October 13, 2021 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Whatever Joe Biden and the Democrats decide will be the best outcome democracy can produce while being sabotaged
Cut these Democrats some slack.
The thing you are not hearing from the Washington press corps is this: The Democrats are the party of the American majority. Right now, they represent the full range of legitimate politics. That includes the full range of ideologies, from conservative to democratic socialist. They aren’t totally alone. There are maybe 10 House Republicans who want to cut deals. Ditto for maybe five Senate Republicans. Other than that, the Democrats are on their own. Frankly, that’s how it ought to be.
The Washington press corps has created in recent weeks what Post columnist Eugene Robinson calls The Narrative. That’s the story about a Democratic Party that can’t get its act together, about a president who can’t get competing factions to stop bickering. If they can’t do that, then they are headed for defeat in the coming midterms. Yeah, well, Robinson said Tuesday, let’s take all that with a grain of salt.
The Republicans literally can’t do the hard work of democracy. It’s all up to the Democrats. The political party representing the majority is doing the work of the majority. Frankly, that’s how it ought to be.
Read Robinson’s column yourself, but I want to highlight this part: “What I see is a pretty normal exercise in legislative give-and-take, except that it’s all happening within the Democratic Party — while Republicans hoot, holler and obstruct from the peanut gallery. When it comes to Congress, things never go as quickly as they might, and there always comes at least one moment when it appears that all is lost.”
All is not yet lost, as Robison said, and in any case, I think we should cut these Democrats some slack. Yes, they can be maddening. Yes, there’s so much at stake. (Yes, no one knows what Kyrsten Sinema wants!) But let’s be clear. The Republicans are doing everything they can to take power in the next election without being responsible for having done anything to justify taking power in the next election. The GOP represents the full range of illegitimate politics. They don’t want anything to do with governing. Frankly, that’s how it ought to be.
Think about it. Do you want Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise to have any say in the president’s legislative agenda? During an interview with Chris Wallace over the weekend, the No. 2 Republican in the House advanced, once again, Donald Trump’s Big Lie about the 2020 election being stolen from him. Do you want him to have a say? Do you think he has the right to ask for something, anything? I don’t. Same for the House Republicans who voted to overturn the election. Same for the Senate Republicans who voted to acquit Trump of treason. Same for anyone who thinks the people’s sovereignty can be dismissed and disrespected. If the Republicans who voted to impeach and convict Trump want in, I think that’s fine. Otherwise, I don’t want anyone else having any influence on anything related to righting this ship of state.
Here’s the tip jar!
Of course, they are influencing matters by sabotaging matters. But that’s beside my point today. Other than Joe Manchin, virtually no one is asking what the Republicans think or want, because virtually everyone understands the Republicans refuse anything to do with governing. They literally can’t do the hard work of democracy. It’s all up to the Democrats. The political party representing the majority is doing the work of the majority. Frankly, that’s how it ought to be.
What we are seeing, as Robinson noted, used to take place between the parties. But now that the Republicans have fully embraced political illegitimacy, and now that the Democrats (most of them, anyway) have recognized that, all the “normal exercise in legislative give-and-take” is taking place inside one of the major parties: between and among its conservatives on one end, its liberals on the other and its moderates in-between. Whatever the outcome of a “normal exercise in legislative give-and-take,” it will be as close to “bipartisan” as it’s possible to get in a period in which a major party won’t particulate in democracy.
I have my preferences. I’d like to see the Democrats pass $3.5 trillion in “human infrastructure.” I’d like to see another $1.2 trillion in traditional infrastructure. I’d like to see reforms to Medicare and to the tax code, which enriches the already very obscenely rich. I’d like to see democracy reforms included to combat the slow-motion coup at the state level. (See Lindsay Beyerstein’s latest for more on that.) I’d like to see the filibuster done away with. The United States Senate is a hindrance to the republic, not a help. Anyway, it’s not that special.
I think there’s still reason to hope the Democrats will work things out, but it’s increasingly clear, given the time going into negotiations, that they won’t satisfy my preferences (and perhaps yours, too). But even if they pass $2 trillion in “human infrastructure” instead of $3.5 trillion, as the president asked for recently, I’ll take it. I’ll take it knowing that’s still a BFD, but also knowing that that’s probably the best outcome democracy can produce in a period in which one of the major parties wants nothing to do with democracy. Frankly, that’s how it ought to be.
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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.