April 8, 2017

Two major legislative moments lie behind us now: the failure of the Trump/Ryan healthcare tax-cut bill and the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. On the raw numbers, progressives are 1-1, but we could be 0-2 if Republicans had been able to agree how badly to hurt many of Agent Orange's voters by repealing or "replacing" the Affordable Care Act.

Prospects for protecting the social safety net also look dim-to-grim for the foreseeable future, at both the federal and state-government levels. Republicans control two branches of the federal government until at least 2018. They might have a reactionary working majority on the Supreme Court for the near future, depending on the voting of the incompletely predictable Justice Kennedy. Republicans also control the governorships and both houses of 25 state governments ("trifectas," per Ballotpedia). In contrast, Democrats have trifectas in only six states.

(NB: Nineteen states have divided governments - an important fact given ongoing initiatives tied to the Koch brothers to call for a constitutional convention. More about that in a later column...)

That's the half-empty view of recent current events. And, yes, the choices we made along the path to our current political-minority-status have ignited endless rounds of recriminations in the progressive commentariat, here and here, for example. This litigation is like the supercharged political argument in the early 1950s about "Who Lost China?" Everything old is new again.

(Full disclosure: I sharply criticized 2016 Green-Party voters after the election. But I've stopped. It's pointless and self-defeating in many different ways, for many reasons. Anyway, I mostly attribute our current political predicament to Democrats who didn't vote at all in 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2016, among other causes.)

However we got here, it's our reality. We have to acknowledge that we live in it, so we can begin to figure out how to respond effectively to it, in order to start recovering control of government and implementing whatever legislative and policy programs we can agree are necessary.

Let's start with understanding the GOP. Republicans generally, as a party and for almost a decade, have behaved like the House Freedom Social Darwinist Caucus. (By the way, is it dumbfounding to anyone else that many of these social Darwinists don't believe in actual scientific Darwinism? Odd, that...)

At a certain level, I can understand why: incumbents like to keep their jobs. Republicans have gerrymandered themselves into safe, but increasingly reactionary, districts. They've consequently been at risk from being primaried and defeated only from their right for several election cycles. For examples, see the defeats of Robert Bennett in Utah and Eric Cantor in Virginia.

Because Republicans have moved so far to the right and become increasingly rigid in their positions, Democrats' accommodation and appeasement of this generation of Republicans have not worked. The Affordable Care Act passed without a single Republican vote, notwithstanding concessions Democrats made to them during the negotiations. Nothing like the Garland Obstruction ever occurred when Democrats held Congress during a Republican Presidency, and certainly not to a mainstream Court candidate like Garland.

Obstruction and abstention

Because accommodation appears to be fruitless now, I supported House Democrats' decision to let Republicans negotiate only among themselves over the Trump/Ryan healthcare tax-cut fiasco. If House Democrats had been seriously invited into the room, I would have urged them to stay out, because they would have begun to negotiate against themselves to "save" parts of the ACA. Instead, Democrats astutely watched the huge backlash against repeal develop and stayed out of its path.

For the same reason, I supported the Senate Democrats' decision to filibuster Gorsuch, even though it cost us the Supreme Court filibuster. Democrats would have signaled further weakness by not filibustering - to Republicans and, more importantly, to the Democratic base. (Earlier, I supported the Democrats' decision to end the filibuster with respect to lower-court nominations. I wanted it ended much earlier, when we might have gotten more judges through the pipeline and on to the federal bench.)

I will support House Democrats' standing on the sidelines during the next round of healthcare tax-cut negotiations. For the foreseeable future, I will urge Senate Ds to vote against any administrative or judicial nominee they find even moderately dubious.

Spines are good!

What is gained? First, odd as it sounds...spine-stiffening. Democrats are rediscovering that we can resist and the world will not end - at least not at our hands.

Second, Democrats might even benefit politically, because we're educating voters - or the media are finally doing that - and letting them lead. Look at the AHCA bill's failure. Democrats did not appease or cooperate. The electorate got educated about O-care's current benefits for them and what Republicans intended to do to hurt them. O-care now is more popular than ever.

Of course, Democrats should criticize Republican proposals, policies, and nominees, and say no when necessary (as in the Gorsuch filibuster, because it's a matter of principle and policy). Otherwise, I think Democrats should keep quiet and let the mainstream media report to the electorate what the Rs want to do to them.

This tactic worked exceptionally well during the House healthcare tax-cut debacle. Democrats did not make news, so the media focused on what Republicans intended to do, how it would harm most ACA beneficiaries, and how the CBO scored the proposed legislation.

I'm not suggesting that progressives/Democrats become the New Party of "No!" That's produced a generation of Republicans that doesn't know how to govern because they don't believe government works. Progressives believe in the utility of government and shouldn't abandon it to the grifters and incompetents in charge now. Look what happened to Kansas when the incompetent right ran amok, riding the Laffer Curve all the way to the bottom.

Dems must resist, but be ready with options

Instead, progressives and Democrats should be the Party of "No, but..." In Congress, we should have legislation ready to assist less-crazy Congressional Republicans in improving the social-safety-net when they know they have to. In the States we control, we should make them laboratories for social and economic justice - the opposite of Kansas.

Finally, one last point about Kansas: having suffered Brownbacking for years, it might be inching ever-so-gingerly back toward moderation.

Maybe that's how this works. Maybe that's how all of this works.

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