A Fake Culture War Is All Republicans Have Left
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A Fake Culture War Is All Republicans Have Left

But the Biden administration isn’t taking the bait

Last week, during a Biden administration press briefing, a Fox News political reporter tried to take White House press secretary Jen Psaki on a trip to Seussville.

Specifically, Kristin Fisher asked Psaki why President Biden had removed mention of the children’s book author in his Read Across America Day proclamation to the Department of Education.

That same day, in a statement tied to the late author’s birthday, Dr. Seuss Enterprises told the Associated Press that it would cease publishing six Dr. Seuss books — including his first, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street — because of racist and insensitive imagery. “Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ catalog represents and supports all communities and families,” the company explained.

They don’t want to discuss policy they don’t have, or talk about the work of governance most have no real interest in performing. All they want to do is appeal to White grievance — preferably on Fox News during primetime hours.

Since then, Republican politicians and their cronies in right wing media have been making a fuss over the estate of a dead racist author — and yes, sorry to crush your childhood, but Dr. Seuss himself performed in blackface — recognizing that now is probably finally a good time to pull back on some of the racism in their catalog. Somehow, this is a testament to “cancel culture,” their imagined frenemy. Or if you’re Glenn Beck, this is “fascism.”

If conservatives had their way, we would spend most of our days consumed with whatever trivial issue they’ve stoked for controversy instead of more pressing matters like surviving a pandemic, preventing a depression, stopping violent White supremacists, and recognizing how much climate change will impact our ability to flush a toilet for the foreseeable future. They don’t want to discuss policy they don’t have, or talk about the work of governance most have no real interest in performing. All they want to do is appeal to White grievance — preferably on Fox News during prime time hours.

Fortunately, at least some of us in public life remember that engaging with this diversionary bullshit is a choice.

Many Fox News reporters would say their work differs from the network’s “opinion” anchors, but to me, Fisher even asking about Dr. Seuss was intentionally playing right into the sort of propaganda sold as news to Fox viewers.

“First, the proclamation was written by the Department of Education, and you can certainly speak to them about more specifics about the drafting of it,” Psaki answered. Fisher followed up by asking if the omission was related to the “controversy” surrounding a study on Dr. Seuss’ work that showed it lacked diversity in the characters. (Yes, I felt the set up, too.)

“I think it is important that children of all backgrounds see themselves in the children’s books that they read,” Psaki said, “but I would point you to the Department of Education for any more details on the writing of the proclamation.” She then explained the importance of diversity for obvious reasons. (I hope Tucker Carlson learned something.) While none of this has stopped any of those goofy-ass people to continue feigning rage about this, it was nice to see an adult swat away at least one instance of stupidity plaguing American politics.

And it appears to be a deliberate decision of the Biden administration. “I don’t think there is any danger in ignoring a debate on Mr. Potato Head and Dr. Seuss,” John Anzalone, a Biden adviser and campaign pollster, told Politico. “The Republicans are in danger of ignoring getting Covid-19 vaccine distribution money to states, funding to schools to reopen, and checks in the pockets of struggling Americans.”

Sure, but Republicans have become used to ruining the lives of everyday people and masking their cruelty by giving White folks cheap thrills. Dr. Seuss only comes after a long line of hits like Caravan of Imaginary Violent Migrants, Scary Black People, and Antifa Did It — and let’s not forget the fits thrown about the gender of Mr. Potato Head, too. They tend to get away with it, too, because they find enough suckers to engage.

If it feels like a scam, Mercedes Schlapp, a former Trump White House aide who’s now a senior fellow at the American Conservative Union Foundation, confirms your suspicions in that Politico feature. “I think ‘cancel culture rhetoric’ unifies the party but expands it into the area we need to — the suburban moms, the college educated men that we struggled with in 2020, there’s common ground with these constituencies,” she said. “We’re the party of common sense and we’re not going to be the party of continuously policing what our children are reading and not for this cancel culture mob to decide.”

What a curious way of saying “we’re trying to scare educated White women and a few of their husbands back into submission.”

This might have worked politically in the past, but I don’t know if the House minority leader reading Dr. Seuss at his job will do the trick of making him majority leader. I guess he figures the voter suppression will be enough? Then there’s Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who wasted time getting disingenuously worked up after Biden described Republican governors’ lifting mask mandates in Texas and Mississippi as “Neanderthal thinking.” Rubio can tweet all of the Bible verses he likes while still pledging allegiance to a serially accused sexual predator and con man like Donald Trump, but if you’re more concerned with the descriptor than the choice to let people die, you deserve the hell you profess to believe in.

Speaking of demons and those that deserve damnation, I also appreciate the Biden administration for not taking the bait to constantly talk about Trump. It hasn’t been hard to notice how much some political reporters miss him. In a separate White House press briefing last Friday, CBS News’ Weijia Jiang asked Psaki about the criticism from former President Trump on immigration policy — only disguising it as something “a lot of Americans are saying.” When asked specifically to name those Americans, the reporter pointed to a statement from Trump, the madman who issued travel bans against Muslims and set up internment camps.

There are plenty of criticisms to be made about American immigration policy, but to construct it as a gotcha question around a demagogue that exacerbated the problem with outright cruelty is a reminder that it’s not just Republicans invested in having superficial arguments.

I get that the GOP likes to lead with shallowness, stupidity, and sociopathy, but what so often bothers me about conservative efforts to distract is that they are so usually successful because people need clicks and ratings and the public is wound up to incessantly argue and bicker across social media. It’s a cycle that is not only obliterating my brain cells, but obfuscates the kind of focus the times require.

As much as my Instagram and failed state try to convince me otherwise, the pandemic hasn’t disappeared; I’d rather focus on the actual horrors of these experiences rather than any of their mindless and manufactured tantrums.

All too often are they given an assist by those that know better, so I appreciate the Biden administration for ignoring the culture wars the GOP and company are driving to drive up. They don’t seem to care what the party of death and destruction has to say about Dr. Seuss and other invented controversies.

It’s an example I wish more who helped shape our coverage would follow.