Friday, November 19, 2021


I'm happy to learn from The Atlantic's Ronald Brownstein that some people within the political system are having the same thoughts I'm having:
... [President] Biden’s repeated emphasis on his ability to cooperate with Republicans has stirred concerns among some Democrats, anti-Trump Republicans, and nonpartisan democracy advocates, that he is obscuring the threat mounting against democratic institutions as Trump strengthens his hold over the GOP, and extremists such as Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar solidify their beachhead in it. The overriding fear is that more Republicans appear to be radicalizing by the week and Biden is making the GOP seem normal.
This has been a problem for a while, and it's not just Biden. A liberal group has the data:
Way to Win’s research found that Democratic House candidates in 2020 spent substantially on advertising that touted their willingness to work with Republicans, while Republicans ran ads that painted Democrats as dangerous radicals.
The polling on democracy isn't good.
Despite everything Trump and his supporters in the GOP have done since last November, [a] recent Marist poll found Americans split almost exactly in half over which party represents “the bigger threat to democracy.” Partisans in each party overwhelmingly blamed the other, and independents were slightly more likely to pick Democrats (41 percent) than Republicans (37 percent) as the greater threat.
Celinda Lake is a Democratic pollster and strategist. I'm not sure she gets it.
Lake believes that this result likely reflects the fact that, when asked about threats to democracy, poll respondents tend to think less about the restrictions on voting rights (which “they are largely unaware of”) or even the January 6 attack than about the influence of special interests, “and they think both political parties are bought.”
I think she's right that most voters, or at least most white voters, aren't aware of or focused on the threat to democracy. She goes on to say that most voters care more about the price of gasoline, and that's probably right, too. But I don't accept the premise that when you ask voters about the threat to democracy, they think about corruption and special interests. It's far more likely that they're thinking about all those Republican ads portraying Democrats as un-American radicals who want to replace our system with communism, and all the speeches by Republican politicians and the propaganda on Fox News -- which is the default news channel in much of America -- that depict Democrats as jackbooted tyrants forcing their will on hardworking, decent ordinary Americans while cheating in every election. Remember, Republicans have accused Democrats of habitual election fraud since the Bush administration and the subsequent smear camapign that took down ACORN.

Some liberals think Democrats shouldn't talk about the very real Republican threat to democracy.
Brendan Nyhan, a Dartmouth University professor of government and co-founder of Bright Line Watch, an academic group that studies threats to democracy, believes Biden is right to keep his focus primarily on those kitchen-table issues. If Biden works harder to define Trump and his enablers as a threat to democracy, Nyhan said, “he just makes the idea more partisan.” The lesson from other countries, Nyhan added, is that “normal politics” focusing on building coalitions and responding to voters’ daily concerns “is often the best way to beat authoritarian populist figures.”
Nyhan runs a group that studies threats to democracy, yet he doesn't want Biden talking about those threats. I'm confused.

I don't enjoy saying nice things about Bill Kristol, but he's right about this:
Kristol wonders if Biden would serve himself better by subtly shifting how he discusses bipartisanship. Rather than touting his ability to cut deals with Republicans—which makes him look as though he has failed when they don’t come together—Kristol thinks Biden might get more benefit from emphasizing that he has long worked across party lines and still hopes to do so, but can’t because so many in the GOP are taking hard-core positions, particularly about the protection of democracy. Biden has “tried to reassure people that he can,” work with Republicans, Kristol said. “That’s not wise. We don’t need reassurance. We need a little more alarm.”
Enough. It's time for Democrats to shine a spotlight on GOP extremism and efforts to damage democracy. Democrats can still say they'd like to be bipartisan, but they should focus voters' attention on why, in nearly every case, that can't happen, and why the real to democracy comes from the right.

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