Thursday, February 02, 2017

Ranting On...Unrealistic Expectations of Democrats

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO)
I have largely been absent in terms of politics on the blog in the past few weeks. not actually commenting on much except for the inauguration.  This is partially because it's been difficult to form cogent thoughts about what the Trump administration has done, particularly in terms of its complete lack of structure and his ridiculous lack of human intelligence (seriously-how the hell do you screw up relations with Australia and he going to get Trudeau to swear by Valentine's Day?), throwing out executive orders that have little backing from even within the White House, much less with a Congress that is approaching Trump with either ire or caution, depending on your constituency.  But I wanted to address something I find deeply troubling on social media from my liberal and progressive friends, and that is the anger, bordering on hatred, they are directed at Democrats in Congress over pretty much every single thing that the Republicans are doing.

The reason I write this is, just to clarify, to talk about the attitude toward Democrats, not the anger.  The anger and frustration at what Trump is doing in our country is righteous.  I've also been out to the marches, and plan on going as often as I am able.  I've also called my senators and my congressmen, wanting to know their stances on upcoming issues and inform them of what I, one of their constituents, think of their positions.  But what I'm seeing on Twitter and social media is largely reflective of the Tea Party and the insane, non-pragmatic anger that my fellow Democrats throw out with the slightest provocation.  Admittedly it might be time to get out of the Twitter-sphere, where everything feels more urgent and dire and reckless than in reality, but here's my thoughts on the "obstruct everything" and "primary everyone" attitude that has become popular with the Democratic base, something Congress at the very least needs to become aware of in the next few weeks before things get out of hand.

I get the urge to reject everything that Trump puts forward, because A) it did end up paying off huge dividends at the end of the day for the Republicans and B) because it's a solid form of denial, but I can't endorse this or even condone it.  The reality is that on November 8th, the country elected a man many of us (54% of us) didn't want and in a lot of our cases, actively detested.  Trump, barring death or a scandal so egregious Paul Ryan wakes up from that coma he's been in for the past year and does something about it, will be the president for four years.  As much as we want to believe it will, the next four years will not be able to cope with a pause button-it would, in fact, be bad for the country if that happened.  That doesn't mean that we have to condone what Trump is doing, or that we don't have to fight it (we do), but what it does mean is that completely obstructing him for four years is something that will not work.  It will, in fact, make the Democrats look as bad as the Republicans.

Some may argue (I can see the responses now) that it's time for us to fight on their level, and in some ways I agree.  I personally say they need to take the damage for what Trump does, fairly or unfairly, since it's his party.  But I also think that obstructing everything makes you less open to doing the right thing on occasion.  For the past eight years I have watched, flummoxed, over the Republicans inability to work with President Obama because of the letter behind his name and the color of his skin-and if you're a Democrat I suspect you've hated that as well.  I watched the GOP throw away any semblance of good government just to score an easy point or because it risked a primary from the right, and frequently change their positions just to be opposite of Obama.  This sort of "anti-president" campaign didn't work in 2012, for the record, and likely wouldn't work in 2020.  It's very rare that a presidential candidate is decided by someone simply being the "anti-POTUS"; generally people don't like to back the guy "who is better than the other person."  One of the criticisms of Hillary Clinton that holds water is that she didn't push her vision of America strong enough for Midwestern states in the same way that Trump did.  Trump, for better or worse (wait, just for worse) gave a vision of America, and frequently Clinton played catchup with a "that's not how I would have done it."  I don't think that's entirely fair (in most ways Clinton's policy positions were stronger and her plans were more thought-out), but it's what ended up happening, and it had a strong impact on the race.  Continually stating that we are against Trump, regardless of what he does, isn't just bad for the country, it's lousy politics.

I'll give an example here: James Mattis.  I've seen many memes of Kirsten Gillibrand being the only Democratic senator with a backbone because she's the only person in the Senate to have voted against all of Trump's cabinet appointees.  Gillibrand has every right to stake that position-it'll probably play well as a talking point in the presidential primaries in 2020.  But I can't agree with it, and here's why: James Mattis is a lot better than what I would have expected from Trump.  Keep in mind that there will be a Secretary of Defense.  The Republicans only need 50 votes, and they have 52.  Trump has four years here-it's impossible that the Republicans continually humor the Democrats on this front, allowing them to have nominee after nominee after nominee.  The Democrats fowled up badly not only when they didn't get those 77,000 votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, but nearly as importantly, when they didn't land Jason Kander, Russ Feingold, and Katie McGinty in the Senate.  That means that they don't get to set the agenda, and they don't have veto power.  Mattis, a qualified man (not whom I would have picked, clearly, but someone who has military experience and has a respect for the law), is a better choice than the Democrats could have anticipated, with someone like Rudy Giuliani as a far scarier option.  Mattis has a respect for the military, and will also be the one man in the chain of command who might deter Trump from a nuclear strike or an ill-advised foreign invasion.  I want that person to be someone who isn't afraid to tell him no in that moment, and considering his comments on torture, Mattis is someone who isn't afraid to be that person; a lesser candidate like Giuliani wouldn't have been.

And yet Democrats are fawning over themselves trying to point out people who backed Mattis with a vote.  Not, it should be noted, saying he was their choice, but showing that this was a good enough pick from Trump.  Unless you refuse to acknowledge that Trump is, in fact, the president, and that he will eventually get a Secretary of Defense (which is less "RESIST!" and more "DENIAL!" no matter what you tell yourself), then part of what you need to look for is "is this the best I can do?"  This is not policy here-I'm not asking to cave on policy, but I'm asking that you keep your expectations realistic for a Republican President.  Mattis would be a good nominee if this was Mitt Romney or Ted Cruz-that Trump picked him is a solid sign we should take that as a blessing.

This does not apply to other nominees, however.  I think Jeff Sessions, for example, you could find a stronger AG even from Trump, or Betsy DeVos or Ben Carson or Tom Price or Scott Pruitt.  But pretending that these people are all equal is ridiculous-Elaine Chao or Nikki Haley are not whom I would pick for their spots, but they're more competent that what I'd have expected from Trump.  If you are accepting the basic reality of Trump being POTUS (and considering how much we lecture about "accepting the facts" to the other side, we should accept this one), then at least in terms of a cabinet we have to pick our battles.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)
I also want to address the primary question.  I'm seeing a lot of "let's primary" to people like Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp and Claire McCaskill, and to this I roll my eyes and shake my head, because the articles I considered condescending about Democrats "not understanding Middle America" have a whole lot of truth to them with people making this argument.  The reality is that it is unprecedented for a Democratic incumbent in a red state to be primaried from their left and still hold the seat; I can think of no examples of this.  If a Democrat (or a Republican, for the matter) watches a challenger to an incumbent win a general, it is almost always because there is a blue constituency there that they're fighting over, and even in that case it's no slam dunk.  Most of the time when a primary happens, it either is much-ado-about-nothing, or it ends in disaster, like the Republican Senate candidates in Delaware and Colorado in 2010 or in Missouri in 2012.  Primarying Heitkamp, Manchin, and McCaskill is idiocy, mostly because they are likely the only Democrats that can hold those seats.  I'm not saying you give them a free pass on issues-call away if they're your senators and let them know what's important to you, but also have some realism.  It's either Heitkamp or a Republican.  And if you don't see the difference, then you are doing the exact same thing that people who said there's no difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump did.  Don't fool yourself here-this is the same logic that people use to justify voting for Jill Stein.  Heitkamp or Manchin may be conservative compared with Kirsten Gillibrand, but they're hardly Mitch McConnell and would mean that Bernie Sanders, Patty Murray, and Patrick Leahy are committee chairs, and would mean we'd have an actual fighting chance against Trump's agenda.  To pretend otherwise and just scream "PRIMARY" is idiocy.

I'm not saying you can't have a line in the sand.  I will have deep trouble backing any Democrat that, for example, supports Trump's Muslim Ban, and would probably be willing to throw that out with the bath water.  But voting for Chao or Mattis or Haley is a ridiculously tall ship to climb.  If you're going to primary a candidate, I'd recommend sticking to a blue-state Democrat you know we could best.  If Dianne Feinstein, for example, backs Gorsuch or Sessions, for example, I would say this is a good spot to go.  If Tulsi Gabbard, who causes more problems than helps, gets a primary challenge, I wouldn't cry.  Both of these women represent constituencies, though, that would be willing to go with a more liberal Democrat.  But as a whole, expecting obstructionism from senators in states Trump won by 10, 20, 30 points is absurd, and if you think you can win a majority or fight Trump without people like Heitkamp or Manchin, than you need to reexamine your basic math and geography skills.  If you're angry, put that anger to better use by convincing Democrats to take on Republicans in blue and purple states and districts (we need a top-notch candidate to fight Dean Heller in 2018, for example, and tons of Obama states have Republican governors up in 2018)-that's where you'll actually make change.

But expecting the moon of Democrats when you didn't give them a spaceship-I can't condone that, because I don't believe common sense should be a partisan issue.  And assuming ideological purity is the answer when the map is already stacked against the left-that might feel good on your Facebook feed, but it doesn't work in real life.

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