The Dizzying Speed of Bad Faith

The Dizzying Speed of Bad Faith

Bad Faith Times readers mostly came of age in a materially awful era of American politics. The 9/11 attacks and the 2008 recession broadly drove the policy and discussion of politics as I was finding my own way. Before these historic events, and before I was able to vote, I was treated to a sneak preview of the weirdness of American politics in 2022 - I just had no real idea what I was experiencing at the time.
I grew up in this era in the suburban Twin Cities in Minnesota. There’s a pretty unique political history in the state and our representation in the federal government. In 2022, we’ve got Ilhan Omar as an adored progressive who dominates her district in Minneapolis. We have milquetoast centrist Amy Klobuchar in the senate. We’ve sent Al Franken and arch-liberal Paul Wellstone to the Senate in the past. There are still Wellstone bumper stickers to be found if you know where to look.

These are typically driven by voters in the Twin Cities. As you move toward the rural areas of the state, to farming areas and the iron range along Lake Superior, things get redder and redder as they do elsewhere. From here, we contribute folks like Michele Bachmann and Jason Lewis. Truly a land of contrasts. Insane pillow hawker Mike Lindell is also notably from Minnesota, though his particular brand of politics don’t seem confined to any kind of geography or reality. Even with all of this, when it comes to statewide and nationwide races, Minnesota has always been one of the most reliably blue states in the U.S. Republicans in these races face an uphill battle and it’s just a function of our political geography.

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But most of all, when I look back on the politics of the late 90s, I think about the 38th governor of the great state of Minnesota. A man who broke the paradigm James George Janos, but maybe better known by the broader public by his stage name: Jesse “The Governor” Ventura.

(The greatest governor portrait of all time)

Ventura ran as a Reform Party member and was certainly a lightning rod for criticism from all sides during his campaign and term as governor. It was a wild time, and I didn’t understand most of it because I was a mostly self-absorbed high school kid. But really, around here, it would be hard to deny this was the beginning of the WWE-ification of politics. To ask the older folks of the state now, I’m sure they look back at this as a failed experiment. Some would even say he was the worst governor and candidate of all time.

That brings us to Scott Jensen, the state's 2022 Republican gubernatorial candidate.

A Newer and Worse Normal

In 2022, for worse and definitely not for better, politics are working their way backwards. We’re dealing with a cult of personality first and foremost, spearheaded by Trump, who I promise not to mention again. The Republican machine has found a formula that works for them, able to pour money into local races across the country with impunity and little oversight. They use that money to spread their bad faith gospel with disorienting speed, crafting new, convenient realities that require their policy prescriptions. It’s chaotic, feeds on itself within the political block of true believers, and doesn’t care what the consequences are so long as they get and hold every scrap of power they can.

On social media, and the world at large, it’s impossible to get ahead of this in any kind of organized way. So much of it is a firehose of nonsense, and there’s no way to foresee what will come next or where it’ll be aimed.

This new brand of politics may, on the surface, appear to be centered on the issues – if you don’t subject the actual arguments and policy implications to any kind of scrutiny. But, luckily, their strategy doesn’t really have to do any of that. The central tenet of their bad faith approach is the owning of the libs. Once the owning of the libs has been achieved, the issues really don’t matter. The people who make it into office will always deliver the same exact boilerplate Republican agenda. It’s simply a means to an end, the bad faith just a shotgun spreading its payload as broadly and loudly as possible.

The easiest way to spot bad faith in the political wild since this summer has been to watch Republican candidates back away from their abortion positions as quietly as possible. They know their agenda is not popular, but also had to survive their primaries. This is all part of The Playbook. Candidates will deny they ever made statements about these positions even as you roll the tape before their eyes. Website pages about abortion stances disappear under the cover of night like Art Modell’s Browns. They writhe and twist as hard as they can to avoid being pinned to any of it.

In the case of Minnesota gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen, it’s hard to tell whether he has genuine beliefs about any of the issues. Pointing out hypocrisy does nothing to move the needle, which is one of the strengths of the bad faith approach. The other unfortunate strength of bad faith is that reality has no bearing on it. To advocate for any policy that materially helps people – things like health care expansion, public school funding, stuff that makes life slightly less miserable – is an inherently good-faith approach bound to boring shit like “policies” and “data.”

These things simply do not matter to political calculus the way we all wish they would.

Was Jesse Ventura really worse than this? It’s hard to say.

If you’re reading this, you’d probably agree with me that Jensen is a horrible candidate and generally awful person. He sued to block COVID vaccine access for children and quietly brags about being a member of America’s Frontline Doctors. He’s a licensed medical professional fighting against the entire institution of medicine. He’s spoken at conferences with medical quacks who are divorced from reality, such as Dr. Sherri Tenpenny (a long time “favorite” of mine), though he recently quietly backed out of the Global Health Freedom Summit. Here’s a picture of a lady pushing Tenpenny’s doctrine (that COVID vaccines can cause you to become magnetic) in front of legislators.

Feel free to “do your own research” and look up some of the speakers here, though you may be at risk of serious psychic damage. The only evidence that this isn’t a complete out-and-out grift on Jensen’s part is that he’s a licensed physician and his public statements could, in a just world, cost him his license. And all of this awfulness is really only centered around one subsection of issues - this is BEFORE you unpack his vaccine/Nazi-Germany comparison arc (they all have one in 2022), his open disdain for public education, or his bizarrely staged press conferences

The discomfort I have with it here is exactly how effective it’s been. In a reliably blue state, the 2016 presidential race was decided by less than 2 percentage points – an unthinkably thin margin. The playbook has made its way here, a gnarled branch of the Republican version of a bizarro political McVay coaching tree (a little something for the football fans who found this article by accident). Jensen’s running mate, Matt Birk, is a standard-issue evangelical who could probably warrant his own article but ideally I won’t have to think about him often again after November.

I give credit to Tim Walz, Minnesota’s incumbent Democratic governor, for his handling of the state during the pandemic. We’ve done pretty well making our way through. And thankfully, he’s shown he’s willing to pay back some of the bad faith he’s been dealt by Jensen and Birk as we careen into the final weeks of the campaign. One of Jensen’s go-to tactics, while not unique to Minnesota, is to tie any piece of crime in the news to Walz. This isn’t even limited to Minnesota issues - Jensen has even called out Walz for being “weak on the southern border” and emboldening the fentanyl crisis.

Minnesota, which shares a border with Canada and Iowa, approved $300 million in increased funding to fight opioid addiction this year. They paid for this by suing the Sackler family and Purdue pharmaceutical and winning. When it comes to the opioid crisis here, there’s a more likely explanation than a governor who is weak on the southern border (thousands of miles from his jurisdiction) – the call is coming from inside the house. According to prescription database information, Jensen was attempting to fight big pharma by prescribing opioids at a rate higher than 94 percent of his peers in Minnesota.  

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Pointing out Jensen’s opioid prescription rates on stage left Jensen with basically no response because it cuts at his branding in a way that goes beyond simple hypocrisy shaming. It blends it with a little bit of policy and material reality and if polling is an indication, it’s one shot that Jensen can’t refuse to take. His on-stage response didn’t help him – he essentially admitted his susceptibility to being wined and dined to dole out opioids, and shrugged at the idea of taking money from Purdue Pharma and the like. And why wouldn’t he think twice? He’s a charlatan and demonstrably motivated by greed.

It’s not the hypocrisy of it that makes Jensen awful - he certainly isn’t doing a great job of fighting BiG PHaRMa by filling their pockets with that sweet, sweet Sackler cash - it’s simply that he is awful and advocates on behalf of his ilk. We have to be careful not to get caught up in the minutiae of bad faith arguments and call these people out for who they are. It’s not going to stop Tim Walz’s Twitter mentions from filling up with people calling him a satanic globalist transhumanist or whatever the current flavor of madness is, but it is a great way to show some backbone for potential voters who need to see it.

Ilhan Omar is a trailblazer in the bad faith arena, by no fault other than her existence as an immigrant and congresswoman. Keith Ellison, running for re-election as Minnesota’s attorney general, is and always will be constantly under fire from a barrage of bad faith operators. Both Ellison and Omar do a great job of not engaging with their detractors on their level. They understand there’s nothing to be won in dealing with bad faith actors - the Jensens and Birks of the world are going to lie about them no matter what they do.

What’s been more refreshing – and hopefully effective on Election Day – has been the unapologetic response to the bad faith industrial complex. With 2020 election deniers on an uncomfortable number of ballots across the country, it’s nice to finally see a more organized and less conciliatory approach to handling them in the public arena. The next thing we need (like a fool, I am hopeful) is proof that it’s worked.