Editorial Law and Policy

A ‘Titanic Fraud’: Susan Collins, the ‘Moderate’ Who Never Was

Jodi Jacobson

Susan Collins is a "titanic fraud" and part of a fraudulent political system that must be changed.

Last week, the Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent wrote that “if Kavanaugh is confirmed, [Trump] will continue to rub the faces of millions of women in excrement over it.” We didn’t have to wait that long: Maine Republican Susan Collins stepped in to do the job for him.

As Sargent noted, Trump, at his rally, “was doing precisely what [an advocate] accused Flake of doing—telling women that their sexual assault claims ‘don’t matter’—and he was undertaking this provocation deliberately, using the bully pulpit of the presidency to do so.” In her speech Saturday in the Senate gallery, Collins perfectly mimicked the worst of Trump and the GOP: She gleefully rubbed our faces in her decision to vote “yes,” all the while trying to justify it with a litany of lies and self-serving revisions of Brett Kavanaugh’s record. She told us we don’t matter. And she was as calculated, cruel, and indifferent as any male senator had been this past month.

It wasn’t so much the “yes” vote, which you could see coming, as it was the overt and shameless gaslighting about Kavanaugh’s decisions and history. It wasn’t just the gaslighting, but the perceptible smirk evident throughout her delivery of a profoundly insulting, degrading, and condescending speech during which Collins self-righteously and blithely dismissed both the truths and the pain expressed by survivors of sexual assault and harassment across the country. It wasn’t just the blanket dismissal, but also the overt mocking of highly credible claims made against Kavanaugh by Christine Blasey Ford in a way that was only marginally less inhumane than Trump’s performance earlier in the week. It wasn’t just the treatment of claims of sexual assault, but the wholesale revision of Kavanaugh’s record, throughout which she tried to say we don’t see and know what we all clearly see and know. And if all that were not enough, Collins, the queen of “will-she-or-won’t-she,” a woman with an obviously wildly inflated sense of self-importance matched only by her outright disdain for real people, once again made herself the center of a drama the outcome of which will adversely affect the lives of millions.

It was a sinister, cynical, deeply anti-democratic speech. It was the height of double-speak. Collins, for example, has taken millions from corporations and dark money PACS to do their bidding, but called grassroots fundraising efforts to influence her vote a “bribe.” She spread conspiracy theories about citizens exercising their democratic rights; simultaneously claimed to “believe” a survivor of sexual assault while going on to claim that very survivor she doesn’t know what she’s talking about; and lauded a grossly incomplete FBI investigation that was manipulated and limited by the White House and the Senate GOP. She, in effect, exonerated a powerful white man and elevated him to further power by ignoring the pleas for justice of several women and many, many corroborating witnesses who were eager but not allowed to be interviewed. Collins also decried dysfunction in the confirmation process without ever mentioning the fact that Obama nominee Merrick Garland never even got a hearing, nor acknowledging that her own party refused to release tens of thousands of critical records to the committee tasked with evaluating Kavanaugh’s fitness. She, of course, did not address Kavanaugh’s multiple lies and evasions under oath. To do that, she would have had to tell a truth: She voted to put a perjurer on the Supreme Court.

It was a speech I was compelled to witness but during which I felt I was being slowly smothered—like Ford and like my mother by my father years ago—but in this case by a woman who, while watching me fight for air, kept telling me it was all for my own good and I had the situation all wrong anyway.

We do not have it wrong.

Susan Collins, long-anointed by inside-the-beltway hacks as a “moderate,” is, as communications consultant and former Republican Steve Schmidt said in September, a “titanic fraud.”

She isn’t and never has been a “moderate.” You can’t be “moderate” in a party that has for several decades purposefully sought to stifle the voices of millions of voters, undermine democratic institutions, and use whatever means necessary to maintain power. There is no moderation in fascism.

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Yes, she has been willing to throw a few chits this way or that—some money for Planned Parenthood here, some support for environmental causes there. But Collins has been a loyal handmaiden in the pursuit of power by and for a wealthy white minority. She claims to support access to health care, but voted to abolish the individual mandate at the heart of Obamacare, thereby raising premiums.  She voted for a GOP tax bill that overwhelmingly benefits the rich and is causing growing income inequality, claiming “it will help lower-income and middle-income families keep more of their hard-earned money.” It has not. And when analysts and advocates lobbied to prevent that bill from passing, Collins called them “conspiracy theorists.” She ostensibly traded that vote—which shifted billions to the 1 percent—for a never-delivered promise from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a staunch opponent of expanding access to health care, to pass a bill that would have lowered health-care premiums at the margins.

At that time, there was a question as to whether Collins was naive or stupid, or thought the rest of us were stupid enough to believe McConnell would do any such thing. Now we have the answer: She’s a gaslighter. For example, she now wants us to believe that Kavanaugh won’t undermine reproductive rights, despite a long record indicating he would do just that.

In a sense, however, we have been stupid, if the collective “we” is meant to include the Democratic establishment and donors who have supported Susan Collins all along despite, as Matt Stoller pointed out on Twitter, her economic track record. For many years, it was enough for some groups to get crumbs from Susan Collins on the environment, on LGBTQ rights, on reproductive rights, in part because the donors to those organizations reaped benefits from the economic policies she promoted, and in part because of the intertwined myths of bipartisanship and “moderate” Republicans. Collins has had the red carpet laid out for her time after time. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, for example, waited until late in the 2014 campaign to even endorse her challenger, Shenna Bellows, currently a state senator in Maine.

Now, more than $3 million has been raised by progressive activists through the Be A Hero Fund to challenge Collins in her next election. I am not even convinced she will run again, or whether she will run for governor instead. If she does, she must without question be challenged, whether it be for a Senate seat or the governorship. She should never gain power again. And in either case, there must be support for a solidly progressive campaign in the state.

But that will be far from enough. Susan Collins is an example, a symptom, of a political myth onto which we have held too dearly, only to realize far too late it was not real. As we have seen this past month, there are too many people now in the House and the Senate who hide from their constituents because, in fact, we are not their constituents, at least as they see it. They answer to big-money donors and people who do not want to challenge the status quo. “We,” the people, are a nuisance. And this goes for many Democrats as well as Republicans. Collins needs to be replaced, but so do many others in the Senate, including, to name a few, Dean Heller (R-NV), Cory Gardner (R-CO), the two senators from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, and Joe “I’m just from West Virginia” Manchin (D-WV for now).

Susan Collins represents an era when the prevailing political philosophy was to make incremental political progress by centralizing power in the hands of a few (notably white) leaders, gaining and maintaining access to and cutting deals with the elite, and not worrying too much about everyone else if you could convince them they should be content with their “stations” in life.

That era is now over and we have to choose between democracy and fascism. A battle may have been lost—for now—with Kavanaugh, but people are reclaiming power in the streets and in the hallways of Congress and in statehouses across the country. And, hopefully, they will be showing up en masse at the polls in November. Collins is, indeed, a titanic fraud. The problem is she is only a symbol of a broadly fraudulent political system, one which will require the work of all of us, now and into the future, to replace.

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