Facebook deciding not to reinstate Señor Trumpanzee this morning was nice... but shouldn't be a substitute for the kinds of real victories congressional Democrats must deliver-- the ones Bernie lays out in the video above-- if they are to deserve to stay in control of Congress in the midterms. As Nation writer Elie Mystal noted in her essay, Republicans Will Punish Democrats for Every Reform They Make, "that shouldn’t stop Democrats from embracing big and sweeping changes while they can."
Mystal wrote that he isn't spending her time worrying what the GOP will do if they get back into power. He already knows what they will do: "When Republicans have power again, they will do 'the worst.'" And-- you know what?-- Republicans aren't going to worry if what they do looks "bipartisan" or not. Mystal, though, noted that the Republican wing of the Democratic Party-- whether self-serving careerist dogs like Manchin and Sinema in the Senate or the Blue Dogs and New Dems in the House-- "seem paralyzed by the fear of what Republicans will do if they take back the Senate or the White House. They’re afraid to pass sweeping policy or procedural reforms because of how they think Republicans will punish Democratic politicians in the future. It’s hard to even have a debate about big, structural changes to how government functions because too many arguments devolve to 'If Democrats do anything, Republicans will be super mean.'"
Consider filibuster reform. Amid all the angst, the discussion about ditching the filibuster quickly becomes no more than a vehicle for Democrats to share doomsday predictions about what McConnell and the GOP could do with just 51 votes. Conversations about court reform engender their own “But where does it end?” arguments, in this case about how Republicans will repack the court as soon as they regain the upper hand. Meanwhile, every time I turn on C-SPAN, I see Josh Hawley or Ted Cruz standing on the Senate floor as if they didn’t encourage a mob to storm the place mere months ago. Holding colleagues accountable for insurrection is also, apparently, something the Democrats are not interested in.
The basic argument from conservative Democrats is that the party should be cautious in its use of power. Taking aggressive, provocative actions, like ending or reforming the filibuster, might encourage Republicans to use power viciously should they ever get it again. But that argument is ludicrous. It proceeds from the false premise that Republicans are restrained by what Democrats are willing to do. The truth is that Republicans are restrained only by what their racist white voters will allow, and those voters have proved time and again that they will allow anything so long as their tribe comes out on top. Democrats are acting like they shouldn’t poke the sleeping velociraptor, when in fact that “sleeping” dinosaur is bait, and they’re already being hunted by other raptors waiting to pounce.
I will acknowledge that Republicans will use any action by Democrats as an excuse to further vitiate democracy, should they get a chance. If Democrats kill or even just weaken the filibuster, Republicans will use whatever small Senate majority they’re able to cobble together to ram through the most divisive and extremist laws they can think of. If Democrats add four justices to the Supreme Court, Republicans will add 10 when they get a chance. If Democrats prosecute Trump for corruption and tax fraud, Republicans will prosecute Joe Biden for having ice cream before dinner if they have to. That is their way.
Republicans are not bluffing when they promise retribution should Democrats use the power they have won. But so what? How is that any worse than what we have now? Republicans supported a whole-cloth lie about the results of the last election, which led directly to a massive insurrection against the government. Many of their voters were willing to capture and kill elected representatives or quietly supported those who would. Republicans have chosen to pursue power at any cost, and yet there are Democrats like Joe Manchin who think defending procedural gridlock will “heal” these divides.
Who in their right mind thinks Republicans won’t use all the power they have in, say, 2025 just because Democrats showed restraint in 2021? Republicans never hold their fire because they’re afraid of the Democratic response. They never say, “If we’re not careful, we might piss off Chris Coons.”
The only way to protect people from what Republicans will do once they regain power is to make it difficult for the white supremacist rump of the party to gain power again. The only way to do that, legitimately, is to secure voting rights. The cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy.
If everybody votes, Republicans cannot win. Even Republicans know that. The current incarnation of their party appeals to a majority of white voters, but even a two-thirds majority of white people is a minority of Americans. Faced with this reality, with not being able to win, Republicans would either have to broaden their appeal beyond white supremacists or start another civil war for whiteness. (I’m counting on the former, because as we saw after January 6, most of these MAGA bros are front-running cowards who can’t organize without tacit support from Facebook and Twitter.)
Securing the vote is the only thing Democrats can do to protect themselves from Republican revenge fantasies. It’s the only thing that can neutralize the Republicans who still make it into office. And, not for nothing, protecting democracy is also in the literal job description of our elected representatives.
There are other things Democrats should have the courage to do to win the next elections. It would be nice to see the party support Medicare for All; it would be nice if the senator from Arizona found it in her heart to support wage earners’ getting an extra few bucks an hour while they serve her sangria. Democrats should be able to walk, chew gum, and distribute the Covid-19 vaccine at the same time. But the only way Democrats can win the next election is if they secure voting rights ahead of that election. Democrats could mail everybody a pot of gold and still lose if only white people are allowed to vote.
If securing voting rights means Democrats have to break the filibuster to pass legislation (and it does), then they must do that. If enforcing the constitutional protections of the right to vote means Democrats have to add justices to the Supreme Court (and it does), then Democrats must do that. If these and other acts of protecting democracy mean Lindsey Graham will go on Fox News and angry-cry while vowing vengeance, Democrats must risk that and sell tickets to the meltdown. Voting rights, voting access, and voting certification are among the only things that matter.
Democrats should not be paralyzed by fear; they should be motivated by it. As my ancestors would have surely noted, there’s no sense in worrying about what the slave catcher will do if they catch you. The only thing to do is to make it to freedom.
Last year, one of the candidates running for the Democratic nomination for a Georgia Senate seat, Teresa Tomlinson, wrote a guest post about how one cannot lead if one is crippled by fear and, she noted, fear does cripple the Democratic Party. "Fear of our policies, fear of who we are, and fear of the Republicans. Yes, fear is what has politically cost us in the last many election cycles. One cannot lead if one is afraid. The thing about leadership is that people want their leaders to be brave. They care less about what you think on the issues than whether you have the moxie to fight for them and the strength of conviction to tell them what you really think."
Her advice for Democrats running for office-- even in The South-- was to "tell people who you are and what you believe. They may not agree with you, but they will respect your courage, and that will inoculate you against the single most effective propaganda that Republicans have against Democrats-- that we are cowards. That’s what the Right can’t stand about The Squad. Those women are fearless about their beliefs. They refuse to be bullied, and that is dangerous to the Republican playbook of shaming scared Democrats into milk toast, mealy-mouthed, baby-splitting positions that are equivocal and stand for nothing. American voters revile those who won’t tell the people what they think. Even if you don’t support the policies-- or certainly some of the statements-- of The Squad, you can’t deny that you appreciate that they unabashedly tell the world what they think." Tomlinson didn't stop there:
A classic example of this crippling Democratic political plague of fear is 2014 Democratic Senate candidate Alison Grimes, who refused to say whether she voted for the leader of her party, the two-term first black president, Barack Obama. And, the legion of Democratic candidates that year who refused to say they supported the Affordable Care Act (ACA), because the polling showed it was unpopular. Did we think any voter believed that a Democrat running for federal office didn’t fundamentally support the notion of providing healthcare coverage for millions of previously uninsured constituents? Our citizens could have used a little leadership from Democratic candidates during that cycle. Our president would have benefitted from the leadership of those Democratic candidates because fear begets disrespect and that disrespect spilled throughout the party and weakened Obama as its leader. Maybe if we had all spoken out and pushed back against the Republican political propaganda machine, we would not have allowed the bell-curve to slide so far right.
The nation has had its share of politically lukewarm Democratic candidates-- structured by the national party for perceived winnability not leadership. Even if they had a tagline of-- “Fighting for you”-- no one believed it. How could they if they didn’t fight for the ACA or weren’t willing to admit America has a gun violence problem?
...The key to winning is that you don’t aim to win, you aim to lead. If you lead, the winning takes care of itself-- or at least you move the needle so profoundly you set up the next winner, as did Stacey Abrams in Georgia with her heroic non-loss in Georgia. She was who she was and voters responded to that.
That’s not fear, that’s winning.
Alan Grayson is going to take on Marco Rubio next year and make a real effort to persuade Florida voters that they can do better-- a lot better-- than to reelect a pointless careerist Republicans ho has done absolutely nothing for them. Chuck Schumer, of course, wants a candidate who will not rock too many boats and who will take orders from the DSCC during the campaign and from himself in the Senate. That's ain't gonna ever be Grayson, who recently said of the American political system "Making things better is the whole point of the endeavor. If you’re afraid of what might happen if you make things better, then you really aren’t thinking straight."