Last updated on October 21, 2020
Yes, Donald Trump is a breathtaking, dumpster fire of a President. And I could spend paragraphs recounting all of the incompetent, unbalanced and embarrassing things that he does. He is a real and present danger to the country, and like one that we have not seen in memory.
But . . . the most unsettling fact is that Trump is not the greatest threat to the county, and he is a symptom rather than the disease. The biggest threat to the country remains the Republican voter — voters who seem unable to grasp what is wrong with Trump, who routinely swoon at charlatans (think: Palin), who pursue racial grievance politics, who continue to insulate themselves with propaganda and conspiracy theories, who reject not just science but evidence based reasoning, and who have shown (long before Trump) disturbing authoritarian and anti-democratic impulses. In short, today’s Southern dominated Republican party resembles most the historic Confederate Party. We are witnessing a recurring battle for the nation’s soul, not a new one.
So what do we do? I hear this common-sense question repeated here a lot.
Given the madness and irresponsibility of the Republican Party, the answers are not easy. But I do think we need to think this through rationally:
- One over-arching reality is that Joe Biden will be a one-term President. He will be 78 years old on inauguration day. He is not running for re-election when he is 82 (if he is even alive then).
So, Republicans will treat him as a lame-duck from Day 1 and say that Trump lost the election, not that Biden won it. (i.e., Biden has no mandate.)
Everything turns on the Democrats winning back a Senate majority. If the Republicans retain control of the Senate, then all the underlying dysfunction now will stretch out for the next 4 years. But, don't get me wrong, a President Biden will be able to get some very important things done. Still . . nothing transformational or deeply effective goes on in this scenario.
So, to be productive, let’s assume we have a President Biden, and a Democratically controlled Congress, for one presidential term and with the risk of losing Congress in the mid-terms. I mean, that realistically may be where we wind up:
a) Like with Obama, this may be where we are. But I doubt Biden will have 60 Dem Senate votes.
b) That means that Dems will need to eliminate the filibuster. (If not, see point 3 above.)
c) I completely support eliminating the legislative filibuster. Nonetheless, I will concede that this means the death of the Senate as we have known it, turns the Senate into the strict majoritarian House (so why have a Senate?), and is not optimal. But I support the move because I believe the filibuster is already dead (whenever it blocks Republicans) and so is only a one-way, illegitimate and obstructionist relic of the slavery era. (Plus, the Senate is already obviously un-democratic.)
d). So, if Dems eliminate the historic legislative filibuster — and do so in service of a one term President — well, then . . . . this better be one helluva and productive one-term presidency and, more practically, the first 2 years of a one term presidency (before the mid-terms)
Anyone disagree with the premises of the above? And the above doesn't address that the first (maybe long) imperatives of a Biden/Democratic majority will be to control and then defeat Covid, deal with the economic fallout, and then re-start the economy — and address Climate Change.
What I am saying is that we are dumping a whole lot on the plate of a one term President.
The most important, indeed crucial task, is for Joe Biden to win. Assuming he wins, Biden needs to reverse every bad regulation and executive order that he can — doing it skillfully to win the inevitable court challenges. That is meaningful and low-hanging fruit, but not much more than a tit-for-tat in the grand scheme.
The very close second is that Dems take back the Senate. To really work, a Democratically controlled Senate and House has to re-invent itself from where that somnolent institution has been today, and actually become again an engine of policy and legislation.
In other words, given Biden’s likely 2-3 years of plausible power, Biden and a Democratic Congress have to go for broke. No dithering, and no slavish (unreturned) adherence to process norms. No dreams of a “second term” agenda.
Last night I watched MSNBC’s special on White House photographer Pete Souza. Mr. Souza recounted a conversation where President Obama told him that he viewed the presidency as a “relay race” — they hand you the baton with a, b, c problems and you incur x, y and z problems, but you hope you can pass off the baton in a better position than when you first grabbed it.
l liked that “relay race” metaphor, and what I am saying here is that Mr. Biden is running an even shorter, but critical, relay race.
Now, how is that addressing the problem of the Republican voter? I’m not sure other than to say that Democrats need to aggressively grab power, run with it, and do their best and set an example. If our ideas are superior (e.g., the ACA, Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid). then we will win in the long run.
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