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Opinion: Mike Johnson and Dean Phillips leap into sudden fame

Opinion by Richard Galant, CNN

(CNN) — “Fame lasts perhaps two thousand years,” says a character in “To the Lighthouse,” Virginia Woolf’s 1927 novel. “And what are two thousand years?” In the eons of time, a blink of the eye. “The very stone one kicks with one’s boot will outlast Shakespeare.”

There’s an even shorter time horizon in the prediction, widely attributed to Andy Warhol, that “everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” Despite fame being fleeting, it can still feel momentous.

It came last week to two people most Americans had never heard of. Out of the obscurity that surrounds almost everyone in the 435-member House of Representatives stepped two men in their early 50s who could shake up the politics of right and left in the US.

Against all odds, the House Republicans finally picked a new speaker Wednesday, three weeks after ousting Kevin McCarthy. The low-key Rep. Mike Johnson from Louisiana received unanimous support.

He wears a jacket, unlike Rep. Jim Jordan, who has made a name for himself as a conservative firebrand. But while Jordan’s outspoken behavior made him toxic to more moderate members, Johnson is arguably just as conservative.

The Louisiana representative is now second in line to the presidency and a key player in negotiations about keeping the federal government open, aiding Ukraine and Israel and passing any other legislation in the waning days of the year.

Two days later, Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota broke with the vast majority of his party to challenge President Joe Biden in the 2024 Democratic primary. Praising Biden as a “wonderful man” and “terrific president,” he said he’s been “trying to encourage the president to pass the torch. … It’s time for change, I’m hearing that all around the country.”

Whether he will be a significant obstacle to Biden’s renomination remains to be seen, but he punctured the image of party solidarity the president’s team has tried to foster.

“Phillips, it would seem, is making a calculation that, despite the heartburn his candidacy is causing among fellow Democrats, the opening in New Hampshire is a ‘can’t miss’ opportunity,” wrote Arick Wierson, who’s from Minnesota and knows the congressman. “Outgunned financially … and with almost zero national name recognition, winning an uncontested early primary might be the boost he needs to become a much larger figure in the national conversation. It’s hard to argue that Biden would have ended up picking Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg for vice president and transportation secretary had they not launched their own ‘long-shot’ presidential runs back in 2019.”

Still, Wierson noted, the challenge to Biden is irking high-level Democrats. “Only time will tell if he is making the right move or if he is writing his own political obituary as some in the media have presaged.”

Hard-right speaker

“On almost every issue, Johnson is hard right,” wrote Julian Zelizer. “He has been a staunch opponent of same-sex marriage. He has been at the forefront of opposing reproductive rights. He opposed funding for Ukraine. He wants to deregulate the economy, cut taxes and deny the very real problems facing our climate. He supported ‘expunging’ former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment and has questioned the Justice Department for how it has handled investigations into Hunter Biden.”

“Most importantly, Johnson was at the center of the effort to overturn the 2020 election, something that in other times would have been immediately disqualifying for holding office let alone being speaker.

Patrick T. Brown noted that “Johnson, who represents the Shreveport, Louisiana, area was a relative unknown before this week, even to political insiders. But he has long been an ally of social conservative groups who see their mission as protecting the unborn from abortion and strengthening traditional family values…”

“If McCarthy was willing to wear any number of new skins to position himself as leader of the Republican conference, Johnson can’t hide his spots even if he wanted to — a dyed-in-the-wool conservative who stands up for traditional Republican principles even if others in the party wish the GOP would evolve past them. … his credibility with the more fractious elements who pushed McCarthy out may make his job a little easier, starting with the upcoming continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown.”

It was striking that none of the dozen or so Republicans angling for the speaker’s job were women, observed Nicole Hemmer. Instead, “the highest-ranking woman in the GOP, Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, who currently serves as conference chair, spent the past three weeks tweeting out her congratulations to each of the four successive speaker-designates.”

“Over the last 15 years, women have been strategically visible in the party, but have received very little power in return. … Given the party’s broad opposition to feminism, a few female faces help cut against the image of a retrograde boy’s club. But so far the party’s congressional wing has shown little interest in matching that visibility with power…”

Lewiston

Lewiston, Maine, the state’s second most populous city, joined the litany of American communities forever scarred by mass shootings. Eighteen people were killed Wednesday when a gunman fired shots inside a bowling alley and a local restaurant. After a two-day manhunt, officials said he was found dead 10 miles away from the city on Friday.

Amy Bass went to college there and has written a book about the Lewiston High boys’ soccer team, one of the highest ranked in the nation. The city’s “story is one of transition, from its former heyday as ‘Spindle City,’ a textile center with factory jobs that brought an influx of French-speaking Canadian immigrants to its triple-decker Italianate-style apartment houses, to its increasingly global landscape, created in large part by the thousands of Somalis who migrated there at the turn of the 21st century, immigrants who carved space for themselves amongst Quebecois culture,” Bass wrote.

“Lewiston is a hardscrabble hockey town that made room for soccer, a place that understands the meaning and worth of community and the work that goes into making a city into home,” she added. The now-retired soccer coach who brought the team its first state championship told her, “The city is strong. People are looking out for each other.”

In the spring of 2022, journalist Danielle Campoamor scrapped her plans to cover the Ukraine war when the Uvalde mass shooting took place. Last week, she was flying to another war zone — this time in the Middle East — when word spread about the shootings in Maine.

“I was traveling across the globe to cover a devastating war that has left thousands reported dead, many of them children — and all the while the devastation of yet another mass shooting was being felt at home,” she noted.

“It’s not hyperbolic to say that unfettered access to weapons of war have turned this nation’s schools, parades, churches and synagogues, nightclubs, health care clinics, movie theaters, malls, grocery stores, outdoor concerts and bowling alleys into potential slaughterhouses. Guns are now the leading cause of death among children living in the United States, surpassing car crashes, overdoses and Covid-19, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

War in the Middle East

Retired US Army Maj. John Spencer, an expert on urban warfare, aptly summed up the Israel-Gaza military confrontation in a conversation with Peter Bergen: “To have this many hostages from this many countries intermixed with the enemy and the Israelis about to execute this operation is an unprecedented situation.”

Spencer and retired Col. Liam Collins, who literally wrote the book on urban warfare, say they don’t believe the Israel Defense Forces are prepared for the large-scale city combat they’ll likely face in Gaza.

As Bergen wrote, “The experts said Israel does retain some advantages, such as specially developed armored bulldozers that can be used in urban combat and the ability to fight at night, but that must be weighed against their lack of experience and training in urban combat. At the same time, Hamas has more than 200 hostages, human shields, suicide bombers, tunnels, booby traps, many civilians that remain trapped and has had years to dig in.”

“If the Israeli invasion goes ahead, they estimate that the IDF will destroy ‘80 to 90’ percent of Gaza’s urban areas and the operation ‘will change the landscape of this area for decades.’”

Israel has been bombing Gaza since the October 7 terrorist attacks in which Hamas killed more than 1,400 Israelis. Among the millions trapped in Gaza are American visitors, including Abood Okal, 36, who traveled there to visit relatives in late September with his wife Wafa Abuzayda and their 1-year-old son Yousef. “Where we’re staying right now is less than 10 minutes from the Egyptian border,” Okal told CNN Opinion’s Stephanie Griffith. “We could be there in minutes. But like I said, we were told three times since we’ve been here in southern Gaza to go to the border by the State Department and every single time, we were not able to cross, despite spending all day there… We’re trying to flee as fast as we can while we still can — before the invasion starts.

For more:

Miriam Sapiro: A path to peace in the Middle East is possible. Here’s how

Gen. David Petraeus and historian Andrew Roberts: The huge challenge facing Israel

Roy Schwartz: WGA’s statement on Israel is worse than too little, too late

Ghaith al-Omari and David Schenker: Why Egypt won’t open the border to its Palestinian neighbors

Frida Ghitis: UN Secretary General’s grievous failure of diplomacy

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld and Steven Tian: ‘Remember the Maine!’ History shows how lies can trigger wars

Michael Bernstein: My community was shattered by the Pittsburgh shooting five years ago. Then something unexpected happened

Charles Dunne: How likely is a US-Iran escalation in the Middle East?

Mark Goldfeder: What donors abandoning Penn and Harvard should do next

Trump speaks

Former President Donald Trump continued to challenge the patience of a Manhattan judge who fined him a total of $15,000 for disregarding a limited gag order barring him from publicly mentioning court staff. “But does anyone truly believe Trump can be reined in?” That’s the question SE Cupp posed.

“For those of us who feel as though Trump is above the law, these continued abuses of gag orders just feel like more proof that he can get away with anything.”

“Will he continue to cross the line? I have no doubt.”

One thing that Trump said last week didn’t violate any gag order, though it challenged common sense:

I don’t mind being Nelson Mandela…”

Jill Filipovic wrote, “Yes, the man who was born into a wealthy family and whose companies still managed to declare multiple bankruptcies, who has been accused of acts of sexual harassment and abuse, who stoked racial and ethnic division, who tried to dismantle American administrative and democratic systems and norms every chance he got, and who currently faces charges on 91 crimes across several jurisdictions, compared himself to a man who risked his life to end apartheid and establish democratic rule in South Africa, eventually becoming the country’s first Black president and a global icon for all of those who believe in equality and democracy. (Trump has denied wrongdoing in the accusations against him.) It doesn’t take a whole lot of historical knowledge to know that Trump is no Nelson Mandela.”

For more:

Dean Obeidallah: If successful, this case could be the most dangerous to Trump’s 2024 presidential run

Remote workers work

Speaking at an investment conference in Saudi Arabia, Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of the private equity firm Blackstone, said that during the pandemic, remote workers “didn’t work as hard — regardless of what they told you.” That didn’t sit well with many people, including Kara Alaimo, an author and professor.

“I find Schwarzman’s claims to be staggering because, like many employees around the globe, I worked harder than ever before. My husband is an emergency room doctor who treated Covid-19 patients before anyone knew how the virus spread. So in the initial weeks of the pandemic, he quarantined in a different part of our house, away from our toddler and me, and I did my full-time job while serving as a solo parent to our out-of-school child.”

“During the pandemic, many Americans made Herculean efforts for our employers, families and communities. The experience showed that remote work can be good for both employees and businesses. It’s the managers who can’t see this who I seriously question.”

Don’t miss

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Sam Fulwood III: After ‘Shaft,’ Black Americans in film were never portrayed the same way

Corey Mintz: Restaurants should end tipping for good

Laura Beers: A completely new take on ‘1984’

Christopher Cosmos: Greek resistance during WWII remains a model for confronting evil 

Sara Stewart: ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ lives again

Maggie Mulqueen: The healing mantra I tell myself as I fight cancer

Cecile Richards and Lauren Peterson: An ode to ‘women’s pages’ everywhere

AND…

No trick, no treat

Halloween is observed throughout America, but some communities embrace it enthusiastically — and others not so much. Jillian Pretzel noticed this when she moved into her new home two years ago.

A neighbor told her, “This neighborhood doesn’t do trick-or-treating. Never has.”

“I soon learned that there’s no official rule (or dental hygiene brigade) against trick-or-treating in our new area. When the neighborhood was built two decades ago, all the homeowners just happened to be empty-nesters or dedicated dog parents. There were no kids, and so, no trick-or-treating.”

“While a number of young families have moved in since then, the homes have maintained their tradition of keeping porch lights off on All Hallows’ Eve. The neighborhood kids who want to trick-or-treat simply go elsewhere.”

“This year, my family has decided to stay home on Halloween, but we’ve made up for it by going to a trunk-or-treat event, a Halloween carnival and a pumpkin patch earlier in the month. I have to admit: they were all a blast … I started to think about the benefits of being in my non-trick-or-treating neighborhood: I wouldn’t need to fish candy wrappers out of my bushes, wouldn’t need to coax my daughter out of a candy coma on November 1st, plus, we’d been inspired to find fun, new events.”

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