Saturday, September 04, 2021


In The Washington Post, Paul Waldman writes:
The harsh truth of this moment: Republicans understand power. Democrats do not.

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.
This is an accurate description of the two parties' mindsets. But one reason it's easy for Republicans to be aggressive is that they've played a long game that's now gotten them to the point where they can be aggressive. They've spent decades cultivating young, ideologically homogeneous lawyers, many of whom now they've placed on the Supreme Court and lower courts. Well before the 2010 midterms, they made plans to seize control of as many state legislative houses as they possibly could, which helped them redistrict their way to congressional and state legislative power far in excess of their share of the electorate. During the George W. Bush years, they began passing laws in the states that restricted voting by Democrats, and they continue to pursue this course with great success. And if you want to go back half a century, all this was presaged by the 1971 memo written by future Supreme Court justice Lewis Powell, which called for a multi-front campaign to combat public animosity toward big business.

Republicans started laying groundwork for this moment decades ago. Now they don't fear the loss of power, and why should they? They apparently control the federal courts in perpetuity. Gerrymandering gives them an iron grip on the majority of state legislatures. They've used conservative media (and frequently favorable coverage in the mainstream media, which they regularly browbeat) to build tremendous brand loyalty among voters, so they're never more than one or two election cycles from retaking control of at least one house of Congress even after they lose.

They also have another advantage Democrats don't: The plutocracy has no fear of their agenda. Even their current craziness doesn't scare billionaires, who assume that maybe a few states will lose abortion rights and maybe a few pro-public-health teachers out in the heartland will be threatened with citizen's arrests by angry right-wingers wielding zip ties, but nothing really bad will happen, meaning the billionaires won't have to pay higher taxes or face greater regulations of their businesses. The same billionaires fear full-on Democratic rule, which is why they work so hard to cultivate Democrats who'll subvert the party's stated agenda -- Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema now, various Obamacare compromisers in 2009 and 2010.

I don't know how Democrats who want real change should fight this war. But it's a long war, and it's on multiple fronts.

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