The Sad, Sad Devolution Of Dennis Ross


Dennis Ross
Lakeland TEA Party Rally - Apr. 15, 2009

I’m so old, I can remember back in 2006 when Dennis Ross publicly urged his fellow Republicans to help the scandal-plagued Polk County Opportunity Council get up on its feet–at a time nobody else was urging that.

“We have to change that `elitist Republican’ image and support PCOC,” said Ross, R-Lakeland. “If the party is going to preach inclusion, it has to practice inclusion.”

Ross argued, rightly or wrongly, that it was important for Republicans to be seen as attentive to the needs of the largely poor and minority population PCOC served. And he put his money where his mouth was, serving on PCOC Advisory Board for a time. As it turns out, Ross was wrong, and that agency was beyond saving. I edited the coverage that helped kill it. But Dennis’ gesture of good faith impressed me as the opposite of the tribalism that we often see in politics.

And I’m so old, I can remember in 2004 when Florida House Speaker Johnnie Byrd punished Ross for not voting the way he wanted on some issue by taking away money to fix the environmentally unsafe Mulberry sewage plant. Back then, Dennis had this to say about extremes and punishing or blackmailing lawmakers by withholding vital functions of government.

“I’m so frustrated that it has come to this, that our citizens are made to suffer this vindictiveness, and I sincerely apologize to my constituents in Mulberry,” Ross, R-Lakeland, said Wednesday.

“You talk with Democrats in the House and they will tell you that Johnnie Byrd was the best thing ever to happen to the Democratic Party, just as Bill Clinton was the best thing to happen to the Republican Party.”

And I remember in 2007 when Marco Rubio — yeah, that one — fired Dennis from his committee chairmanship because he wouldn’t vote for Rubio’s pet insurance plan.

“This is the price I paid for my independence,” Dennis said.

Evidently, he has resolved never to pay that price again.

As you may know, the federal government is about to shut down over a budget impasse. This seems to happen any time Republicans win a big Congressional election. Odd that it never happens in the other direction. Anyway, this came over the old Twitter wire yesterday from Dennis Ross:

“Pres. just said he will veto CR to fund our troops because Planned Parenthood & DC abortions are not funded. Shows his radical priorities.”

In a nutshell, from my point-of-view, Democrats, who control 2/3 of the lawmaking apparatus of the federal government have already agreed to the amount of cuts Republicans originally asked for. Republicans have since changed and enlarged their demands. These include additional cuts and various social/tribal issue items like family planning funding, NPR, etc. They have sought to gain leverage for these additional demands by keeping the government going through short-term (one or two week) spending bills, each designed to ratchet out more concessions, forever. Obama has finally said enough of this game and threatened to veto, setting the stage for the shutdown the Republican base chants for and claims to want.

That’s what Dennis Ross reacted to by Tweeting, “Pres. just said he will veto CR to fund our troops because Planned Parenthood & DC abortions are not funded. Shows his radical priorities.”

I want you to repeat that several times to yourselves. And those of you who know Dennis, or even just read those quotes above, ask yourselves if he actually believes this. And then let me answer.

I’ve known Dennis casually for quite a while now. One of his kids went to middle school with my daughter. We’ve talked many times at the Y, where we both work out, and at social functions we both attended. His wife and I were once involved in the same three-way car crash, neither of us at fault. We had a lovely chat that day and still laugh about it on occasion. Dennis certainly knows my relative stance on politics and policy, which at this point would have to be considered more “radical” than Barack Obama’s. Yet, somehow I’ve never detected that he considered me a radical troop-hating abortionist.

That’s because Dennis Ross does not believe that I, or Barack Obama, are radical troop-impoverishing/hating abortionists. And Dennis Ross knows that calling someone a radical troop-impoverishing abortionist is simply an act of casual propaganda for the rubes, not to be repeated in polite private conversation. Let me assure you, when Dennis Ross tweets “Pres. just said he will veto CR to fund our troops because Planned Parenthood & DC abortions are not funded. Shows his radical priorities,” it is not backed by sincerity. It’s just a tribal dance, a totem, a shibboleth.

He’s just speaking in the same code to the same people that the Klan spoke to in 1923 when it made its slogan “100 percent Americanism” and enforced prohibition with drunken mobs. That’s the political rhetorical tradition he’s decided to join. And it is conscious choice. He doesn’t come by it honestly. For instance, Dennis isn’t like the plurality of Mississippi Republicans who think interracial marriage should be illegal. It’s not in his tribal, historical blood. He has to work at being nasty.

Increasingly, Dennis’ words do not pass the living room test. If he were sitting in your living room now, with no one around to preen for, he would not look you in the eye in seriousness and declare Barack Obama a troop-impoverishing abortionist.

I promise you I would say all of this to his face in his living room if it ever came up. In fact, as Dennis began his flirtation with Teahadism last year, I actually buttonholed him at an event and said something like, “You’re dancing with a lot of crazy, Dennis. Be careful.” He did not expect me to repeat his answer, so I won’t.

Dennis’ transformation only enhances my respect for Adam Putnam, whom I voted for in 2010. He walked away from a possible leadership post in the U.S. House to return home to quietly and technocratically serve farmers. He’ll never say in public it was because of the crazy, but what do you think? You’ll also notice he never tweets about tribal enemies. Somewhere in the future, I hope he’ll lead a sane and decent Republican party.

We now have a divided government: a House controlled by Republicans, a Senate and Presidency controlled by Democrats. This is not new. We have many times had divided government. It requires compromise and a tiny modicum of good faith to function. In the budget battle, Republicans already have a deal that far exceeds what their 1/3 role in the government merits. And that’s not enough. It will never be enough.

Assuming the government shuts down, you, the citizen will need to make some evaluations about why it happened and who needs the accountability. When the Social Security checks stop coming and the military doesn’t get paid, you’ll need to assess which political forces are amenable to compromise and which practice blackmail.

From where I sit, it’s pretty clear where the responsibility lies. It lies with force that hates interracial marriage in Mississippi. It lies with the force that just won an election by running “Keep government our of Medicare” ads targeting anxious old people and now proposes to abolish Medicare and Medicaid and slash and privatize their services (Not sure how many different ways I can say I told you so).

It lies with the force that can turn a perfectly reasonable and honorable man like Dennis Ross into someone who casually types, “Pres. just said he will veto CR to fund our troops because Planned Parenthood & DC abortions are not funded. Shows his radical priorities” into his iPhone.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Chuck Welch for Lakeland Local

14 thoughts on “The Sad, Sad Devolution Of Dennis Ross

  1. I agree with a lot of what you said, Billy. But there’s blame to go around on this whole thing. If Dems had passed a budget a year ago we wouldn’t be here. If Republicans focused on the big picture instead of ideological details we wouldn’t be here. If Obama was as “non-partisan” and unifying a leader as he appeared in 2008 we likely wouldn’t be here. All that’s going on now is positioning to blame the other side, rather than doing what’s best for our country.

    As for Dennis’ tweet, it is feeding the blame frenzy that I wish would stop on both sides. But I’m willing to lean on his track record more than a tweet, and I’m still glad he’s in D.C. trying to help solve our budget mess.

  2. The tweet is representative of long period of similarly toned statements since joining the campaign. It didn’t come out of the blue. It is indicative of the persona he’s assumed willingly. There are no problems he’s trying to solve by that tweet or any of his others. Go read them.

    But you’ve read seriously, and that’s all I can ask. Ultimately, we all have to choose where to stand. It may be that compromise within a divided government is unimportant to you. In that case, you should welcome the shutdown.

    In my view, I happen to think the other side has actually compromised too much. But there’s simply no comparison in the levels of good faith being shown. And this is a matter of life and death that depends on some good faith.

  3. Unfortunately, he is proving to be only one among many of those recently elected who act more like petulant children on the kindergarten play ground than like the statesmen we need so desperately in Washington right now. They all need to grow up and act like the adults we expect and deserve running our government. But then we need to act adults at the polls for a change as well. If you’re not happy with your government, you only have bitchin’ rights if you actually showed up and voted — for the other guy. If these are your candidates running the show in Washington, Tallahassee, and Bartow, you got exactly what you voted for. And now we all get to deal with it until the next election.

    • See Al, that’s the consequence of having all this power concentrated. Whatever your political persuasion, sooner or later the pendulum swings the other way and all that power is used against your interests. Unfortunately elected officials are just a reflection of the population that puts them in that position, so we need to look in the mirror and not to the capital.

      • OK. Now this is an argument. Coherently stated. Much better. More of this, and I’ll be nice. Don’t even have to agree with me.

        • I don’t know Billy, we teach our daughter that mean or spiteful behavior towards others is never the right answer no matter how you perceive their behavior towards you. There are always more productive behaviors that one can engage in, either with that person or without.

  4. I don’t know Dennis Ross, but none of this surprises me assuming Billy is completely accurate. Politicians are great chameleons. They have to be. When your support base moves you have to adopt the new color scheme else risk your chances of maintaining that fine government salary and pension. He’s hardly the first one to start strumming a different tune when faced with shifts in the political winds.

    Well, I for one am happy that a budget compromise was reached. I was aghast at the notion that vital Federal funding for Cowboy Poetry might be lost:

    There’s so much Normalcy Bias going on ( that I feel I’m tripping through Wonderland. Does anyone with a shred of sense believe we can just keep rolling on as we are and NOTHING will change? At our current spending levels, the national debt is growing by $1.5 TRILLION DOLLARS per year, and we’re fighting over beer nuts and port rinds.

    And while it’s fun to point out interesting foibles in one’s opponents, let’s not abandon all humility when there is plenty of tar on the brush to cover oneself:

    • Is there an argument here, Troll?

      And nice Reason link, by the way: “404 — The webpage cannot be found.”

      And before you all go, “Oh, look, there’s Billy being mean, what a hypocrite.” Remember, it ain’t meanness I care about; it’s honesty. I’ll be happy to tell “Skeptical Enlightenment” he’s an intellectually dishonest, non-sequitor spouting troll in his living room.

      • We’ll have to ask Chuck to check on the embedded links. It worked fine from my Blackberry, but it doesn’t work from Firefox for me. There’s an extra period on the end of the link when I copy the link shortcut. Here’s the link again in case I put the period on it by mistake:

        What’s the argument? The argument is that the “new normal”, with respect to spending, that you so blithely accept and blame the Tea Party for attempting to disrupt is just another large step in the disastrous path we are on as a nation. We are simply the latest, and the largest, example of a people who thought they could afford to live by stealing the wealth from future generations. Republicans and Democrats together are children squabbling on the playground over marbles while the wrecking ball fast approaches our fiscal glass house. The Tea Party has a sense of this concern, but even they don’t really get it. Not when ~60% of Tea Party members say “hands off my social security”.

        Bush was a piker compared to Obama with respect to deficit spending, and Bush was no slouch. It’s only because the Fed can print money at will that we are afloat at all. Sooner or later turning the Dollar into the monetary equivalent of oak leaves is going to have consequences. Murray Rothbard has a very approachable explanation of monetary inflation here:

        But in the “new normal” our bloated spending is all that is keeping people alive! We can’t possibly cut spending for the 82 federal programs to improve teacher quality (how’s that working out), 80 programs to help disadvantaged people with transportation, 47 programs for job training and employment, and 56 to help people understand finance (hey, isn’t that what SCHOOL should be for?).

        I myself am pro-choice, but when did it become a right to have taxpayers fund that choice? Except for instances of violence, isn’t pregnancy a strictly voluntary condition? Prophylactics are available for pennies per use and are certainly cheaper than cigarettes, which seem to be easily available even to the poorest among us. Heck, I’ll bet there are dozens of government programs offering contraceptives for free.

        By the way, it’s non-sequitur not non-sequitor, but I made the mistake of “port rinds” instead of “pork rinds” so I guess it all balances out.

  5. why all of a sudden is everyone in congress & some constituents so worried about deficit spending? it’s been going on since Reagan & no one seemed to mind then. As for Government programs, if I am afforded the same healthcare as every member of congress, then, there’s an argument for cuts, but until then sorry. Cut fat from the top down. Seriously, there are 300 million people in this country, the more there are, the more it costs for services. This is not a business, it’s a country & people like Dennis Ross, who has changed since riding on the Tea Party train, do nothing to help other than flame the fires of fear & bigotry.

    • So, the taxpayers owe you what exactly? What’s the minimum standard of living, provided by other people, that you are will to accept as your due? How much are you willing to steal from others to provide that standard of living?

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