Bill Kaplan: Sen. Johnson is a bomb thrower

Photo by Gage Skidmore

Wisconsin GOP Senator Ron Johnson is a bomb thrower, peddling conspiracies. In 2011, Johnson was asked if the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was a “bigger threat than communism?” Johnson responded: “It is the greatest single threat to my freedom, our freedom.” And, in his first Senate speech, Johnson warned ominously of a “threat of our own making” (the federal government). Johnson always sees sinister forces at work. He voted against Senate ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Unfounded fear of U.S. sovereignty being compromised.

In 2013, he called President Obama’s reelection a “body blow to freedom”. And, “Johnson tied Democrats to socialists and Marxists” (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel). Now, Johnson says he has “never seen a new president (Trump) face such resistance.” Notwithstanding his earlier incendiary remarks on Obama’s reelection, Johnson wants to rewrite history. The New York Times reported: “The challenge for Mr. Obama became evident as soon as he took office, when Republicans almost unanimously opposed his economic stimulus package even as the recession was erasing nearly 800,000 jobs a month.” Moreover, then Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said: “Our top political priority … should be to deny President Obama a second term.”

Johnson seems especially unglued about the ACA. When Trump and Republicans failed to repeal the ACA, Johnson slandered Arizona GOP Senator John McCain for his vote against ACA repeal. Johnson said: McCain “has a brain tumor … some of that might have factored in.” McCain’s office responded: “It is bizarre and deeply unfortunate that Senator Johnson would question the judgment of a colleague and friend. Senator McCain has been very open and clear about the reasons for his vote.” But slander is Johnson’s way. He falsely claims that ACA “Medicaid expansion may be fueling the opioid epidemic … ,” an assertion debunked by Health Affairs. Now, a new Urban Institute study says: “Expanding Medicaid is probably the most important thing states can do to increase treatment rates.”

However, Johnson can’t resist being a bomb thrower. The Washington Post headline said: “An analysis of Republican Sen. Ron Johnson’s conspiracy-filled defense of Trump” (on NBC’s Meet the Press). The Post opined: “Johnson refused to answer basic questions (about the Trump-Ukraine scandal), instead bringing up a completely unrelated conspiracy theory … .” Johnson wanted to peddle debunked nonsense: “I’m (Johnson) here to report today that, unlike the narrative of the press that President Trump wants to dig up dirt on his 2020 opponent (Joe Biden), what he wants is an accounting of what happened in 2016. Who set him (Trump) up? Did things spring from Ukraine?”

Johnson was ridiculed. He then posted his Meet the Press interview. Reminiscent of Virginia GOP Senator William Scott. In 1974, after journalist Nina Totenberg described Scott as the “dumbest” senator, he held a press conference to deny it. Scott said: “Obviously not true”, giving more attention to the charge. You can’t make this up!

It’s long past time for Johnson to stop being a bomb thrower.

–Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C. for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.

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