Socialism and straws: Nunes tweet a joke to some, precise political messaging to others

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, compared California’s stricter rules on plastic straws to socialism in a series of tweets that went viral.
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, compared California’s stricter rules on plastic straws to socialism in a series of tweets that went viral. Twitter

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, ignited social media over the weekend with a series of viral tweets likening California’s stricter rules on plastic straw use in restaurants to socialism, drawing widespread online criticism and responses from several prominent fellow Congress members.

The first tweet, sent Saturday, claimed that a waitress told Nunes she had to ask if Nunes’ party would like straws “in fear of the straw police.”

“Welcome to socialism in California,” Nunes said to end the tweet. It received more than 12,000 retweets and 34,000 comments as of 2 p.m. Monday.

Nunes then shared a photo of a green straw in some dirt on Sunday, saying he found a plastic straw in his garden and asking if anyone had the number to “#StrawPolice socialists.”

Responses to the tweet ran the gamut from earnest shares to mocking memes to profanity-laced attacks. One of his tweets even drew response from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, who is frequently referred to by Republicans as a socialist.

“The best part about the GOP-Fox propaganda machine is that Republican congressmen actually believe (and) consume it uncritically, get duped themselves, which lead them to make statements like this,” responded Ocasio-Cortez, adding a laughing emoji.

Nunes’ office did not respond to a request for comment.

It’s a joke

On Monday, Nunes’ supporter and former California GOP treasurer Michael Der Manouel Jr. said the tweets were in the same joking vein as other light-hearted straw jokes taking place in restaurants across the state. The new law, which went into effect this year, bans servers from handing out plastic straws unless a customer asks for one due in part to the adverse effects of plastics on the environment.

“Most people I know that joke about this do so in the context of ‘of all the issues the California Legislature could be dealing with, they choose to ban straws,’ ” Der Manouel said. “Trillions of gallons of water flowing into the ocean every year, and $5 billion wasted on high-speed rail. And we ban straws.”

Der Manouel mused that the straw ban probably isn’t socialism by definition, but there are similarities.

“Is socialism tyranny? Yes. Is banning straws tyranny? Yes,” Der Manouel said. “That’s what they have in common.”

Jab at Democrats

Thomas Holyoke, a political science professor at Fresno State, said he suspected the tweet was more of a jab at Democrats than a literal observation. But he also noted that such barbs are clearly a political strategy, possibly from President Donald Trump on down.

“The goal seems to be to brand Democrats as socialists as a weapon to use during the 2020 presidential election,” Holyoke said. “Nunes would also want to help the Republicans retake the House.”

The strategy seeks to capitalize on the fact that socialism does not have a hard and fast definition, Holyoke said. Socialism generally refers to the redistribution of wealth and the establishment of the state as the primary provider of most services, he added.

Nunes and other Republicans also often equate socialism and communism.

“Communism is a type of socialism, but they are not the same thing,” Holyoke said.

He added that Republicans are looking to take advantage of “confused memories of the Cold War” that equate communism to the totalitarian Soviet Union, which Holyoke said was not in fact a true communist nation.

“Socialism and communism are not dictatorial control, as Republicans ofter refer to them,” he said. “In true communism, there is no government.”

Andrew Janz, the Democrat who unsuccessfully challenged Nunes in November and who is considering a potential 2020 rematch, said the tweets were further examples of Nunes’ inaction at home.

“Instead of showing up to work, meeting with constituents or working to secure more water for the Valley, Congressman Nunes is again seeking to divide our community with nonsensical fear-based tweets,” Janz said.

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Rory Appleton is a fourth-generation Fresnan who covers politics for his hometown newspaper. A Fresno State graduate, he has won six first-place California News Publishers Association awards and a McClatchy President’s Award for his reporting and column writing over the last two years.