The New Heroics

Someone has to stand up to the bullies and sometimes the most unlikely someone does. That would be Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) in Casablanca – burnt out and cynical and nobody’s hero, nobody’s patsy actually, hiding out the war in his Café Américain there, an apolitical and rather classy gambling joint – actually an elaborate set on a Warner Brothers soundstage just off Barham Boulevard over in Burbank. But that didn’t matter. Ingrid Bergman was Ilsa Lund, the woman he had loved in Paris who had suddenly disappeared and broke his heart, who shows up at his new Café with her actual husband – the noble Czech resistance leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) – and then everything changes. The Nazis are bullies and they’ll ruin everything. They’ll ruin the world. Rick Blaine becomes the hero. He foils the Nazis. He gets Laszlo to safety in the west, on that last flight to Lisbon, with Ilsa. He stays. This isn’t about him. He gets it – “It doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”

And then he’s outta there – off to join the Free French garrison down the coast with his new buddy, the clever Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) – as he says, the start of a beautiful friendship. He has given up everything that mattered to him, his snazzy new Café and the love of his life, but someone has to do the right thing. The bullies can’t win. That’s the important thing. That’s the only thing. The end. Roll the credits.

Now imagine Liz Cheney as Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine, doing the right thing and sacrificing it all to stop the bullies. Okay, that’s a stretch. But the parallels are there. Calvin Woodward, for the Associated Press, explains the current situation:

Allegiance to a lie has become a test of loyalty to Donald Trump and a means of self-preservation for Republicans.

Trump’s discredited allegations about a stolen election did nothing to save his presidency when courtrooms high and low, state governments and ultimately Congress – meeting in the chaos of an insurrection powered by his grievances – affirmed the legitimacy of his defeat and the honesty of the process that led to it.

Now those “Big Lie” allegations, no closer to true than before, are getting a second, howling wind.

Republicans are expected to believe the falsehoods, pretend they do or at bare minimum not let it be known that they don’t. State Republican leaders from Georgia to Arizona have been flamed by Trump or his followers for standing against the lies.

He’s the bully. Republicans know the deal here. Say he’s really the president. They stole that from him. Do that or get ruined. Be a bully for him or get ruined. The Nazis are sitting around the table at Rick’s Café Américain singing their Nazi marching song when Victor Laszlo stands up and starts to lead everyone else in La Marseillaise. Rick nods to the band. Go for it. Everyone does. They drown out the Nazis. There’ll be hell to pay for this, but La Marseillaise rings out.

That’s Liz:

Only a select few Republicans in Washington are defying him, for they, too, know that doing so comes with a cost.

Liz Cheney, lifelong conservative and daughter of a vice president once loved by the Republican right while earning the nickname Darth Vader, was willing to pay it.

“History is watching,” the Wyoming congresswoman wrote as House Republicans prepared to strip her of her No. 3 leadership position this coming week over her confrontation with Trump. “Republicans need to stand for genuinely conservative principles, and steer away from the dangerous and anti-democratic Trump cult of personality.”

And now this seems like that old movie where what matters is who sings loudest:

Everyone enmeshed in Trump’s relentless election claims agrees a “Big Lie” is at the heart of the matter. President Joe Biden says so. Cheney said so. Dominion Voting Systems alleges in a massive lawsuit that Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani “manufactured and disseminated the ‘Big Lie.’”

Trump tried to appropriate the phrase by turning it against his accusers, a pattern from his presidency when he railed against “fake news” after having his own called out.

“The Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 will be, from this day forth, known as THE BIG LIE!” he said in a statement last week, delivered as if by force of proclamation.

But none of that makes much sense:

Trump led his party in an election that cost Republicans the presidency and their Senate majority while leaving them short of taking over in the House. For all that, the party’s brute-force Trump faction is ascendant as Republicans place their bets on the energy and passions of his core supporters in the approach to the midterm elections next year.

In short, the Republicans are betting on their bullies. That’s all they’ve got:

“This message is working,” said former Republican Rep. Denver Riggleman, driven from Congress by a Trump-aligned opponent in the party’s nomination race in his Virginia district last year. Riggleman pointed to strong local fund-raising success and poll numbers for Trump loyalists.

“If you’ve got to say things you don’t believe in, as long as that leads to a win, that’s what’s most important,” he told MSNBC. “If you think you can win by fanning these flames of disinformation, why wouldn’t you do that?” He added: “If you have no integrity.”

In the running to replace Cheney in the House GOP leadership, Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York in recent days endorsed Trump’s false claims of voting fraud and of a ballot recount being conducted in Arizona’s Maricopa County by a company whose leader has shared unfounded conspiracy theories about the election.

Artifice unfolded in Florida as Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis staged a fake signing ceremony Thursday on Fox News for a bill he actually signed elsewhere. The bill imposes new voting restrictions to fix problems state officials acknowledged haven’t really been found, but might be in the future.

Bullies know what they’re doing. Without integrity all things are possible. Donald Trump knows that:

Trump has been busy resurfacing election claims he’s aired countless times before. They’ve been systematically debunked.

In a statement Friday, Trump asserted: “At 6:31 in the morning on November 4th, a dump of 149,772 votes came in to the State of Michigan. Biden received 96% of those votes and the State miraculously went to him.”

No vote dump happened. The morning after November’s election, Trump allies shared a map of Michigan that appeared to show Biden getting a huge spike of votes in an update. But the online news organization that was tracking results and published that map confirmed the same day it had made a data error and corrected it.

Trump went on: “Likewise, at 3:42 in the morning, a dump of 143,379 votes came in to the state of Wisconsin, also miraculously, given to Biden. Where did these ‘votes’ come from?”

Nothing nefarious here, either. Biden’s early-morning comeback was simply the result of absentee and early votes being counted in Wisconsin’s largest city and reported at once. Milwaukee counts absentee ballots in one centralized location and reports the results in a batch.

Election officials finished counting the city’s roughly 169,000 absentee ballots and uploaded the results about 3 a.m. after Election Day. Milwaukee police then escorted the city’s elections director to the county courthouse to deliver thumb drives with the data.

The outstanding ballots at that point overwhelmingly broke for Biden. A Democrat, winning in a big city, surprises no one.

Woodward adds much more of the same, and ends with this, with Liz Cheney as the hero here:

For four years Mike Pence epitomized the loyal vice president. But his pro forma certification of Biden’s victory Jan. 6 put him on the outs with Trump and clouded his political future, though he had no authority under the Constitution, congressional rules, the law or custom to stand in Biden’s way.

In one of his broadsides last week, Trump assailed Cheney, Pence and labeled Sen. Mitch McConnell “gutless and clueless” in one go. McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, voted for Trump’s acquittal but pronounced him “practically and morally responsible” for provoking the Jan. 6 insurrection, drawing the ex-president’s enduring enmity.

Since then, McConnell and Pence have turned the other cheek. Darth Vader’s daughter didn’t.

She’s the problem here. Something must be done. NBC News’ Allan Smith covers that:

In criticizing House GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney’s repeated condemnations and refutations of former President Donald Trump’s “big lie” about his electoral loss last fall, Republicans have said that the party needs to look forward and that she is distracting from messaging against the Biden administration.

“Republicans are almost completely unified in a single mission to oppose the radical, dangerous Biden agenda and win back the majority in the midterm election,” Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., said on Fox News Sunday. “And any other focus other than that is a distraction from stopping the Biden agenda.”

Really? No one told the Big Guy:

Within the past six weeks, Trump has released more than 20 statements falsely claiming that the election was characterized by “massive fraud,” that it was “rigged” or “stolen” and that he “won by a landslide,” among other assertions. He has praised “great patriots” overseeing a partisan audit of ballots in Arizona, as well as an audit in a small New Hampshire town.

In the last week, Trump tried to reframe language around “the big lie” – which has been used to describe his claims about a stolen election – and referred to “vote dumps.” He also wrongly proclaimed that if only Mike Pence, then the vice president, and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., then the Senate majority leader, had “fought” harder, he’d still be president – language he used in the immediate run-up to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

That bit of a riot shut him up for a time, but Liz got his goat and now he can’t seem to help himself, or the Republican Party:

“We’re four months after Jan. 6,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., said on CBS’ Face the Nation. “An insurrection, something that was unthinkable in this country. And the message from people who want to get rid of Liz Cheney is to say, ‘It’s just time to focus on the future and move on.’ Like this was 10 years ago and we’ve been obsessed with it since.”

“It’s been four months, and we have so many people, including our leadership in the party, that has not admitted this is what it is, which was an insurrection led by the president of the United States well deserving of a full accounting from Republicans,” said Kinzinger, one of 10 House Republicans, including Cheney, who voted in February to impeach Trump over his conduct around the riot.

On NBC’s Meet the Press, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican who has often criticized Trump, said he is bothered that “you have to swear fealty to the ‘Dear Leader’ or you get kicked out of the party.”

“It just doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “It’s sort of a circular firing squad where we’re just attacking members of our own party instead of focusing on solving problems.”

They hope that their dear Liz will save the day. but she may not be the hero (heroine) they imagine. Maureen Dowd, the winner of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary, has a long memory, and she knows this woman:

I miss torturing Liz Cheney.

But it must be said that the petite blonde from Wyoming suddenly seems like a Valkyrie amid halflings.

She is willing to sacrifice her leadership post – and risk her political career – to continue calling out Donald Trump’s Big Lie. She has decided that, if the price of her job is being as unctuous to Trump as Kevin McCarthy is, it isn’t worth it, because McCarthy is totally disgracing himself.

So she is Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine, doing the right thing and sacrificing it all to stop the bully and his jack-booted troops. She’s out:

It has been a dizzying fall for the scion of one of the most powerful political families in the land, a conservative chip off the old block who was once talked about as a comer, someone who could be the first woman president.

But the world has changed:

How naïve I was to think that Republicans would be eager to change the channel after Trump cost them the Senate and the White House and unleashed a mob on them.

I thought the Donald would evaporate in a poof of orange smoke, ending a supremely screwed-up period of history. But the loudest mouth is not shutting up. And Republicans continue to listen, clinging to the idea that the dinosaur is the future. “We can’t grow without him,” Lindsey Graham said.

Liz disagrees. That must be heroic. But that might be something else:

That trademark Cheney bluntness made Liz the toast of MSNBC and CNN, where chatterers praised her as an avatar of the venerable “fact-based” Republican Party decimated by Trump.

But if Liz Cheney wants to be in the business of speaking truth to power, she’s going to have to dig a little deeper.

Let’s acknowledge who created the template for Trump’s Big Lie.

That’s something that runs in the family:

It was her father, Dick Cheney, whose Big Lie about the Iraq war led to the worst mistake in the history of American foreign policy. Liz, who was the captain of her high school cheerleading team and titled her college thesis “The Evolution of Presidential War Powers,” cheered on her dad as he spread fear, propaganda and warped intelligence.

From her patronage perch in the State Department during the Bush-Cheney years, she bolstered her father’s trumped-up case for an invasion of Iraq. Even after no WMD’s were found, she continued to believe the invasion was the right thing to do.

“She almost thrives in an atmosphere where the overall philosophy is discredited and she is a lonely voice,” a State Department official who worked with Liz told Joe Hagan for a 2010 New York magazine profile of the younger Cheney on her way up.

And that led to this:

She was a staunch defender of the torture program. “Well, it wasn’t torture, Norah, so that’s not the right way to lay out the argument,” she instructed Norah O’Donnell in 2009, looking on the bright side of waterboarding.

She backed the futile, 20-year occupation of the feudal Afghanistan. (Even Bob Gates thinks we should have left in 2002.) Last month, when President Biden announced plans to pull out, Liz Cheney – who wrote a book with her father that accused Barack Obama of abandoning Iraq and making America weaker – slapped back: “We know that this kind of pullback is reckless. It’s dangerous.”

But that’s what happens with a man from Kenya:

For many years, she had no trouble swimming in Fox News bile. Given the chance to denounce the Obama birther conspiracy, she demurred, interpreting it live on air as people being “uncomfortable with having for the first time ever, I think, a president who seems so reluctant to defend the nation overseas.”

Yes, Dowd is not a fan of this woman:

In her Washington Post piece, Cheney wrote that her party is at a “turning point” and that Republicans “must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution.”

Sage prose from someone who was a lieutenant to her father when he assaulted checks and balances, shredding America’s Constitution even as he imposed one on Iraq.

Because of 9/11, Dick Cheney thought he could suspend the Constitution, attack nations preemptively and trample civil liberties in the name of the war on terror. (And for his own political survival.)

Keeping Americans afraid was a small price to pay for engorging executive power, which the former Nixon and Ford aide thought had been watered down too much after Watergate.

It’s time to rethink this:

Liberals responded to Trump’s derangements by bathing the Bush-Cheney crowd in a flattering nostalgic light… but Trump built a movement based on lies.

The Cheneys showed him how it’s done.

That’s harsh. Her colleague Frank Bruni sees ambiguities:

No sooner had I become overwhelmed by the corpulent body of journalism about Liz Cheney as some beacon of moral clarity than I began to feel besieged by dissents about what a wretched opportunist she really is.

Can’t she be all of the above?

Not in the America of today. Not in the media of the moment. Either she was underrated in the past or is overrated in the present. She’s standing squarely on a bedrock of principle or she’s cunningly maneuvering within a crowd of ambitious Republicans to find a space and a grace all her own.

Over here, she’s a martyr; over there, a hack in holy drag. To one set of eyes, this is the end of her political career. To another, it’s the beginning of her political legend.

Neither take is correct. And the war between them is the latest and one of the greatest examples of our inability to hold two thoughts at the same time.

But there’s the third thought, that most Republicans are crazy:

There’s plenty about Liz Cheney not to love. But that doesn’t change the weirdness of some of the complaints about her current conduct. Her Republican foes have been whispering to Washington journalists – and some political analysts have cottoned to the notion – that her sin isn’t denouncing Trump’s efforts to delegitimize the 2020 election results. It’s continuing to denounce them. It’s beating a dead horse. Time to move on!

Excuse me? Trump sure as hell hasn’t moved on, and the horse in question is the very integrity of American democracy. It’s worth beating to an equine pulp.

Her critics say that she’s miring the party in the recent past and thus jeopardizing its opportunity to pick up House and Senate seats in next year’s midterms. Well, a party that validates Trump’s extravagant lies doesn’t deserve to gain any ground. When the team is this rotten, there’s no fault in contributing to its defeat.

Then there’s all the eye rolling over what a self-aggrandizing showboat Cheney is being. If Congress purged all its self-aggrandizing showboats, it would be the loneliest of seas.

And that leaves this one awful person doing the one right thing:

It’s true, as Cheney’s detractors note, that she doesn’t stand a chance of out-smarming such Trump sycophants as Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton and that the likeliest crown for her is the Trump-defying one. She’s nonetheless gambling with her political future in reaching for it.

And she’s saying something that must be said. Chuck Todd of NBC News called her “the last flickering light” of the conservative movement, which is about to be “snuffed out” by obeisance to Trump and his fictions.

I don’t know about “last,” but she is pushing back at nothing less than darkness. I’m grateful for that, no matter how else I feel about her…

The Washington Post’s James Downie, however, does see villains:

With the likely ouster of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) as House Republican Conference chair and the public booing of Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) at the state GOP’s convention, it was no surprise that the Sunday shows focused on one of political media’s favorite topics. “This week: party purge,” intoned Meet the Press host Chuck Todd to open the show. “This is going to be a battle for the soul of the Republican Party,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) told Todd. “We’re very divided as a party. And that’s no secret,” said Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R) on CNN’s State of the Union.

But as much as media outlets love intraparty conflict, there’s no battle here.

The battle is over. Trump won:

This is not to pretend, as former New Jersey governor Chris Christie did on ABC’s This Week, that most Republicans side with Cheney against former president Donald Trump’s lies about the election. (When host George Stephanopoulos pointed out that 70 percent of Republicans do not believe Joe Biden won the presidency legitimately, Christie could only grouse that “the people that I talk to are not in that camp.”) The fact that Washington has expected Cheney’s removal for days fits with what Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), chair of the conservative Republican Study Committee, told Fox News Sunday: “Republicans are almost completely unified in a single mission to oppose the radical, dangerous Biden agenda… except for Liz Cheney.”

And she doesn’t matter now:

Others have noted that the distance between Cheney’s GOP and Trump’s GOP is far smaller than she’d admit… but the broader pattern goes much further back than the Bush years.

The Republican Party playbook is the same as it ever was: Disguise worshipfully pro-big business, pro-wealthy policies with appeals to the resentments of President Richard M. Nixon’s “silent majority” or Sarah Palin’s “real Americans” or whatever label the party prefers for a specific type of White American.

Every liberal project – from Social Security in the 1930s to Medicare and integration in the 1960s to the Affordable Care Act and same-sex marriage in the 2010s — is cast as a mortal threat to freedom pushed by the eggheads, the ivory tower or the coastal elites. The threat of “outside agitators” becomes the peril of “political correctness” becomes the menace of “ridiculous wokeness” – the term Cheney used in her Post op-ed last week. They’re all the same look.

There’s nothing new here. Trump just cranked up the volume:

The dog whistles became bullhorns; the “executive time” administration plumbed new depths of incompetence. But for Republicans, as televangelist and later right-wing presidential candidate Pat Robertson said 40 years ago, “it’s better to have a stable government under a crook than turmoil under an honest man.” The threat of liberalism outweighs the risk of an inept, amoral or fascistic president. The Trump era – including its culmination in January’s attempted insurrection – was not out of step with that.

And there are no heroes:

There’s no “battle” for the party’s soul; there are only the party leaders who will keep swimming in this foul stream leaving behind those that don’t. For the rest of the country, including the media, reckoning with that fact means being honest about it – the sooner, the better.

And of course Casablanca was only a movie. Bogart walks off into the fog, the noble hero who risked it all and finally stood up to that generation’s big bullies, even if he lost it all.

The studio set up those fog machines. That was the Van Nuys airport. No one lost anything. It was just for show. But it was a great show. Liz Cheney wasn’t in it.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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