The GOP’s “I am Spartacus” Moment

In the 1960 movie “Spartacus,” after the Roman Army puts down a slave revolt, the Army Commander offers to pardon thousands of slaves from crucifixion on one condition: they must identify Spartacus, the leader of the revolt. Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) stands to give himself up, but as he says, “I am Spartacus,” so does another slave (Tony Curtis), followed by first one and then another. Eventually all the slaves are shouting proudly and defiantly “I am Spartacus.”  It is a memorable display of heroism and solidarity.

Today, to declare “I am Spartacus” is to stand with those who are being wrongly accused or persecuted, no matter the cost. 

Which brings us to Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, two Republican members of the House of Representatives who were recently censured by the Republican National Committee “for their behavior which has been destructive to the institution of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Republican Party and our republic, and is inconsistent with the position of the Conference.”  The resolution, passed overwhelmingly by voice vote of the RNC’s 168 members, also describes the January 6th insurrection as “ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.” 

If ever there was a moment for traditional Republicans to stand and declare “I am Liz Cheney. I am Adam Kinzinger,” it is now.

It hasn’t happened.  No Republicans are saying “Enough.”  No elected Republicans have declared that they will no longer align with the GOP until it comes to its senses. 

Instead we are mostly getting “Twitter outrage” and strong statements released by PR operatives.   

Utah Senator Mitt Romney used Twitter: “Shame falls on a party that would censure persons of conscience, who seek truth in the face of vitriol. Honor attaches to Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for seeking truth even when doing so comes at great personal cost.”  

Nebraska Republican Senator Ben Sasse also Tweeted: “January 6th was not ‘legitimate political discourse’ and I’ll say it again: It was shameful mob violence to disrupt a constitutionally-mandated meeting of Congress to affirm the peaceful transfer of power.”

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said in a tweet, “It’s a sad day for my party—and the country—when you’re punished just for expressing your beliefs, standing on principle, and refusing to tell blatant lies.”

In her Tweet, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said that calling January 6th “legitimate political discourse” was “just wrong.”  Murkowski also went on CNN and said, “When there is a conflict, when the party is taking an approach or saying things that I think are just absolutely wrong, I think it’s my responsibility as an Alaskan Senator, speaking out for Alaskans, to just speak the truth. The easier thing to do is just go along to get along, or just keep your mouth shut. But you know what, that’s not why we’re here.” 

“The RNC is censuring Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger because they are trying to find out what happened on January 6th – HUH?” Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana said in his Tweet. 

Senator Susan Collins of Maine waited a few days and then issued a statement saying those “who assaulted police officers, broke windows and breached the Capitol were not engaged in legitimate political discourse, and to say otherwise is absurd.”

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, a Trump critic who is not running for re-election, issued a statement through his PR team: “The Governor commends anyone who is willing to step forward and tell the truth, and disagrees with this vote. He has been clear that the January 6th riot was a violent insurrection and a sad day for democracy.” 

Republican Senators John Cornyn (Texas), Shelley Moore Capito (West Virginia), Kevin Cramer (North Dakota), Roy Blunt (Missouri), Joni Ernst (Iowa), and Lindsay Graham (South Carolina) voiced mild criticism.

Former President George W. Bush has not been heard from.

Leading from behind, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell weighed in four days after the RNC action, calling January 6th “a violent insurrection for the purpose of trying to prevent the peaceful transfer of power, after a legitimately-certified election, from one administration to the next.”  He went on to add, “The issue is whether or not the RNC should be sort of singling out members of our party who may have different views from the majority. That’s not the job of the RNC.”

In the film, the defiant slaves pay dearly for their act of courage.  Because Spartacus was not identified, the Roman leader crucifies the slaves, saving just two to battle to the death, for the amusement of Roman citizens–with the victor then to be crucified. 

Spartacus, the slave leader, learned an important lesson from what had happened: “When just one man says ‘No, I won’t,’  Rome begins to fear. And we were tens of thousands who said ‘No,’ and that was the wonder of it.”

While no Republicans would be literally crucified for publicly declaring “I am Liz Cheney. I am Adam Kinzinger,” they would, of course, be excoriated by Fox News and other right wing voices.  But if several dozen prominent elected Republicans found the courage to declare “I am Liz Cheney. I am Adam Kinzinger,” they might very well emerge strong enough to rebuild the Grand Old Party. It certainly would not take ‘tens of thousands’ to halt the downward spiral the Republican Party has taken under Donald Trump.

But don’t hold your breath. Today’s Republicans and the slaves of “Spartacus” differ in two crucial respects. The courageous slaves in the film are being held in slavery against their will.  Today’s frightened Republicans have chosen to be slaves.  Their bondage is voluntary!  

We won’t hear Republicans declaiming lines from “Spartacus,” although we may hear one memorable line from “Gone With The Wind:”

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!”

8 thoughts on “The GOP’s “I am Spartacus” Moment

  1. Perhaps they heard you – a bit of progress here:

    McConnell rebukes RNC, calls Jan. 6 ‘violent insurrection’
    By MARY CLARE JALONICK Associated Press FEBRUARY 8, 2022 — 3:18PM

    WASHINGTON — Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is criticizing the Republican National Committee for censuring two House GOP lawmakers investigating the “violent insurrection” on Jan. 6, 2021, saying it’s not the party’s job to police the views of lawmakers.

    As former President Donald Trump has downplayed the attack by his supporters last year — the worst attack against the Capitol in two centuries — the RNC last week took a voice vote to approve censuring Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois at the party’s winter meeting in Salt Lake City. The two Republicans sit on a Democrat-led House committee that is aggressively investigating the siege and has subpoenaed many in the former president’s inner circle.

    The RNC resolution censuring Cheney and Kinzinger accused the House panel of leading a “persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse” – words that drew outrage from Democrats and firm pushback from several GOP senators. The rioters who broke into the Capitol through windows and doors brutally beat law enforcement officers and interrupted the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory over Trump.

    “It was a violent insurrection for the purpose of trying to prevent the peaceful transfer of power after a legitimately certified election from one administration to the next,” McConnell said Tuesday. He said he still has confidence in RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel, but “the issue is whether or not the RNC should be sort of singling out members of our party who may have different views than the majority. That’s not the job of the RNC.”

    The dispute is the latest tug of war within the party over issues that McConnell and others see as politically beneficial to talk about in an election year – inflation, for example — and discourse over the insurrection and Trump’s falsehoods over the election.

    The rioters who broke in to the Capitol were repeating Trump’s false claims of widespread voter fraud and a stolen win, even after election officials and courts across the country repeatedly dismissed those claims. McConnell and his closest allies have said for months that they want to look forward to November 2022, when they have a chance of taking back the Senate, and not back to January 2021.

    Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said Monday that the RNC has said it wants the party to be unified, “and that was not a unifying action.” Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby said he believes the GOP should be a “big tent.” Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, who is McDaniel’s uncle, said the censure “could not have been a more inappropriate message.”

    Romney said he had texted his niece to discuss the censure. “Anything that my party does that comes across as being stupid is not going to help us,” he told reporters.

    Maine Sen. Susan Collins said that the rioters who “broke windows and breached the Capitol were not engaged in legitimate political discourse, and to say otherwise is absurd.”

    Collins said the GOP started out the year with an advantage on issues that could decide the election, but “every moment that is spent re-litigating a lost election or defending those who have been convicted of criminal behavior moves us further away from the goal of victory this fall.”

    The censure was approved last week after an RNC subcommittee watered down a resolution that had recommended expelling the pair from the party. McDaniel denied that the “legitimate political discourse” wording in the censure resolution was referring to the violent attack on the Capitol and said it had to do with other actions taken by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. But the resolution drew no such distinction.

    Cheney said Monday that she had been receiving a “tremendous amount of support” in the wake of the censure vote. “I think every American who watched the video of that attack and who watched that attack unfold knows that it was really shameful to suggest that that what happened that day might be legitimate political discourse,” she said.

    Few Republicans openly defended the RNC’s move, though several said it was the party’s prerogative to take the vote.

    “The RNC has any right to take any action and the position that I have is that you’re ultimately held accountable to voters in your district,” said New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, the No. 3 Republican in the House. “We’re going to hear the feedback and the views of voters pretty quickly here this year.”

    Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said that Cheney and Kinzinger’s role on the Jan. 6 panel is “not helpful.” Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who along with Cruz led objections to the certification of Biden’s victory on Jan. 6, said it is a distraction to have Republicans in Washington like McConnell “bashing other Republicans.”

    “If you come to the state of Missouri and talk to Republicans, people who are going to be voting in our primary, they probably agree with what the RNC did,” Hawley said.


    Associated Press writer Farnoush Amiri contributed to this report.


  2. While I do not agree with either Rep Kinzinger or Rep Cheney on most issues, I deeply respect them for their willingness to be on the right side of history regarding this matter. But of course doing so was easy based on the clear facts. What is stunning is that other Republicans, who too understand the facts, are unwilling to stand up to the arrogance of Donald Trump and his followers. This has not happened since the Civil War and actually is the continuation of that. The good news is that today’s youth see through this. Over 62% of the 18-28 year old voters supported Biden in the 2020 election. That will grow in the next election. This anti-American embarrassment will soon be over.


  3. Inspiring context, John, for the moral failure of the GOP. I’m lifelong “center left” who has always appreciated the loyal opposition of informed and civil adversaries to my political right and left. It a sad day for the GOP and for America as informed civility becomes rarer and rarer in our political discourse.


  4. McConnell rebukes RNC, calls Jan. 6 ‘violent insurrection’

    Of course, Jan 6 was a riot or violent, illegal, uncivil unacceptable political behavior. Let’s not mince words. It may not have been an “armed insurrection” but it was 1) dangerous 2) a riot or insurrection 3)totally unacceptable and shameful behavior.

    There is a right to peaceful assembly, of course, but in my opinion Mr. Trump was playing with fire by having a protest AFTER an election and so therefore he has to assume SOME RESPONSIBLITY for the riot that followed even if it was only by a minority of those present at his rally.

    I am not a big fan of Liz Chaney or Rep Kinzinger but they have my respect for having the guts to say that what happened on January 6 was repulsive. Those who broke the law should have the book thrown at them. They should face serious jail time. It was a miracle that Jan 6 was not a bloodbath.

    I am concerned that our politics could turn violent.

    The glory of America has always been the free and peaceful transfer of power. In politics you win some and lose some. I expect our political leaders to show some civic virtue and restraint.

    If you lose the World Series you can’t assert that you lost AFTER THE FACT because of an illegal ball or bat and that the results are invalid. The ball game is over. End of story.

    When you lose a national election and the results have been certified state by state the ball game is over.

    If you are concerned about the rules that is up to the state legislatures and courts to clarify for next time.

    There is nothing wrong with being concerned about voting integrity. ‘

    But there is something wrong with ALWAYS claiming (as some Democrats and some Republicans so) your loss is due to fraud WITHOUT EVIDENCE.

    That is a dangerous demagoguery.


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