Category Archive 'Conservative Movement'

24 Oct 2016

More Mouse Droppings

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Parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus. — Horace.

Publius Decius Mus” (Mousey as far as I’m concerned) is back.

Jonah Goldberg, in the course of discussing the disconnection from reality of Trumpkins’ narratives, took the time to casually boot Mousey around the block.

Consider the anonymous writer Decius (whose identity is known to anyone who cares to know it and hidden from the masses of people who couldn’t give a rat’s ass. But I will honor this ridiculous conceit.) Decius’s most famous piece of work — and it was a piece of work — was his Flight 93 Election essay in which he argued that this election poses an existential threat to America’s survival. Either we charge the cockpit and vote for Trump, or the figurative terrorists of the Clinton cabal kill us all. Either you muster the courage to fight the terrorists, or you’re with the terrorists. Moreover, if you don’t agree with his Manichean prescription, it’s probably because you’re acting to protect your status as a member of the “Davos class” or some other phylum of pocket-lining, rent-seeking remoras. I think that argument is grotesque on the merits, and unworthy of the author.

As I explained in a previous G-File, it’s also remarkably cowardly. He invokes the heroism of the passengers of Flight 93. Decius’s pseudonym harkens back to a Roman martyr who bravely gave his life to save the Republic. And yet, he’s unwilling to risk putting his own name on the literary bombs he throws for fear of losing his own Davos-class-worthy lifestyle.

In a more recent essay, Decius attacks my AEI colleague James Pethokoukis for writing a piece titled “A Conservative Case against Trump’s Apocalyptic View of America.” It’s worth noting that Decius had to misrepresent Pethokoukis argument from the outset. The title of Pethokoukis’s piece begins “A Conservative Case” — meaning that it is one argument among many other possible arguments. Decius changes it into the conservative case, suggesting that James is trying to assert that his is the only way conservatives should see the issues. That’s not Pethokoukis’s style, but it is the style of the man who says if you disagree with him about Trump, you’re a sell-out in favor of destroying America. Pethokoukis’s sin, according to Decius, is to even suggest that apocalyptic despair about America might be an overreaction to the current plight of our country. He goes on to write, with no sense of irony:

    I don’t know James Pethokoukis. But I know lots of “conservatives” just like him: eager, even giddy, to throw anyone ostensibly on their side to the Leftist wolves.

    I’m tired of being shot in the back my “friends.” It’s high time to turn around and let them shoot me in the face, in frank acknowledgement that I am their enemy.

I don’t think Decius is my enemy. But he clearly thinks anyone not in lockstep with his worldview is his. Still, I do have one suggestion. If you want your supposed enemies to shoot you in the face, stop hiding behind a pseudonym.

I dwell on Decius here not just because I am appalled by the way he’s been writing in bad faith, but also because it illustrates my larger point. As an actual argument, Decius makes some fine points about the current state of America — many of which I agree with in whole or in part. But in its totality it isn’t really an argument at all. It’s a cri de coeur, a venting of feelings. The passion, no doubt sincerely felt, has taken reason hostage. The correct response to so much of this venting isn’t to rebut his points case by case, but to simply say, “Lighten up, Francis.”

Mousey didn’t like it and has penned another of his hyper-pretentious, long-winded essays in reply. I find trying to dissect substantive arguments out of his writings is much like trying to pick up mercury from a tabletop with a pair of chopsticks. There is all that verbiage and all that self-congratulatory triumphant posing, but underneath it there is nothing but the same Alt-Right party-line delusional worldview:

This election is apocalyptic. Conservatives owe Trump support, because this is the Apocalypse, man, and you’re on the Alt-Right Trump side or you’re for Hillary.

The Alt-Right has History’s endorsement in its pocket, because, you see, Conservatism is a) simply a part of a diabolical elite, Davos-based, conspiracy to rule the country for its own benefit, and because b) Conservatism (despite its joint tenure with Progressivism in running things and the accruing benefit of drinking all that Haut Brion around the fire in Davos) has done nothing but lose.

And, finally, when this election is over, and he doesn’t say it, but he means “after Trump loses,” conservatives better fall in line with Trump’s issues, i.e. Nativism, Protectionism, Isolationism, or there will be a split.

Well, Mousey, I’d reply, there already is a split. You and your friends went whoring off supporting an unqualified, unconservative, populist mountebank without a shred of principles, rejecting every qualified, conservative, and electable candidate in the process. If the GOP had nominated any legitimate, respectable conservative, he’d be coming up on beating Hillary in a landslide. You and Trump lost this election. Not Jonah Goldberg, James Pethokoukis, or me.

The Conservative Movement rose after WWII, in defiance of fashion, the received view of history, and the status quo, to dominate the Republican Party; to elect Ronald Reagan president; to defeat the Soviet Union, liberate Central Europe, and win the Cold War; and to establish a sufficiently powerful intellectual opposition to Collectivist Statism that in the 1990s the Left’s candidates in Britain and America both acknowledged openly that “the era of Big Government is over.”

So what has Conservatism done for you lately? says the Alt-Right.

Political reality and political possibility, alas! move slowly and at a ponderous pace, sometimes moved in one direction or the other by Fortune, beyond the immediate control of any collection or alliance of us mortals.

George W. Bush screwed up and allowed the Left to turn public opinion against his military efforts, then Fate handed the Progressive Left both an economic crash weeks before the election and a well-spoken radical candidate with extraordinary symbolic appeal. Meanwhile the Left’s long march through the Culture and the Institutions went on, arriving recently at points frequently downright comedic.

I and the other conservatives I know generally thought that GWB really ought to have done a better job, but he actually was not consulting on a daily basis with most of us. We were supremely unlucky in 2008 and still unlucky in 2012, but frankly I think this year Fate was really getting outrageously out-of-hand.

No one contends that the detailed principles of the post-WWII Conservative Movement are written in stone, but if anyone is going to try to revise Conservatism’s policy preferences and positions, it is going to take better arguments and a better grasp of history than any of either the low-information, big-mouth shitbirds or the pretentious windbags with imaginary togas currently operating on the Alt-Right have so far ever shown.

It is regrettable that the Left dominates the universities, the media, and the Arts. Tell you what, after Trump loses, and the Conservative Movement splits permanently, why don’t you and Pat Buchanan and Mike Cernovich and Vox Day all go take the Culture and the Institutions back? It will give you something to do besides complain about how all the #NeverTrumpers stabbed you in the back.

20 Oct 2016

“The Despair Election”

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Rod Dreher last month quoted an email he had received from Catholic philosopher Michael Hanby on the state of the American politics.

I really think there is a pervasive, but unarticulated sense that liberalism is exhausted, that we are at the mercy of systematic forces, difficult to name, which can be manipulated by the powerful but not governed by them, and that our problems are unsolvable. The reasons for this anxiety are manifold and cannot be reduced to politics or economics, though there are obvious political and economic dimensions that defy easy demographic categorization. In other words, the fact that we are in civilizational crisis is becoming unavoidably apparent, though there is obviously little agreement as to what this crisis consists in or what its causes are and little interest from the omnipresent media beyond how perceptions of crisis affect voter behavior. This seems to me a crucial part of the point and a key to understanding the sudden collapse of ‘movement conservatism’ on the one hand, and the increasingly shameless sophistry and cynicism of progressivism on the other hand. Part of what it means to say that liberalism is exhausted is that liberal order–which is more fundamentally a technological order–cannot even supply the conceptual categories and thought forms necessary for understanding our predicament.

In fact, I doubt we any longer possess enough of a ‘civilization’ to understand what a ‘civilizational crisis’ would really mean. We would not see it as a crisis of soul, but a crisis of management, in other words, another technical problem to be solved. We would no doubt think of it as something to be diagnosed by a battery of journalists, economists, evolutionary psychologists, and sociologists, who could then show us what levers to pull in order to fix it.

But if this is anywhere close to correct, then it seems to me that what we have in this election is fundamentally a contest between two forms of despair: Hillary represents despair in the form of cynicism and resignation, as evidenced by the fact that neither she, nor her surrogates, nor even her flacks in the press really pretend to believe in what she is selling. There is obvious cynicism within Trumpism as well; his supporters, on those rare occasions when he makes sense, seem to know that he is lying to them. But Trump represents despair in the form of anger and desperation, the willingness to embrace a strongman and a charlatan in the (false) hopes of regaining some kind of control over ‘the system’, whatever it is (which is a fascinating question, by the way.) Both are absolutely awful, indeed unthinkable, albeit in different ways, and yet this is what liberal order has come to.

Read the whole thing.

I do not agree, by the way, that “the conservative movement collapsed.” I think it became startlingly apparent that a significant portion of the American electorate was furiously angry at the left, but at the same time was not in the least conservative in the traditionally understood meaning of the term. That portion of the electorate proceeded to select Trump as its leader, rebelling against elite establishment liberalism but at the same time rejecting the ideological constraints and intellectual leadership of the post-war conservative movement.

Since Trump seems destined to lose catastrophically, I would be disinclined to read too much into the failure of intellectual conservatism to connect with a suddenly coagulated group of unhappy, dissatisfied low-information voters with a demonstrable preference for noise, excitement, and insulting behavior over substance and serious ideas.

Support for the Trump candidacy could be looked upon as intrinsically frivolous. Trump voters have good reason to recognize that Trump is lying about everything and that Trump is perfectly capable of going back on any and all of his promises. They also have plenty of evidence that Trump is not winning and they had to recognize all along that the election of a political outsider with all of Donald Trump’s deficiencies was an outside chance at best. But this group of voters plunged into Trumpism with all the uncritical emotionalism of the Highlanders charging English cannons at Culloden. They wanted to give the finger to the coastal establishment elite so badly that it seems the gesture was enough for them. They could just get by on denial as to the ultimate result.

09 Jun 2016

Contemplating The Trump Phenomenon

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Charles R. Kessler does not agree with NeverTrumpers like myself, but he does accurately perceive Trump’s flaws and has interesting thoughts about the rise of Trump in his current essay in Claremont Review of Books.

Trump’s own business record is indistinguishable from his career as a celebrity. He stubbornly defends his crudity, anger, and egotism as integral to the Trump brand, which he promotes incessantly, and as in touch with the working class voters he covets. To conservatives enamored of the gentlemanly manners of Ronald Reagan and the Bushes, this indecency offends.

Yet it hasn’t disqualified Trump as a candidate, because it helps to certify him as a non-politician, a truth-speaker, and an entertainer. Trump seems to know the contemporary working class well, its hardships, moral dislocations, and resentments. Readers familiar with the new working class described by Charles Murray in Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010 (reviewed in the Summer 2012 CRB) will have a roadmap to the America that Trump sees and rallies to his side. As the Obama team got a jump on its rivals by exploiting new campaign software and technology in the 2008 race, so Trump got a cultural jump on his rivals in the 2016 primaries. He saw that the older, politer, less straitened America was fading among the working and lower middle classes. Downward mobility, broken families, disability and other forms of welfare support—these were increasingly the new reality for them.

This left them lots of time for TV (as Murray shows), especially for reality TV shows. Trump was more in touch with these developments, and also with the anxieties of the working part of the working class who feared falling into this slough of despond, than any of the other candidates. To put it in business speak, as the New York Times did, Trump “understood the Republican Party’s customers better than its leaders did.” It didn’t help that much of the rank-and-file had lost confidence in those leaders. Trump ran rings around them, and employed new media to do it. Steve Case, the founder of AOL, described that part of the achievement in an email to the Times that had the odd rhythm of one of its subject’s tweets. “Trump leveraged a perfect storm. A combo of social media (big following), brand (celebrity figure), creativity (pithy tweets), speed/timeliness (dominating news cycles).”

Every republic eventually faces what might be called the Weimar problem. Has the national culture, popular and elite, deteriorated so much that the virtues necessary to sustain republican government are no longer viable? America is not there yet, though when 40% of children are born out of wedlock it is not too early to wonder. What about when Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for president? Many conservatives think that’s also sufficient reason to worry the end is near.

Whole thing.

27 Apr 2016

Brent Bozell’s Open Letter to Conservatives

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Brent Bozell implores his fellow Movement Conservatives to think seriously about what they are doing, and to dissociate themselves from Donald Trump’s candidacy before it is too late.

Even those of us who oppose Trump understand that he’s tapping into something that has exploded onto the national scene: disenchantment, even white-hot rage among the Republican base with the party’s establishment and the Washington status quo. You and I understand this because we were taking on the weak-kneed GOP leadership many, many years ago, back when Donald Trump was donating to Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Is Donald Trump the answer? That question’s on everyone’s mind. But there needs to be another question answered first: Does Donald Trump mean a word he says? Are conservative leaders supporting Trump prepared to live with the consequences if he doesn’t?

Many critics have outlined the innumerable left-wing positions and candidates Trump championed before he got in this race. It’s worth recalling some of them now: Trump not only supported but bankrolled amnesty. He supported taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood. He supported not just abortion but partial-birth abortion. He was open to gay marriage. He supported government-funded universal healthcare.

He supported eminent domain for (his) private gain. He supported the Wall Street bailout. He supported “assault weapons” bans. He applauded President Obama for doing a “great job.” He congratulated Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for doing a “good job.” He financially helped the Democrats pass Obamacare. Trump was a registered Democrat when that party was being led by the likes of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), donating heavily during President Obama’s tenure. He’s bankrolled Democrats like Jimmy Carter, Rahm Emmanuel, Anthony Weiner, Terry McAuliffe, Chuck Schumer, Charlie Rangel, Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, to name a few.

But Trump said he’s changed. On everything. Overnight. Just in time for the GOP nomination fight.


Let’s look at Mr. Trump’s record during this campaign. He’s declared his support for single-payer healthcare. That puts him to the left of Obamacare. He’s re-declared his support for Planned Parenthood. He’s re-supporting tax increases. He’s supported crony capitalism. He’s endorsed “touchback” amnesty. He wants the U.S. to break the Geneva Convention. He’s “neutral” on Israel and Palestine. He wants South Korea and Japan to have nuclear arsenals.

Paul Krugman loves Trump’s big government economic plan for the simple reason that big government will remain under President Trump.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Trump took the left’s side in the North Carolina transgender bathroom controversy.

Last week Mr. Trump announced—guess what?—he’s not just pro-abortion, he wants the pro-life plank in the GOP platform removed, thus divorcing the Republican Party from the pro-life movement. Sarah, Ben, Mike, Phyllis: How can you still support this man? He has now thrown you under the bus, embracing an agenda you’ve spent your entire career opposing. Can you accept that betrayal?

What will you tell your supporters when the man you endorsed enacts an agenda that horrifies them?

As the Republican primaries draw to some sort of conclusion, right now Trump is surrounding himself with GOP establishment types, trying to assure them he doesn’t really mean many of the things he’s said, claiming that much of his campaign is just posturing.

Posturing to whom?

Top Trump aide Paul Manafort is telling GOP establishment bosses behind closed doors that his boss is “a real different guy.” His campaign openly touts his chameleon-like character as some sort of general election advantage.

Is someone with no discernible principles the candidate you want leading the Republican Party and taking on the Democrats in 2016?

Is someone who consistently lies about principles and positions he doesn’t hold worthy of your support?

If Trump becomes the nominee, and enacts the policies he’s now championing, will conservatives who chose to aid and abet Mr. Trump be able to live with their decision?

When it comes time to nominate a new Supreme Court Justice, and President Trump names his radically pro-abortion sister, as he’s suggested he would, or some other radically pro-abortion pro- Planned Parenthood jurist, as we know he will, will you accept that you helped him do that?

15 Nov 2012

Friedersdorf Assesses the Conservative Movement Nine Days After

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Liberal Californian Conor Friedersdorf takes the occasion of Barack Obama’s totally unexpected reelection to throw a spitball of a column at conservatives, wondering aloud: What Has Movement Conservatism Accomplished in the Last 15 Years?

Perhaps we’ll see future triumphs from the conservative movement despite its present troubles. But have we seen any evidence of success since 1997 or so? George W. Bush created a new bureaucracy, expanded the federal role in education, approved a massive new entitlement, exploded the deficit, abandoned any pretense of a “humble foreign policy” that eschewed nation building, and left office having approved a massive government bailout of the financial sector. Then President Obama took office, presided over more bailouts and growing deficits, passed a health care reform bill that conservatives hate, and got reelected. Over this same period, the country has gotten more socially liberal. Gays can serve openly in the military and marry.

A majority now supports legalizing marijuana.

Circa 1997, if you’d told the average conservative that all those things would happen in the next 15 years, would they have declared the conservative movement finished? I suspect as much.

In the first place, noting George W. Bush’s sometimes failure to govern as a conservative (more government agencies, another entitlement, bailouts) is a fundamentally dishonest argument.

The Conservative Movement has never pretended to enjoy a national majority, nor does it claim to possess unchallenged dominion over the Republican Party. In the election of 2000, as in the elections of 2008 and 2012, the Conservative Movement contended against, and wound up compromising with, the professional politicians and Republican pragmatists. That is how American politics operates. The Conservative Movement had a lot of influence and, by an interesting kind of non-coincidence, was in every presidential election from 2000 to 2012 conceded the second place on the ticket, but it did not name the nominee.

Electing George W. Bush was certainly no unalloyed triumph for Conservatism. George W. Bush ran on a commitment to compromise with liberals and democrats and promised to govern as a “compassionate” (i.e. moderate Welfare State) Republican. There was never any reason to believe that George W. Bush was a sophisticated opponent of statism.

The Bush Presidency was radically transformed in the directions of domestic statism and foreign military operations by 9/11, which event, by any fair reading, must be looked upon as a legacy of Clintonian left-wing policy passivity.

Conservatives like myself are far from uncritical of Bush’s Wilsonianism. Some of us actively deplore the creation of the Department of Heimat Sekuritat and would abolish it and the TSA in a New York minute if we could work our will. We nonetheless wound up forced to defend George W. Bush, his Administration, and his foreign policy from essentially treasonous, dishonest, and opportunistic attack by the democrat party left. One wound up feeling like a Union conscript in the Civil War obliged to defend the leadership of General George McClellan.

We, in the Conservative Movement, can at least congratulate ourselves that our movement was able to elect George W. Bush, who was, however wrong and limited, nonetheless an honest and a decent man, over the despicable charlatan and junk science demigod Albert Gore and that we were able to spare the United States the dishonor of seeing the Vietnam War traitor John Kerry promoted to commander-in-chief.

8 years of George W. Bush, alas! failed, due to determined democrat resistance, to reform the American welfare state and put Social Security on a sound and reliable footing. Bush also failed to fully foresee and avert the real estate crisis, whose roots lay as far back as the New Deal. He did try to reform Fannie Mae, but Barney Frank and Chris Dodd successfully stood, like Horatius at the Bridge, in the way.

Bush, at least, did overthrow one of the principal outlaw regimes and sponsors of international terrorism, and he successfully averted al Qaida’s intended Second Wave attack. He built up the US military, put terrorism on the run, and delivered to Barry Soetero an ongoing intelligence operation and information obtained from captured illegal combatants which made possible his administration’s greatest triumph, the killing of Osama bin Laden.

In the same period, Conservatism’s intellectual domination of legal debates continued, and we won a decisive landmark Supreme Court decision affirming the Second Amendment and essentially recalling a cornerstone provision of the Bill of Rights from exile. We also won another crucial Supreme Court decision reversing liberal efforts to control political campaign speech. Not bad.

Mr. Fiedersdorf is a very young man lacking adequate experience of life to enable him to take the long view.

It’s easy to derogate the influence and achievements of the Conservative Movement a little over a week after it experienced a disastrous defeat. One can imagine the Friedersdorf column assessing US Naval Strength published on December 16, 1941.

It is sad, and not yet even entirely understandable yet why, that we lost this one, but frankly, Conor, old boy, I think you have a lot more to fear from the political future than we do. You put the radical Obama back into power, while the economy continues to sink, Obamacare increasingly comes into actual force and applies its terrible negative effects, and the federal budget approaches a fiscal cliff created deliberately by your party. You bozos own the disastrous US economy, and the chances that your demented ideology, your corrupt politics, and your basic bovine stupidity will do it still greater harm asymptotically approach 100%.

You are, I will grant you freely, the professionals at political manipulation, voter turnout, agitprop, and spin. You got all the weak-minded females in suburbia across the country in a tizzy over their supposed rights and they voted for Caliban out of fear that Romney would somehow personally confiscate their contraceptives and slap around their hairdressers.

What you overlook are the key considerations that your economics are fallacious, your policies are inevitably disastrous, your president is a narcissistic incompetent, and you are still, in the long-run, losing the war of ideas. Let me offer you a reciprocal challenge. Write this same column again nine days after the election of 2016, and let’s see how it reads then.

01 Sep 2007

Larry Craig Should Not Resign

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I know a black sheep old-time member of the Conservative Movement, who would often complain lugubriously over his cups (in relation to the unhappy consequences to his conservative career of his own pecadillos) that “the Conservative Movement does not know how to tend its wounded or bury its dead.”

I was tempted to apply that observation to the behavior of Republicans in the case of Senator Larry Craig, but listening to the 8:23 Minneapolis police tape (NY Times transcript) it isn’t even obvious to me that Senator Craig was genuinely wounded.

In the first place, it is perfectly clear that no sex, not even any explicit sexual proposition, ever actually occurred. It is also clear that the covert signals Senator Craig supposedly made were in dispute between himself and Sergeant Karsnia, the arresting officer, and that Karsnia’s version features at least one very major implausibility. Karsnia claims that, as a signal, Craig reached below the divider between his bathroom stall and the stall to his right, with his left hand palm down, and rubbed the bottom of the divider. How could anyone possibly physically do that in the cramped confines of a typical public bathroom stall?

It is also quite apparent, listening to the tape, that Karsnia is artfully and intensely manipulating Craig. He is continuing to sell Craig on the plea deal, and he is also doing his level best to persuade Craig to assent to his own preferred version of the facts. The tape does not contain the whole of their conversation, and the portion released was clearly made in order to support the guilty plea which had been previously negotiated.

Common sense tells us that Karsnia must have threatened Craig with far more serious charges, charges involving the possibility of felony convictions, life-time sex offender status, public scandal and personal ruin, then offered a deal. In Karsnia’s deal, Craig would plead guilty only to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct. It would be like a speeding ticket. Craig would simply plead guilty to disorderly conduct, pay $575 in fine and court fees, and walk away a free man. He would even be able to catch his original flight. And, best of all, there would be no publicity, no scandal, no ruinous sexual charges.

We can see just how well the Minneapolis Police Department kept its side of that plea bargain. So why should we believe one of its members’ allegations of about intrinsically ambiguous signals?

Just how plausible is it that a married 62-year-old Senator is in the habit of passing the time between changing planes by finding himself some sort of awkward and unseemly sexual encounter featuring heaven-only-knows whatever precise activity which may be conducted beneath the divider between two lavatory stalls?

As Eric at Classical Values observes, that this is the second major national sex scandal involving a Congressional Republican with no actual sex.

The problem is not one of Republicans not knowing how to tend their wounded. The problem is that Republicans don’t know how to handle scandals, either defensively or offensively.

The Administration’s opponents leak the highest level National Security secrets to the Press, and only one single Intelligence Community official is ever accused, no trial ever takes place. There are no convictions and no punishments. On the other hand, the mere identification of Ambassador Wilson’s wife’s role in assisting his trying to impeach British Intelligence reports of Saddam’s efforts to secure uranium (for a second time) from Niger, in democrat hands, shook the Bush Administration right down to its timid and quivering foundations.

Barney Frank survived a gay prostitution ring being run from his Washington apartment by a gay prostitute he himself had previously hired. But, in the case of a Republican, it only takes a mere accusation for the Party leadership to run for cover, our own editorialists to demand summary execution, and the accused to slink away, his career permanently destroyed.

Bill Clinton sexually exploited a 22-year-old White house intern, and the democrats persuaded a substantial portion of the public that it was downright evil of Republicans to pry into the President’s private sex life.

Republicans need to develop the capacity both to take the heat of the unfair accusations of their adversaries without flinching and to fight back.

Larry Craig has one of the best voting records in the Congress. I don’t personally care if he has a habit of enjoying relations with Idaho sheep by the light of the full moon, and I’m skeptical that he is guilty of anything in Minneapolis. I hope that he will tough it out, and not resign.

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