“Aw, Shucks” Conservatism, Edwin Edwards, And The Veto Session

There’s a Substack piece by Abigail Shrier which dropped on Sunday and has percolated through the blogosphere this week. It’s very worthy of a read, as is Joy Pullman’s review of it at The Federalist. Both pieces pick up on things I’ve been harping on for a good while, and it’s starting to become clear that more and more conservatives are understanding what things must look like – and what they can’t look like – for the future.

Essentially, this is about playing to win going forward, because America can’t afford for conservatives to lose.

Shrier calls the style in question of conservatism, or Republican politics if you want, “aw, shucks conservatism.” My formulation of it is to say its practitioners are the Washington Generals of Harlem Globetrotters fame, the milquetoast losers who stand around slack-jawed as the Globetrotters engage in extralegal but colorful antics and proceed to disrespect them while winning easily in a rigged match.

Shrier gives a perfect example of this phenomenon. It involves the well-meaning but mediocre James Lankford, a U.S. Senator from Oklahoma who was recently attempting to object to a Health and Human Services document which, rather than use the word “mothers,” instead referred to “birthing persons…”

Contrast this approach with Republican Senator James Lankford’s June 10th questioning of HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. Mr. Lankford noted that the HHS had “shifted in places from using the term ‘mother’ to ‘birthing people’?”

Why the change? Senator Lankford wanted to know.

“I’d have to go back and take a look at the language that was used in the budget,” Secretary Becerra said, as if this were a technical matter of budget arcana—“But I think it simply reflects the work that’s being done.”

“I definitely get that,” Senator Lankford replied affably. “I would only say the language is important always. We don’t want to offend in our language. I get that. But would you at least admit calling a mom a ‘birthing person’ could be offensive to some moms?”

“Senator, I’ll go back and take a look at the terminology that was used,” Secretary Becerra replied.

Consider the scene: The HHS deletes the word “mother” and the Republican response is to muse aloud about this—as if the HHS has done nothing more than referred to “cookies” as “biscuits.” It’s a clip worth watching because it exemplifies decades of Republican failure in culture wars that have seen Leftists wipe the floor with them.

The deletion of “mother” is just one more reflection of the government’s adoption of Gender Ideology, which insists sex is irrelevant (and sex-based rights, dispensable): you are what you say you are. It marks one vital front in an aggressive campaign to peel back all of the legal protections for women that took generations to establish.

So, yes, “mothers might be offended too”—but that is hardly the point, and if this is the best Republicans can muster, they deserve to be trounced over and over. The way forward is not to enter a victimhood contest with intersectional Leftists (“We’re offended too!”), because the victimhood contest is a degrading distraction—and one all non-Woke are destined to lose. But it’s also disingenuous: because the mothers who are pulling the freight train of America’s next generation are not victims and society doesn’t see them as such.

Here’s video of that exchange so you can see exactly what she’s talking about…

No. No, no, no, no.

Here’s how that exchange should have gone…

Lankford: Secretary Becerra, what is a “birthing person?”

Becerra: Senator, it’s a person who gives birth.

Lankford: Yes, I suspected as much. But we have a perfectly good word for that in our language which I assume you and the employees under you are capable of speaking fluently. Do you have an idea what word I have in mind?

Becerra: I’m not sure what…

Lankford: Mother, Secretary Becerra. The word is mother. You understand that word?

Becerra: Of course, Senator.

Lankford: Do you? Perhaps better put, do the people who work for you?

Becerra: I do. I’m sure our employees do.

Lankford: Well, if that’s true, then I’d like you to explain what “birthing person” is doing in your budget documentation where “mother” should be.

Becerra: I would have to go back and take a look at the language…

Lankford: You don’t need to. I have it for you right here. [quotes from the budget document] Now, what is that? What does your department have against using “mother,” which is one of the most cherished words in the entire English language?

Becerra: Well, we don’t want to offend…

Lankford: You don’t? Well, let’s call this a spectacular failure then. It’s the kind of idiocy only academics and highly-paid bureaucrats are capable of. Normal people don’t talk this way and normal people are going to be infuriated at this attempt to redefine and dumb down one of the most important roles in human existence. Go and explain to me how “birthing person” is a more accurate term than “mother.”

That’s how it’s done.

Here’s an example of somebody who understands this stuff and has enough fire in his belly to carry this ball across the goal line. Not to Own The Libs, but to make very clear how inadequate and dangerous the Left is. This was Ted Cruz butchering a thoroughly-unqualified leftist loon the Biden administration put up for a federal judgeship, and not just because it could be done (which is reason enough) but because it’s very clear she would legislate from the bench a complete abandonment of any semblance of electoral integrity in this country…

Ted Cruz, for whatever faults he might carry, is no “Aw, shucks” conservative. He understands that because the Democrats see politics the way von Clausewitz saw it, namely as war by other means, that’s what politics is. And he acts accordingly.

To illustrate this, I’ve talked about the differing dynamics, particularly in a legislative context, between conservatives who come from the business world and leftists who come from academia, unions, race-hustling and the other walks or life from which their politicians are derived.

The Republican Chamber of Commerce types understand negotiation within a “win-win” context. There’s the old poker maxim that “you can shear a sheep a thousand times but skin him only once,” and what that means is it’s bad business to take too much advantage of somebody in a deal. Because the other guy won’t want to fulfill his part of a bad deal, or maybe he can’t fulfill it because he loses money on it and perhaps it drives him under. Either way, you find yourself needing to go and make a new deal with somebody else, and you probably end up with damage to your reputation in the bargain which makes that new deal harder to obtain.

In a business context all of that is very valid. In a political context it’s useless.

Because those Chamber of Commerce types aren’t up against “win-win” negotiators when it’s time to fight it out in the political arena. The Left’s people don’t know anything about “win-win.” Their negotiations are “win-lose.”

What does a union representative do when he sits down with management? Does he offer anything?

Of course not. He demands more money and better working conditions, and if he doesn’t get it he threatens to go on strike or to complain to the National Labor Relations Board or OSHA, or whatever.

So that negotiation is all about how much swag the union can suck out of management without bringing anything more to the table. It’s a very binary negotiation.

And that’s precisely how Democrats operate. It’s a never-ending series of aggressions and offenses which put the GOP and conservatives on their heels, such that they’re willing to continue giving ground just to find some position somewhere they think they can mount a defense from.

The way I explain it is Democrats show up demanding 100, and Republicans refuse. So Democrats start howling, bring in idiots in red t-shirts to protest, get leftist newspaper columnists to call the Republicans racists and worse, and generally apply pressure until the Republicans start caving and negotiating against themselves, and ultimately the Democrats settle for 30.

And the Republicans are happy. Ask them why and they’ll say “those other guys only got 30.”

But what did you get? “We got 70.”

You had 100! Walk away from the table and you’d still have 100!

This is practically every negotiation the Washington Generals/Aw, Shucks conservatives have engaged in for the past 35 years. Ronald Reagan was the last GOP politician who knew how to negotiate favorably with the Democrats. Even Donald Trump, who understood this stuff better than the “Bush Republicans” he displaced atop the GOP’s political hierarchy, had a spotty record at best of performance largely because he saddled himself with too many Mike Pences, Jeff Sessionses and Rex Tillersons.

As Shrier and Pullman point out, it’s imperative for the Republican Party to reject that Washington General/Aw, Shucks style and stop playing to lose. Pullman correctly notes that “the era of consensus politics is over.”

Every day, more people discover the New Left’s goal is to end the historic American birthright to government-secured natural rights. That is part of the reason the critical race theory debate has gone viral and put the left on defense.

They will admit they believe this stuff, but scaring too many people with the truth is counterproductive. They’d prefer to teach it to children while the parents still trust them enough to keep their kids in their schools. One key question for our nation’s future, as well as those who hope to lead it, is whether trusting your children to institutions that countenance critical race theory makes any sense at all.  Many of those institutions  — such as universities — are overseen by Republicans who refuse to lift a finger to demand accountability for billions of public dollars.

Unlike such so-called representatives, Shrier has awakened to the true nature of the political left, in large part by personal experience. So have people like Brett Kavanaugh, and many who watched his confirmation horror show. But many Americans still have not had close enough experiences with the radical left to have gained this deep understanding that their goal is the end of the American way of life.

That includes far too many Republican Party officeholders. Those are the kind of people who proudly make infrastructure deals with the Biden administration for the hollow sake of “bipartisanship” and then get rolled without exacting a price for it (“My starting offer on infrastructure is now the devolution of OSHA to the states, the privatization and localization of the TSA, the end of mask mandates in airports, block grants for states to control highway funds, and the non-negotiable inclusion of serious energy infrastructure like nuclear power plants.”) Shrier gives the example of Sen. James Lankford’s inability to critique the Biden administration replacing the word “mother” with “birthing person,” which enables abominations like this.

Republicans do this because too many still do not understand — or refuse to understand — the nature of the opposition. They are culture war Neville Chamberlains, feeding Americans to the Minotaur one generation at a time while believing it’s a bargain, because, after all, the Minotaur isn’t eating everyone, and they’ll certainly die before it’s their turn to meet him.

A display of this kind of mental and moral cowardice is utterly disqualifying from anyone who wants to hold office as a Republican going forward. That’s because only fools make deals with barbarians expecting them to keep it. People who can’t tell a citizen from a barbarian aren’t fit to lead.

Rather than continue talking about this in the context of national politics, which we could do for a good while longer, let’s apply it to Louisiana and two things which are currently top-of-mind in a political sense.

First, Edwin Edwards.

I let Mike Bayham and Jeff Sadow handle the obituaries of Edwards, who died last weekend. I decided I’d stick to the maxim that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.

And I don’t have anything nice to say about Edwin Edwards, who was an absolute fraud, a no-account grifter and outright thief, an utter cad and a tyrant. That he was glib and quotable is of zero consequence in redeeming him, or at least it should be. Ditto for the fact that he remembered everyone’s name. A clue: sociopaths tend to be good at that.

But what was worst about Edwards was that Louisiana’s Republican Party, which at the time was still in its infancy, conducted itself completely as the Washington Generals the entire time he was on the scene. And then, to excuse their incompetence, they assisted in creating the myth of Edwards as some sort of political titan.

Edwin Edwards was nothing of the sort. He was lucky. He got elected in 1971 at the height of an oil boom, and for two terms he presided over a robust Louisiana economy he had nothing to do with creating and abused that economy for the benefit of himself and his friends to rake in bribes and power in such amounts that when the oil boom went bust every business which could leave Louisiana ran out of here with their hair on fire.

In 1979, Louisiana elected its first Republican governor since Reconstruction in Dave Treen. When Treen took office his job was daunting, but simple – he needed to take a hatchet to state government and drain it of every vestige of Edwards’ rule possible, and then he needed to act as an imperial governor and whip the state legislature using every dastardly and evil trick he could conjure.

In short, he needed to act precisely in the way John Bel Edwards has acted with the Republican legislature since he’s been elected.

But Treen was too busy saying “Aw, shucks,” and Edwin Edwards effectively ran the state from his house in South Baton Rouge through all the bureaucrats Treen didn’t get rid of. And in 1983, Edwards came back to the governor’s mansion in a landslide; by 1984 there was no evidence Dave Treen had been governor at all. Edwards proceeded to then have one utterly failed term as governor from 1984-88, during which he went under federal indictment while Louisiana’s economy went into utter free fall and outmigration was in overdrive, and had to withdraw from the 1987 runoff to avoid a thorough repudiation from the voters. Then he managed a final comeback by winning the worst statewide election contest in American history over David Duke – who rose as he did solely because furious voters were looking for someone, anyone on the Right who would actually fight for taxpayers and traditional values. Don’t forget, or minimize, the fact Buddy Roemer had vetoed an abortion bill and had it overridden; that poisoned his credibility and ultimately cost him a shot at the runoff.

And then many within the GOP circles actually jumped in behind Edwards in the ultimate “Aw, shucks” moment. Duke had absolutely zero chance of winning that race; the play was for the entire Republican Party to openly declare they were sitting the race out because neither candidate was worthy, and to further declare they would spearhead a recall effort immediately after the election regardless who won.

Some of the luminaries from the Washington Generals’ roster of that era are still running around virtue-signaling over their role in helping Edwards win a fourth term, which was an unmitigated failure just like his third term was, and that time the federal indictment which came resulted in eight years of imprisonment.

And amazingly, Treen tried to use what little political influence he had to attempt to get Edwards released from prison. With enemies like this, who needs friends?

Things are far different now, as the Louisiana GOP isn’t the helpless political fledgling it used to be. So much so that all its elected legislators need to do in order to deal a lasting, crushing political defeat to the current Edwards in the governor’s mansion is simply to follow the suggestions of Shrier and Pullman.

Reject the “Aw, Shucks” crap. Treat politics as war.

That veto session next week needs to be an exercise in raw political power on the part of the legislative leadership. They need to whip every single vote on every single bill like it’s literally the end of the world. Bring every last bill Edwards vetoed up for an override.

Understand this: you’re playing with house money here. A veto session has never happened in Louisiana. So every veto you overturn is a touchdown scored against Alabama in Bryant-Denny.

Run up the score.

Tell the independents in the House like Malinda White, Roy Daryl Adams and Joe Marino that if they don’t vote to override you’re going to blow them out of office by redistricting them away late this year or early next year. That’s a real threat, by the way; it’s very easy to do. Tell all the Republicans that if they’re not on board with the overrides they’ll lose their committee assignments and that projects in their districts will get knocked out of the budget next year.

You won’t have many issues from them. Most of those Republican leges know it isn’t Clay Schexnayder or Page Cortez they need to worry about, or even John Bel Edwards, it’s the grassroots people back home who are energized, and who are watching intently. Any of them who flip on these bills because they’re worried about John Bel Edwards defunding a fire station in their districts are “Aw, shucksing” their way into electoral oblivion. For the most part they realize that.

But even if a lot of those votes are failures it’s fine. Again, this is house money.

Because there is value in putting everybody on the record. And every victory makes John Bel Edwards more and more irrelevant. When Edwards is irrelevant, the Legislature is who’s relevant.

This is how you win. When you have opportunities to seize power and do good with it, you take advantage of them. You grab at the ring, and you smack the hell out of the ones in your way.

Either do that or give up your seat and let somebody else try. Because the lovable loser isn’t lovable anymore. Not when the vetoes we’re talking about are for biological males invading girls’ sports, or letting Mark Zuckerberg corrupt our elections, or continuing to have taxpayers directly funding far-left union goons like Randi Weingarten, or imposing vaccine mandates on kids, or interfering with our Second Amendment rights.

Not when the other side are no longer liberals but out-and-out leftists, of the same stripe that those brave people in Cuba are in the streets attempting to win back their freedom from. Not when the stakes are this high.

Go big or go home. No more Washington Generals. Play to win.

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