Daily Reformer: Biden’s Irish grief & Gazelka lets his hair down

Vice President Joe Biden | U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Former Vice President Joe Biden won half of Minnesota's delegates. Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Good morning!

Exclusive on the Reformer: Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka gave an interview in November to Andrew Wommack, a televangelist with very conservative politics who makes all sorts of faith healing claims, including that his child rose from the dead cuz prayer. Anyway, Gazelka, who comes across as an avuncular, gentle soul around the Capitol, tells Wommack that he’s in a “spiritual battle” that’s “epic” and boasts about stopping the conversion therapy ban last session. At one point Wommack likens the political opposition to the Antichrist. (OMG he should see the Reformer Slack channel; he’s totally right! That’s a joke for the humor-impaired.) Gazelka also has thoughts on the urban poors. Just read the whole thing, wouldya, and we link to the Youtube video. 

Max Nesterak caught up with Tim Sumner, a Beltrami commissioner who is also a member of the Red Lake Nation and thinks the Beltrami County vote to ban refugee resettlement is a touch hypocritical from where he sits. 

States Newsroom Washington bureau has a nice rundown on all 5 Minnesota newbie members of Congress. Most vulnerable Republican is Rep. Jim Hagedorn, who reps Spam. And on the DFL side, it’s Rep. Angie Craig, who reps the place I go for Costco. (I love the First and Second Congressional Districts friends; it’s just shorthand.) Craig picked up a couple opponents recently. Her opponents will need President Donald Trump to have solid numbers in the Second Congressional, plus raise their own profiles considerably, and that takes money. It’s just not that easy to beat an incumbent member of Congress unless you’re in a wave year. 

(Speaking of opponents and not having them: Any opponent for top target state Sen. Matt Little, DFLer of the South Metro?) 

Voting on a vote

More on the Senate minority leader fight (you’re gonna get sick of all my inside baseball on this, but deal with it!) I talked to a DFL operative with ties to both sides who said an exhaustion is setting in: “Everyone says they want it to be over. I don’t think (current Minority Leader Tom Bakk) has the votes.” The latest ploy: a vote on whether to take the vote.

Tensions are starting to run high. “There’s people upset and cranky. I don’t think people realize what the fallout will be.” 

Among the potential ramifications: “It’s ideological but you’re also ceding geography. We’re gonna turn our backs on parts of the state, and you’re accelerating the diminishing influence of a region.” 

Lev Parnas seems nice

My long ago colleague Lisa Mascaro at AP on the House delivering the impeachment articles. Ukrainian police have opened an investigation into whether our former U.S. ambassador there was under illegal surveillance (this is related to the trove of new evidence from Rudy Giuliani’s former henchman Lev Parnas, and it sounds quite sinister in intent.) And our DC bureau also has a good rundown of all things impeachment. 

Fintan on Biden

Your lunchtime long read is this brilliant essay by Fintan O’Toole about Joe Biden, “the most gothic figure in American politics.” 

Biden becomes not just the reembodiment of the dead Kennedys but a kind of political necromancer, calling forth an entire generation that has been wandering in a civic Hades, lost to the world of democratic engagement. He also becomes the man who can imaginatively reverse time, who can take us all back to 1960, back to the beginning of the story so that it can be told again without the blood-soaked pages.

The essay leans on Richard Ben Cramer’s masterpiece of the 1988 campaign, “What it Takes” and Jules Witcover’s biography.  

Biden is a storyteller, which has a long and rich tradition in the Irish, though a less forgiving person would say he liked to invent stories about himself that weren’t true: 

This lack of personal involvement in the (civil rights and Vietnam) struggle did not stop Biden, when he was seeking national office, from inventing a civil rights past for himself. Cramer reported on his rhetoric in the primaries in 1988: “Joe was off on his life … how he started in the civil rights movement … remember?… The marches? Remember how that felt? … And they’re nodding in the crowd, and he’s got them, sure.” Even when his handlers warned him to stop saying this because it was not true, he couldn’t help himself: “Folks, when I started in public life, in the civil rights movement, we marched to change attitudes.”

He didn’t march. 

O’Toole captures Biden’s Irish grief and the solace he brings to others in tragedy. But he also sketches its limits: 

Biden’s core belief is that injustice is a failure of benevolence and effort: “There is nothing inherently wrong with the system; it’s up to each of us to do our part to make it work.” But division is real and profound and structural — it is not just a matter of feeling. The need is not to reconcile everyone to the balance of power but to alter that balance. Consolation is not social change. Solace is not enough.

The close of this fantastic essay is heartbreaking, especially if you’re Irish Catholic. 

I get email: “Glad you’re doing this, but so far it sucks …. At least it’s short.”

Pretty much a description of what it is to be human, amirite?

Today in Jill Lepore’s “These Truths” we’re in the 1740s in New York City, when fires have broken out across the city. New Yorkers were convinced the city’s slaves were setting fires in a rebellion plot. They rounded up 150, of whom 30 were sentenced to die, 17 by burning at the stake. The rest were sold back into slavery in the Carribbean. A slave leader named Caesar, “who at the gallows refused to confess, was hung in chains, his rotting body displayed for months in hopes that his ‘Example and Punishment might break the Rest, and induce some of them to unfold this Mystery of Iniquity.’ But the mystery of iniquity wasn’t conspiracy; it was slavery itself.” 

Send me tips, reflections, feedback, and of course we’re always looking for guest writers: [email protected]

Have a great day all!