Members Only | June 11, 2019 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Biden Rewards GOP’s Bad Faith

He's pretending the Republicans respect democracy.

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Editor’s note

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I’d given Joe Biden enough attention over the last week. But today I find I must use his latest remarks to make a point about an ongoing problem in Democratic politics.

That problem is this: too many Democrats—especially elite Democratic donors—seem far too willing to keep giving the Republican Party the benefit of the doubt.

During a fundraiser, the former vice president gave voice to a familiar sentiment.

With Trump gone, you’re going to begin to see things change. Because these folks know better. They know this isn’t what they’re supposed to be doing. …

This ain’t your father’s Republican Party.

Why familiar? Barack Obama said the same thing. The former president said he believed the Republican rage for blocking everything out of his administration, even if it’s a Republican idea, would go away after the 2012 presidential election. He said:

If we’re successful in this election, when we’re successful in this election … the fever may break, because there’s a tradition in the Republican Party of more common sense than that. My hope, my expectation, is that after the election, now that it turns out that the goal of beating Obama doesn’t make much sense because I’m not running again, that we can start getting some cooperation again (my italics).

The fever didn’t break. It got hotter.

Not only did the Republican Party steal a US Supreme Court appointment from a president who twice won the electoral and popular votes, it vowed to block Hillary Clinton’s constitutional prerogative if she won the 2016 presidential election.

You know what happens when you keep giving the benefit of the doubt to people who abuse it?

Worse, the Republican Party’s leadership—here I’m talking about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—put the interests of party above the interests of country when they turned a blind-eye to the Kremlin’s sabotage of Clinton’s campaign. McConnell knew Russia was helping Donald Trump win. He didn’t care, or if he did care, it was to the extent that Russian sabotage was very good for the GOP.

I don’t blame Biden for repeating the old canard. I think he should do what he thinks he must. I’m more concerned about other Democrats, especially elite Democrats.

When I say “elite Democrats,” I don’t mean the activist base of the Democratic Party (though activists are certainly elite given that politics is what they do.) I’m talking about the moneyed elites who are more or less aligned with the party. Moneyed elites may prefer peace with the GOP because going to war is costly. It costs money. It costs status. It costs profitable friendships. It costs a lot of things only elites care about.

This is not to disparage elites. This is to say that elite opinion tends to influence public opinion. If moneyed elites prefer that the Democratic Party make peace with the Republicans by way of repeatedly giving them the benefit of the doubt, then normal people will probably end up agreeing. That’s bad. That’s bad for everyone.

Why? Because the Republicans long ago stopped seeing any value in compromising with the opposition. Indeed, democracy itself is, to many of today’s Republicans, tantamount to suicide. As the peerless Jay Bookman said this morning:

Calling that attitude unconstitutional is too passive a term—it is actively anti-constitutional. Because once you reject compromise as an option, then you have only one means left to attain your goals, and that is the utter destruction and domination of your opposition.

You know what happens when you keep giving the benefit of the doubt to people who abuse it? They keep abusing it—and you. The GOP’s descent into full-blown fascism is not entirely of its own making. The Democrats play a role in this. If they want to stop playing along, they can. But only if they start seeing the Republicans as fascists.

I know, I know. I had the same thought. In fact, Seth Cotlar was speaking for me when he said that “authoritarian” and “fascist” are words that make him squirm a little. The Willamette historian said: “I’m of a demographic (middle class white American male who came of age in Reagan’s America) that was socialized to think it was grievously hyperbolic to call another American an ‘authoritarian’ or a ‘fascist.’”

But what else can we call this? “Conservative” doesn’t cut it.

Conservatives, though terrible, at least believed once in the democratic process. They believed once in the power of their ideas. They believed once that engagement mattered even if it called for compromise. Today’s Republicans, on the other hand, malign everything—the Democrats, obviously, but also institutions and ideals, like freedom of speech. Yes, they claim to champion free speech, but what they are really doing is suppressing dissent in the name of free speech, which is what fascists do.

Biden is right. “This ain’t your father’s Republican Party,” he said Monday. Your father’s Republican Party respected liberal democracy. This one does not.

And yet Biden—and presumably moneyed elites—would rather pretend it does.

—John Stoehr

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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