Richard Shelby Retiring, Maybe Now Alabama Can Have TWO Senators Dumb As Tommy Tuberville?

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Richard Shelby, the senior GOP senator from Alabama, has announced he's not running for re-election in 2022. He's not one of those Republicans who claims he's tired of partisan gridlock, which means he knows he won't win a primary against some QAnon wackjob. No, Shelby is 86 and wants to retire before he starts spontaneously hugging members of the opposing party.

Shelby's seat is likely to remain in Republican hands, because this is Alabama we're talking about. Democrat Doug Jones ran against an alleged pervert and a confirmed moron and only narrowly defeated him. Shelby himself was once a Democrat (in my lifetime, no less). He defected in 1994 after the Newt Gingrich-led Republican Revolution. The GOP gained control of both the House and Senate, and Shelby went where the action was.

This was a party switch long in the making. Shelby was considered one of the “boll weevils," a group of conservative Southern Democrats who supported President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and Harry Truman's Fair Deal, but they opposed desegregation and the Civil Rights Movement. “Socialism" was popular in the South as long as Black people were excluded. The “boll weevils" often formed coalitions with conservative Republicans to block liberal Democratic policies.


The boll weevil is a beetle native to the South that feeds on cotton crops, considered a pest because of how difficult it is to get rid of them. Boll weevil was apparently a self-inflicted nomenclature. Conservative Democrats proudly voted for Ronald Reagan's tax cuts, military spending increases, and deregulation. That's what having a big tent used to mean. The boll weevils were often contrasted with the “gypsy moth Republicans" — Northeast and Midwest moderates who opposed Reagan's starve-the-poor economic agenda. The gypsy moth is an invasive species destructive to vegetation in New England and the Great Lakes. That's slightly more elegant than "cuckservative." I'll say this about the “good old days": You at least needed to read a book or two about entomology to get the insults.

Former Republican Rep. Claudine Schneider of Rhode Island voted against Reagan's budget in 1981 despite a personal appeal from the president.

"I agonized," she said, "but even with the concessions we were able to get, I just felt that the budget cuts were not in the best interests of my district. They're the ones who sent me here and they're the ones who can keep me here."

Yeah, that's not how anything works now. There's a target on your back if you buck the party's collective interests. Reagan reportedly called Schneider after the vote and told her, "If any Republicans give you a rough time on that budget vote, have them see me." That's also preferable to mean tweets and a primary challenge.

The tension between Bill Clinton and Shelby was more pronounced. Shelby referred to Clinton administration budget proposals as "the tax man cometh." Not bad, even if I disagree. Clinton struck back in hilarious ways, as the New York Times reports.

Mr. Clinton threatened to move NASA jobs from Alabama to Texas and also limited Mr. Shelby to a single pass for the White House ceremony honoring the University of Alabama's national championship football team in 1992, a petty gesture but a cardinal sin in Crimson Tide terms.

Shelby later voted to remove Clinton from office on the obstruction of justice article of impeachment. That wasn't directly related to the University of Alabama football championship, but it probably didn't help.

Eventually, the truly moderate Republicans became Democrats or retired themselves into extinction, and the conservative Democrats, like Shelby, became Republicans. The two parties have become far more nationalized and less willing to tolerate dissension within the ranks. The big tent has collapsed.

Shelby directed billions of federal dollars to Alabama for space and law enforcement-related facilities and transportation projects. Alabama receives $2.17 for every dollar paid in federal taxes, but that requires a competent lawmaker. They were already down to one after Tommy Tuberville was sworn in. We don't hold out great hopes for Shelby's MAGA-fied replacement.

[New York Times]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."

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