Saturday, September 4, 2021

The Democrats' Complete Power Outage

Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman is right: Republicans use every ounce of power given them to destroy Democrats and their voting coalition. Democrats meanwhile twiddle the goddamn thumbs and apologize to Republican voters.

Democrats look like they’re the ones with the greater share of political power in America today, holding both the White House and Congress. So why do they so often seem weak and ineffectual, while Republicans ruthlessly employ every shred of power they have?

You could hardly have asked for a more vivid illustration than what’s happening right now. In Congress, a couple of key Democrats, especially Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), proclaimed their intention to sabotage the party’s agenda if it isn’t drastically pared back, lest anyone think it’s too “partisan.” They could unshackle themselves from the filibuster and actually do what they were elected to do, but they choose not to.

Meanwhile, Republican-run states are rushing to create a far-right dystopia where every customer at your local supermarket is packing heat, school boards and election boards are run by QAnon lunatics, mob rule is valorized and institutionalized, voting rights are dramatically restricted, and abortion is outlawed.

And they’re doing it with the help of a conservative Supreme Court majority that barely bothers to pretend that it cares about precedent, the Constitution, the law or anything other than remaking America to conform to its ideological agenda.

We’re seeing what a profound difference there is in how Democrats and Republicans view power. When Democrats have it, they’re often apologetic, uncertain and hesitant to use it any way that anyone might object to. Republicans, on the other hand, will squeeze it and stretch it as far as they can. They aren’t reluctant, and they aren’t afraid of a backlash. Whatever they can do, they will do.

Think of how the two parties react when presented with an obstacle to getting what they want. Democrats often issue statements of regret: We’d like to move forward, but what can we do? This is how democracy works.

Republicans, on the other hand, react to obstacles by getting creative. They search for loopholes, they engineer procedural workarounds, they devise innovative ways to seize and wield control. When they come up with an idea and someone says, “That’s madness — no one has ever dared try something like that before,” they know they’re on the right track.

There’s a line of jurisprudence establishing the right to abortion? What if we outlaw the procedure, but pull a switcheroo by putting enforcement in the hands of millions of potential vigilantes so you can’t sue the government to overturn the law? Does that sound cynical and crazy? Don’t worry, we’ve got five votes on the Supreme Court who’ll give it the rubber stamp.

That’s the kind of creative use of power Democrats don’t even contemplate. Think back to the decision that led directly to this latest stage in the assault on abortion, when then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refused to allow President Barack Obama’s nominee to be considered for a Supreme Court vacancy, holding it open for nearly a year so it could be filled by a Republican president.

McConnell didn’t worry about how many stern editorials condemned his action. He didn’t care about whether polls showed that if you asked them the right way, the public would disagree with what he was doing, because he knew that they were barely paying attention.

Critically, nearly all of his Republican Senate colleagues got on board with the strategy. They didn’t care that what they were doing wouldn’t be seen as sufficiently “bipartisan.” They wanted that seat, and they were going to get it. Now they have it — and two more, thanks to the fact that Donald Trump was elected in 2016 winning a minority of the vote — and they’re damn sure going to use it.

You can trace the roots of these differing conceptions of power very far back, but the most critical moment was the 2000 election controversy in Florida, not only for the tactical chasm that separated the parties throughout that battle, but for the way it ended. Five conservatives on the Supreme Court simply handed George W. Bush the presidency, not because it was what the Constitution demanded or even because there was a remotely persuasive legal argument for it, but because the outcome itself was what they wanted.

They could do it, so they did. Republicans learned a vital lesson: If you have the power to get what you want, use it. Don’t worry that you’ll pay some karmic price down the road, because you probably won’t.
Republicans tell Democratic voters how they will be harmed, persecuted, even killed if they don't join the "winning" side, warnings of retribution and destruction are daily occurrences for the GOP.  Democrats meanwhile apologize for governing the country as a whole and constantly ask how they can make things easier for the voters who increasingly want to see them swinging from the gallows or shot dead, tied to a firing squad post.

One side will do anything it takes to win, up to and including disinformation to kill its own supporters just to drum up constant, inchoate rage.

Our side vows to bring cookies.
It's been like this for the entire run of Zandar Versus the Stupid, and indeed for my entire adult lifetime, going back to Newt Gingrich and the Contract With America when I was a college freshman.
When we tried to use power in 2010, for the Affordable Care Act, it cost us 80 House seats and a dozen Senate seats over two midterm elections, not to mention half the state legislatures.  The backlash of white supremacy against a party that gave us a Black president continues to this day and will do so for the rest of my life, and right now, that backlash is winning.

If Trump was even slightly more competent, the GOP would still have total control of America. We got extraordinarily lucky, and we're acting like it's business as usual with filibuster footsie and squealing about national debt, while Republicans are openly talking about putting Democrats in cages and graves.

It's war. Open war. And if the Democrats don't win, we're all doomed.

It's long past time we started fighting like it.

The Vax Of Life, Con't

Deliberate misinformation on COVID by the Republican party continues to cause lethal damage across the country to real people, but it's also causing the Biden administration lots of political damage as well. Like it or not, Joe Biden is President, and when things are bad, people blame the guy in the Oval Office, as Cook Political Report's Amy Walter explains.

For the last couple of weeks, I've been watching focus groups. Two of those groups included independent-leaning voters who don't align themselves strongly with either party. One other group was comprised of so-called Democratic "surge" voters; people who vote infrequently or only in presidential elections. In other words, these are the swing voters that we will be watching closely in the midterm elections.

At this point, however, listening to these voters is helpful not for predicting the outcome of the 2022 election, but for understanding how they are processing the world around them. They are often much less interested in the topics and policies that get chewed over on Twitter or cable TV. Many times they also see those issues very differently than we assume they do.

My main takeaway was the prominence of COVID as their dominant concern. When asked about how they felt about the state of the country, almost all of them replied with a pessimistic comment. And, that negativity was almost universally centered around issues of the virus and the vaccine.

They are "overwhelmed" with the deluge of conflicting information they are getting about the virus from the news media, friends and Facebook.

"First, they tell you to get the shot. Then you get it," said a woman from Chicago. "But people are dying who got the shot. [I'm] scared to get it but you want to get it, because some places want proof."

A man from Columbus, Ohio echoed these concerns about vaccines, saying there's "too much information out there — especially on social media that's what leading to the confusion about whether it's safe or not safe."

"There's so much information out there about COVID it's crazy," said another woman from Florida.

They are frustrated that more than a year later — and with vaccines available to all — we are still battling this virus.

"I'm disappointed," said a woman from Texas, "I thought we'd be in a better place with vaccines. I think we could be in a better spot than we are."

Another woman in this group echoed her concerns: "I wish it had been gone by now. I wish that COVID had been extinguished. I wish that people had listened to science. I wish COVID was over."

A number worried about a fall/winter where we are once again shutting down schools and the economy.

One man from suburban Chicago lamented that he and his family are finally in a good spot financially, and couldn't afford another year like 2020. A woman from Dallas said that as a gig-worker, "another lockdown worries me."

And, they are upset about the polarization over and politicization of vaccines. Many described strained relationships with family members and friends over the issue.

"I don't understand how vaccines got to be such a political issue," said one woman
Again, the deliberate disinformation is being spread across social media and cable TV on purpose with the intent of hurting as many people as possible so that people blame Biden and the Democrats, and meaning Republicans can retake power.  It became a political issue because at every juncture, Republicans and their allies made it a political issue, and they had no problem with thousands of Americans paying a fatal price for GOP political ambitions.
It works and continues to work. Americans continue to refuse the vaccine in the name of political tribalism and Trump cultism, and they die for it. God help me, I don't know how to beat people who are willing to slaughter as many thousands as it takes to win. I can only protect myself.
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