Members Only | September 27, 2018 | Reading Time: 5 minutes

The Republicans Will Die on This Hill

And the Democrats must prepare to exploit their death.

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All eyes are on the Senate this morning, as Christine Blasey Ford testifies against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. It’s hard to say what the reaction will be to her public allegation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers. But one thing, at least, is more certain: Kavanaugh is likely to be confirmed.

I don’t say this lightly. I don’t say this cynically. I say this in order to encourage all of us to face what’s really going on. This Republican Party is prepared to die on this hill despite an unpopular nominee, despite an unpopular president, despite the risk of delegitimizing the Supreme Court, and despite losing women generally.

They may lose the House in November, but if they ram through Kavanaugh, the Republicans have a chance of keeping the Senate (because the GOP base will turn out to vote; it won’t if they fail). Then, even if the president drowns in a quagmire of House investigations into his tax returns and conflicts of interest—or even if he’s bogged down by impeachment proceedings—Senate Republicans can quietly confirm one federal judge after another in order to enshrine minority rule. Those are the stakes.

But there’s more.

Even if Kavanaugh is not confirmed, the stakes will be the same. It’s not clear to me why the Republicans have not yet gotten rid of such a problematic judicial nominee. Kavanaugh is not unique. Any Republican apparatchik will do. My point is that even if he withdraws unexpectedly, don’t expect the fight to have ended. It won’t.

Indeed, if Kavanaugh withdraws, thus removing all the stink of sexual crime, moderate Republicans and Democrats will feel more pressure to play ball. Time is not on the Republicans’ side. They want this wrapped up before the elections. But there’s a little time for a new, less scandalous nominee, one who will almost certainly rule the same way Kavanaugh would rule, which brings the Democrats back to square one.

For this reason, and I flinch while typing this, the Democrats might want Kavanaugh to be conformed even as they fight against his confirmation. I’m saying this in strictly political and amoral terms. I’m categorically not speaking in terms of right and wrong. Jeff Flake said yesterday on the Senate floor that whatever happens today, this nominee is going to live under a cloud of doubt. While that’s not good for the health of the republic, that’s good for the Democratic Party, as it will see a path forward in combating a Supreme Court that will almost certainly rule 5-4 for years.

The investigations into Kavanaugh will not stop with his confirmation. As his own Yale law professor told NPR: “If he’s rushed through—and let’s say he actually gets confirmed—the investigations private and public won’t stop. The press will still be on this issue. If Democrats can gain control in November of the House or the Senate, they can have ongoing investigations into this. They’ll have the oversight power.”

In other words, with Kavanaugh, the Democrats have a target by which they can apply political pressure on the Supreme Court in order to influence its thinking. That’s cold comfort, and I don’t know if that would be the case with a nominee who is not swaddled in the stink of sexual crime. But with this one, the Democrats will have the backing of women who are either outraged by the injustice of Kavanaugh’s confirmation or betrayed by the Republicans’ “No Girls Allowed” mentality.

I wish I didn’t have to talk like this, just as I presume the Democrats didn’t have to be so calculating. In a just world, Hillary Clinton would have won.

We live in this one, alas, and must face what’s really going on.


All work is valuable, and worthy of pay

Pulitzer prize-winner Matthew Desmond poured ice water on the debate over universal basic income and a federal jobs guarantee. In a portrait of Vanessa (at right, above), a woman who cannot climb the social ladder no matter how hard she works, Desmond wrote that liberals have allowed conservatives to dominate the poverty debate so much they don’t defend anti-poverty measures that work. Instead,

they find themselves arguing about radical solutions that imagine either a fully employed nation (like a jobs guarantee) or a postwork society (like a universal basic income). Neither plan has the faintest hope of being actually implemented nationwide anytime soon, which means neither is any good to Vanessa and millions like her. When so much attention is spent on far-off, utopian solutions, we neglect the importance of the poverty fixes we already have. Safety-net programs that help families confront food insecurity, housing unaffordability and unemployment spells lift tens of millions of people above the poverty line each year.

Desmond’s article should be required reading for any Democrat pondering a run against President Trump in 2020. He says we need a new language for talking about poverty. That seems right, and whoever decides to take a crack at the party’s nomination should spend time devising such a language. But I’m not sure about his remedy. He says it’s not enough to say that nobody who works should be poor. “Nobody in America should be poor, period.” Yes, of course, but how?

I think the Democrats should pay particular attention to the accepted GOP definition of hard work, and challenge it. That definition not only excludes workers in the gig economy, but also the vast number of people not part of the formal business environment. These people take care of their children, take care of the sick and the old, volunteer at their churches, their civic organizations, and in community affairs. This is work, too, and should be recognized as worthy of material compensation.

An expansive definition of work could serve two purposes for the Democrats. One, it would counter the Republicans’ view. If you have to work to get food stamps or other government aid, let it be work you’re doing instead of the Republican notion of work that must take place in a business context and therefore taking away from your children and therefore, forcing you to pay for services you already can’t afford.

But more importantly, an expansive definition of work would harness the power of the American dream and the American work ethic and push them in the right direction, politically, rather than seek a replacement for beliefs older than the country. The problem is hard work isn’t rewarded as it once was. Find ways of rewarding hard work, all hard work, and the Democrats find a way back to the promised land.


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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition open and available to all. Find him @johnastoehr.

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