We expect that a political opposition party will generate arguments against the sitting administration, against their political foes. That's why it seems predictable that Sen. Mitch McConnell or Rep. Kevin McCarthy, leaders of the Republicans in Congress, will take stands against policies or proposals from Joe Biden and Democrats.
Still, what we don't expect is that even in the name of passionate politics, Republican leaders will suggest that they live on another planet altogether.
That's why when Rep. Margorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) talked of "Jewish space lasers" and any number of her colleagues suggested that the Jan. 6 insurrectionists simply were "visitors" to the Capitol that day, we just close our ears and wait until they stop talking.
With would-be Republican candidates for president sound as if they are on Mars, we must take notice – these people could be running the country. The trick is in assuring ourselves that we're not just seeing a "gaffe" remark, but something that represents sustained thinking.
Here are a few that seem to do just that:
Faced with questions about why the state's new restrictive law about abortions and vigilante justice deny medical treatments for victims of rape, Gov. Greg Abbott came up with a humdinger: He will eliminate rape in Texas – by aggressively prosecuting rapists after the fact.
Right. We will eliminate rape by arresting suspects after the rape has occurred. Skip over whether this makes any sense. My question is why isn't he eliminating rape now, without using a new abortion-restricting law as an excuse?
"Rape is a crime, and Texas will work tirelessly to make sure that we eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas by aggressively going out and arresting them and prosecuting them and getting them off the streets," Abbott said, without explaining how he would do so or why now.
That promise has drawn more than the usual amount of notoriety and scorn, even from people who are not necessarily speaking for pro-choice movements. The new Texas law, hurriedly allowed to take effect by a U.S. Supreme Court in the middle of the night, makes no exceptions to setting a six-week deadline for victims of rape or incest. Joe Biden and Democrats have said they will consider federal measures to secure access to abortion nationwide with the Justice Department said to be exploring legal challenges, based, in part on civil rights laws.
Here was Texas Democratic Rep. Gene Wu: "Wait," Wu said in a tweet mocking Abbott's answer, "Governor Abbott had a solution to end all RAPE and he sat on it until now?"
MSNBC host Joe Scarborough said, "Why don't we start by showing how Texas fares when it comes to rapes—more reported in the state of Texas than any other state in America . . . and a governor saying we're going to stop all rapes. . . We're in a preposterous state here."
Meanwhile, the copycat anti-abortion actions are continuing to spread quickly in Republican-run states. Republican South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem this week issued an executive order restricting abortion medications usually purchased over the Internet and delivered by mail, requiring that they be picked up in person at a doctor's office. In April, the Food and Drug Administration lifted restrictions on sending abortion-inducing medications through the mail, determining that sending the medicine remotely through telemedicine did not increase risk.
Noem dictated that abortion-inducing medications such as mifepristone may be given by a physician licensed in South Dakota only after an in-person examination. Data on the number of chemical abortions performed and any complications as well as information to indicate if the woman was "coerced or sex trafficked and forced to take the pills" will also be collected, per Noem's order. Again, there was no indication of how and why this will be enforced.
Conservative Republican radio host Larry Elder, who is seeking to knock off California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, in next week's recall election, told a radio interviewer, again, that if we are discussing reparations, it is slaveholder families and not former slaves who deserve payments.
Again, no gaffe here. Elder has been arguing such a position for quite a while.
"When people talk about reparations, do they really want to have that conversation? Like it or not, slavery was legal," Elder, who is Black, said. "Their legal property was taken away from them after the Civil War, so you could make an argument that the people that are owed reparations are not only just Black people but also the people whose 'property' was taken away after the end of the Civil War."
Elder said slave owners lost a significant amount of money and resources after the Civil War and the passing of the 13th Amendment in 1865, which partially abolished slavery. He noted that other countries, such as the UK, "compensated slave owners" with "substantial sums of money" after losing their "legal property," adding, "That's why there was no war in the UK: slave owners received huge sums of money," he said. UK leaders provided former slaveholders with 20 million pounds in compensation from the British Slave Compensation Commission following the abolition of slavery in the country in 1833, Yahoo News reported.
Let's just say that it is difficult to see this candidate as a healer in our divided country. Maybe it would sound better in the original Martian.
Consistently now over months, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has distinguished himself in his stands against taking coronavirus seriously. He has declined to promote vaccines and masks – though himself getting vaccinated – even going so far as punishing school districts and cities for adopting mandates for mask-wearing. He has used manipulated data to insist that death counts from covid are falling at a time when death counts are rising sharply.
We learned more this week about why he feels the way he does. He opposes creating a "biomedical security state" through vaccine passports and mandates. Next week, Florida will start to levy $5,000 fines on businesses, schools and government agencies that require visitors to show proof of vaccination.
"At the end of the day . . . it's about your health and whether you want that protection or not," DeSantis said. "It really doesn't impact me or anyone else." In other words, would-be doctor DeSantis has determined that there is no problem with carrying viruses, that you shouldn't care if others are protected. Natural immunity, he asserted, supersedes the immunity a vaccine provides.
As it happens, I have a daughter who teaches at Florida State University, which apparently can require in-person classes, but not masks or vaccines, or even ask who is vaccinated. So, when a student popped up positive for covid last week, having exposed all, the university had no procedures in place other than for the student to voluntarily choose to seek medical advice or drop out of class to go home, since there are no quarantine facilities on campus.
Principles, yes, aplenty. Practicalities, none. How would you grade the governor as an effective leader? Approval polls have taken a dive.
While we do not understand a lot about covid, we do get that its variants spread most quickly in an unvaccinated population and that allowing a substantial minority of Americans to go unvaccinated and unmasked keeps the mutating virus around to hunt for more victims. As Washington Post columnist Philip Bump noted this week, there is such a thing as the common good. You would hope that someone wanting to be president would be stressing what the unvaccinated can do in the name of social responsibility rather than the opposite.
Maybe everyone on Mars can remain unvaccinated and unmasked.