The GOP’s George Santos Dilemma
Plus: A year of banning books.
(Newsday via Getty Images)
“I didn’t graduate from any institution of higher learning. I’m embarrassed and sorry for having embellished my resume. I own up to that. . . . We do stupid things in life.”
—Congressman-elect George Santos (R-Bullshit)
Embellished? I do not think that word means what the Talented Mr. Santos thinks it means.
To “embellish” is to adorn, decorate, enhance, gild, beautify, and festoon, and, on occasion, it means to “exaggerate.”
This Santos did not do. He just made shit up out of whole cloth. He did not place doodads on his resume: He lied about his schooling, his degrees, his background, his criminal history, his employment, and about the non-existent properties he claimed to own. He lied that his employees were killed in the Pulse nightclub shooting. He lied about his Jew-ishness and about his grandparents escaping the Holocaust. He used fake quotes from Winston Churchill. He lied about his money, probably lied on financial disclosure forms (which is actually a crime), and lied about his lying.
And then, having constructed this Babel of Fabulism, he turned to the playbook of disingenuous non-apologies.
“If I disappointed anyone by résumé embellishment…
“a lot of people overstate in their résumés.”
“I never claimed to be Jewish. I am Catholic,” he said. “Because I learned my maternal family had a Jewish background I said I was ‘Jew-ish.’
Because the news cycle moves fast, though, Santos has already tired of contrition and has moved on to defiance and threats. Asked by a radio host whether he might sue the NYT, which exposed his serial lies, Santos blustered:
"I'm gonna look through and see everything, and just like they nitpicked at me, now it’s gonna be my time to nitpick at both journalists who made it their mission to slander me across this country and across the world, and let’s see what happens at the end," he added.
"But the one thing is, I will be sworn in, I will take office."
Of course, a political party with any sort of intact immune system would move quickly to send this sociopath back to ScamLand, whence he came.
But this is the GOP circa 2022, and so it faces a painful dilemma. With a narrow majority in the House, Republicans (and especially Kevin McCarthy) need his vote, of course.
But that’s not the real problem here, is it?
After years of ignoring, enabling, and rationalizing Big Lies and small ones, it will now be exceedingly difficult for the GOP to find their misplaced conscience that might morph into outrage and something like a moral standard. As Nick Catoggio writes:
Anyone willing to set aside their qualms about Trump for the sake of holding executive power logically should be willing to set aside their qualms about Santos for the sake of holding legislative power
So, not surprisingly, GOP leaders are either silent, or in a forgiving mood.
Rep.-elect Anthony D’Esposito, a Republican who will represent a House district next to Santos’s district, said in a statement that people “are deeply hurt and rightly offended” by Santos’s “lies and misstatements.” Although Santos’s “fabrications regarding the Holocaust and his family’s history are particularly hurtful,” D’Esposito said Santos has taken a “first step” by “coming clean” about other parts of his background.
This seems rather aggressive bar-lowering. But it’s echoed by Joseph G. Cairo Jr., the chairman of the Nassau County Republican Committee, who said that even though Santos “has broken the public trust” with his serial lies, he should nevertheless still be seated as a member of Congress, where he can atone for his deceptions by (I kid you not) voting to cut taxes.
“The damage that his lies have caused to many people, especially those who have been impacted by the Holocaust, are profound,” Cairo said in the statement. “He must do the public’s will in Washington,” including “to deliver tax relief and pass laws” to boost public safety. Cairo said Santos “will have to continually prove that he has learned his lesson.”
We hate to be cynical here, because lots of people do go on to learn their lesson. But we doubt George Santos will be one of those cases.
Predictably, MTG is all in, defending Santos against a tough interview by (checks notes) Tulsi Gabbard.
Side note: The responsibility for this entire goat-rope lies with Santos and the GOP, but it’s worth noting that all of this should have been exposed before the election by the local media and Dem oppo research. Balls were dropped.
Bonus: Who thought electing Santos was a good idea? This GOP leader:
Meanwhile, down in Mar-a-Lago
Make sure you read Bill Lueders’s report in today’s Bulwark: “Donald Trump’s Dispatches From the Bunker.”
How’s the Big Guy been taking it? Not well.
Even before the House January 6th Committee held its final hearing; before it called for the filing of criminal charges against him; before it produced its voluminous report detailing the findings from its massive 18-month investigation into his efforts to subvert the result of the 2020 election; before the acquisition of his tax returns revealed that he had somehow managed to avoid a mandatory audit while lying for years about being under continual audit, Donald Trump was crying a river about the unfairness of it all.
Early in the morning on December 17, the standard-bearer of the Republican party took to his social media platform, Truth Social, to say:
Our Country is SICK inside, very much like a person dying of Cancer. The Crooked FBI, the so-called Department of “Justice,” and “Intelligence,” all parts of the Democrat Party and System, is the Cancer. These Weaponized
Thugs and Tyrants must be dealt with, or our once great and beautiful Country will die!!!
Good morning to you, too, Mr. Ex-President.
A year of banning books
Here’s another one from our archives: From Morning Shots, April 19, 2022
In Florida, state education officials have rejected dozens of math texts because they allegedly include prohibited references to race; bookstores refuse to carry novels by J.K. Rowling; legislatures continue to create lists of prohibited books; and in scenes that would make Mencken’s ghost howl, smut-hunting illiterati across the country have risen up against public libraries.
In one Texas town, reports the Washington Post, censorious activists “have taken works as seemingly innocuous as the popular children’s picture book ‘In the Night Kitchen’ by Maurice Sendak off the shelves, closed library board meetings to the public and … stacked [them] with conservative appointees — some of whom did not even have library cards.”
With these actions, Llano joins a growing number of communities across America where conservatives have mounted challenges to books and other content related to race, sex, gender and other subjects they deem inappropriate.
A movement that started in schools has rapidly expanded to public libraries, accounting for 37 percent of book challenges last year, according to the American Library Association. Conservative activists in several states, including Texas, Montana and Louisiana have joined forces with like-minded officials to dissolve libraries’ governing bodies, rewrite or delete censorship protections, and remove books outside of official challenge procedures.
We are indeed in the midst of a spasm of book banning. The free speech advocates at PEN have documented 1,586 instances of individual books being banned in 86 school districts in 26 states. The group is also warning that bills banning “critical race theory” threaten free speech in schools.
“These bills appear designed to chill academic and educational discussions and impose government dictates on teaching and learning,” the report says. “In short: They are educational gag orders.”
“Taken together,” it continues, “the efforts amount to a sweeping crusade for content- and viewpoint-based state censorship.”
But, as I wrote earlier this year, the New York Times report includes this jarring line: “In invoking free speech, PEN is staking its approach on a principle that has lost its luster for some on the left, even while many on the right — including politicians advocating these bills — have invoked it as a mantra.”
Free speech has lost its luster for some on the left.
And, of course, thereby hangs a tale, but not an especially new one in the woolier precincts of the anti-liberal left, where speech codes, trigger warnings, and safe spaces have been a thing for some time now.
So, in Burbank, California, teachers “will no longer be able to teach a handful of classic novels” because of concerns over racism.
Until further notice, teachers in the area will not be able to include on their curriculum Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, Theodore Taylor's The Cay and Mildred D. Taylor's Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.
In today’s New York Times, Sungjoo Yoon, a junior at Burbank High School, writes about the intellectual intolerance behind the proscription of those classic books, and notes:
One fact often overlooked in these disputes is that both conservatives and liberals engage in book banning and removal when it suits their political goals. Burbank is a liberal stronghold where the majority of voters in the last five presidential elections cast ballots for Democrats….
Cue the outrage for this flagrant act of bothsidesism. But the problem is real.
Just ask J.K. Rowling.
After the bestselling author of the Harry Potter series voiced support for a British tax specialist fired for “transphobic tweets,” a number of independent bookshops announced that they would no longer carry any of her books.
In response to what they regard as hate speech, three mission-driven indie bookstores have decided to stop stocking Rowling's books. While these stores acknowledge some impact upon their bottom line, all three owners speaking to PW emphasize that they have no obligation to provide shelf space to authors whose views contradict their personal philosophies and their stores' missions.
Their position won support from progressive librarians, including one writer for the “Intellectual Freedom Blog,” published by the (checks notes) “Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association,” who defended the unstocking of Rowling’s books.
“Once again,” she wrote of the Rowling book ban, “we have a case of private businesses choosing to not support a cause or belief that goes against their values…”
“Curation is the key. Independent bookstores are curators of literature. They are not libraries. If libraries were to remove Rowling’s books, that would certainly be considered censorship.”
But nota bene: the objection here is not to anything in the books themselves. The booksellers object to Rowling’s opinions that were expressed on Twitter and in a blog post — and decided to take their umbrage out on the books.
Sometimes the objections are more direct. Flashback to this episode of progressive illiberalism:
A few months ago, the American Booksellers Association issued this statement of performative groveling:
The “serious, violent incident” here was sending out copies of this book:
The author of the offending book, Abigail Shrier, writes for the Wall Street Journal and is a graduate of Columbia College, Oxford University, and Yale Law School. Her book is obviously controversial, but it was named one of the best books of the year by The Economist and one of the best of 2021 by the Times of London.
But her book triggered opponents, who demanded that it be suppressed.
After receiving two Twitter complaints, Target stopped selling the book (a decision they later reversed . . . and then reversed again). Hundreds of Amazon employees signed a petition demanding the company stop selling the book.
Even the ACLU seemed to break bad on the idea that the book should be available in the marketplace of ideas. Chase Strangio, the American Civil Liberties Union’s deputy director for transgender justice, tweeted: “Abigail Shrier’s book is a dangerous polemic with a goal of making people not trans. . . . We have to fight these ideas which are leading to the criminalization of trans life again.”
He declared: “Stopping the circulation of this book and these ideas is 100% a hill I will die on.”
Shrier commented: “You read that right: Some in today’s ACLU favor book banning. Grace Lavery, a professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, went further, tweeting: ‘I DO encourage followers to steal Abigail Shrier’s book and burn it on a pyre.’
“This,” Shrier wrote, “is where leftist extremism, encouraged by cowardly corporations, leads.”
To be sure, there are crucial distinctions to be drawn here between state action and decisions by private actors. There is a legitimate distinction between the decisions made by public libraries and bookstores.
The First Amendment protects books only against government censorship. And so, the argument will go, there is no equivalency between the heavy-handed actions of legislatures and school boards and the opinions of individual booksellers.
This is all true.
But that misses the heart of the current danger: the absence of robust support for the idea that even offensive speech needs protection; that words are not violence; and that sensitivities should not be the basis of censorship.
Illiberal progressives have very different objections than the right-wing critics, but they unfortunately share the premise of the censor: that we need to be protected from dangerous/offensive ideas/books/speech.
As long as that is the case, the fight against illiberal attacks on books will continue to be a two-front war.
Exit take: If you are offended by a book, (1) don’t buy it, (2) don’t read it, or (3) make an effort to correct or refute it.
Don’t burn it.
Note: This post was updated with new information about MTG’s defense of Santos.