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Friday Mailbag: Rick Becker, 'let's go Brandon,' Donald Trump and Chris Berg

If you'd like to reach out to me, send your correspondence to rport@forumcomm.com.

rickbecker.jpg
Rep. Rick Becker is a Republican lawmaker from Bismarck and plastic surgeon there. Bismarck Tribune file photo
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MINOT, N.D. — Every once in a while a correspondent will ask why their email didn't get included in this column. One, this week, suggested that I could respond to more people if I did shorter responses.

I've seen other columnists do this, offering just a couple of lines in response to each person, but I like the longer form better. I'd rather write thorough responses to fewer people than glib rejoinders to more.

I try to respond to everyone who reaches out to me, as long as they're coherent and not insulting me too much, though sometimes I am blessed with more feedback than I have time for.

If you'd like to reach out to me, send your correspondence to rport@forumcomm.com. If you're published here, your contributions may be lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Mike writes, in response to my column about Rep. Rick Becker , the leader of the supposedly ideologically pure Bastiat Caucus in North Dakota's Legislature, and his PPP loans: "If it is hypocritical( I think it is) for ultra-conservative Becker in receiving government funds from a government program. Then why isn’t hypocritical for conservative lawmakers that take part in the federally subsidized crop insurance program. Many conservative lawmakers are farmers. The federally subsidized crop insurance program is huge compared to Becker grant programs."

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My column was about Becker, a specific person with a track record of statements and legislative actions we can refer to. Mike is making an argument about generic conservative lawmakers using the federal crop insurance program. It's hard to compare and contrast the two. Which lawmakers, specifically, is Mike talking about?

I will say, in the aggregate, that whatever our ideological leanings, we also have to live in the world as it is. If you're a farmer, federal programs are a part of the business, and not easily avoided. It is possible to, without being a hypocrite, oppose a federal program, as a matter of policy, while also participating in it because it's unavoidable as a matter of business.

Another example: If you think the Social Security program is bad policy, that doesn't change your federal withholdings, which aren't optional. And if the government is going to take your money for the program, you may as well use the program when you're eligible, even if you'd rather the government did things differently.

Becker, though, doesn't get that pass. One of the conservative arguments against federal programs, like crop insurance or something like the PPP loans, is that the feds often use those programs to micromanage the people receiving the benefits.

It's not just the cost. It's also the control.

Becker has chosen to take hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans from the federal government. He's also introduced a bill for the special session next week that would impose a vaccine policy on private individuals and businesses who receive tax breaks from the State of North Dakota.

If the Biden administration were to announce a new policy of requiring vaccine mandates from business owners who got PPP loans, I'm certain Becker would go through the roof, and rightfully so.

So how, then, to reconcile that with Becker's bill using North Dakota's tax code to coerce business owners into a certain vaccine policy, a move all the more odious because no such condition was put on those tax breaks when the state initially offered them.

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Becker likes to paint himself and his disciples as capital-T, capital-C, "True Conservatives." His brand of ideological puritanism is obnoxious and doesn't earn him the benefit of the doubt.

Justin writes, in response to my column about the "let's go Brandon" chants : "After reading your article on the Let's Go Brandon phenomenon sweeping the world at present, I really think you missed the entire point of it. I suggest you review the point of origin being the NASCAR post-race interview. The so-called reporter, who revealed herself to be the unscrupulous agenda-driven political hack we’ve come to expect working at NBC, told the viewing audience to ignore their lying ears and instead believe the crowd was chanting something entirely different than FJB. The LGB phrase is just as much a dig at the corrupt Fake News mainstream media as it is at Sleepy environmentally conscious Joe himself. I guarantee most if not all of those dawning LGB attire have no trepidation about telling our dementia-ridden President off to his face. Calling them cowards is right out of the Elitist snowflake Lib playbook. You are better than that. Also, I have observed the most intelligent and secure in their own skin people I know tend to use plain English instead of inserting as many three-syllable words they can in their dialogue. You would come off as less elitist and pompous if you chose to communicate like us common deplorable."

I'm aware of the provenance of the "let's go Brandon" chants, and suspect the reporter was simply surprised by the profane shouting in the background of her interview and was trying to cover it up. Not so much as a political statement but as a broadcast professional.

I've worked in broadcasting. Things might not be as stringent as they once were, but airing naughty words can still be a big deal. She was probably surprised and said something that, in retrospect, was kind of dumb as a way of distracting from what was happening.

What I struggle to understand is why so many people think these chants are meaningful. They're not worthy of the overreaction we've seen from critics, but it's not nearly so clever a slogan as its proponents and practitioners seem to think.

Maybe I'm just some old big-word-using fuddy-duddy who prefers eloquence in our political dialogue and not taunts that are beneath the dignity of a middle schooler. The people giggling over "let's go Brandon" should consider that their affinity for this low-brow bon mot says more about them than President Joe Biden.

Voltaire once wrote that the "secret of being a bore is to say everything."

Words of caution, for columnists and shouty mobs alike.

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I'm a First Amendment absolutist and meant what I wrote in this column about America not being the country it aspires to be if we can't insult the president. That doesn't change the fact that there are many things we can say that we shouldn't.

David writes, in response to my many criticisms of disgraced former President Donald Trump: "In the past, I really thought you were a person who would never put down millions of people over your hatred for a man who finally called the swamp for what it is and the media for what it is but I was mistaken. You are nothing but a self-serving media wannabe who is a buffoon that pretends he is a conservative and hides behind The Daily News a paper considered conservative. Trump is not a conservative ideologue but he was a man who did great things for this country, every one of them, overturned by the Obama cabal who pulls the Biden strings. You may not like him but a buffoon he is not, save that for a real buffoon who now occupies the White House. Who would you rather have in the White House the red buffoon or the real buffoon named Biden."

Bernie adds: "I am puzzled by your seemingly nasty, vitriolic attitude towards Trump. You never seem to critique him without sounding like a disgruntled jackass, or so it appears to me. I understand that some folks do not like Trump's personality, but I get the impression that some probably don't like yours either. I tend to lean towards that position myself, to be frank about it."

Donald Trump has been one of the most relentlessly vitriolic political leaders in our nation's history, so it always amuses me when his supporters work themselves into high moral dudgeon when someone gives a little back.

I'm biased, of course, but I wouldn't put my criticism of Trump into the category of vitriol, but still, if you're going to dish it out, be prepared to take it.

I understand that there are many people who think Donald Trump was a good president as a matter of policy, and I'm happy to acknowledge that I more often agree with what Trump was trying to do, as policy, than I do with Biden. But let's put a pin in all that for a moment and focus on a practical reality of American politics.

If you don't win elections, you don't get to govern.

The reason why the Democrats have been able to unravel so many Trump-era policies is that in 2020 they won elections. Biden won the national election, despite what conspiracy-addled dopes like Mike Lindell have to say about it, and Democratic candidates won enough elections to control the House and, just barely, the Senate too.

It's not enough for a politician to have a platform of ideas and policies you like. That politician must also be able to persuade enough people to buy into that platform to win elections and govern effectively.

Trump lost the White House in 2020, and his sour grapes ended up costing Republicans the Senate as well.

If your definition of a good president is an insult comic who aims his barbs at people you don't like, then I can understand why Trump is your man.

I'd rather have someone who can take a platform of conservative ideas and turn it into meaningful, lasting policy.

Sam writes, in response to my column rebutting Chris Berg's claims that the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead "canceled" Republican Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring: "I don't like what you did to Chris Berg. He didn't deserve that."

What I did was only what Berg didn't.

He claimed that North Dakota's largest news media company (which also happens to be my employer, if that's not clear) made a politically driven decision to eschew a column from a statewide elected official, but before making that claim he didn't bother to check it out.

I made a couple of phone calls, and sent some emails, and found out the claim was false.

I've known Chris Berg for a long time. I helped launch his career in the news media, having asked him to guest host my radio show back when he was still working for the North Dakota Republican Party. I think he's a very nice man, but in this instance, he made what we might charitably call a mistake, and that deserved a response.

To my knowledge, Chris hasn't corrected his reports about this situation, and that's disappointing.

Disagreement is one thing. Even what does and does not constitute a "fact" can be the subject of much-heated debate. Still, we should expect from each other the integrity to acknowledge the truth, especially in instances when it can be easily verified.

Robert writes: "I commented yesterday in your blog site on your column about Chris Berg's unresearched chastisement of The Forum for not running Doug Goehring's letter until they verified which Doug Goehring authored it. In my comments, I wrote that I have long valued your consistency. And here again (in your column on Rick Becker ), you show your sincere commitment to conservative values, consistent integrity, and the legitimacy of both civility and tenacity in politics. You always find a way to bolster conservative values, while maintaining balanced pressure on liberals and conservatives. While I consider myself a liberal who leans libertarian, I read as many of your columns as I can each and every day. Thank you for your journalism, research, fairness, sincerity, kindness, professionalism, and consistency."

It's very gratifying to read these emails. I mean, who doesn't like being complimented? Though I'm certain the people who draw my criticism probably wouldn't describe me as "kind."

Sometimes the sharp elbows are called for.

I try to be fair, and I try to be consistent, and I'm a human being who has fallen short on both fronts. Still, I aspire to be all the things Robert describes in his email, so it's gratifying to know at least one person believes I've achieved them.

What I hope is that my work is of value to everyone, whatever their level of agreement with my political leanings or conclusions.

To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at rport@forumcomm.com .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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