PERSISTENT FAITH IN THE EMPTY GESTURE

Posted in Rants on February 11th, 2018 by Ed

Last week we saw the apotheosis of everything that is wrong with the approach of the current incarnation of the Democratic Party. Greisa Martinez Rosas sums it up on CNN:

Nancy Pelosi spoke in Congress for eight hours straight about immigrant youth. She shared our stories and called for passage of the Dream Act.

Yet, while she was speaking, Democratic and Republican party leaders were writing a budget deal that would leave protections for immigrant youth out in exchange for dollars on other projects. Our lives — and the moral compass of this country — are in real danger and yet Congress is playing games with both. Speeches, empty promises and crocodile tears will not protect me or my sisters from deportation agents.

I recall in the middle of that spectacle – perhaps four hours into her speech – seeing all of the reliable outlets of the Democratic status quo at maximum fawn. What a powerful speech! And I thought, you know, this is gonna end up looking mighty silly unless it is the prelude to announcing a deal. Then the overwhelmingly cynical part of me that remembers everything Democratic leadership in Congress has done since 2000 crushed me like a piano falling on Wil E. Coyote: this speech is what we're getting instead of a deal.

It isn't a negotiating tool or a way to bring attention to an accomplishment that is about to become official. This is it. The gesture is the substance.

This is politics as an Aaron Sorkin fever dream, the misguided belief that if you give a pretty enough speech and if the Hashtag Resistance of older, better off, centrist Democrats gushes over it enough then maybe Hispanics won't realize that an issue that is very, very, very important to them was once again used as a bargaining chip by the Democratic leadership.

Admittedly, of course, the Democrats are not negotiating from a position of great strength here. But neither are they powerless. In an election year, the GOP has a very small majority in the Senate and is facing pressure on an anti-immigrant stance that is resoundingly unpopular outside of the rabid Trump base. The leadership has, for the past two decades, looks congenitally programmed to throw concessions at the GOP at a moment's notice.

As Will Stancil notes ("Democrats' 'Resistance' to Trump Is Eroding, and So Are Their Poll Numbers") the Democrats can point to some short-term, low visibility 'wins' like getting CHIP funded and avoiding a government shutdown. But in doing so they are bringing back to the surface their fundamental shortcoming: they are so obsessed with showing everyone how Reasonable they can be that they are now normalizing the most abnormal, divisive, and unpopular president in modern times. Rather than digging in their heels for once and saying, "No, fuck this fascist" they held out for maybe 9 months and now are right back to "Let's cut the best deal we can" mode.

It's the Vichy France mentality. There is no point at which they consider the long-term consequences or have a mentality that some things are simply too vile and corrosive to sit down and bargain with. Everything, under the congressional Democrats ancient, white leadership, becomes a matter of deciding that there's no way you can really win so why not just cut the best deal possible and declare anything short of the worst outcome a win.

Lately I've been seeing more clearly one of the underlying problems with the Left, Liberals, Progressives, Democrats, or whatever blanket term you prefer for people who are not conservatives: they are, to varying degrees, unbelievable quick to explain to you why something will not work. People who argue that this strategy of accommodation and deal-cutting is the best one are among the most likely to explain to people farther to the left why taking a firm, no-compromise stand on an ideologically left point is not going to work (Conversely, the farther left are just as quick to lecture the centrists on why deal-cutting is defeat in disguise).

And my question increasingly is, when was the last time anyone tried? How do you know it won't work? Maybe give it a try once and see what happens? I bet your precious poll numbers will benefit, if not your campaign donations. I can't think of the last time the Democrats really took one of the no-compromises, Fuck You stands that the contemporary GOP takes all the time to keep its base white-hot and ready to turn out in droves.

Why not try saying "Fuck the budget deal, if you're not ready to keep these immigrants in the U.S. there's nothing to discuss"? Instead, time and again, they throw the interests of some part of their base (usually people of color, shockingly) onto the table as a bargaining chip and then wonder why those same people are so unenthusiastic about showing up to vote when November rolls around. I'd argue that "Some things are too important to compromise, and the Dream Act is one of them" is a superior, or at least equally good, piece of campaign rhetoric to "We punted on the Dream Act but we got a budget deal, avoiding a government shutdown – AND Nancy Pelosi gave one hell of a speech for ya!"

Stop reverting immediately to "It won't work" and devote more time to asking yourself when was the last time anyone tried it. The beaten, defeatist mentality – the kind that has terrified the Democrats into submission, especially on taxes – always seeks to cut a deal rather than fight. Because fighting won't work, because The Opponent is too powerful, too scary, too obviously bound to win. Folding with concessions is so central to the way the Democrats operate in Congress now that the GOP takes things off the table that are not even relevant to the current debate just to watch them "negotiate" to get it back.

I'm tired of hearing that something that hasn't been tried for decades won't work. Especially given how poorly the alternative strategy employed time and time again – being the kind of Serious Reasonable People that win applause on Sunday TV shows and literally nowhere else – has proven so unsuccessful. It's not like the Party is on some hot streak that one should hesitate to interrupt. Just for shits and giggles, maybe try the thing you forever insist will not work, just once.