Tag Archives: Joe Biden

It Gets Worse… and Worse

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

It is a year later, and our Republic is in even worse shape, which is why I am writing this piece to say, once again, what I have said before: Donald Trump and his minions in the Republican Party are a clear and present danger, a threat to turn our two-century experiment in self-government into an authoritarian state.

On January 7, 2021, many Republicans believed Trump, the disgraced then-president of the United States, responsible for the worst attack on the Capitol since the War of 1812. Many Republicans, from political leaders to rank-and-file voters, appeared ready to cut their ties with Trump. 

Not any more! Within weeks of the January 6 coup attempt, most Republicans returned to the fold, humbling themselves before the cultic leader of their party. The example of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is typical. During the storming of the Capitol, McCarthy phoned Trump, urging the president to call off his supporters. In an expletive-laced conversation, Trump said the rioters “are more upset about the election” than McCarthy was. A week later, McCarthy said Trump must “accept his share of responsibility” for the violence on January 6. But, before the end of the month, barely three weeks after the insurrection, McCarthy trekked to Mar-a-Lago to kiss Trump’s ring, and he has not wavered in his fealty since. The vast majority of the Republican Party resumed its blind obeisance to Trump, refusing to vote to impeach and convict Trump for his complicity in the riot and declining to participate in investigations of the insurrection.

The most important criteria in proving loyalty to Trump — especially for those running for office — is to embrace the “big lie” that Trump won the 2020 presidential election. The Washington Post showcased one Republican — Bernie Moreno, a candidate in Ohio’s Republican Senate primary — who asserted in November 2020 that Joe Biden won the presidential election. Now, Moreno has done a complete about-face, running a campaign ad in which he says, “President Trump says the election was stolen, and he’s right.”

Nothing has changed, of course. Moreno was right in November 2020, and wrong now. Republicans have uncovered no evidence that changes the election results. Yet, Moreno is willing to lie to Ohio voters to further Trump’s unwillingness to admit he lost. Moreno is not alone; more than 150 Republicans running for statewide positions — as governors, senators, state attorneys general, and secretaries of state — echo Trump’s “big lie.” These candidates, if they won, would have authority over the administration of elections.  

The mob that stormed the Capitol was one element of the Trumpian assault on democracy. Another element, about which we have learned more in the year since January 6, 2021, is the concerted effort by Trump and his lackeys — in government and out — to use the mechanisms of government to overturn the free and fair election results. Pressure was put on Vice President Mike Pence to reject electors from several closely contested states. Other attempts were made to force state election officials to tamper with vote totals. Trump demanded that Georgia’s secretary of state find enough votes to swing Georgia from the Biden column to Trump’s.

All of these sad events now amount to a dress rehearsal for stealing the next election. Trump is laying plans to run again in 2024, and he and his allies are installing mechanisms that will aid Trump either to win enough votes to claim the presidency outright or manipulate the results should Trump fall short in the Electoral College. As Barton Gelman detailed in The Atlantic, Trump’s next coup has already begun.

Republicans believe, evidently, that they and Trump cannot win fair and free elections. In this they are right, so the answer for them is not to figure out how to compete fairly but to change the rules. Hence, the attempts in numerous Republican-controlled states to limit who can vote and to give Republican state officials the tools to nullify votes cast. This constitutes an assault on the principle of one person, one vote, and it undermines the arc of American history, which has been to widen the franchise, not limit it, since the founding of the Republic.

In a speech marking the insurrection, delivered in the rotunda of the Capitol, President Joe Biden said, “The former president and his supporters have decided the only way for them to win is to suppress your vote and subvert our elections. It’s wrong. It’s undemocratic.” The president is correct about the intentions of Trump and his supporters, but Biden’s analysis overlooks one important fact: America is not a true democracy. Many of the mechanisms of our constitutional framework enshrine minority rule and frustrate the will of the majority, one of the basic criteria of democratic governance.

The Electoral College allows for the loser of the popular vote to become president, which has happened twice in this century. The Senate is based on the equality of states, giving population-poor Wyoming as much power as population-rich California. The Senate further hampers majority will through the enshrining of the extra-constitutional filibuster. A minority of voters — from rural, conservative districts — have out-sized influence in the House because of gerrymandering.The current Supreme Court does not reflect the popular will because of the appointment of so many justices by presidents who failed to win the popular vote. 

For the foreseeable future, little can be done about the Electoral College and nothing to change the basis of representation in the Senate. But, Democrats have the power to answer the dearth of democracy by expanding democracy. The protection of voting rights — which requires eliminating or altering the filibuster — is the sine qua non of any attempt to make the United States more democratic. It is also the sine qua non of any hope of protecting against the coup next time, which will surely happen if we Americans do nothing to protect against Trump’s authoritarian instincts.

It is often said that democracy dies in darkness. Actually, the assault on American democracy is occurring in broad daylight. We know what Trump did in 2020; we know what he is planning for 2024. We have the ability to prevent an illegal seizure of power. Now, all we need is the will. It is up to us!

Posted January 7, 2022

 

Look Homeward, Joe

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Democracy, like charity, begins at home. Before we Americans lecture others about democracy, we must secure our own democratic institutions. If we are to be, as John Winthrop said on the founding of the Massachusetts Bay colony in 1630 and President Ronald Reagan often cited, “as a citty [sic] upon a hill [for] the eies [sic] of all people are upon us,” then we must, in fact, be that city on a hill. 

Citizens of democracies around the world no longer see the United States as a beacon of freedom. In a recent poll from the Pew Research Center, 57 percent of people in 16 democratic countries once thought America was a “good” democratic model, but now only 17 percent believe the United States “is a good example for other countries to follow.” Our warts are on display. 

The idea of America as a democracy comes to mind as President Joe Biden hosts this week a virtual “Summit for Democracy.” There has been much quibbling over who was and was not invited. The U.S. State Department cites the governments of Pakistan and the Philippines as responsible for “unlawful and arbitrary killings,” but both countries were asked to attend. Hungary, a member of the European Union and NATO, and Turkey, also a NATO ally, did not make the cut. Both deserved to be excluded, but there is a question as to whether the standards for invitations were evenly applied. 

Democracy is in retreat around the world. Freedom House reports that 2020 “marked the 15th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. The countries experiencing deterioration outnumbered those with improvements by the largest margin recorded since the negative trend began in 2006.” Freedom House says nearly 75 percent of the world’s population live in countries where freedom is waning. As Ann Applebaum headlined in a recent article in The Atlantic, “The Bad Guys Are Winning.”

Those bad actors may be winning at home, too. It is certainly a plus for the fate of democracy that the occupant of the White House today is Joe Biden, not Donald Trump. But, Trump has damaged, and continues to damage, American democracy. Abroad, his coddling of dictators — including North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, with whom Trump “fell in love” and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, whom Trump believed over the American intelligence community — hardly encouraged democratic movements in countries with authoritarian regimes. America now has a president willing to call out dictators. Biden may be shy, unfortunately, in condemning human rights violations by countries with whom the United States wishes to have good relations (Saudi Arabia, that means you), but he has acted against China with a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and warned Russia about provocative moves against Ukraine. 

But, it is the damage Trump has done to America’s democratic institutions that caused Freedom House to say that freedom in the United States declined by 11 points, placing America among the 25 countries that have suffered the largest declines in the decade between 2010 and 2020. To be fair, the erosion of democracy in the United States has been ongoing for decades — Freedom House cites political corruption and punitive immigration policy as two factors in the decline of freedom in America, both of which did not begin with Trump — but the Trump presidency certainly accelerated the trend.

Trump continues to threaten democratic stability while out of office. His efforts to overturn the 2020 election and influence future elections weaken America’s constitutional foundation. The violence of the January 6 insurrection to prevent the peaceful transition of power, the praising of violence and intolerance among Republicans, the refusal of a vast majority of Republicans to confront their party’s threat to democracy, and the continuing efforts to suppress voting in many states along with the empowering by Republican state legislatures of Republican election officials to tamper with voting outcomes all jeopardize democracy at home and undermine Washington’s ability to influence democracy abroad. 

Biden and his fellow Democrats know all this to be true, but they seem hesitant to take strong actions to preserve American democracy. Biden gave a speech in July at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia about the need to safeguard the right to vote, which he labelled “fundamental” to the protection of democracy. He attacked Trump for promulgating the “big lie,” and cited numerous instances of current assaults on voting rights. Biden ended by saying, “We’re facing the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War. That’s not hyperbole…. I’m not saying this to alarm you; I’m saying this because you should be alarmed.”

It sounded like a clarion call, but a clarion call the president has not answered. Nor has the bulk of the Democratic Party, which continues to refuse to abolish or amend the filibuster, the single most significant obstacle to Congress passing substantive voting rights reform to guarantee every American’s right to vote. The possibility that more than two centuries of self-government in America might be at an end ought to move the president and his congressional allies to action. But, they seem paralyzed in the face of the palpable danger.

Certainly, Biden is busy trying to secure his agenda. The passage of the infrastructure bill occupied much of his attention until it passed Congress. Biden is now focused on the continuing fight to enact the vast measure to extend the American social safety net, now tied up in the Senate. But, all of these pale in importance before the onslaught by the American right on American democracy.

The current president must take effective measures to protect American democracy — starting with guaranteeing every American the right to vote — to insure that the former president does not use his vast army — I chose that word deliberately — to undermine American democracy. So, President Biden, please preserve and protect our American democracy. Only then can you legitimately and credibly  further democracy abroad.

Posted December 10, 2020

The Danger to Democracy

Democrats would need to win every single election… to prevent the destruction of democracy, while Republicans only need to win one. And the American system is set up so that Republicans will win sooner or later, whether fairly or by cheating.David Atkins, Washington Monthly, December 4, 2021

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

It is an axiom of international politics that the first democratic election is easy. It is the second that is difficult.

The descent into authoritarianism in many of the countries carved out of the former Soviet Union and in the former communist countries of Eastern Europe proves that axiom. Most held fairly democratic elections as they threw off the yoke of the commissars. It was the second, or third, or fourth elections that were either fixed, manipulated, or simply not held because those in power refused to cede control through the democratic process.

This sad history is now playing out in the United States after more than two centuries of elections in which the losers recognized their obligation to hand the reins of power to the winners. The two-party system, which has served America well since its creation in the 1790s, no longer functions effectively because one of the parties is no longer committed to majoritarianism. The Republican Party has become an antidemocratic organization willing to use extreme tactics to remain in power.

The Republican Party has few policy ideas. Instead, devotion to the cult of Donald Trump and a commitment to furthering his “big lie” have become the core of Republicanism. The decision of the vast majority of Republicans in Congress to vote against impeaching and convicting Trump for his part in the January 6 insurrection and their unwillingness to investigate the riot demonstrated that the party’s raison d’être is its desire to cling to power. To do this, Republicans at the state level are busily stacking the electoral deck by drawing legislative maps that give new meaning to the term gerrymandering while passing laws disenfranchising Democratic-leaning groups of voters. The undemocratic structures in the U.S. Constitution — an upper chamber of Congress based on equal state representation and the Electoral College — are institutional aids to the GOP’s nefarious ploys.

The Republican Party may win a congressional majority in next year’s midterm elections and the presidency in 2024 fairly because of the tendency of the electorate to blame those in power for problems out of the direct control of government. Gas prices, for example, are influenced by the rise and fall of crude oil prices, not political policy. (Gas prices are especially problematic for the administration in power because roadside signs advertising the price of a gallon are a constant reminder of high costs.) The refusal of millions of Americans to get vaccinated or wear masks is the major contributor to the continuation of the pandemic, yet those who are not vaccinated and go unmasked join their representatives in Congress in blaming the administration of Joe Biden for any spike in cases of COVID-19. Economic fluctuations owe more to the vagaries of international trade, the rise and fall of stock prices, and consumer demand, yet in bad economic times the voters want “to throw the rascals out” while seldom rewarding those in power for booms. So, regardless of responsibility, everyone “knows” where the blame falls.

But — and this is the scary part — Republicans are not pinning their hopes only on the voters, which brings us back to the tactics Republicans are using to tilt the playing field in their favor. Laura Thornton, who is the director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, recently wrote in The Washington Post that the attempted hostile takeover of elections in Wisconsin by Republicans is “shocking in its brazenness.” Last month, Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson told The New York Times: “Unfortunately, I probably don’t expect them [Democrats] to follow the rules. And other people don’t either, and that’s the problem.” Aside from the fact that Johnson offered no proof of Democratic cheating, his solution to a nonexistent problem is mind-boggling: Abolish bipartisan oversight of elections and give Republican legislators control over elections in which they are participating. (Excuse me, Officer, I’ll be the judge of whether I was speeding!)

Thornton — who has worked overseas for two decades to advance democracy — says if what Johnson is proposing were promulgated in any country that receives U.S. aid, that nation would be condemned roundly by Washington for undermining democracy. Yet, despite a spate of news stories at the time Wisconsin Republicans proposed their power grab, Americans largely ignored this threat to democracy. It certainly does not appear to have given impetus to Democrats to pass legislation guaranteeing voting rights, an indication that we Americans do not hold ourselves to the same standards to which we hold others.

Thornton points out that a nonpartisan (or bipartisan) election body is one of the best ways to ensure fair elections and guarantee democratic outcomes. “The U.S. aid agency’s own guidelines on elections emphasize the importance of neutral and independent election management,” she writes. Yet, a high-ranking politician — Ron Johnson — is proposing that Republican politicians run his state’s the election process.  Johnson says the Republican-controlled legislature should “reassert its power.” (I wonder what Johnson would say if Democrats were to win control of the state legislature, an unlikely event given the lengths to which Republicans have gone to gerrymander election districts in Wisconsin.)

What is astounding is that Republicans are so open about their attempts to manipulate and steal elections. In most countries, political parties trying to control elections usually hide their machinations. Not in the United States, where a senator publicly brags about proposals to grant his party sole authority over the electoral process! But, again, why be surprised about any of this? Former President Donald Trump barely has hidden his attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election, and he and his minions are laying plans — clear to anyone who looks — to steal the 2022 and 2024 elections if Republicans do not win outright majorities.

Yes, American democracy is in danger, and it may not survive. Inevitably, as David Atkins notes, Republicans will win an election, fairly or not, and it may well be the last free and fair election held in what is, as of now, the world’s oldest democracy.

Posted December 7, 2021

What’s a President To Do?

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Joe Biden, as president of the United States, may be the most powerful person in the world, but even he is at the mercy of events and public perception of those events.

How else to explain the disconnect between the popularity of Biden’s policies and his plunging popularity? As Nate Cohn pointed out in Sunday’s New York Times, Biden has presided over the enactment of a whopping stimulus plan and a bipartisan infrastructure act. He is on the cusp of pushing through Congress an ambitious $2 trillion bill to modernize the American social safety net. The components of those bills are all very popular; the president is not. 

Biden’s approval ratings are in the mid-40s. He gets little or no credit for the passage of his agenda. Polls show a majority of respondents do not believe that Biden’s policies have helped them much, even though most households received stimulus checks and parents received additional funds. 

The media is partly at fault for concentrating on the messiness of the legislative process and the overall price tag for each measure without providing a sense of what each piece of legislation contains. Most of the media also has ignored the Republicans’ refusal to participate in lawmaking. The political reality of Republican obstructionism has been obscured, resulting in a lack of public understanding of the differences between the two parties. The simple fact, not always grasped, is that Democrats want to get things done — build bridges, provide child care, lower drug costs — and Republicans do not. 

Biden has tried to bridge the partisan gap. Bipartisan cooperation is built into Biden’s DNA; it is part and parcel of his entire legislative career. Biden also believes that achieving bipartisan cooperation in Congress would fulfill his promise to restore a sense of “normalcy” to politics, whatever that might be at this point. Many of Biden’s political allies worry that Biden’s emphasis on reaching out to Republicans obscures the danger the Republican Party presents to American democracy through its devotion to former President Donald Trump, ndorsement of Trump’s “big lie,” and drift toward authoritarianism and embracing violence as a means to its ends.

Messaging is part of Biden’s problem. Biden’s popularity plunged in August because of the perception that the pullout from Afghanistan was botched. The speedy takeover of that beleaguered country by the Taliban and the the deaths of 13 American soldiers at the Kabul airport dominated the news, allowing Republicans to portray the president as incompetent. Hidden in the overwrought headlines were two salient facts: First, Biden inherited a deal Trump reached with the Taliban; and, second, the United States successfully airlifted more than 124,000 people out of Afghanistan, the largest airlift in American history. 

Another driver of Biden’s plunge in the polls is COVID-19, which Biden promised to bring under control. In truth, Biden has been far more successful tackling the pandemic than his predecessor. He has urged all Americans to get vaccinated and undertake safe practices. He promised speedy delivery of vaccines, and he delivered. He cannot reasonably be blamed for mutations in the virus that lead to more dangerous and more easily transmitted variants. 

Yet, Republicans have successfully portrayed Biden as failing to combat the coronavirus. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy made this argument recently: “I took President Biden at his word; I took him at his word when he said he was going to get COVID under control. Unfortunately, more Americans have died this year than last year” from the disease. It is a cynical line of attack: Blame the president for failing to tame the pandemic while using every trick in the book to undermine his attempts to do so. Republican governors have opposed mask mandates and blocked the president’s vaccine mandates. Large parts of the party’s base refuse to get the vaccine and continue to go unmasked. As of September, 90 percent of adult Democrats had been vaccinated; only 58 percent of Republicans were fully vaccinated. 

Republicans have spread disinformation about the pandemic, undermining Biden’s attempts to control its spread. The most blatant recent example of this is the tweet this past weekend by Representative Ronny Jackson, a Texas Republican who served as White House physician for Presidents Trump and Barack Obama. In his tweet, Jackson launched the most absurd conspiracy theory about the appearance of the new coronavirus variant, Omicron: “Here comes the MEV – the Midterm Election Variant! They NEED a reason to push unsolicited nationwide mail-in ballots. Democrats will do anything to CHEAT during an election – but we’re not going to let them!” 

How idiotic can anyone be? Does Jackson really believe that a new variant discovered in November 2021 will affect elections a year away? Are the South African doctors who first reported the variant part of the Democratic plot to steal elections? Are all the other countries that imposed travel bans working to help Democrats win elections? It is easy to mock Jackson, but his ignorant tweet highlights Biden’s problem: How to message effectively the truth when so much disinformation is so readily disseminated?  

So, what can the president do to turn things around? For starters, Biden should stop trying to enlist Republicans in bipartisan cooperation. Democrats, the president included, must reveal Republican as obstructionists unwilling to govern, showing them to be a danger to democracy. This line of attack must be part of the strategy to get recalcitrant Democrats to support federal legislation to protect voting rights. Failure to do so will allow Republican-controlled state legislatures to continue to pass legislation geared to undermining democratic government, making it impossible for Democrats to win elections in the future.

Democrats must also use the remaining weeks in the current legislative session to pass the social infrastructure bill. Providing child care and universal pre-K, expanding Medicare, extending child tax credits, paid family and medical leave, and combatting climate change are all popular provisions in the bill. A bill signing event at the White House will help Democrats launch the 2022 election season on a high note and will give Biden the big, substantive win to show Americans he is truly working for them. 

Getting stuff done has to be the Democrats’ emphasis. There is no guarantee that it will work, but Biden and the entire Democratic Party have little alternative.

Posted November 30, 2021

 

There Will Be Blood

What is so hard, what is so hard about saying that this is wrong?Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, on the floor of the House during the debate over censuring Representative Paul Gosar, Republican of Arizona, for posting a violent video depicting him murdering Ocasio-Cortez and attacking President Joe Biden.

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Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Someone will be killed. People will die. The eagerness of some Republicans to portray violence against members of the opposite party and the willingness of most of the rest of the party to condone those depictions, inevitably, will lead to violence. Violence begets violence. Of that, there is no question. And, when the inevitable occurs, blood will be on the hands of virtually every Republican, including those who lacked the courage to say: This is wrong!

Ocasio-Cortez’s question was directed at Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy, who once again demonstrated his willingness to tolerate violent and hateful speech and actions from members of his caucus. McCarthy has said nothing publicly about the cartoon Gosar posted on the Internet. McCarthy’s silence condones Gosar’s ugliness, encouraging the Arizonan and others to engage in more vileness while inviting actual violence. 

Make no mistake about it: Gosar’s posting endangers members of the Congress and the president of the United States. If anyone without the protection of a congressional seat posted a similar video, he or she would have had the Secret Service and the FBI at his or her doorstep in a split second. Threatening an official of the United States government is a felony. 

Gosar has not apologized for the video. He mocked what he called the “faux outrage,” which he finds “infantile.” He says,“The hyperventilating and shrill accusations that this cartoon is dangerous [is] laughable or intentionally hyperbolic.” In his defense on the House floor Wednesday, Gosar noted he took down the video — after three million views of it — and tried to portray himself as the victim. He vowed to “continue to speak out.” 

Only two Republicans — Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — voted with Democrats Wednesday to censure Gosar. No doubt many fear the anger of ultra-conservatives. Officials report that death threats against members of Congress have more than doubled in the last few years. Colorado Democrat Jason Crow says such threats “are unfortunately the reality of congressional life.” Ohio Republican Representative Anthony Gonzalez recently announced he would not seek reelection because of threats against him following his vote to impeach then-President Donald Trump. Gonzalez, who is 37, is leaving Congress after only two terms because of fears for the safety of his wife and young children.

Gonzalez is not exaggerating the danger. Representative Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican, received an obscene and violent voicemail in which the caller said, “I hope you die. I hope everybody in your fucking family dies.” Upton’s “crime”: He voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill, along with 12 other House Republicans and 19 Republican Senators, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

It is, of course, extremely telling that what raises the ire of Republican right-wingers is not Gosar’s gross video but the votes of those 13 House Republicans. Apparently, doing the people’s business is now a crime on the right. Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene — who may be even nuttier than Gosar — said this about her colleagues: “Any Republican that votes yes to an infrastructure bill that helps Biden pass his agenda when bumbling Biden doesn’t even know what he’s doing, then that Republican is a traitor to our party, a traitor to their voters, and a traitor to our donors.” 

Nuttiness is endemic on the right these days. Gosar, for example, claims that Ashli Babbitt, the insurrectionist shot dead by Capitol Police on January 6, was “executed in cold blood” by an officer “lying in wait.” Gosar asserts, “Facts are coming to light that the FBI might have had a hand in planning and carrying out” the insurrection, though he fails to cite any of those “facts.” Gosar was one of more than 20 Republicans who voted against awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the officers who defended the Capitol on January 6. Finally, Gosar has consorted with White nationalists.

And, Republicans are angry at their colleagues who voted for better roads and bridges! As Kinzinger tweeted: “So let me understand, Gosar’s creepy anime of murder and such is ok but [New York Republican Representative] John Katko is the sinner for negotiating and voting for infrastructure?”

In remarks on the floor Wednesday, McCarthy accused Democrats of making “rules for thee, but not for me.” McCarthy has his facts wrong. The last censure vote in the House was in 2010 when New York Democratic Representative Charlie Rangel was rebuked for ethics violations in a bipartisan vote. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — a Democrat — read aloud the resolution censuring Rangel for bringing disgrace on the House. 

But, the debate over who is doing what to whom and who is or is not being consistent is beside the point. The important point is simple: Violence is unacceptable. Members of Congress cannot issue threats against their colleagues nor against the president (nor against anyone else, for that matter). Gosar is lucky he was only censured. He should be expelled and prosecuted for his felonious action.

Violence begets violence. Inevitable in this atmosphere is a shockingly violent act. When it happens, there will be blood not only on the hands of Paul Gosar and his ilk, but on all his enablers, whose ranks include Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and every member of the GOP caucus save the two who voted for Gosar’s censure. Sickeningly, even then, they likely will duck responsibility. When will Americans hold them accountable?

Posted November 19, 2021

 

 

Learning the Right Lessons

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Politicians, like generals, often look backward for guidance rather than to the future. Just as generals, as the saying goes, always fight the last war, politicians tend to take the perceived lessons from the last campaign as inspiration for the next one. Democrats and Republicans alike are pouring over the results of last Tuesday’s election to glean nuggets upon which to base strategy for the 2022 midterm elections.

But, are they drawing the right lessons?

No one elected Biden to be the second coming of FDR

Virginia Democratic Representative Abigail Spanberger said of President Joe Biden after the election: “Nobody elected him to be FDR, they elected him to be normal and stop the chaos.” Spanberger is a two-term member of Congress from Virginia. In 2018, Spanberger defeated David Brat, an ultra-conservative Republican incumbent, to become the first Democrat to represent her district since 1971. She is understandably nervous about her political fortunes in a district that Biden carried narrowly but which voted for Donald Trump for president in 2016 and which Glenn Youngkin won handily in his victory in last week’s gubernatorial election.

Spanberger is wrong historically and politically. Nobody in 1932 elected FDR to be FDR! Those who voted for Franklin Delano Roosevelt did not have any inkling of the scope and extent of the New Deal. Roosevelt ran a cautious campaign, partly because he and his advisers did not fully understand the structural causes of the Great Depression and had not yet fully developed plans to combat the economic catastrophe. Also, Roosevelt realized how unpopular Herbert Hoover, the incumbent was, so he said little of substance, hoping to not commit any gaffes.

Politically, Spanberger is wrong. Now, it is possible that Democrats in Spanberger’s district played down Biden’s progressive agenda, but in deep blue parts of the country voters knew exactly for whom they were voting. Biden’s campaign was not shy about touting guaranteed family and medical leave, lower cost prescription drugs, universal preschool, free community college, expanded broadband, and a vigorous attack on climate change. 

In other words, all the progressive measures in the Build Back Better Bill were part of Biden’s campaign. 

The 2021 election was a defeat for progressivism

Maybe! But, it is also possible to look at the results and conclude that Republican gains came because of Democratic dithering in Washington. After all, the infrastructure package passed Congress after Election Day, and Democrats are still struggling to enact the Build Back Better Act. Terry McAuliffe, the defeated Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia, begged Democrats in Washington to “get their act together” and pass Biden’s agenda. 

Would it have made a difference? Who knows? But, this we do know: Individual parts of the Biden program are very popular with voters. Passage of most of the president’s agenda, coupled with a vigorous campaign to inform voters that Democrats are legislating on their behalf (yes, working on behalf of their constituents — what a novel idea!), might have an impact next November. Part of that campaign must be to highlight the contrast between Democrats and their do-nothing Republican opponents. After all, former President Donald Trump kept promising an “infrastructure week,” but it never happened. Democrats passed a significant infrastructure bill a “mere” 11 months into Biden’s presidency. 

Democrats must compete for the rural vote

Yes, the urban-rural vote divide is real and getting worse for Democrats. And, yes, Democrats should be competitive in all demographic and geographic groups and areas. But, it is easy to over-analyze the Virginia results.

Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin outperformed Donald Trump’s 2020 showing in even the reddest counties, winning rural Virginia counties by record margins. But, that is not the whole story of the Virginia election. McAuliffe won voter-rich Fairfax County, a Washington suburb, by 30 points. Biden beat Trump in Fairfax by 42 points. Same in Loudon County, which Biden carried by 25 points in 2020, but McAuliffe won by only 11. 

The lesson here? The rural vote should be contested, but McAuliffe lost in 2021 because he bled suburban voters.

Youngkin won because he handled Trump correctly

Yes, Youngkin ran a smart campaign, cleaving close enough to the discredited former president so as not to alienate Trump’s base, but keeping Trump far enough away in order to lure moderate suburban voters. But, it takes two to tango, and Youngkin’s strategy worked because Trump cooperated, staying out of Virginia and not saying anything too damaging. Will the irrepressible former president cooperate in 2022? His track record indicates he will intervene in many races.

Republicans should nominate moderates

Youngkin is hardly a moderate, but he ran a campaign that appealed to the particular concern of Virginia voters in 2021: Outrage over the teaching of race in public schools. This is an issue drummed up by conservatives who want to push so-called cultural issues over actual policies that benefit voters. In his campaign, Youngkin succeeded in avoiding some of the more damaging pitfalls that have torpedoed conservative Republicans in the past. (See Ken Cuccinelli, an ultra-conservative candidate who ran an unsuccessful race in 2013 against McAuliffe for governor of Virginia.)

Youngkin became the Republican nominee for governor by winning an unusual ranked-choice vote implemented by the Virginia Republican Party to prevent the nomination of a right-wing kook (again, see Ken Cuccinelli). But, the Virginia template will not be the electoral structure in other states. Much more likely will be primary battles in which ultra-conservative candidates try to outrun each other to the far right to please Donald Trump. Republicans who can win primaries may not be strong candidates in general elections (see Christine O’Donnell in Delaware in 2010, Todd Akin in Missouri in 2012, and Richard Mourdock in Indiana in 2012.)

Conclusion

There are valuable lessons to be learned from the 2021 off-year election. But, it is easy to draw the wrong conclusions. Besides, the electoral environment may be starkly different in 2022. The recovering economy may be booming by next November, thanks in part to implementation of the Biden agenda. Voters may be in the mood to reward Democrats for legislating on their behalf. 

Posted November 9, 2020

 

Make It About the Economy, Stupid

It’s the economy, stupid. — James Carville, 1992, advising the campaign of presidential aspirant Bill Clinton. 

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Tuesday’s Democratic debacle was devastating. But, bad as the results were, they point a way forward for the party’s candidates to win in the 2022 midterms: Make it about the economy.

President Joe Biden knows the truth of this maxim. “I think we should produce for the American people,” Biden said the day after the election. The president was explaining the need to enact his agenda, which, he said, would improve the lives of millions of Americans. He would not say that failure to pass the infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better Act hurt Democrats, particularly Terry McAuliffe’s campaign in Virginia to regain the governorship, but Democratic squabbling in Washington certainly left the impression of incompetence (thank you Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia!). 

Before Democrats go into full panic mode, they should take stock. Tuesday was awful, but not cataclysmic. Democratic Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey won reelection, albeit narrowly, in a reliably blue state. A progressive candidate, Michelle Wu, easily won the Boston mayoral race. Wu is a protégé of Senator Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat. Eric Adams, a Democrat, won, becoming New York City’s second Black mayor. And, while McAuliffe lost in a state Biden carried by 10 points a year ago, Virginia almost always elects as governor a candidate from the opposite party of the president who won the previous year. 

Virginia was, of course, the big disappointment because the state has been trending blue. It may well be true that Virginia really is a purple state that looked blue only out of antipathy in recent years to former President Donald Trump. Certainly, the successful Republican candidate, Glenn Youngkin, managed the delicate balancing act of keeping Trump out of the state while sounding enough Trumpian themes to avoid angering the thin-skinned former president and Trump’s loyal base. Trump behaved, saying nice things about Youngkin and staying out of Virginia. Youngkin’s strategy frustrated McAuliffe, who tried unsuccessfully to argue that a vote for his opponent was a vote for the former president. 

But, will Youngkin’s strategy of keeping Trump at arm’s length work for other Republicans running for office in 2022? Probably not, because it is difficult to imagine that Trump will sit idly by in his lair at Mar-a-Lago while Republican congressional, senatorial, and gubernatorial candidates distance themselves from him. He managed the trick this time around with Youngkin, but I would not bet the ranch on him doing it again next year.

Youngkin’s handling of the disgraced former president is the first lesson Republican politicians and political pundits claim to have learned from the Virginia results. The second lesson is — supposedly — that cultural issues work to drive the base. Youngkin made education the centerpiece of his campaign, focusing on critical race theory and book banning. Those issues resonated to such an extent that Republicans think education should be at the forefront of issues next year.

The ever spineless Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, quickly got on board. “If the Virginia results showed us anything, it is that parents are demanding more control and accountability in the classroom,” McCarthy wrote in an election-night letter to his caucus. And, J.D. Vance, running in the Republican primary in Ohio for the Senate, channeled former President Richard Nixon, saying: “The professors are the enemy.” Parenthetical note: Vance has a law degree from Yale University. 

Will concerns over how race is taught in public schools work next year? Youngkin succeeded in using the teaching about the history of race relations in the United States as a dog whistle for fears surrounding White identity, but education does not travel well from the local arena to the national. For one thing, education is — and always has been — a local issue. Parents control education through local school boards, making public education perhaps the most democratic aspect of American society. And, historically, education is not a Republican issue. Voters usually trust Democrats to handle it better than Republicans. 

More importantly, there were educational concerns in the Virginia gubernatorial race that are particular to one state and one year. In addition to the highly publicized fears over race in the classroom, parents in Virginia were angry over last year’s closing of schools because of COVID-19 and riled about mask-wearing mandates. Those concerns may be ancient history by November 2022. Asian parents had worries over access to programs for gifted students, and Black parents were upset over teachers’ unions’ opposition to charter schools.  

I am not at all certain that Youngkin’s campaign provides a template for Republican candidates running for national office in 2022. I am certain, however, that Democratic success at the polls hinges on first producing results for the American people and then convincing voters of the value of those results while painting the Republicans as the “do-nothing” party. Let Republicans stick to the war on culture in lieu of economic policies that substantively improve voters’ lives.

People are nervous about the economy, which has recovered unevenly from its disruption during the depths of the pandemic. Gas prices are up, inflation fears loom, and breaks in the supply chain are a worry as the holiday shopping season begins. To allay anxiety, Democrats must quickly pass the Build Back Better Act, and then waste no time explaining its benefits to the public: Universal free preschool, child care for working parents, tax credits to families with children, expanded care for seniors, assistance to cash-strapped consumers shifting to clean energy, relief from the high cost of prescription drugs, improvements to the Affordable Care Act, and on and on. 

These are real benefits for working, middle-class Americans. It is a platform for Democrats to run on in 2022, contrasting Democratic-passed reforms with the do-nothing Republicans whose major accomplishment when Trump was president was a whopping tax cut for the very wealthy. And, part of next year’s campaign should be this: Elect more Democrats who will build on and strengthen these accomplishments.

Make it about the economy, stupid!

Posted November 5, 2021

Time’s Up, Senator!

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Open letter to Senator Joe Manchin,* Democrat of West Virginia:

You tried, Senator! You helped draft a compromise on voting rights — fashioning a bill not quite as good as the one the House passed earlier, but still good — and took it to Republicans. You told your colleagues in the Democratic senatorial caucus that you could get 10 Republican votes for the compromise. Well, you were wrong. The Republicans would not even allow a vote to come to the floor! So, now is the time to move boldly and reform the filibuster to pass legislation to protect the fundamental basis of a democratic government: The right to vote!

Because, senator, here’s the thing: Our democracy is at stake. If the federal government does not move to protect voting rights for all Americans in every state, then no election in the future truly will reflect the will of the people. Millions of Democratic-leaning voters — particularly young people and people of color — will be denied access to the ballot, tilting the field toward Republicans. And, even if Democrats manage to eke out victories, Republican legislators have given partisan state officials wide authority to overturn election results. And, the Supreme Court cannot be counted on to protect the electoral system, given how Republicans — led by Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell — have stacked that body with politically motivated (though some justices publicly have denied this) conservatives.

If you, Senator Manchin, and your Democratic colleagues do not secure passage of S. 2747, the Freedom to Vote Act, then the game is up. Republicans now control the Supreme Court. Without federal guarantees of free and fair elections, Republicans easily will win a majority in the House in 2022 and probably the Senate. In 2024, candidate Donald Trump could well lose the presidential election by millions of votes and lose the Electoral College by an even greater margin than in 2020, but still be inaugurated as president on January 20, 2025. How? Easily, as Republican legislatures in such states as Texas, Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, aided by compliant governors, certify Republican electors even though the Democrats secured a majority of the popular vote. They will do in the next presidential election what Trump tried to do in the last. 

Fanciful, you say? No, the road map from 2020 is in place. If this happens — and it is a very real possibility — then Democrats will never, at least not in our lifetimes and the lifetimes of our children — wield political power again. Imagine a world in which Republicans dominate all the levers of the federal government and many state governments, as well. You think we have problems now? Imagine what the tax code will look like. You think the United States suffers from income inequality today? Imagine the disparity in income and wealth under Republicans who have no fear of ever losing power again. 

I know you represent a coal-producing state, senator, but even West Virginians have to be concerned about climate change. Well, if you think it is getting warmer now, think again about how hot it might be 20 or 30 years from now if the federal government does not take steps — any steps — to control carbon emissions. Think about the levels of pollution in our water and in the air we breathe.

You are a conservative Democrat, Senator Manchin, but still a Democrat, if only for a bit longer. I would wager you care about some of the priorities in the huge budget reconciliation bill that President Joe Biden supports. Do you think any of the provisions you favor in that bill will ever become law if Republicans can do as they please? Or, stay as law if you manage to squeak legislation through this term?

All of this is why passing the Freedom to Vote Act is so important. Nothing gets done — or stays done — without it. You know this, which is why you worked with several of your Democratic colleagues on the legislation. If passed, this bill will override restrictive state laws that make voting more difficult. It will prevent Republican voting officials from purging voter rolls, and it will guarantee mail-in voting. The bill curbs gerrymandering, limits dark money, and prevents state officials from manipulating election results. As you well know, these are good things for a democracy, senator!

This bill is foundational. You know that, which is why you worked on it. You thought a compromise might attract Republican senators. Well, nice try! Wednesday, in the Senate, all 50 Republicans voted against permitting debate on the bill. They invoked the filibuster, preventing even consideration of this all-important legislation. As Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer put it, “If there’s anything worthy of the Senate’s attention, if there’s any issue that merits debate on this floor, it’s protecting our democracy from the forces that are trying to unravel it from the inside out.”

The sentiments Schumer uttered should be obvious to all, but in the Senate of today, that is not the case. Republicans — who voted overwhelmingly for extensions to the Voting Rights law in the past, and most recently as 2006, without a dissenting vote — now are so afraid of Donald Trump and the power of his “Big Lie” that they are willing to overthrow American democracy in order to protect their pathetic political careers.

Do not let them get away with it! 

Get the Freedom to Vote Act passed, even if it means limiting or overturning the filibuster!

Sincerely,

A Concerned Voter

*Manchin is not the only Democratic senator clinging to the filibuster, but he has been most vocal about it, and he suggested he could deliver Republican votes.

Posted October 22, 2021

Donald Trump, Please Keep Talking

If we don’t solve the Presidential Election Fraud of 2020 (which we have thoroughly and conclusively documented), Republicans will not be voting in ‘22 or ‘24. It is the single most important thing for Republicans to do. — Statement by Donald Trump, the former president, October 13, 2021.

 

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

I think I speak for all progressives and a good smattering of moderates when I say: Go, Donnie, go! Whip up your supporters into a frenzy of not voting. The more they heed you, the better. 

After all, the non-voting strategy worked well in the two Georgia Senate runoff races in January 2021. In early December, two Trump allies, Lin Wood and Sidney Powell, urged Republicans not to vote for either Kelly Loeffler or Davide Perdue, the incumbent senators locked in a tight race against Democratic challengers. “Don’t be fooled twice,” Wood said. “This is Georgia, we ain’t dumb. We’re not going to go vote on January 5th on another machine made by China. You’re not going to fool Georgians again.” 

Yes, sir, that strategy worked well! Georgia Republicans apparently are not dumb(?) and, heeding Wood’s advice, were not fooled twice. According to an analysis of the election results by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, more than 750,000 Georgians who cast ballots in the November presidential election stayed home during the runoffs two months later. More than half of the no-shows were White and many lived in rural areas, demographic and geographic constituencies that lean heavily Republican. As one Georgian said, “What good would it have done to vote? They have votes that got changed.” 

The non-voting strategy worked so well that Democrats now control the Senate, albeit barely.

With Democrats divided among themselves over advancing President Joe Biden’s ambitious agenda and given the traditional bounce the party out of power gets in mid-term elections, Democrats may need oodles of Republicans to stay home in 2022 if they are to retain control of both the House and the Senate. The current Democratic razor-thin majorities in Congress would benefit greatly from great numbers of Republican no-shows around the country. 

Trump phrased his communication as a declarative statement, announcing that Republicans will not vote because of alleged fraud. But, like much of what Trump says to his followers, the above statement is likely to be interpreted by many in the Trump cult as a command not to vote, which probably was Trump’s intention. 

To the members of the Trump cult, it matters little that neither Trump nor his lawyers or sycophants have presented a shred of evidence of electoral fraud. If the Grand Poobah of Mar-a-Lago says he lost because of fraud, then it must be so for his ever loyal and unquestioning followers. And, presumably, millions of Republicans will heed his orders and not vote. 

So, here is one progressive’s dream-like scenario. With millions of Trump followers not voting in 2022, the Democrats win overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate. Democrats win over 300 seats in the House and dominate the Senate by a margin of 67-33. The House easily passes a raft of progressive legislation, and the paltry number of Republicans in the Senate are unable to filibuster the Biden agenda. Not only are Senate Republicans and naked-Emperor Mitch McConnell (see previous blog post) rendered impotent, but moderate Democrats — like West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin and Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema — are overwhelmed and can no longer derail progressive legislation.

In early 2023, Democrats enact measures (or expand on the incomplete legislation of 2021) guaranteeing free community college for all, child care for toddlers, child tax credits, expanded Medicare and Medicaid (perhaps even Medicare-for-All), the Green New Deal, paid parental leave, and much more. Immigration is reformed, giving millions of the undocumented a pathway to citizenship. And, voting rights are protected by a bill that enshrines early voting and mail-in balloting, makes Election Day a federal holiday, and rolls back all the Republican-passed state laws that suppress and nullify the vote and disempower state officials in their roles in the electoral process.

Trump and his followers wake up and realize that not voting is not a very good idea. But, since they conceded the 2022 election to Democrats, the 2024 presidential election will be free and fair. Even as Republicans flock to the polls again, their votes cannot change the outcome. Tens of millions of Americans are pleased with the Democratic legislation that has brought the United States into the modern world, guaranteeing a social safety net comparable to that of other industrialized democracies. And, all those pleased Americans can now vote freely and fairly, without the threat of Republicans suppressing and nullifying the votes of those who tend to vote Democratic. So, Joe Biden sweeps to a landslide re-election and the Democrats retain their large majorities in both the House and Senate. 

Go ahead, Donnie, please keep issuing statements. You may be the Democrats’ best friend yet!

Posted October 15, 2021

So… The Emperor Has No Clothes

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

Most political analysts assume Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is a master strategist who knows how to use (or bend) the Senate’s rules to achieve his ends. That is the prevailing interpretation based on McConnell’s career in the Senate and his sometimes dubious accomplishments, such as pilfering a seat on the Supreme Court by denying Merrick Garland a vote and ramming through Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination in the waning weeks of the Trump administration.

But, what if the emperor has no clothes? Is it possible that the unnecessary and silly dispute over raising the debt ceiling reveals not McConnell’s wiliness and strength but, rather, his impotence?

McConnell admitted as much in recent days when he conceded that even if he wanted to allow Democrats to raise the debt ceiling on a straight party vote, with Republicans voting “no” but not filibustering the measure, he could not corral every Republican to allow the increase to pass. McConnell did convince 10 Republicans to approve a procedural move to allow the Democrats to move forward a stopgap bill raising the debt ceiling through early December. That bill passed Thursday night on a straight party vote. But, the concession is a temporary, not a long-term, fix, and its passage left some  Senate Republicans angry with McConnell because they think he caved into the Democrats. 

Most analysts agree the majority of the Republican caucus would stand aside and allow the Democrats to pass a debt ceiling increase rather than force the United States to default on its debts. But, there are a few diehard conservatives among Republicans — perhaps five or so senators — who would filibuster any proposal that would allow a majority vote on the issue. If one senator objects, then it would take 10 Republicans joining all 50 Democrats to end a filibuster. That would reveal dissension among Republicans, something that McConnell would not want made public. 

The debt ceiling standoff — temporarily ended, though it may be — is yet another argument for abolishing the filibuster. The filibuster has become a tool of Republican obstructionism, allowing a willful, petulant minority to prevent the majority from doing the people’s business. Something is wrong with a system that allows one senator to filibuster a measure and the rest of his or her colleagues refusing to vote to stop that obstructionism. Republican senators represent 40 million fewer voters than Democratic senators, yet the Senate is evenly split. It is likely to get worse. According to estimates, by 2040, 70 percent of Americans will be living in the 15 most populous states. They will be represented by only 30 senators, while the other 30 percent of Americans will have 70 senators voting on their behalf. 

The filibuster gives a small minority of a minority the power to prevent popular legislation from passing. It is absurd that a handful of senators, from small states, can prevent passage of popular measures to protect the environment, raise the minimum wage, or reform immigration policy. Both parties, of course, have wielded the filibuster in recent years to frustrate the other, but McConnell and his Republican colleagues have utilized the filibuster to bolster minority power in ways never intended by either the Framers of the Constitution or by senators through most of American history.

Fear that Democrats might take steps to abolish or limit the filibuster probably convinced Republicans to yield temporarily on the debt ceiling increase. While the filibuster is hard to justify ever, its use on matters that are not issues of policy — such as the United States honoring its debts — is beyond the pale. Everyone on both sides of the aisle insists that the United States must not default on its obligations, yet Republicans were willing to prevent a vote that would allow the country to honor its debt. Invoking the filibuster on the debt ceiling was not policy, but political maneuvering by Republicans aimed at making Democrats as uncomfortable as possible and, ultimately, allowing Republicans to portray Democrats as profligate spenders. South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham conceded the political motives of Republicans when he said, “I mean, I’m not going to be a complete asshole about it [raising the debt ceiling]. But, I’m going to make them take some tough votes.” Good to know that Graham sees himself as only a partial “asshole.”

Democrats have been inching toward doing something about the filibuster by either eliminating it entirely or carving out categories of legislation that would not be subject to minority obstruction. Republican intransigence on voting rights, for example, has forced increased demands for reforming the filibuster. The current fight over the debt ceiling has led some who have been hesitant to end the filibuster to change their minds. President Joe Biden — who served decades in the Senate and has been viewed by many as an “institutionalist” — said this week that it is “a real possibility” the Senate would change its rules to bypass Republican filibustering on the debt ceiling. Later, Biden added that filibustering debt legislation is “not right, and it’s dangerous.”

“Republicans are making the case more powerfully than I could a million times on the floor,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat and a longtime filibuster opponent. “What they are doing is obstruction and utterly exposes the filibuster. And it is not just inconvenience. It is desperately dangerous.” McConnell and other Republicans may have gotten the message that Democrats saw the fight over the debt ceiling as a way to alter the filibuster.

But, that recognition does not change the fact that McConnell cannot control his caucus. The willingness of a handful of Republican senators on the far right to endanger the credit of the United States forced McConnell to deny Democrats any Republican cooperation in allowing a straight party vote on preventing a default. So, perhaps it is McConnell being led by far right conservatives in the Republican Party rather than McConnell leading the Republican caucus.

After all, the emperor has no clothes!

Posted October 8, 2021