It is clear that one of the political objectives of the January 6 hearings is to strengthen the anti-insurgency wing of the Republican Party. The vice chair and lead member of the House select committee is Liz Cheney, a Republican. The leading witnesses, such as retired judge J. Michael Luttig and Greg Jacob, are Republicans. And the heroes of the story, such as former Vice President Mike Pence, are Republicans.
It is Pence in particular who has been the subject of much acclaim.
“Thanks in part to Mike Pence, our democracy has withstood Donald Trump’s plan and the violence of Jan. 6,” said Representative Bennie Thompson, a Democrat who chairs the select committee. “Vice President Pence understood that his oath of office was more important than his loyalty to President Trump. He did his duty,” Cheney said.
Yes, the vice president ultimately refused to participate in Donald Trump’s coup. But this is not heroic. He did not go beyond his constitutional obligations. He simply chose not to break the law. He did almost the bare minimum of what we would expect from a person in his position. To use a phrase from President George W. Bush, it’s the gentle bigotry of low expectations to pretend that Pence has done something extraordinary.
There is also a factual problem. Far from firmly opposed to the president’s plan to undo the election, Pence was initially inclined to help. He even contacted one of his predecessors, Dan Quayle, for advice on what to do. We know this because it is documented in the book “Peril” by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. This is how they describe the conversation:
Again and again, Pence asked if there was anything he could do. “Mike, you’re not flexible about this. No. Zero. Forget it. Put it away,” Quayle told him. Pence pressed again. “You don’t know what position I’m in,” he said. “I know your position,” Quayle replied. “I also know what the law is. You are listening to the MP. That’s all you do. You have no power.”
This doesn’t sound like a man whose first instinct was, according to his counsel at the time, “that our drafters would never have put one person in a role who would have a decisive influence on the outcome of the election.”
It sounds like a man who only did the right thing after he couldn’t find a legal reason to do the wrong thing. It sounds like a man who still doesn’t completely reject Trump or what he stands for. It sounds like a man who still won’t testify, fearing he will alienate the voters who are sure to propel him to sixth in the Iowa primaries.
Yes, when it mattered most, Pence gave up on Trump. That doesn’t make him a hero.
what I wrote
My Tuesday column dealt with the Democratic leadership’s disastrous optimism regarding the Republican Party.
What party leaders lack, an absence that is endlessly frustrating to younger liberals, is any sense of urgency and crisis—any sense that our system is on the brink. Despite mounting threats to voting rights, the right to abortion and the federal government’s ability to act proactively in the public interest, senior Democrats continue to pretend that American politics is back to normal.
My column on Friday was about why Democrats should be much more aggressive in questioning Ginni and Clarence Thomas.
Democrats don’t have to imitate Republican behavior in all its deranged glory, but they would do well to heed the lesson that for many voters, where there’s smoke, there must be fire.
The most recent episode of my podcast with John Ganz was on the 1993 movie “Sniper.” And if you live in New York, next week I’ll be giving two lectures on the problems and future of American democracy in the New York Public library. Details here.
Rebecca Traister on Dianne Feinstein in New York magazine.
Harold Meyerson on the history of socialism in the United States for Dissent magazine.
In downtown Charlottesville, Virginia, stands the rotting shell of an unfinished hotel building. A local civic group has tried to make it look less hideous by decorating it with some artwork. This is a photo of that artwork. I loved the shapes and contrast in the scene, and the dark-clothed man walking through it is a happy coincidence.
Eating now: French lentils with vegetables and herbs
For dinner we eat lentils with fried fish, and I thought I’d share the recipe for the lentils. It’s very simple. You don’t have to use French lentils. Black beluga lentils would work just as well. Recipe comes through Serious Eats.
1 cup (7 ounces; 200 grams) French le Puy lentils, picked for stones
1 medium carrot, cleaned and peeled
1 medium yellow onion, halved by the carrot
1 medium celery
2 medium garlic cloves
2 or 3 sprigs of rosemary, thyme, or sage (or a combination)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ pound (225 grams) very finely chopped shallot, carrot, celery and turnip combination (from about ¾ pound [340 grams] vegetables total)
Red wine vinegar, to taste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Small handful of finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves and soft stems
In a large saucepan, combine lentils with carrot, onion and celery. Tie garlic cloves and herbs in a cheesecloth bag and add to the pot. Cover the lentils with at least 5 cm of water, season generously with salt (water should taste as salty as you like) and place over medium heat.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and cook over low heat until lentils are just tender enough that you can slap one against the roof of your mouth with your tongue, about 25 minutes. (Start checking for about 15 minutes and keep checking until the lentils are perfectly cooked.)
Add a handful of ice cubes or a generous splash of cold water to the lentil pan to lower the temperature of the water and stop the cooking. The lentils can be refrigerated in their cooking liquid for up to two days at this point before continuing with the recipe. Discard carrot, onion, celery, and herb sachet.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat until frothy. Add chopped vegetables and cook, stirring, until almost cooked through, about 2 minutes. Add drained lentils along with just enough of their cooking liquid (about ¼ cup) to moisten slightly. Bring to a boil and cook until lentils are heated through and enough liquid has evaporated to cover the lentils with a creamy glaze.
Add vinegar 1 teaspoon at a time until the lentils have a pleasantly clear taste. (It should taste like a slightly contrasting flavor, but not highly acidic.)
Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the parsley and serve warm.