IN R.I., A 'NICE GUY' ADOPTS THE GOP’S ‘BAD-NANCY’ CARD
ALLAN FUNG, the Republican candidate in Rhode Island's 2nd Congressional District. CREDIT: Fung for Congress website
A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO, I was watching a TV debate in a crucial Congressional race that could determine control of the House of Representatives – and I was getting increasingly upset the way that the Republican candidate kept bringing up Nancy Pelosi’s name. Allan Fung, the Republican and a former mayor of Cranston, Rhode Island, repeatedly attacked his Democratic opponent, Seth Magaziner, who’s the state's treasurer, for supporting President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and their “policies” which Fung blamed for high inflation. “... (Magaziner is) doubling down and supporting these same economic policies that our failed President, as well as Speaker Nancy Pelosi, had been forcing onto this economy that’s costing us at the gas pumps, at the grocery stores,” Fung said early in the debate. He made the same kind of references five more times in the 57-minute forum on Oct. 18, pairing Biden and Pelosi as twin ghoulish forces, altering his wording only slightly, as if he were riffing off a talking-points sheet. I ended up yelling at the TV, imploring Magaziner to face Fung and berate him for his demeaning tone, commanding Fung to show some respect for Pelosi, for her historic role as a political pioneer as the first woman Speaker of the House, and perhaps the chamber’s all-time most effective leader. And remind him that Pelosi has put all women (and men) in her debt by fighting successfully for equal rights. “Seth,” I bellowed at the wide-screen, “tell him to show some respect.” “Tell Fung that Nancy Pelosi is American icon. And to stop his sneering and his vilifying innuendo that she’s some sort of blot on the country. She’s principled, accomplished and courageous, and it’s time that you and your Republican cronies stopped your robotic attacks against this astonishing, heroic woman.” Then, last Friday, Oct. 28, Pelosi’s longtime role as a Republican villain came into sharper focus, with the hammer attack on her 82-year-old husband, Paul, by an intruder into their San Francisco home, carrying kidnapping paraphernalia, such as zip ties and a roll of tape, demanding to know where “Nancy” was. It was the second time that a demand for “Nancy” had been used in a violent, criminal political assault, the first being when Donald Trump’s barbarian-rioters stormed the Capitol, with insurrection – and murder – on their minds. The Halloween-day edition of New York Times made that point, but more, eloquently than I can, in a detailed piece that said one research group has estimated that since 2018, Republicans have featured Pelosi in nearly 530,000 attack ads costing $227 million. “For the better part of two decades, Republicans have targeted Ms. Pelosi, the most powerful woman in American politics, as the most sinister Democratic villain of all, making her the evil star of their advertisements and fund-raising appeals in hopes of animating their core supporters,” the Times story said. It added that: “Ms. Pelosi is now one of the most threatened members of Congress in the country.”
THE TV DEBATE - Allan Fung, on the left, and Seth Magaziner, the Democratic candidate for Rhode Island's open Congressional seat. CREDIT: Screenshot via WPRI-TV, Channel 12
LET’S RETURN to the Rhode Island TV debate. Allan Fung did NOT directly demonize Nancy Pelosi, at least in so many words. He did not suggest, as has the notorious Georgia Republican Congresswoman, Marjorie Taylor Greene, that Pelosi is “guilty of treason,” a crime that Greene said is “punishable by death.” Fung did not say Pelosi is the head of a Democratic pedophilia ring, or that she actually choreographed the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Instead, he simply paired Biden and Pelosi as Democrat misfits. He did not mention other “notorious” Democrats, like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, former President Barack Obama or even the other favorite GOP punching bag, Hillary Clinton. He didn’t have to say more. The national Republicans had done his dirty work for him. Just say those two hateful words, “Nancy Pelosi,” and we all know who and what they are talking about. Someone can argue – but I won’t – that it was fair for Fung to bring up Pelosi’s name in the debate since he is running for Congress and, if elected, he will have a vote in picking the leader of the House of Representatives. And someone also can argue – but I won’t – that during the same debate, Fung’s opponent, Seth Magaziner, repeatedly attacked policies supported by Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the California Republican who is the House minority leader and the Speaker-in-waiting, should Republicans take over the closely divided House. Because we’re not talking about disagreements between honorable opponents. Even the hammer that bashed in Paul Pelosi’s skull ought to know that. Allan Fung was borrowing from a Republican script developed by the party’s notorious message machine. Which brings me to a question that many Rhode Islanders are asking with the midterm elections just a week away: why not turn over a House seat, long held by a retiring Democratic Rep. Jim Langevin, to Allan Fung, who happens to be a Republican? Because Fung is indisputably a “nice guy.” He’s indisputably a moderate Republican. He says Joe Biden won the election. He’s for immigration reform. Against use of nuclear weapons. Couldn’t we use more of those kind of “nice” Republicans in Washington? The Answer: no. Absolutely, no.
SETH MAGAZINER, with his wife, Julia, and their son, Max. CREDIT: Seth Magaziner for Congress website
FOR ONE THING, turning one Congressional seat from Blue to Red, even one belonging to tiny, usually insignificant Rhode Island, could transform the House into a Republican chamber of horrors, which is why I’ve been volunteering in the Magaziner campaign, canvassing door-to-door. The other issue is character: character versus likability: Don’t we want someone likable to represent us in public life, especially in these fraught times? Let’s get this straight, as noted already: Allan Fung is absolutely likable. He lights up a room. He’s the son of Chinese immigrants and the first Asian-American mayor of a Rhode Island city. Actually, Seth Magaziner is likable, too. He’s also from a family of immigrants. He taught kids in a poor public school after college. He’s articulate and quick in a debate and in person. Fun to be around. But none of that matters. Most politicians, even those you don’t agree with, are likely to be likable. In person, most political people are fun to be around, fun to listen to, to take selfies with, have a beer with. Nice is what they do. It’s impractical to be a politician and not be likable. But that doesn’t tell us who they really are. Allan Fung belongs to a party whose repeated attacks on Nancy Pelosi have put her life and her husband’s life in danger – and that also threaten the political life of our country. Tearing apart the reputations of people they don’t like is among the many despicable things that Republicans do. And during the TV debate Oct. 18 Allen Fung did not seem to mind playing a dangerous card – the Republican-crafted “Bad-Nancy” card. If elected, Fung possibly will vote against some Republican proposals. But I’m betting that he’ll fall into line with his party’s agenda most of the time, just as he did during the debate with his repeated use of his Pelosi call-outs:
“... he’s doubling down and supporting these same economic policies that our failed President, as well as Speaker Nancy Pelosi, had been forcing onto this economy, that’s costing us at the gas pumps, at the grocery stores.
“… but most importantly, he’s doubled down right now – and talking about out of touch – he is supporting the failed policies of Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi that is crippling this economy."
“… the policies of the people he wants to (see) continue serving as President, and as Speaker, Nancy Pelosi."
“I will be an independent voice standing up for Rhode Island values and standing up for those that are on Social Security, because the ones that are taking away Social Security isn’t going to be myself, it’s Seth Magaziner, because he’s doubling down on the same economic policies of President Biden, as well as Speaker Pelosi, that’s taking money out of your pockets."
“My first vote in Congress will be to be to replace Nancy Pelosi as Speaker and her failed policies.”
“You know, Seth Magaziner wants to double down on the policies that’s driving this cost of living crisis for all Rhode Islanders by supporting President Biden and Speaker Pelosi that have left spending out of control.”
MAYBE FUNG DIDN'T fully realize it himself at the time, but his constant mentions of Pelosi were not just annoying to Democrats like me, who are huge Nancy Pelosi fans. Instead, they were a tip off as to Allan Fung’s character – and to those of most Republicans. I’m not sure that I fully understood that, even as I was fuming about Fung’s repeated use of the Pelosi name, what that ploy really signified. But after the attack on Nancy Pelosi’s husband, it was clear to me that the debate had been a kind of test for Allan Fung – one that he failed. It was a test in which a politician first appears to be a genuinely nice guy, but that in the end, he fails, because he turns out to be anything but nice.
NANCY PELOSI in 2019 CREDIT: House of Representatives
I'VE BEEN a reporter and writer for 58 years, long enough to have learned that journalists don't know very much, although I've met some smart ones. Mainly, what reporters know comes from asking other people questions and fretting about the answers. This blog is a successor to one inspired by our dog, Phoebe, who was smart, sweet and the antithesis of Donald Trump. She died Feb. 3, and I don't see getting over that very soon. Occasionally, I may try to reach her via cell phone.