There is a clear difference between the Republican Party, the self-styled party of business and bastion of faux conservatism (better labeled ‘regressivism’ in its current incarnation) and the Democratic Party, the self-styled ‘party of the people’ and progressivism, often confused or mis-labeled with liberalism.
The Republicans, as befits the party of business, have superior organization and internal discipline, though a simplistic (when not deceitful) and lately toxic value system and platform. ‘The Party of No’ says so much without need for elaboration. And Mitch McConnell has arguably done more to dismantle our system of government from inside than the insurrectionists of 20210106 did from the outside.
The Democrats have a platform and value system that is generally more constructive and humane, but they can’t manage themselves across the street without getting distracted. And, for a party that regards itself as more enlightened and sophisticated, it seems particularly inept at messaging. It seems to have volunteered to be the punching bag for Republicans and for the windbag in Florida, when, based on the past four years, it should be punching back to great effect. The greatest asset the Democrats have is the record of the Republicans. They seem not to know how to use it.
Joe Biden’s return to Washington was not a triumphal march, but rather a relief from the aberration that preceded him. It required someone who could ‘hit the ground running’ as they say, and as he promoted himself, because there was little margin for error or delay. Indeed, in the first few months, he seemed to be doing all the right things. But then, it’s as if his administration reached the end of the first act and suddenly realized that no one had written the script for the rest of the play. Well, now we’re ‘deep in it’, and it’s beginning to look like improv going badly. Time to pause and regroup.
The following Random Thoughts are offered from 30,000 feet and 350 miles away, with all the insight that comes from those parameters. (Sometimes, it’s better to be not burdened with the details).
RT #1: Experience has its limits.
Experience is good. It facilitates ‘hitting the ground running’. But adaptability is equally important. Biden has brought back the Obama crew for a return engagement. But it’s not the Obama era. Circumstances are radically different. Smarts help, but they’re only as good as their application to the problem at hand; not to the problem you want to solve, the problem you solved before, or the problem you didn’t solve before and want a second shot at in the same way as before.
RT #2: When you’re in a hole, stop digging…
…unless it’s an intentional hole, such as a fox hole, or prepping your grave site. You don’t win wars from foxholes, and there are plenty of others who can prepare your grave when needed; some quite willing in anticipation.
In this instance, it’s time for the Biden Team to be its own harshest critic, acknowledge its failings, and get a workable, if not perfect game plan. Simple, right? Just say it and make it so.
RT #3: Bipartisanship is dead. Deal with it!
It was a nice thought, but the past year has proven beyond doubt that it hasn’t got legs.
RT #4: You’re a minority party. Deal with it!
Your two Swinging Door Senators have made you what you are, and you’ve made your situation worse by pandering to their egos.
Make clear that the party is actively seeking their replacements within their states, and adding to your majority in other states. Strip them of their illusion that they are secure. Don’t throw them out of the party. Just don’t let them feel secure in their self-absorption.
RT #5: The Republican Senate Big Red Wall can be penetrated. Penetrate it!
You act as if the 50 vote Republican block in the Senate is a given. That is your self-defeating mindset, not a fact. Rejecting that mindset is another tactic for 1) putting the two Swinging Door Senators on their heals, and 2) leveraging your minority status to possible victories.
There are three distinct groups of senators in the Republican caucus.
- Those not running for re-election in 2022 in the shadow of Trump;
- Those running for reelection in 2022, but in the greater shadow of a restless constituency looking for real solutions to real life problems;
- Trump zombies who are not up for re-election in 2022, and probably cannot be moved in any cases, (although some have shown themselves to be incredibly adept at all forms of logical and ethical contortionism).
The first two are targets of opportunity for tactical coalition building around specific initiatives. The third, which stars Republican leader Mitch McConnell, can also serve a useful purpose.
Let’s start with Mitch. Make him the poster boy of accommodation and facilitation of Trump and the economic elite who strive for naked power at society’s expense. Don’t hurl the stupid school-yard taunts at Mitch that Trump uses so effectively with the spineless eunuchs of his party whom he has cowered to his will. Instead, frame McConnell clearly and cleanly in the facts of his own record, and his own disingenuous statements. Compromise his brand and his power with those who do his bidding now as they did Trump’s before. Begin with him, beginning the campaign for his next de-election and then move mercilessly to the Zombie senators. If nothing else, this serves to give the senators running for re-election in 2022 coming attractions of what awaits them in their own campaigns if they persist in stonewalling.
At the same time, reach out to the senators that are planning to retire at the end of the session. Ask if they want to complete their records with unblemished loyalty to McConnell, or to do something meaningful on the way out of the chamber for the constituents and communities some of them may be returning to (assuming they are not remaining in Washington in new careers as lobbyists and consultants). Work with them to get meaningful legislation passed for the good of their constituents. Having declared their intentions not to run, they have nothing to fear from Trump and owe nothing to McConnell.
Additionally, reach out to those running for re-election next year in challenging states, as defined by the level of constituent economic distress. Similarly, encourage them to work with you on those programs that will make their constituents lives meaningfully better. Ask these senators if Mitch McConnell’s obstructionism is really going to work for them in the voting booth.
Finally, to make any of the above credible and effective, the Dems must launch a coordinated ground offensive with voters; not just their base, but the unaffiliated and Republican base, to bring home the facts of their situation, the facts of Republican promises broken, and the programs that can make their lives better. Appeal to their naked self-interest. This is the context in which the prior elements will gain power in breaking the deadlock, co-opting the power of the Swinging Door Senators into possible cooperation, and sustaining a presidency that, though seriously flawed and troubled, still holds promise of righting our listing national ship.
The Republicans have an empty playbook. Small government and low taxes serve big business; not the average voter, not even small and medium size business. It gives them the illusion they have more in an economy that is steadily diminishing their options and their wealth. If the Dems hold the Repubs to account, sooner or later, reality has to sink in. Fight the Big Lie with the Big Truths. The Dems have far more to work with than the Republicans; far more than they appear to be using effectively.
RT #6: Redefine your mission and priorities.
Again, Biden started out well. He made COVID, the economy, and national unity his major priorities. All three have taken a serious hit for reasons over which he has little if any control. But he must deal with them all.
One of his crafted priorities is the Build Back Better bill, a multifaceted Swiss Army knife of legislation cleverly crafted to solve everything. There is a logic to it. And there are significant risks to it. It just doesn’t fit in today’s reality.
One of B3’s problems is its sheer size. Anything that is that big and that complex is inherently difficult for the average voter/taxpayer to understand, and easy to suspect. And it makes all too easy a target for the simplistic Republican mantra of Small Government/Low Taxes, which is easy for Joe and Jane Six-pack to understand and embrace, as long as they don’t ask what kind of government and services low taxes provide.
RT #7: Break it up. Drive it home. Think long term.
Joe Manchin, the accomplished party-straddling chameleon, may be devious, duplicitous and destructive in many ways, but he is correct on one point: If you can’t present a program in terms that the average taxpayer/voter can understand, you shouldn’t vote for it.
Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs no doubt did much good. But in retrospect, they are also perceived has being costly and ineffective in many ways. Build Back Better, by its sheer size and complexity, invites analogy to its disadvantage. Big bills, by their nature and by Congress’ proclivities (which are bipartisan), invite cover for pork and other well concealed initiatives that earn voter/taxpayer cynicism when subsequently exhumed from the legislative text.
There is logic to B3 as it was crafted as a comprehensive, long term, integrated strategy for dealing with problems that have long persisted and resisted solution by more fragmented and short-term programs. However, under the circumstances, it may be better to dismantle it into more discrete program packages that are clear in their respective purposes, easier for the voter/taxpayer to relate to, and do not invite the same degree of cynicism that the Republicans would like to impute to them, not that they won’t try.
Smaller, better-defined programs will also avoid the optic of the huge price tag of the current all-in-one bill. Segmenting the mother-ship bill into logical clusters and moving them through Congress individually also reduces the risk that all will be sunk in one package. And, from a tactical election focused perspective, if the Republicans maintain the Big Red Wall of opposition and kill every bill in turn, that’s a great record to run on for 2022 against the party that spent four years trying to scuttle the Affordable Care Act and never provided a credible alternative to a program that, however imperfect, met the needs of citizens that the health care/insurance industry has left behind.
Don’t feel compelled to make it all happen this year. Steady incremental progress will sit better with voters than the massive B3 failure against opposition that you may not be able to overcome. This will gravely disappoint AOC and her Squad quintet, the mirror image of the Republican Young Guns of the ‘90s. Bring the moderates and progressives of the party closer together, and remind the Left that they too can be replaced if they, like Mitch, become the obstinate impediment to progress.
The future will not be won or lost in 2022. But the future will be built or destroyed incrementally with each election. Make each one count.
RT #8: Clean you own house!
Get rid of the deadwood. Clean up your ethical ‘dust bunnies’. You’re not pure. Thank your senior most members for their years of service and honor their accomplishments. And respectfully ask them to step aside to allow younger leadership to grow. Demonstrate that you are a credible institution and not just a collection of egos sharing party stationary. Plan for the future beyond the next election. Nancy Pelosi may want to hang on for one more term, and that’s fine. But it is time for her to show the wisdom and leadership to step down from the Speaker’s position at the end of this term and remain as an advisor. Dianne Feinstein, in a moment of clarity, might ask what is best for the party, and choose to make way for the next generation rather than the opposition. The greatest wisdom of age is knowing when to say goodbye and enjoy one’s success before suffering one’s embarrassment.
If you don’t clean house, you can be confident that the opposition will do it for you, and on their terms.
RT #9: Be assertive in pursuit of your goals, but be humble in your accomplishments.
Don’t congratulate yourself for good intentions or bask in past victories. Nobody cares what you did for them; only what you can do for them. Don’t over-promise, and don’t under-deliver.
RT #10: Begin re-thinking 2024.
Trump didn’t win in 2016. The Democrats lost due to terminal complacency and a lousy candidate. The ticket that won in 2020 is not guaranteed to win in 2024 on its merits. Re-think everything. For the good of the country.
Joe Biden may not be the best candidate for 2024. And Kamala Harris is most definitely not the best candidate to replace him.
Mr. Biden will hopefully continue during the remainder of his term to serve a vital role in bringing a measure of sanity and stability to federal government and to our nation’s role in the world. He has much to be proud of, and not yet much to regret that can’t be repaired. But the most important task before him is also the most difficult for anyone in his position: to stare deep into his soul and ask himself if he is the best person to lead the country in 2024 and beyond.
The greatest wisdom of age is knowing when to say goodbye.
Mr. Biden would do his party and the country a great service by declaring himself a one term, transitional president. This would:
- allow him to focus all his energies on the task of being president and not also running for president during the remainder of the term.
- energize the party to think dynamically about the possibilities of 2024 and make sure this time that they have the best candidate and not the best compromise. (Suggestion: Not Kamala Harris, and not Pete Buttigieg, and not Hillary, unless the party is contemplating suicide.)
- allow the Dems to seize the momentum from the Republicans and Trump in defining the terms for the 2024 election.
In summary, the Democratic Party desperately needs a clear set of values, a clear and credible strategy to implement them, a leadership that can walk, chew gum, and manage a national campaign with local nuance all at the same time, and a messenger with the gift of FDR and the clarity and integrity of the late Representative Barbara Jordan. Not all in the same person, but a credible team. And a sense of unity.
Joe Biden’s primary goal, above all others, was to bring the country together. To do that, he must first bring his party together. If he can unite the party around a workable agenda for the greater good, he can hopefully unite enough voters to make the next election and the one to follow a clear enough statement of citizen commitment that the results are beyond question by any reasonable mind. If he can do that, we may yet find our way back to governance by consensus, and not grounded in conflict.
If he cannot do that, little else matters.
“Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will,
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
20220116 © copyright 2022. All rights reserved