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Hullabaloo


Saturday, December 17, 2016

 

Not the comfy chair!

by Tom Sullivan

The special "get even" session called by Republicans in control of North Carolina's legislature ended yesterday with the sobering message that the Republicans' model for all-American governance is heads, we win, tails, you lose. Yesterday's session included the arrest of 39 protesters and passage of bills to curtail the power of the incoming Democratic governor. It was, to borrow from Churchill, the end of the beginning.

There will be more arrests, more legislative gamesmanship, and more court cases to follow. The problem for Democrats, both in North Carolina and nationwide is who will lead? Responding to President Obama's Friday press conference, Michelle Goldberg finds his "near-supernatural calm and dispassion" more hindrance than help, leaving his party "leaderless, marching toward the post-inauguration abyss without a fight."

Jeet Heer at New Republic wishes Democrats had in place an opposition leader position to fill the void. Sen. Elizabeth Warren would be a natural under current circumstances:

Warren would be the go-to person when the media wants the Democratic Party’s response to Trump’s latest words and actions; other politicians and surrogates would take their cues from her. She would take the lead on setting and articulating the party’s talking points, while Pelosi and Schumer work to whip Democrats in Congress. Warren would give the party the tough-but-appealing face, and voice, it so badly needs. And grassroots Democrats could, and would, amplify her voice—they’d have someone to rally around, to point to as their key anti-Trump champion.

Democrats are, by nature, rule-followers—and there’s no tradition of having an official role for an opposition leader in one of the major parties. Crafting a position like this for Warren would be a radical move. But radical times call for radical measures. Democrats have to oppose Trump as hard and effectively as they can—and they can’t wait till January 20 to start mounting that opposition. The only way the party can hope to put the brakes on the worst of the Trump agenda is to come together as a cohesive party. And that means rallying around a leader who can help it speak with one voice.

But radical just makes many Democrats uncomfortable, even when Democrat's just another word for nothing left to lose. After the losses of November 8 and the legislative coup this week in Raleigh, Democrats ought to be ready to try something new. They won't. Liberals are supposedly more inclined to trying new things. Yet a party stripped of power still treats its organization, worn and tattered, like the comfortable chair it can't part with. Rather than trading in "old and busted" for the "new hotness," party regulars again will be inclined to play it safe, to hunker down and wait out the Trump storm. Radical moves are called for, and just what Democrats from the sitting president on down are disinclined to try.

At New York magazine, Jonathan Chait finds Sen. Chuck Schumer's strategy for protecting rather than expanding his Senate caucus emblematic of that problem, exacerbated by looking for ways to cooperate with the Trump administration:

Schumer’s idea is a faithful reflection of the way Congress thought about politics years ago, when Schumer was coming up through the system. It’s a totally plausible model, which assumes that vulnerable members of Congress can shore up their standing by proving to their constituents that they can win concrete achievements. That is how Schumer has built a career, and he wants to help Democrats in red states do the same, by finding some bills where they can shake hands with Trump and cut ribbons on some bridges, and so on. Schumer’s idea can be boiled down to:

Senate Democrats work with Trump → Voters conclude Senate Democrats are doing a good job → Senate Democrats win reelection.
Hello? McFly? That's not how it works anymore. Chait continues:
Under Obama, Schumer logic would have dictated that vulnerable Republicans demonstrate a willingness to work together with the extremely popular new president. Instead, the Republican Party denied any bipartisan support for almost any bill, despite the popularity of both Obama and the proposals at issue. This created a sense of partisan dysfunction that allowed Republicans to make major gains in midterm elections, despite the fact that their party and its agenda remained deeply unpopular. The actual dynamic, then, is:

Senate Democrats work with Trump → Voters conclude Trump is doing a good job → Senate Republicans and Trump win reelection

or:

Senate Democrats don’t work with Trump → Voters conclude Trump is doing a bad job → Senate Democrats win reelection
How's that first one been working for ya?

North Carolina Democrats will be electing a new state chair about the same time the national party elects a new leader for the DNC. Even in the face of what happened this week, there will be an inclination among party regulars of Jim Hunt vintage to back a safe choice, someone not too radical or confrontational, someone who won't ruffle any feathers among establishment members or drive off regular donors — as if the party still has something left to lose.

Expect the same dynamic to play out in the race for DNC chair. Howard Dean was once the crazy radical who if elected DNC chair would ruin everything. Instead, he brought to the party a model for raising online millions from small-dollar donors and a 50-state plan that helped Democrats win in districts that had not had seen assistance from the DNC in years. Those helped turn 2006 into a big pickup year for Democrats and paved the way for Barack Obama's win in 2008. Then Democrats went right back to their comfy chairs. Dean was out. Wasserman Schultz was in.

It's not enough to have a progressive ideology, of course. It also takes skills. And the right combination for the right time. Plus a party willing to let a new generation of leaders take the reins.

Old and busted or new hotness?