Even when tackling credit card fees, Kansas Sen. Roger Marshall makes it about race | Opinion

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It’s difficult to give Roger Marshall the benefit of the doubt.

The junior senator from Kansas will always be defined (in my mind at least) by the insurrection-friendly vote he cast against certifying Joe Biden’s presidential victory on Jan. 6, 2021. So even when Marshall does something that might be good for Kansans, it’s still the insurrection-friendly senator doing that not-terrible thing.

To be fair: Marshall really does do non-terrible things on occasion. Bipartisan stuff, even. Right now he’s working with independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on an effort to reduce the shortage of primary care nurses and doctors across the country. He’s even come under some fire from his fellow Republicans for that work.

That’s a good thing.

The problem? Even when he does a good thing, Marshall — or, at least, the folks who work for him — still can do it in the ugliest, weirdest way possible.

It happened again over the Thanksgiving holidays.

Here’s the background. Marshall has been working on another bipartisan effort, this time with Democratic Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, on legislation the two men say would reduce credit card swipe fees by requiring banks to offer cards from a third network outside the Visa-Mastercard “duopoly.” The idea is that consumers would see lower prices once a little competition is brought into the marketplace.

Would it work? To be honest, I’m not sure. What I do know is that the Marshall-Durbin bill has been endorsed by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union, and opposed by the credit card companies. It’s almost enough to make me consider giving Marsall the benefit of the doubt.

The credit card companies really, really hate the bill. They’ve even run nasty ads accusing Marshall of benefiting Chinese communists, American Democrats and LGBT-friendly corporations with the legislation.

Over Thanksgiving, they ran another ad accusing Marshall of trying to “end credit card reward programs” and urging voters to tell him to “end his attack on your wallet.” The ad featured images of an all-white family sitting together enjoying what appeared to be a holiday turkey dinner.

Hard stuff. The response from Marshall’s chief of staff, Brent Robertson, was harder.

“Whichever low-rent D.C. grifter created this garbage ad clearly did not follow Visa-Mastercard’s DEI protocols in advertising,” Robertson told Politico. “Somebody needs to call their HQ in San Francisco and file a complaint.”

Wait. What?

DEI — that’s diversity, equity and inclusion — is shorthand for a group of practices and values that companies, universities and other institutions use to recruit, retain and appeal to consumers and employees of different races, genders and sexual orientations. Conservatives hate it.

But what the heck does it have to do with credit card legislation?

I put the question to Marshall’s press people on Wednesday morning. The official response was attributed to Robinson himself: “The Kansas City Star should sit this one out and go back to talking about how the Chief’s Chop is racist.”

Ah. So. More of the same.

So much of GOP messaging these days often reflexively drags culture war concepts into controversies whether or not it’s warranted. “You say I’m antidemocratic? Yeah, well, you’re woke!” It doesn’t have to make sense, as long as it looks like you’re fighting the libs.

Robertson’s outbursts fit that frame.

This could and maybe should be a story about Marshall facing down big business on behalf of Kansans and other consumers, willing to take the slings and arrows from corporations in order to help the little guy. Squint a little bit and it even looks like a David-and-Goliath tale, if you can buy a U.S. senator in the role of David.

Instead we’re talking about Marshall’s chief of staff unnecessarily flinging racial buzzwords into the debate, part of a fight to see which side can out-nasty the other. And that makes it difficult — again — to give Roger Marshall the benefit of the doubt.

Joel Mathis is a regular Wichita Eagle and Kansas City Star Opinion correspondent. He lives in Lawrence with his wife and son. Formerly a writer and editor at Kansas newspapers, he served nine years as a syndicated columnist.