Day 21: The “Dangerous” Democrats

The backbone of Republican rhetoric is that Democrats are dangerous. Republicans claim the Democratic party is filled with people who are going to destroy what you depend on and take it away.  It is nearer to the truth to say that Democrats want to give more to ordinary Americans. They want to lift up ordinary citizens and commit government to their general well-being.  That is what makes Democrats so “dangerous.”

Republicans don’t want you to vote your interests.  They assail reasonable, equitable, policy goals as somehow subversive, un-American.  Too good to be true.

The Democrats want to give you something. The Republicans want to demonize that aspiration; they have been doing it for years, acting as though, in the richest nation on the planet, there isn’t enough to go around.  Republicans want you to believe in scarcity, in the hardship that will follow if the government tries to “lift all boats,” even as the tide has crested to record highs for the nation’s most wealthy.  Two days ago, the Federal Reserve released data showing that the wealth of the fifty richest Americans is roughly equal to that of half of the population.  That’s right: just fifty people have as much wealth as the poorest 165 million Americans, combined.

Republicans want you to believe that the Democrats’ more generous vision for America is dangerous.  They want you to believe that the US can’t afford to a system of universal health care, that it’s too much to hope for coverage that continues when you lose your job.  They want you to believe that efforts to ensure that you can see a doctor more easily and cheaply will harm you: that you will be harmed, your freedom destroyed, if American policy so much as ventures that way.

Republicans want you to believe the US can’t afford to have a thriving economy while mitigating climate change.  They want you to believe that protecting vital natural resources is going to leave you broke or unemployed.  Trump has rolled back every protection he can, adding pollutants to the water you drink and the air you breathe.  The truth is that going green will safeguard your community, your health and your property while creating a gravy train of new and socially meaningful jobs.

Trump is a master at demonizing the Democrats, repeating lies about Biden over and over again, such as that Biden wants to defund the police and get rid of fracking.  Trump groundlessly claims Biden’s recovery plans will destroy the economy, whereas Moody Analytics says that Biden’s plans are far superior to Trump’s, that they will promote a faster economic recovery while creating an estimated 7 million jobs.

So don’t believe the Republicans. Let yourself believe in a better, fairer, and more vibrant America.  Vote for the “dangerous Democrats.”  It’s better for America, and it’s better for you.

Image: “The Ring of Thanks”
from this source.


Day 43: The Ginsburg Factor

“So this is the little lady who made this big war!”
Abraham Lincoln to Harriet Beecher Stowe

Ruth Bader Ginsburg died Friday. The Supreme Court justice’s tiny body was barely cold before Democratic and Republican partisans began rattling their verbal sabers and licking their lips, perversely eager for a dangerous new battle to begin. Democrats envision catastrophe if Republicans put a new justice on the court, a response that’s like shooting up the badly ailing Republicans with adrenaline. Each side sees something terribly momentous at stake in the matter of a single judicial appointment. No matter that there will always be another vacancy, another justice who retires or dies.

Neither side acknowledges that what they are claiming with so much vehemence is harmful to the Court, disrespectful of the Constitution, or possibly untrue. Neither side admits that the justices on the Supreme Court are independent and that by and large (except for Clarence Thomas) they are extremely capable, well-meaning people who’ve been doing a good job. In just this last session, the justices declared Trump’s DACA order invalid and recognized the Native American Creeks’ right to judge certain crimes in the eastern half of Oklahoma–an unprecedented recognition of their historical tribal rights. The federal adjudication of abortion is no longer the same all-or-nothing issue it once was, yet Democrats and Republicans are beating that drum again. It’s one of our era’s most overused battle cries. The Supreme Court would matter less if the parties were more moderate and Congress were doing a better job of making law.

Democrats must tamp down their hysteria and focus on winning the White House and breaking the Republicans’ hold on power. Democrats who allow themselves to be cast as victims should instead ponder why their party has had so much trouble competing in the South and Great Plains. Most of the Democratic Party’s problems spring from its failure to devise a more bread-and-butter ideology that resonates with a broader swath of Americans.

Democrats who want to restore balance to the judiciary must first restore balance in the two branches of government that are no longer functioning. We must elect Joe Biden, and we must all work to restore Congress, which has become a place where national dreams go to die.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg being sworn in by Chief Justice Rehnquist as her husband Martin and president Bill Clinton look on,
from this source.

Will the Electorate Destroy the Political Parties?

Artist's sketch shows men talking excitedly at an open-air polling place in NYC.

Something utterly unforeseen could happen in this election cycle: the electorate could destroy one or both of the parties through primary voting.

Both the Democrats and Republicans are ‘hearing from ordinary America’, and the message is hostile.  On the Republican side, voters are heavily favoring Trump, a sometime Democrat and independent only weakly identified with the Republican Party.  On the Democratic side, voters have shown an unexpected interest in Sanders, a lifelong independent who is parasitically exploiting the Democratic brand.  Meanwhile, the veteran politicians who have come up through the parties have had an unexpectedly hard time making inroads against the spoilers, a sign that the parties are badly out of touch with the times.

We hear about the ‘establishment,’ but what is it really?  The parties, we are discovering, are impotent.  There is little capacity for concerted action among party politicians themselves.  If there were, they would have stopped these threatening insurgencies long ago, shutting out Trump and denying Sanders his putative connection with the Democratic Party.

Trump and Sanders are political bounders.  Who are their friends on the Hill?  How would either of them accomplish anything, were either handed the presidency?  Who would their advisers be?

Yet, faced with such a sub-optimal outcome, the senators, governors, and leading congressmen within each party have exerted no discipline, done nothing in unison.  Democratic governors and senators are not speaking out, urging voters to back Hillary.  Leading Republicans watch helplessly as, with each gladiatorial debate, their candidates further damage and degrade the party.  In the process, party feeling—that most basic of bonds—is being destroyed.

And all because Congress has failed to serve ordinary America.  The national leadership of both parties, as embodied in Congress, has shirked its duties.  Congress has not worked to create the virtuous circle of corporate responsibility, abundant skilled employment, and robust domestic consumption that would make our economy strong.  It has not confronted our ridiculous trade imbalance with China.  It has not resolved the issues around immigration and citizenship that are practically and symbolically urgent to millions of Americans.  Finally, Congress has ignored the fact that it must rein itself in and show the American people that it cares about efficient and effective governing.  Those who serve in the House and Senate have no sense of urgency—the urgency that both Trump and Sanders, for all their defects, are brilliantly communicating.

It’s wild and alarming to imagine the parties being destroyed from inside.  If Trump wins the delegate race, for instance, others within the GOP will face a choice: either embrace him and his ideology, back a ‘protest’ candidate, or break away to form their own new party.  Americans witnessed something of this sort back in the 1850s, when, over the course of a decade and in response to the festering problem of slavery, the Whig Party fell apart, the Democratic Party split into northern and southern wings, and the Republican party emerged out of nowhere, sweeping Lincoln to prominence and victory.

Nothing so cataclysmic has happened in our lifetimes.  Yet, many signs indicate that the current party system is losing its salience because it has grown deaf to the people’s needs.  In such circumstances, parties can become defunct with surprising speed.  Trump, Sanders, and even Bloomberg understand that, for an intrepid candidate, the parties’ senescent condition spells personal opportunity.  Any of these candidates, if successful, would force a dramatic shakeup within the parties, transforming the political landscape of the nation and the capital.

Inside the Republican Party’s Desperate Mission to Stop Donald Trump’ (NYT)

Image: from this source.

This artist’s sketch from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper shows voters talking excitedly at an open air polling place in 1856.  The caption reads ‘Scene at the polls.  Boxes for the distribution of tickets.  Everybody busy.’  At that time, voting consisted of obtaining a pre-printed party ticket and putting it in a ballot box.  The three booths are labelled with the names of the three presidential candidates: Buchanan, the Democrat and victor; Fremont, the nominee of the new Republican (anti-slavery) Party; and Fillmore, who represented the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic Know-Nothing Party.  Though the Democrats were victorious, the Republicans’ success in carrying some northern and eastern states created the impetus that would bring the new party to power four years later.

Scenarios of a possible presidential run

The watery, icy expanse of Lake Michigan under a sunset sky.  A pink building glows on the horizon.
At dinner the other night, a friend told me she’d read that if Hillary says nothing this month, that means she’s running.

Ah, yes; Hillary, who by dragging her feet is not doing any favors to her party.  If she doesn’t run, the decrepit condition of the Democratic party—with respect to both leadership and ideology—will become obvious, handing the Republicans a win.

If Hillary does run, the Republicans with the best shot at defeating her are Jeb Bush or Rand Paul.  Some people recoil from the prospect of another Bush presidency.  Yet others view Jeb as his own man, someone who’s competent and familiar, yet refreshingly new as a national figure. He would pull masses of moderates—both Republican and unaligned—back to his party.  Rand Paul could poll well with both wings of his party, while drawing off disaffected liberals whose concern for certain forms of freedom and whose desire to rein in an overactive and over-militarized state the Democratic Party has ignored for decades.

While many older Democratic ‘skirts and suits’ consider Hillary unbeatable, at this point the idea of a Hillary presidency has gone very stale. We’re tired of it already, and she hasn’t started running.  She is great presidential material, but the timing for a run is unpropitious indeed.

Hillary will be particularly vulnerable if she goes unchallenged in the primary.  I’ve seen articles seeking to discourage Elizabeth Warren from throwing her hat in the ring.  Observers fear that Warren will weaken Hillary’s support while exposing Hillary’s vulnerabilities.  Warren’s sudden (and I believe short-lived) ascendancy exposes the strength of popular frustrations that the prevailing centrist brand of Democracy has been ignoring.  For that very reason, Warren’s candidacy would strengthen the party and Hillary’s chances, by triggering a much-needed internal dialogue and influencing the positions that Hillary would carry into the general campaign.

Hillary merits the admiration and respect she enjoys today.  Can she kindle within herself the fresh ideological vision and spark of political genius that the country needs?

Democracy on the ground

Click on the image to view the New York Times interactive map of House election results.

Click on the image to view the New York Times interactive map of House election results.

This map of House election results from the New York Times dramatically conveys the state of democracy on the ground.  Because the entire House stands for election every two years, the results express the state of local sentiment better than Senate elections can.

The map does not correct for population density, so one must bear in mind that some of the vast red areas represent relatively few people.  Still, it’s sobering to contemplate the restricted appeal of a Democratic ethos.  Just think of all the Americans, living in all the varied settings pictured on this map, to whom Democratic party principles no longer appeal.  Democratic strength is extremely limited geographically, whereas, as David Brooks points out, it’s hard to deny that Republican conservatism represents the mainstream.  It’s ironic, because red regions contain many people who use and benefit from the sorts of programs and services that Democrats perennially champion and defend.  Well-being is not all that drives people to the polls.

The Democratic Party’s ethos no longer resonates with such voters culturally.  Instead, the party has become identified mainly with the coastal and urban regions where more educated people tend to gather.  Looking at this map, it’s easy to understand why ‘mainstream’ Americans resent the undue influence that urban elites exercise through the media.

Many Democrats I know, convinced of the morality and truth of their views, do not see a need to proselytize.  I once asked a liberal friend why she didn’t volunteer to canvas in Democratic campaigns, and she said, “I guess it’s because I’m right—and I think that, if other people can’t see that, there’s nothing I can do.”  It’s a shame, because the Democratic Party is becoming irrelevant to a huge natural constituency of small-town and working-class Americans who are just getting by.  In those broad regions where Democratic leaders are giving up, an important strain of political culture may one day die.

The Enduring Republican Grip on the House (NYT)