Members Only | October 11, 2018 | Reading Time: 6 minutes

Eric Holder Breaks the Taboo

His remarks indicate that one side of an internal debate is winning.

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A video of Eric Holder went viral Wednesday. The former US Attorney General, and close friend of former President Barack Obama, was speaking in Georgia in support of Stacey Abrams, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate there. Holder said:

The GOP uses “the power they’ve got for all the wrong things. They want to keep themselves in power. They want to cater to special interests. It is time for us as Democrats to be as tough as they are, to be as dedicated as they are, and to be as committed as they are.”

If that’s all he said, the video wouldn’t have mattered much. It was the following that got everyone’s attention.

Michelle [Obama] always says … ‘When they go low, we go high.’ No. When they go low, we kick them.

That’s what this new Democratic Party is about. We’re proud as hell to be Democrats. We’re ready to fight for the ideals of the Democratic Party.

We’re not in this to make a statement.

We’re in this to win.

Why would this go viral? For one thing, it appears to some political watchers that Michael Avenatti is having some effect on the Democratic Party. Avenatti is Stormy Daniels attorney. He’s been ginning up publicity by demanding the Democrats “fight fire with fire.” Given Holder’s remarks, some people are drawing straight lines.

Don’t. Please don’t.

Don’t credit Avenatti for a debate ongoing among Democrats since Hillary Clinton lost the election. In January, former Obama advisor Susan Rice wrote an op-ed for the Times. She said political polarization was like a flesh-eating disease threatening to consume the body politic. I did not doubt her at the time, but she offered no remedy. There isn’t one, I suggested, because the Republicans over the years:

have benefited from reckless irresponsibility. They crashed the economy during the Bush years, then attacked the Democrats for trying to save it. They looked the other way as the Russians sabotaged our elections, while attacking the Democrats who want justice. Our national politics is like a codependent relationship, with no prospect of changing, as long as the Republicans know the Democrats can be counted on to clean up the mess, and as long as the Democrats can win with a promise of cleaning it up.

In January, I felt trepidation in offering a remedy. I knew the conventional wisdom was a return to the days “when Republicans and Democrats found ways to get things done.” But I also knew that that was a story Democrats told themselves to win elections. It didn’t work in 2016. So I said: “There’s another solution to this co-dependent relationship that’s more taboo—for the Democrats to behave badly.”

Now “badly” can be defined in various ways. You can betray your country for the sake of power, as Mitch McConnell did. Or you can use every shred of evidence you can find to paint the opposition as the enemy of the people, as John Burton is doing.

He’s an Obama alum and opposition researcher who’s built an army of dirt diggers ready to bring down Republican incumbents next month. When it comes to acting badly, one of these approaches is better, morally and politically, than the other.

Or you can “kick” the Republicans when they go low.

“Badly” is how a lot of people are already taking Holder’s remarks, and they are already saying the Democrats are no better than the GOP. This both-sides angle is going to get worse as GOP operatives exploit Holder’s remarks to whip up fear among white voters of an angry mob poised to “kick” Republicans and otherwise bring chaos and disorder.

The fear of white backlash might have been enough in the old days to chill Democratic rage. It was certainly a powerful deterrent for Obama. Instead of fighting, as many Democrats wanted him to, he chose caution and lofty rhetoric. The tension between these attitudes was evident in Hillary Clinton’s campaign, too. As I wrote:

On the one hand were those wanting to stay the course Obama started (I include myself in this camp). On the other hand were those wanting the Democrats go to war with an enemy clearly warring with the Democrats. One side wanted to turn the other cheek for the sake of country. The other wanted to ball up its fist and punch back.

That tension was never resolved. But now, as we look to November, it would appear one side of the argument is winning, for now. The Democrats have always understood that anger is costly. But their anger is so great, and the stakes are so high, that the party appears ready to accept whatever may come. To that, I say amen.

Mitch McConnell is bluffing

Mitch McConnell is warning Democrats not to get cheeky if they take control of the House. During an AP interview, he said calls for investigating Justice Brett Kavanaugh and other aspects of the Trump administration are “presidential harassment.”

He said the Democrats could make the same mistake the Republicans made in seeking Bill Clinton’s removal. He said that, “It worked exactly the opposite. The public got mad at us and felt sympathy for President Clinton.” He added: threats to investigate Trump’s businesses would “help the president get re-elected” in 2020.


For one thing, backlash is overrated. For another, sympathy did squat for the Democrats in 2000. Most of all, he’s bluffing, and in bluffing, McConnell is telling us what he wants to avoid: a comprehensive investigation of this president.

Beware the ‘civility police’

I believe the Democrats should act civilly. What I don’t want is a fake “both sides” notion of civility to ruin their better political and moral judgment. For instance, this:

if Democrats regain control of one or both houses of Congress in 2018, they should defend our democratic institutions while showing the American people they are capable of governing on a basis broader than partisanship. If they don’t, our descent into ungovernability will continue, and even a victory in 2020 may prove hollow.

That’s from William Galston of the Brookings Institution.

Galston is an respected pragmatic scholar associated with the “third way” thinking of the Bill Clinton era. I think there’s a time for this perspective, but now is not that time, because it’s more concerned with media imagery than it is with power and policy.

Fact is, the Democrats can win the House, “defend our democratic institutions,” and govern capably while at the same time investigating President Donald Trump up to his teeth. The American public is screaming for accountability. The public hates corruption. And the public sees corruption virtually everywhere in public life.

Yes, the Democrats should do everything they can to bring some Republicans over to their side. But if all Republicans refuse—and they will almost certainly refuse—the Democrats must not shy away from anti-corruption in the name of bipartisanship.

That might look civil. But it would be wrong.

Bump? What bump?

Remember when Mitch McConnell said Americans would revolt after the way the Democrats, Christine Blasey Ford, and others treated Brett Kavanaugh. Well …

About those ‘mobs’

Don’t let anyone, especially pundits, repeat the GOP talking point about “Democratic mobs” without mentioning that mob justice has been central to the president’s appeal since before he became president. Mob justice was so integral, in fact, that General Michael Flynn, now a convicted felon, led a chant of “lock her up” during the 2016 Republican National Convention. Above is a clip of that pivotal moment.

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

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