Commentary

Tuberville and Banks show how GOP politics are not about governing

July 18, 2023 7:00 am

Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville and Indiana GOP Congressman Jim Banks. (Official portraits)

On November 30, 1996, Ole Miss lost to Mississippi State, 17-0, in one of the oldest football rivalry games in America. It was a home game for Ole Miss, in Oxford, in a game known as the Egg Bowl. The chancellor of Ole Miss at the time, Robert Khayat, went to visit the team’s coaching staff the Sunday morning after that loss to offer some encouragement. 

Khayat writes in his book, “Education of a Lifetime,” about noticing that the coaching staff was “morose” about the situation that morning, with the head coach offering to the chancellor that the team “can’t recruit against the confederate flag.” The coach was taking issue with the student body’s tradition of waving the confederate flag in the stands at games, and that the racist stigma attached to it was making it difficult to attract top talent to the school and team. Yep, I imagine it would, coach. 

Who was that coach? Tommy Tuberville. Yes, the same man who is now U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville, a now retired football coach and novice politician from Alabama. 

Why would an Indiana editorial writer take the time and space to share that story? Hang with me for a moment.

Defense bill

On Friday, House Republicans passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA. In the historically bipartisan package, the GOP in the house added several untenable, culture war items. One item creates a ban on the new Department of Defense policy to provide travel to military women to receive reproductive healthcare in states where it is still legal. 

This is the policy that led Tuberville to exercise his authority, by senate rule, to block all upper-level military promotions until and unless the DOD reverses it. It was a procedural move that was initially viewed as nothing more than performative. But it has gone on so long, there are now more than 270 unfilled promotions piled up. By the end of the year, that number is expected to be over 600. 

The top two Republicans in the Senate caucus, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. John Thune (R-SD) publicly oppose what Tuberville is doing. They should. It’s the kind of procedural paralysis that could easily lead voters to become intolerant of other archaic senate procedures. Things like, say, the filibuster, immediately come to mind. 

Listen to the podcast of this column here.

The House version of the NDAA was also amended to prohibit diversity, equity and inclusion training in the military, an organization that features 37% black and brown people. That amendment was proposed by Rep. Jim Banks, who is the Republican candidate for Indiana’s open Senate seat next year. 

Banks is proud of this. He doesn’t want military personnel to spend a moment learning how to understand and communicate with each other better. He apparently thinks this intolerant gesture is attractive. 

It’s akin to Tuberville’s recent PR problems where he has struggled to understand that “white nationalists” are, by definition, racists. In several interviews, the former coach, who 27 years ago knew the confederate flag made Ole Miss unattractive, now doesn’t know a racist when he sees one. 

Banks too

Jim Banks is dancing to that same tune. 

Tuberville was elected to the Senate in 2020. Most political consultants and commentators expected him to go along with his caucus, and not call attention to himself as someone who was and still is ill-prepared for the responsibilities of a job so important. And that’s what he did during his first two years in office. He should have stuck to that. He had real potential to be one of the greats at that. 

But Tuberville’s military blockade has made him a celebrity. He gets interviewed by the national outlets far more than he otherwise would. Sadly, the coverage has highlighted him as someone who defends culture war wish list policies more than national defense. That he cares more about racists than minimizing racism. 

Banks and his colleagues in the House are doing the same thing. 

Margaret Thatcher once said, “It used to be about trying to do something. Now it’s about trying to be someone.” 

Tuberville and Banks are both just trying to be someone. 

I looked up Tuberville’s coaching record because my recollection of him was that he was a mediocre coach. Surprisingly, his record actually indicates he was an incredibly successful one. And in the process of checking, I found that story about the confederate flags. Getting rid of those flags was doing something. 

Today, neither of these men are pursuing political success to make governing better in America. Both of them value the entertainment opportunities of their platforms more than actually “doing something.” 

Hoosiers shouldn’t make the mistake of looking down their noses at Tommy Tuberville. That might block our view of Jim Banks. 

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Michael Leppert
Michael Leppert

Michael Leppert is an author, educator and a communication consultant in Indianapolis. He writes about government, politics and culture at MichaelLeppert.com.

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