I admit it. I like making my own end-of-the-year lists, and I like to see how my opinions line up with other list-makers. It’s silly maybe, but it can help to refine one’s perspective. So here’s my first end-of-the-year list which names the political actors and/or acts that struck me as the most absurd and/or inexcusable during 2013, hence the titular worst of the worst. (In order to balance the negativity, though, I’ll be following it with a list of the best of the best.) It goes without saying that my selections are entirely subjective and reflect my opinion only – nobody else is implicated by my judgement, although I invite anyone so inclined to take issue with my selections or offer their contrary assessments in the comments. And with that, away we go:
1. Rex Sinquefield: Sinquefield is a retired billionaire financier whose hobby is buying up Missouri state government in order to provide a staging ground for his libertarian theology. He plays a long game, lavishing tons of dollars on politicians of every stripe as long as they show even some teeny-tiny signs of sympathy for a small sliver of his goals. What does he want long-term? Just a Missouri with all the attractions of the brutish Randian paradise for wealthy Übermenschen that excites today’s conservatives.
But hey, perverting the political process for the benefit of the rich and powerful is nothing new and, on its own, wouldn’t merit more than an honorable mention among the worst of Missouri’s recent worst. Mr. Sinquefield has been taking full advantage of the Supreme Court’s destructive endorsement of the idea that money equals speech for a long time. This year, however, plantation master Sinquefield found it necessary to crack the whip; he quickly helped launch a lawsuit to stop a campaign finance reform bill that would have reduced the decibels of his green-backed free speech to a level more in line with that enjoyed by less wealthy citizens of the state. And what does he do with this free-speech? He lies – as in his recent Forbes Magazine op-ed, an overtly counterfactual apotheosis of Kansas Governor Brownback’s tax free policies.
2. The Missouri anti-Obamacare obstructionists: And by obstructionists I mean the Republicans who control the state legislature. Thanks to these jerks, 193,000 Missourians will be out in the healthcare cold. These are the people who don’t make enough money to qualify for subsidies on the Obamacare exchanges since those in their income range were were meant to to get coverage through an extension of Medicaid eligibility, an extension that the state’s GOP, taking advantage of another gift from our conservative Supreme Court, have refused to enact. The same folks have refused to set up Obamacare exchanges, tried to hinder use of the federal exchange and pushed one dishonest story after another about the imagined perils of the law. Talk all you want about the initial failures of the Obamacrare Website or Obama’s rather tame “lie of the year,” the folks who’ve done the real damage are quite simply the politicos who are busy patting themselves on the back because they have saved Missouri’s poor from the moral hazard represented by actual health care.
3. Members of the Missouri GOP congressional delegation: These folks, many of them multi-millionaires, came home to enjoy their cushy Christmas celebrations after refusing to extend benefits for unemployed American workers. As a result, last Saturday 21,329 jobless Missourians lost the meager stipend (averaging $242) that often meant keeping food on the table. If nothing is done, 35,400 more workers will lose this cushion in the first months of 2014. The people’s Republican representatives felt free to cut benefits off even though currently there are, according to some sources, three applicants for most jobs and over 4 million long-term unemployed nationally. Missouri’s current unemployment rate is 6.1%.
4. Rep. Ann Wagner (R-2): Wagner makes it onto this list due to her emergence as one of the aspiring leaders of the GOP House membership, in which role she stood behind the recent government shutdown, welcoming the “fight” on behalf of “the American people,” while simultaneously trying to lay the blame on the Democrats who, for some inexplicable reason, wouldn’t roll over and play dead after winning a major election. This shutdown cost taxpayers $24 billion at a conservative estimate. Thanks alot, Ann. If Wagner represents the new face of the GOP, the concept needs some work.
5. Governor Jay Nixon: Nixon arguably doesn’t belong on a list filled with boneheads and charlatans – but he landed here because I expect more of him when it comes to looking out for the long-term welfare of the state as opposed to selling us out for a short-term, politically attractive “get.” I’m talking about the Boeing giveaway here. There’s plenty of evidence that massive incentives such as those offered to Boeing are bad economic policy, particularly in a state that like Missouri is already starved for revenue. It leaves a particularly bad taste when one takes into account the sort of underhanded back-room deals that seem to have been required to bring it into being. But no matter how you cut it, $3.5 billion in tax breaks is a bit much to pay in order to buy bragging rights for a handful of jobs – especially when we’re talking about jobs that were probably never going to come here in the first place. When politicians you have no choice but to trust are influenced by corrupt, corporatist thinking about the allocation of cost and benefit, it makes it just that much harder to believe that change will ever be possible. You want to know why Democrats don’t turn out in off-year elections, why there’s an enthusiasm gap? Look no further.
6. The Greater St. Louis Labor Council: This one hurts. It hurts because it’s more evidence of the demise of labor. It’s clear that Boeing’s effort to spike a bidding war for its 777X manufacturing facility, as the Kansas City Star’s Mary Sanchez noted, is “just leverage for Boeing Co. to go after the jugular of a labor union.” Now, I’ve always believed that what made unions work was a little thing called solidarity – and that its exercise is not defined in regional terms. Yet not only were local unions willing to undercut their brothers and sisters in Washington, but they quickly squelched Gordon King, a representative of the local Machinists District 837, when he attempted to stand up and do what union members are supposed to do for each other. When it becomes “my workers first” and not “all workers together,” unions have truly lost the war, and the unbecoming eagerness of the local labor council to kiss up to Boeing is just one more step along the way. I understand the desperation that has brought our local labor leaders to this point, but it still hurts.
7. Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-4): No list of worsts would be complete with the stench of hypocrisy – of which Hartzler is redolent. And make no mistake, it takes chutzpah to vote to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), part of the safety net for the poor, wile keeping sacrosanct massive agricultural subsidies for rich farmers that Hartzler and her family continue to receive. Hartzler, author of a book titled Running God’s Way that is described as “a must-read for everyone interested in serving God through political involvement,” has shown herself again and again to be unwilling to put into practice Christ’s admonition in Matthew 25:34-36 to minister to those in need, and has, instead, allied herself with the wealthy about whom Christ declared “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 11:25).
8. Brian Nieves: In a state legislature filled with chuckleheads and bozos, if one had to single out one supreme example of the resentment-fueled, raging white doofus, it would have to be state Senator Brian “Mad Dog” Nieves. Sharia law, Agenda 21, drones spying on farmers, gold-buggery, tentherism, you name it, if it’s crazy Nieves is for it. Add to the mix his eagerness to physically and verbally attack opponents, constituents, you name it, and you’ve got a disaster ready to happen. He’s on this year’s list, though, because he’s one of the brains (and I use the term loosely) who responded to the Sandy Hook massacre by pushing a gun bill so irresponsible that even members of his own party ultimately refused to over-ride its veto by the Governor. In his own words:
… If we, as a nation, would collectively take a few short minutes, maybe even an hour, to actually research what our Founding Fathers said, in their own words, about gun ownership and gun control, we would see that what we arbitrarily refer to as “Assault Rifles” would fit squarely with what they wanted us to have! …
Now that constitutional scholar Nieves has devoted an hour or so to researching the issue, I should probably run out and buy my assault weapon today! Then I can wave it around and act tough just like “Mad Dog.” Just in case you’re worried, there’ll be lots more fun and games ahead. And like last year, very little attention to important business.
Slightly edited for clarity.