-pumping Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), cannot defend their own track records. Criticism of them becomes the evil “cancel culture.” Publishers, social media companies and media outlets exercising their First Amendment rights not to host them are demonized as “censors.” The transformation of wrongdoers into victims is symptomatic of today’s Republican Party.
The fixation with irrelevant and imagined cultural slights fits with Republican politicians’ conception of their roles. They are performers for right-wing media, not legislators or problem-solvers. Their outrage-of-the-day focus fits that mind-set and indeed gets them play time on right-wing outlets. Those outlets in turn incentivize Republicans to generate more content for the media. There is a bargain of sorts: Right-wing media won’t cover bad news for Republicans; Republicans come on their shows to keep the outrage and the ratings high.
Republicans would have little to talk about if not for these concocted non-issues, given that they have lost the White House and Senate and no longer claim support for obstructionism (even among Republicans). The latest Morning Consult-Politico poll confirms that on the Democrats’ rescue plan, “strong bipartisan support for the measure is holding against an uptick in Republican attacks on its size, scope and price tag.” Despite Republicans’ hysterical objections, “77 percent of all voters and 59 percent of Republicans said they supported the measure which provides direct payments to some Americans, extends enhanced unemployment benefits through July and provides funding for state and local governments as well as K-12 schools and universities.” No wonder they resort to Dr. Seuss.
Democrats would be wise to let Republicans whip themselves into a lather. Democrats are pursuing policies that are overwhelmingly popular and promise to resolve the problems foremost in the minds of voters — the pandemic and the recession. (As to the latter, JPMorgan Chase executive Jamie Dimon declared on Wednesday that “the stimulus will lead, in my view, to a very, very strong economy late this year and into next year. And maybe even into 2023.”) When we return to the election cycle, Democrats likely will be all too happy to run on their records while Republicans are still screeching about Dr. Seuss.
Alyssa Rosenberg: The Great Dr. Seuss Hysteria of 2021 shows how silly and unimaginative adults can be