Maximalism and the perils of pandering
What are leading Democrats trying to accomplish with their current push on voting rights? It’s far from clear.
One approach to voting rights reform would have been to reach out quietly to Republicans and to try to negotiate a limited bill that could win bipartisan support. Biden could express optimism that reasonable Republicans would come to the table and work something out. If that effort failed, Democrats could have blamed Republicans. Biden could say “I believe in bipartisanship, but unfortunately the Republican party is only interested in obstruction.”
This would at least have the effect of educating the public about Republican obstructionism and the causes of our political dysfunction.
Education is critical because many people naively believe that the President can accomplish any task or solve any problem if he tries hard enough. Political scientist Brendan Nyhan labeled this the Green Lantern theory of the presidency, and it is what makes McConnell’s obstructionist tactics effective. Republicans can obstruct and Democrats (Obama first, now Biden) get blamed. Nice work if you can get it.
Instead of seeking compromise, Democrats have pursued maximalist legislation that has predictably failed. News coverage makes it seem that the failure is the Democrats’ fault, because the source of conflict and delay is a handful of recalcitrant Democratic senators rather than the entire Republican Senate caucus. In fact, Biden has openly accepted responsibility for the failure:
“Like every other major civil rights bill that came along, if we miss the first time, we come back and try it a second time,” Mr. Biden said after emerging empty-handed from his session with Senate Democrats. “We missed this time.”
If Democrats had explicitly trimmed their sails and sought bipartisan legislation, at least the cause of the gridlock would have been a bit clearer.
All of this applies to the Democrats’ Build Back Better strategy as well.
So what gives? The most plausible explanation is that Democrats are pandering to naïve Green Lanternism in their base. Schumer is up for re-election and presumably wants to avoid being primaried from the left.
The problem with this pandering is that voters never get told the truth, and the country does not get even half a loaf on voting reform and climate and safety net spending. In addition, marginal voters who get told “this legislation is urgent and we will pass it” end up with inflated expectations that then get disappointed. They end up demoralized rather than grimly committed to a long, hard fight to preserve democracy and accomplish other important goals.
What do we have now? 14-years of McConnell blocking Dems. Has there been a Republican who has opposed McConnell in a similar manner as what Manchin and Cinema do with Biden and Schumer?
“after emerging empty-handed from his session with Senate Democrats.”
“In a letter to Sinema, the veterans expressed frustration with her refusal to change the Senate filibuster to protect voting rights, failure to support prescription drug negotiations, her opposition to parts of the Democrats’ sweeping budget reconciliation package that make up President Joe Biden’s agenda and criticized her for not voting on the January 6 commission.
‘You have become one of the principal obstacles to progress, answering to big donors rather than your own people,” the veterans wrote. ‘We shouldn’t have to buy representation from you, and your failure to stand by your people and see their urgent needs is alarming.'”
Five military veterans advising Sen. Sinema resign, calling her one of the ‘principal obstacles to progress’
How does this work, when you have two Senators who supposedly have the intellect to be Senators continuously stand in the way, most of the time, of any progress and do not suggest ways to go forward. Didn’t McConnell say, he had 52 Senators working to block Biden.
I think it is pretty obvious what is going on. Maybe it is time for Biden and Schumer to be the snakes in the grass, admit two Senators are holding up the two programs, and we are trying to work out an agreement to get these two important bills passed. It is time something is said as neither is going to give in to the Democrats and the Dems do not have the same legacy as McConnell.
It must be awfully hard to admit members of your own party are blocking progress just to block. Somehow, these two do not seem to understand the other party one year ago attempted to overthrow the US and install a dictatorship.
Actually, there was, John McCain, which is why the Affordable Care Act was not repealed in 2017 (in fact, Murkowski and Collins also voted that down). However, they all voted to remove the filibuster to SCOTUS appointments which is why Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, & Barrett were appointed.
And where are M&C today? The latter being wishy-washy on support yanking the football out of the way just as it is ready to be licked. The filibuster should not exist and occurred by accident. Attempts to remove it have been going on since 1840, and today it is being abused by a minority when a simple majority should suffice.
You are also mixing two issues here, one of simple majorities and another of intentional political beliefs to block progress. Where are our Republican brethern now? Fresh from an attempt to overthrow a democracy. And even those who were threatened by the crowd, horrified by the actions of a rogue president and his sycophants. They are still silent. Silent because they value their position over doing what should be done in spite of McConnell’s threats.
Is there something I am missing in regard to McConnell’s actions. Does Manchin and Sinema have something better to offer. The five veterans and myself believe Sinema is wrong and I believe they think so of Manchin also.
Even so, in conclusion I did suggest Biden and Schumer should offer them something, something reasonable. And then wait for their counter offer of what they believe is reasonable. Let them lead part of the way so everyone knows what they really want. I do not believe they have a legitimate offer to be made.
Must go with Eric Kramer on this.
i used to believe in reaching out quietly. I even believe there were compromises to be offered on BBB. But I no longer believe there is an honest party or person to deal with.
which means, I guess, that the dems are not offering in good faith…that is they put up proposals that appeal to their base but wouldn’t fix anything anyway. they just put them up so they will have something to talk about and keep the game going.
this may be over cynical. it’s just as likely the dems are as trapped in their own campaign-speak as is their base. the R’s are more realistic..as in realpolitik, winning is everything.
The extraordinary push for voting rights legislation is performative politics with a purpose. It will fail to achieve its stated goals, but it is really meant to shore up the Dems’ left flank, which is necessary to avoid humiliating disaster in the midterms, and to make compromise victories possible. Remember, Manchin already promoted a highly regarded compromise voting rights bill in August in order to attract moderate Republican support that failed to do so. I think that is in the mammoth package under consideration now and it addresses many of the complaints the Republicans had with the earlier bigger voting rights bill. Maybe a debate will make that clear to people. In the meantime there is also a possible bipartisan Electoral Count Act in the works. The threat of the bigger bill may be necessary to make sure something meaningful happens with the Electoral Count Act. That is essentially what happened with infrastructure. Does anyone here really think that the bi-partisan infrastructure act would have passed in any form remotely approaching its size and depth without the looming threat of Build Back Better?
I think that the real problem with the maximization strategy is that Dems and the press interpret failure to achieve the whole banana as political incompetence and spin a narrative of Dem weakness instead of appreciating the miracle of the compromise success—in infrastructure and hopefully soon in election reform also. But even if election reform success fails, even if the limited but necessary Electoral Count Act also fails, it is important that Dems reassure their base that they care about them and will fight for them. Dems cannot expect the base to turn out for them if Dem politicians won’t put up a good fight. Performative political theater matters.
just for the record (my record). The electoral count act reforms will just make it harder to complain when the R’s steal the next election.
the “big” voting rights bill, though, is entirely necessary…because thtat is where the fraud is going to come from.
otherwis:, the infrastructure bill will just add more greenhouse gasses to the planet, as would the BBB bill…which also has entirely too much “help” for the too-rich-to-need it. Manchin suggested he would vote for the bill if it was limited to those who needed it. i would have agreed with him on that, but he would have backed out, because he is a creep.
the D’s ask for too much either because they want to lose (blame the R’s) or because they really have no one (neither do the R’s, but they don’t give a damn) who can think through the whole (real) problem and come up with a solution which is not just canpaign noises, whether they believe their own noises or not.
a few years ago Diamond and Orszag wrote a book on “Social Security: a balanced solution.” They apparently had no idea what SS is. their “balance” was giving something to each political interest. had nothing to do with meeting the purpose of SS. It is this kind of “something for everyone (politically)” thinking that characterizes politicians thinking (of course) and is why nothing ever actually works.
Thanks for your input Coberly, but I read Rick Hasen’s electionlawblog regularly and rely on his expertise having none myself on election mechanics. Hasen is campaigning for the Election Count Act (see eg. his recent interview in Slate: https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2022/01/electoral-count-act-reform-voting-rights-bills-election-subversion.html ) as essential to preventing another attempt at the coup that honest republican local election officials thwarted a year ago but that will be successful next time because of the changes in local election laws and local election personnel that state level Republicans have been engineering. His view is that while voter suppression is a problem that urgently needs to be addressed, the need is less urgent than ensuring accurate vote counts because it doesn’t matter if the votes are there if they don’t get counted.
well, everone has their sources. it does not sound to me like anyone has considered what happens when the R’s win and have the “ballot count” to prove it.
do we get to contest the count?
or will protests be considered “domestic terrorism”?
If the Election Count Act or something like it passes, voting disputes will be subject to judicial review and need real evidence. Whoever gets the most votes wins, subject to the inherent anti-democratic biases of the electoral college but you can’t change that without a constitutional amendment, at least not in the short run. And if the Rs get more votes, yes they do win, if you believe in democracy. I do believe in democracy.
If the Ds want to win they will have to work harder to do so if the Voting Rights Acts don’t pass, but they can win. Voter suppression has in the past proven itself less effective than the Rs assumed and Ds feared. That’s why performative politics is important in its own right. Properly done, it educates and motivates voters. Politics is a long game (so long as votes actually count) and you can come back again next year with maybe more and/or better politicians and try again to pass voting rights legislation.
OTOH if there is nothing like the Election Count Act, too many of the offices that will decide which votes are allowed to actually count will be staffed by MAGA pledged political hacks committed to throw out any votes they don’t like with no established criteria or remedy. That doesn’t sound like a good idea to me, even if the voting rights acts pass.
you may know more about the election count act than i do. you seem to be thinking that the next time “it” happens, it will be the R’s challenging the count. I think it may well be us. and if the R’s have “deterred” enough of our voters, or stuffed a few voting machines just to be sure, and have a supreme court of their choosing all the court has to decide is…is there any evidence of fraud? no? then the vice president has nothing to say about it. and I thinks the R’s are smart enough, after a little practice, to be sure there will be no evidence.
meanwhile, the Framers did not believe in the kind of democracy you believe in, and they had good reason. trump came within (pace Dobbs) 5% [actually if half that number changed their votes he would have won] of winning honestly. considering the stakes that is not enough margin for me: 70 million voters prefer fascism to democracy, even if they have to vote it in. meanwhile, who knows what democrats think? or what progressives will do after Biden lets them down.
there is no guarantee that another R win will be something we can come back from.
i like to think the people could defeat R shenanigans at the polls, but I am by no means certain.
I have no idea what kind of democracy you think I believe in, but I know that the founders believed in a very different kind of democracy than any of us believe in now. They certainly did not believe in one man one vote, let alone one person one vote—voting districts were based on historic boundaries without regard to population. Only propertied white men could vote, and the system was completely decentralized leaving great independence and autonomy in the hands of the rich white men who ran it. The founders distrusted political parties, factions they called them, and “mob rule” (otherwise known as popular will). They believed that only propertied white men should be trusted with power because only they had the financial independence and training in how to rule others that would allow them to resist “corruption.” Thank God we no longer believe in the founders’ idea of democracy.
There will probably be challenges by both Rs and Ds “next time” because we are in an era of close elections. That doesn’t matter. What matters, especially if we want democracy to continue for more than one more presidential election cycle, is that there be a fair, transparent, evidence-based procedure for resolving the challenges. That may not be enough to save us but it is the only thing that can.
good luck with that.
“The founders distrusted political parties, factions they called them, and “mob rule” (otherwise known as popular will)”
they would have put it “popular will (otherwise known as “mob rule”)”.
i would have thought we had learned some reason to fear mob rule, given the 70 million (pace Dobbs) who voted for Trump.
I am aware of all that “only rich white men vote” stuff. but somehow the Framers left us with a Constitution that overcame that. oddly enough, one of the first “politicians” who helped defeat property requirements to vote (as well as defend free blacks in New York) was Aaron Burr (who was also the only champion of women’s rights among the founders), and history regards him as a traitor. But we know who writes history.