The Corner

Politics & Policy

Some Talk about Talk

Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska

Yesterday afternoon, President Trump tweeted the following: “Two long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department. Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff……”

This is a very frank presidential statement. As many have pointed out, it is the kind of thing that Nixon said behind closed doors. (We know because of the tapes.) Trump’s forthrightness is almost admirable, in my book.

He referred to Congressmen Chris Collins (R., N.Y.) and Duncan Hunter (R., Calif.), who have apparently succumbed to corruption. They were the first two congressmen to endorse Donald Trump. Also, the investigations of them are really Trump-era, rather than Obama-era.

Should that matter, however?

The president said that Collins and Hunter are “very popular.” Should that matter? He said that “two easy wins” — for the Republicans in the midterms — are now “in doubt.” Should that matter? Are these things relevant to the law?

Most of us agree that the rule of law should be above R’s and D’s. Leaders who subjugate the law to partisan politics deserve rebuke.

In response to the president’s statement yesterday, Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) issued a statement of his own:

The United States is not some banana republic with a two-tiered system of justice — one for the majority party and one for the minority party. These two men have been charged with crimes because of evidence, not because of who the President was when the investigations began. Instead of commenting on ongoing investigations and prosecutions, the job of the President of the United States is to defend the Constitution and protect the impartial administration of justice.

Yes. It is worth revisiting the presidential oath of office, which goes, “I do solemnly swear [or affirm] that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Over the years, I have often praised Senator Sasse for what he has said. And when I do, my critics (and his) say, “But it’s just talk!” Maybe. But talk can be very important. Indeed, it is inseparable from politics and leadership. It is what moves people, in this direction or that. It is what people thrill to or decry.

Think of all the articles you ever consume about politics — on our site here, or thousands of other sites. Most of them have to do with talk: with what someone has said (or not said).

Talk can be cheap, very cheap. It can also be costly. “Speak out!” we say. “Why are you afraid to speak out?” we say. In dictatorships, it can be very, very hard to speak out. Many people have been imprisoned or worse for talk. But even in democratic societies, talk can be hard. It can be hard not only in politics but also in high schools and families and churches and professional communities and other arenas.

Ben Sasse is a Republican officeholder. President Trump is very popular in the Republican party. Earlier this summer, Trump himself said, “You know, a poll just came out that I am the most popular person in the history of the Republican party. Beating Lincoln. I beat our Honest Abe.”

One more word on talking, before I stop talking, at least about this subject: You or I may not like the talker, but talk matters, much of the time. It is especially significant when the talker is lonely — when most around him are keeping mum. Sasse knows about this, and even his critics might admire his nerve.

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