I’m only barely paraphrasing that headline.
Last Friday, an associate professor of political science at Roosevelt University named David Faris (pictured below because just like Rommel I believe you should know what your enemies look like and also for purposes of mockery)
wrote an article titled It’s time for Democrats to fight dirty. The article calls into question whether Faris should be allowed around sharp stuff, like zippers and tennis balls, and how he’s allowed to teach students remains a mystery. But Faris’s primal scream has acquired a near viral status on the left who seem to think that Hillary Clinton lost and the Democrats are a minority party because they are just too nice.
In perhaps the most brazen violation of democratic norms in living memory, the Republicans just stole the colossally important swing seat on the Supreme Court by obliterating precedent and refusing even to hold hearings for Merrick Garland. If Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer cannot continue their heroic work into their late 80s, the Democrats may be facing a hostile Supreme Court until most of Bernie Sanders’ young voters are having their midlife crises.
But the Senate’s Great Merrick Garland Heist is a symptom rather than the cause of our dysfunction. The towering mountaintop snowcap from which the swollen river of hateful, paralyzing, and destructive nihilism flows is the House GOP. The face of America’s political torment is the smug visage of Utah’s Jason Chaffetz, a man who epitomizes everything that is wrong with our politics, and who the Democrats have no realistic chance of ever unseating. Secure behind their ingenious 2010 gerrymandering plan, and the concentration of Democratic voters in big cities, it was Chaffetz and his minions who turned the tragedy of Benghazi into the 21st century’s Scopes trial, and who decided to use the legislature’s oversight responsibilities to hold a series of theatrical hearings about Libya rather than, say, holding President Obama accountable for his (morally outrageous and possibly illegal) policy of perpetual drone warfare.
To wit, over the past six years we’ve learned that American voters cannot always, or even often, be trusted to punish politicians who cynically grind government to a halt. As such, it almost never pays to roll over for the majority.
This magnanimity was not reciprocated by Republicans during the Obama years.
So after the GOP’s unapologetic, eight-year incineration of America’s surviving governing norms, the Democrats have a stark choice. One option is to continue to be the party of decent government and compromise, and ride into power every eight or 12 years to clean up the GOP’s mess. And indeed, all available signals from Chuck Schumer, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren — the de facto leaders of what little remains of the institutional Democratic Party — suggest that they intend to cooperate dutifully with their new GOP overlords when the opportunity to accomplish something meaningful presents itself.
That this is the first instinct of the Democratic Party even after a crushing, incomprehensible defeat is actually kind of admirable. The urge to minimize the damage in defense of the public interest is broadly shared, and understandable. It must make many Democrats proud to support a party that truly believes in the public good, even at the expense of winning.
On the other hand, no. It’s time for Democrats to say no. To everything.
Democrats must comprehend, at long last, what is being done to them by the Republican Party. The Democratic negotiating position on all issues put before them while they are in the House and Senate minority for at least the next two years should be very simple: You will give us Merrick Garland or you may go die in a fire.
If this strikes some Democrats as a difficult strategy to square with their values, it should. After spending the past six years railing against Republican intransigence, how can the party then turn around and do the exact same thing? The answer is that our political system as currently constituted has turned into a fiefdom for a permanent right-wing minority wielding power through the Constitution’s bizarre quirks, including the Electoral College. The Democrats must do whatever it takes to recapture power, even if it means adopting tactics that only yesterday they were calling threats to democracy. They must use their time in the minority to slow down and obstruct Trump, to turn the American people against the Republican Party, and to devise a message of social democracy that appeals not just to their coalition — whose vulnerable members must be defended vigorously rather than discarded in a hasty and ill-conceived post-mortem that blames “identity politics” — but also to the marginalized rural voters who have turned against the only organized force in American politics that actually cares about them.
The future of democracy, and of the planet, depends on Democrats digging in their heels and fighting dirty. Let us hope they are able to do so.
I think I need a cigarette and a warm, damp washcloth after that.
The idea that the Democrats have just been too nice and too bipartisan and too big-hearted when in power is such a laughable premise that it doesn’t merit discussion. But, being a nice, bipartisan, and big-hearted kind of guy myself I’d like to just point out this anecdote:
The top congressional leaders from both parties gathered at the White House for a working discussion over the shape and size of President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus plan. The meeting was designed to promote bipartisanship.
But Obama showed that in an ideological debate, he’s not averse to using a jab.
Challenged by one Republican senator over the contents of the package, the new president, according to participants, replied: “I won.”
One can’t help but note that impediments to perpetual one-party rule, like “voting”, are dismissed by Faris as “the Constitution’s bizarre quirks,” because it is a stark reminder that when you are dealing with an unprincipled, vicious and power hungry political opponent every election could very well be the last one.
Personally, I hope the Democrats adopt Faris’s strategy. Their votes right now are basically irrelevant. As many as nine seats could flip in 2018 giving the GOP a filibuster proof majority making them more irrelevant in the future. Not that, thanks to Harry Reid, the filibuster really means a whole lot anymore. If there is one sure way to really get boatraced in 2018 it is to give Donald Trump’s Twitter account a target to focus on.