It’s not often that you literally laugh out loud while reading news about Senate confirmation fights, but what happened in Washington last week was a real knee-slapper: The party of namecaller-in-chief Donald Trump is derailing a Biden administration nominee because she was (wait for it) mean to them on Twitter.
It’s the latest reminder that unabashed hypocrisy has become as much a definition of the Republican Party as phrases like “fiscal responsibility” and “family values” used to be.
President Joe Biden’s pick to head the Office of Management and Budget, Neera Tanden, spent years bumping around the Clinton and Obama administrations in high-level economic positions. Even her detractors don’t generally question her qualifications. But her chances for Senate confirmation appeared to all but collapse last week, facing opposition from a solid wall of Republicans (along with alleged Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia).
Tanden’s offense? Past tweets calling some Senate Republicans things like “the worst” and “pathetic.”
Goodness, gracious. I’m surprised they’ve even been able to go on.
She also called Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell “Voldemort.” This, admittedly, was a vicious slander against evil wizards everywhere.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, worries about Tanden’s “temperament” and “animosity.” Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, lambasts Tanden’s “very partisan” digital footprint. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, laments the “incivility” in Tanden’s tweets.
Are they kidding?
It’s so obvious that it feels silly to write it, but Trump’s now-banished Twitter feed was a nuclear waste dump of animosity and bad temperament throughout his presidency. From “Crooked Hillary” Clinton, to “SleepyCreepyJoe” Biden, to “Crazy Bernie” Sanders, to “Pocahontas” Elizabeth Warren, Trump’s toxic Twitter thumbs reached new depths of incivility that would have embarrassed your average fourth-grade playground bully.
In response to Trump’s four-year run of social-media grotesqueries, Collins, Cornyn and virtually all their Senate Republican colleagues always found reasons to silently study their shoes. Now they’re shocked — shocked! — that Tanden called them “pathetic.”
Which is, in a word, pathetic.
Of course, Trump occupies a singular place in today’s GOP universe. Republican politicians are so terrified of his howling base that he would probably get a pass even if he were to, oh I dunno, incite a violent mob to insurrection against Congress in an attempt to overthrow an election (just to use an extreme hypothetical).
But surely these staid Senate Republican guardians of civility would be consistent in demanding elevated behavior from Republicans other than Trump, right?
Not so much.
When these same GOP senators were considering Trump appointees during the past four years, incivility somehow never seemed to be a deal-breaker. As The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank pointed out last week, they were just fine with confirming Ryan Zinke as Trump’s Interior secretary, despite Zinke’s description of Hillary Clinton as the “anti-Christ.” And they were OK with confirming Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions despite his alleged declaration that the NAACP was a “pinko organization” that “hates white people.” And they didn’t pause at Trump Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s description of former Secretary of State (and decorated Vietnam war hero) John Kerry as a “traitor.”
When it comes to incivility, Tanden is an amateur next to these guys.
The word “hypocrisy” comes from the Greek hypokrisis, meaning “dissembling” or “play-acting.” Politics has always contained generous doses of it, though the counterweight of shame historically required politicians to at least try to be subtle about it.
What’s changed today is that the Republican Party — facing a younger, more diverse society that has made it increasingly harder for them to win national elections — has coalesced around the imperative of consolidating power at all costs. This has become more important to them than what used to be the party’s principles.
It’s why Republican politicians could tout “family values” while slavishly supporting a president whose entire ethos openly mocked and degraded those values. It’s why they could ditch their long-held mantra of “fiscal responsibility” long enough to pile $2 trillion onto the deficit to approve an unnecessary tax cut for the rich, but now oppose a badly needed pandemic relief package on grounds that its $1.9 trillion price tag is too high.
And it’s why Neera Tanden tweeting “pathetic” is somehow deemed worse than the avalanche of bile that has emanated from the White House for the past four years.
Trump himself isn’t especially hypocritical. He is and always has been consistent in his incivility. The wellspring of hypocrisy in today’s GOP, I would argue, is actually Sen. Voldemort ... er, McConnell.
It was McConnell, of course, who decreed in 2016 that a Supreme Court vacancy should be held open for almost a year when Barack Obama was president, so the next president could fill it. When later asked what he’d do if the situation was reversed, with a vacancy late in Trump’s term, McConnell responded (presciently, it turned out): “Oh, we’d fill it.”
Then he donned a knowing little smile as the room erupted in laughter.
That smile defined the extent to which shame has become an insufficient buffer to hypocrisy in the GOP. They’re not even pretending anymore to harbor consistent principles they won’t ditch in an instant for the imperatives of partisanship. And that is, truly, pathetic.