Last week, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) reneged on his pledge to step down after two terms and announced he would seek re-election.
He does so despite woeful approval ratings among Wisconsin voters and a reputation as an uninformed, irresponsible, and dangerous politician. “If this is not an act,” said Dr. Jonathan Reiner, CNN medical analyst and former personal physician to Vice President Dick Cheney, “he is just the most ignorant man in the United States Senate. And that says a lot.”
Here is a short list of Sen. Johnson’s pronouncements on a wide range of important issues:
Claims that global warming is caused by human activity are “bullshit,” declared Johnson, who, perhaps not coincidentally, made millions as CEO of a company that manufactured polyester and plastics. It is far more likely that sunspot activity causes climate change, he added. And carbon dioxide emissions are “sucked down by trees and help trees grow.”
“You know there’s a reason Greenland was called Greenland,” the senator said. “It was actually green at one point in time. And it’s been, you know, since it’s a whole lot whiter now so we’ve experienced climate change throughout geologic time.” Informed that Greenland was named by Erik the Red to entice residents of Iceland to settle there, and had no vegetation, Johnson replied, “I could be wrong there, but there’s always been my assumption that at some point in time, those early explorers saw green. I have no idea.”
On Newsmax TV, Johnson opined there was a “real and present danger” that ISIS militants would infect themselves with Ebola and travel to the United States to spread the deadly disease.
Responding to a baseless conspiracy theory, Johnson, whose record of legislative accomplishments is meager, introduced a bill requiring the federal government to protect the nation’s electric grid against electromagnetic pulse nuclear weapons and geomagnetic disturbances from solar storms.
The wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, according to Johnson, are paying “pretty close to their fair share” of taxes. Social Security is “a Ponzi scheme.”
“Standard gargle, mouthwash, has been proven to kill the Coronavirus,” Johnson asserted. “If you get it, you may reduce viral replication. Why not try all these things.”
YouTube suspended Senator Johnson for seven days for spreading medical misinformation about hydroxychloroquine. He also pushed ivermectin, a drug used to deworm livestock, which is not effective in preventing or treating COVID-19. Vaccines, Johnson maintained, are far more dangerous than ivermectin. After a number of people who took the drug were hospitalized, the FDA warned Americans: “You are not a horse. You are not a cow.”
Apparently oblivious to the transmissibility of the virus, Johnson also asked: “If you have a vaccine, quite honestly, what do you care if your neighbor has one or not?”
People who exercise “their health autonomy” and don’t get vaccinated are being put “basically into internment camps,” Johnson said in a radio interview.
At a hearing of the Homeland Security Committee, Johnson read into the record a lengthy article indicating that “agents-provocateurs” and “fake Trump protestors” planned the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol. “Many of the marchers were families with small children. Many were elderly, overweight. Or just plain tired and frail — traits not typically attributed to the riot prone.”
“I don’t know any Trump supporter who would have done what the rioters did,” Johnson subsequently said. He blamed the attack on the failure of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to ensure adequate security for the Capitol. Johnson didn’t feel threatened on Jan. 6, he confessed, though he would have been concerned if Black Lives Matter and Antifa protestors had entered the building.
Although an investigation of the 2020 election commissioned by the Wisconsin state legislature turned up no evidence of fraud — and the senator conceded there was no foul play in a surreptitiously recorded video — Johnson recently recommended that GOP lawmakers unilaterally take control of federal elections (bypassing the bi-partisan Elections Commission they themselves had established) because Democrats cheat. He told them to ignore a veto of this plan by Gov. Tony Evers.
Ben Nuckels, a Wisconsin Democrat, once said, “when QAnon and the Tea Party have a baby,” it would be Ron Johnson.
His quip might be funny if the stakes were not so high — in a closely divided, hyper partisan U.S. Senate (which can no longer credibly claim to be the world’s greatest deliberative body) and with America’s democratic institutions more fragile than at any time since the Civil War.
Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is the co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of “Rude Republic: Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century.”