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Democrats Should Be Handing Republicans Anchors, Not Life Jackets
Glug Glug, GOP
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At this point in history the Republican Party is beyond saving. The party has over the decades, again and again, chosen to embrace conspiracy theories, bigotry, and crackpot economic ideas that devastate the country and the world. By nominating leaders like George W. Bush and Donald Trump, it has made clear that this is the path it wants to remain on and voters have shown that this agenda and world view are pretty unpopular (the party has won one general election popular vote since 1988).
In a situation like this their chief rival, the Democratic Party, should be taking full advantage of this. America is a two party system and in any war, when the other army is in retreat that is the time to press your advantage and win. But instead of going for the political kill, Democrats keep trying to save a Republican Party that doesn’t want to be saved.
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Take for instance the infrastructure law that President Joe Biden signed into law in 2021. This was a major victory for him and Democrats, finally bringing about not just the “infrastructure week” that Trump could never deliver, but a cascade of infrastructure weeks that will last for years and years as roads and bridges across the whole country are repaired.
This was a law that is in place because of a Democratic presidency with a Democratic majority in the House and Senate. In the Senate, most Republicans voted against it - 30 votes out of their then-50 vote caucus. In the House it was even worse, with only 2 Republicans voting to protect American families from falling into rivers while driving over crumbling bridges.
Yet the Biden administration is obsessed with referring to the law as the “Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.” That isn’t even the name. The official, legal name is the “Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.” By branding the law as bipartisan when it was a Democratic achievement, the Democrats give Republicans an unearned boost. If anything, discussions about the law and its effect on America — which I believe will be profound and long-lasting — should be an opportunity to remind the public yet again of how Republicans failed at governing and failed to help the country. They prioritized opposition to Biden the way they prioritized opposition to Obama and Clinton, even as all three presidents put in place legislation to help the country.
Another more tawdry example of this dynamic at play was the recent episode with Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) waxing rhapsodic about white supremacists. Instead of plainly pointing out that Tuberville’s sympathy for anti-Black terrorism fits perfectly with the hate embraced by Donald Trump, Democratic leaders like Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called on Tuberville to apologize. Why would you ask Tuberville to apologize for publicly endorsing one of the core beliefs of the modern conservative movement? This is who they are.
I think that Democrats keep giving Republicans an “out” on these things because they believe opinion polls and focus groups when people claim to want “bipartisanship.” Democratic leaders mistakenly think that being seen as unity figures that bring Democrats and Republicans together will help the party win over voters.
The problem with this mindset is that voters don’t truly know what they want and don’t understand bipartisanship. The public support for the notion follows in the footsteps of how the media fetishes the idea. We saw this a lot during the Obama presidency, with the press obsessing over the idea that Obama could just play a game of golf with figures like Speaker John Boehner and just hammer out a middle path to please everyone.
This mindset ignores the fact that the Republican Party has embraced derangement and has no interest in governing. This is a party who has repeatedly pushed the federal government into shutdown rather than working with the Democrats. By the same token, the signature achievements for all three of the most recent Democratic presidents (Clinton’s budget, Obamacare, the Recovery Act, the Rescue Plan, and the Inflation Reduction Act) were all achieved without help from a majority of Republicans and in some instances not a single Republican vote at all.
Instead of giving Republicans a hand up by giving them unearned valor with bipartisan cover, Democrats should primarily be reminding the public that they have done more to repair the country than Republicans, and that Republican obstruction is getting in the way. Will this mash the toes of the few breakaway Republicans who occasionally have voted for things like the infrastructure bill? Oh well. It isn’t as if those same Republicans will defend President Biden or other Democrats, and they will line up behind the GOP’s nominee, even a double-indicted crook like Donald Trump. If the Republican Party choses to lie down with flea-infested animals, it is political malpractice if Democrats don’t point out the fleas.
This situation is not fun and it doesn’t appeal to our better angels. The natural impulse of liberalism is to fix, not destroy. This even applies to the conservative movement, which some strains of liberalism — particularly the strains in leadership within the Democratic Party — believes can be restored. I understand the psychological appeal of this worldview. Wouldn’t things just be nicer if politics was a rational debate between liberalism’s regulated markets and conservatism’s “free” market? Sure.
But politics doesn’t live inside a vacuum. The other issues involved in national politics — hate, violence, fascism, anti-intellectualism — are tied in with the lofty debate. The thuggery of Trump and the Proud Boys is part of a coalition with Mitch McConnell, the Federalist Society, and the desires of big business. Because of this reality, Democrats don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing their battles. If they choose to engage in civility with Senate Republicans, that is the same as breaking bread with Marjorie Taylor Greene. You can’t artificially separate the two sides of the same coin.
In a zero-sum game, Democrats and liberals need to understand that the only option available to them is winning or becoming the zero. The only way to win is to always be on offense, always fighting. Maybe there is a scenario where the right finally comes to the realization that the rancid elements should be cast aside and that it can become a sane, center-right movement. But that isn’t up to people on the left side of things to determine.
All we can do is hand them anchors so they drown and hope for the best.
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