In his NY Times column today, Ezra Klein used Tufts political scientist Eitan Hersh to define "real political work"-- as opposed to political hobbyism on social media-- as "the intentional, strategic accumulation of power in service of a defined end. It is action in service of change, not information in service of outrage." In other words, more registering voters and discussing issues important to their lives and less calling Trump, Bannon, Marjorie Traitor Greene and Madison Cawthorn Nazis on Twitter and Instagram.
“The people thinking strategically about how to win the 2022 election are the ones doing the most for democracy,” said Daniel Ziblatt, a political scientist at Harvard and one of the authors of How Democracies Die. “I’ve heard people saying bridges don’t save democracy-- voting rights do. But for Democrats to be in a position to protect democracy, they need bigger majorities.”
This week, I half-jokingly asked Ben Wikler, the chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, what it felt like to be on the front lines of protecting American democracy. He replied, dead serious, by telling me what it was like. He spends his days obsessing over mayoral races in 20,000-person towns, because those mayors appoint the city clerks who decide whether to pull the drop boxes for mail-in ballots and small changes to electoral administration could be the difference between winning Senator Ron Johnson’s seat in 2022 (and having a chance at democracy reform) and losing the race and the Senate. Wikler is organizing volunteers to staff phone banks to recruit people who believe in democracy to serve as municipal poll workers, because Steve Bannon has made it his mission to recruit people who don’t believe in democracy to serve as municipal poll workers.
I’ll say this for the right: They pay attention to where the power lies in the American system, in ways the left sometimes doesn’t. Bannon calls this “the precinct strategy,” and it’s working. “Suddenly, people who had never before showed interest in party politics started calling the local GOP headquarters or crowding into county conventions, eager to enlist as precinct officers,” ProPublica reports. “They showed up in states Trump won and in states he lost, in deep-red rural areas, in swing-voting suburbs and in populous cities.”
The difference between those organizing at the local level to shape democracy and those raging ineffectually about democratic backsliding-- myself included-- remind me of the old line about war: Amateurs talk strategy; professionals talk logistics. Right now, Trumpists are talking logistics.
...“Voter suppression is happening at every level of government here in Georgia,” Representative Nikema Williams, who chairs the Georgia Democratic Party, told me. “We have 159 counties, and so 159 different ways boards of elections are elected and elections are carried out. So we have 159 different leaders who control election administration in the state. We’ve seen those boards restrict access by changing the number of ballot boxes. Often, our Black members on these boards are being pushed out.”
...“If you want to fight for the future of American democracy, you shouldn’t spend all day talking about the future of American democracy,” Wikler said. “These local races that determine the mechanics of American democracy are the ventilation shaft in the Republican death star. These races get zero national attention. They hardly get local attention. Turnout is often lower than 20 percent. That means people who actually engage have a superpower. You, as a single dedicated volunteer, might be able to call and knock on the doors of enough voters to win a local election.”
This morning, The Guardian published an interview Steven Greenhouse did with Bernie, one conservative Democrats-- in the White House, the Senate, the House of Representatives and on K Street-- aren't going to be exactly thrilled with. He is telling the party "to make 'a major course correction' that focuses on fighting for America’s working class and standing up to 'powerful corporate interests' because the Democrats’ legislative agenda is stalled and their party faces tough prospects in this November’s elections." He wants Schumer (D-Wall Street) "to push to hold votes on individual bills that would be a boon to working families, citing extending the child tax credit, cutting prescription drug prices and raising the federal hourly minimum wage to $15. Such votes would be good policy and good politics, the Vermont senator insisted, saying they would show the Democrats battling for the working class while highlighting Republican opposition to hugely popular policies. 'It is no great secret that the Republican party is winning more and more support from working people,' Sanders said. 'It’s not because the Republican party has anything to say to them. It’s because in too many ways the Democratic party has turned its back on the working class... It’s important that we have the guts to take on the very powerful corporate interests that have an unbelievably powerful hold on the economy of this country.'"
Schumer is reluctant to bring up these bills not because they won't be able to get through the Republican filibusters but because conservative Democrats like Manchin and Sinema-- perhaps others like Maggie Hassan (NH), Tom Carper (DE), Mark Warner (VA), Jon Tester (MT), Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Michael Bennet (CO), Chris Coons (DE) , Jacky Rosen (NV), Frackenlooper (CO) and Tim Kaine (VA)-- will find themselves in awkward positions that reveal they support the interests of the donors class more than the working class.
Sanders spoke to the Guardian on 6 January, the same day he issued a statement that the best way to safeguard our democracy is not just to enact legislation that protects voting rights, but to address the concerns of “the vast majority of Americans” for whom “there is a disconnect between the realities of their lives and what goes on in Washington.”
He said millions of Americans were concerned with such “painful realities” as “low wages, dead-end jobs, debt, homelessness, lack of healthcare”. In that statement, he said, many working-class Americans have grown disaffected with the political system because “nothing changes” for them “or, if it does, it’s usually for the worse.”
In the interview, Sanders repeatedly said that Democrats need to demonstrate vigorously and visibly that they’re fighting to improve the lives of working-class Americans. “The truth of the matter is people are going to work, and half of them are living paycheck to paycheck,” Sanders said. “People are struggling with healthcare, with prescription drugs. Young families can’t afford childcare. Older workers are worried to death about retirement.”
Sanders has long been troubled by America’s increasing wealth and income inequality, but he made clear that he thinks it is time for Democrats to take on the ultra-wealthy and powerful corporations-- a move he said vast numbers of Americans would support. “They want the wealthy to start paying their fair share of taxes,” he said. “They think it’s absurd that Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk don’t pay a nickel in federal taxes.”
...“There is no issue that people care more about than that we pay the highest prices for prescription drugs in the world,’’ he said, adding that the pharmaceutical industry has 1,500 lobbyists in Washington who “tried everything to make sure we don’t lower the cost of pharmaceuticals.”
The senator said: “I think the Democrats are going to have to clear the air and say to the drug companies-- and say it loudly-- we’re talking about the needs of the working class-- and use the expression ‘working class’. The Democrats have to make clear that they’re on the side of the working class and ready to take on the wealthy and powerful. That is not only the right thing to do, but I think it will be the politically right thing to do.”
“We have tried a strategy over the last several months, which has been mostly backdoor negotiations with a handful of senators,” Sanders said. “It hasn’t succeeded on Build Back Better or on voting rights. It has demoralized millions of Americans.”
He called for reviving a robust version of Build Back Better and also called for holding votes on individual parts of that legislation that would help working-class Americans. “We have to bring these things to the floor,” Sanders said. “The vast majority of people in the [Democratic] caucus are willing to fight for good policy.”
Sanders added: “If I were Senator Sinema and a vote came up to lower the outrageously high cost of prescription drugs, I’d think twice if I want to get re-elected in Arizona to vote against that. If I were Mr Manchin and I know that tens of thousands of struggling families in West Virginia benefited from the expansion of the child tax credit, I’d think long and hard before I voted against it.”
Sanders also called for legislation on another issue he has championed: having Medicare provide dental, vision and hearing benefits. “All these issues, they are just not Bernie Sanders standing up and saying this would be a great thing,” he said. “They are issues that are enormously popular, and on every one of them, the Republicans are in opposition. But a lot of people don’t know that because the Republicans haven’t been forced to vote on them.”