At the moment when Anthony Kennedy retired, I wrote a piece for The Week with a title that largely saves you the time of reading it: "Democrats cannot win the fight to replace Justice Kennedy. They can only prepare for the next battle." Now that Kavanaugh's confirmation process has begun, everyone has that familiar, desperate "Oh shit" feeling that prompts a search for a last second heroic solution. There isn't one. Gumming up the works in the Senate won't stop one nomination (although it certainly could have helped, if only Schumer had a spine, push back the timeline on some lower court nominations who were instead fast-tracked for no reason whatsoever).

This highlights a problem with our political culture that I think about more and more lately; everything is very short-term oriented and nobody is playing an effective long game. Instead of focusing on some miracle scenario in which Kavanaugh isn't confirmed (spoiler: he will be) why would Democrats not focus on preventing some of the lower court nominations by dragging their procedural feet? Well, part of the problem is that the current leadership simply doesn't know how to fight, has internalized losing, and accepts anything the majority chooses to give it as a victory. The current state of Democratic leadership is not dissimilar to the sad state of GOP leadership in the decade prior to Newt Gingrich's takeover (think people like Bob Michel). Rank and file Republicans of that time complained constantly that their leadership was content to be the minority, to finish second, and to accept table scraps from the Democratic majority. They received in return lectures about how they should be thankful for the scraps and proud of the leadership for "winning" them.

Now the parties have reversed roles. And losing to Mitch McConnell is so deeply branded into the psyche of this current generation of Democratic leaders that I think we're going to have to wait until everyone involved is dead before any progress can be made.

Whether or not he succeeded, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell would do absolutely anything – without limit from scruple or law – to stop the nomination process. Minority Leader Schumer doesn't have the same spirit. More importantly, McConnell has always had his eyes on prizes down the road in a way that the Democratic Party in Congress doesn't seem to have right now. Those lower court judges who just got fast tracked – perhaps one or two of whom could have been blocked with great effort – will bear fruit for Republicans down the road with the decisions they make. It would have been better strategically – and boy do Democratic insiders love them some strategizing 11th-degree chess – to recognize that Kavanaugh is a foregone conclusion and try to pave a better road in the future. Instead, they get nothing in the short term or the long term. Nothing is gained.

They seem, at the highest and therefore most self-destructive level, unable to let go of the 2004-era belief that voters will reward Democrats for playing nice. Reach across the aisle. Be the bigger people. They go low, we go high. And Schumer in particular keeps trying to wring moral victories out of caving to the GOP and hoping they'll do something nice in return. They won't. They never do.

Politics is, for people who say Decorum and Bipartisanship are important, entertainment. It is not. It is a blood sport, and people's lives are literally on the line. If you don't want Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, you have to stop that from happening at the beginning of a long process, not at its culmination. If you don't want kids in cages, you can't wait until the kids are in cages to figure out a solution. All the groundwork to getting kids in cages and a right-wing takeover of the Supreme Court was laid over the past 15 to 20 years.

There's just not a lot that can be done to fight the cancer once it has metastasized. We are now reaping the rewards of poor choices made during three decades of Democratic strategy focused on moving to the right to win people in the center while the GOP just kept moving farther, farther, and farther right, and the equally misguided strategy of assuming that in the name of honor and decorum there are certain depths to which conservatives would not sink (hint: there aren't). The best phrasing I've ever heard for their miscalculation is: The Democrats are pointing at the rule book screaming "A dog isn't allowed to play basketball!" while a dog dunks on them over and over again and the crowd goes wild. American voters don't give a shit about decorum, procedure, rules, and bipartisanship. If they did, Democrats wouldn't be the minority at almost every turn across the country right now.

If there is any hope for the future, it is in laying a better groundwork today and in the next decade to bear some fruit in the late 2020s and beyond. It's too late to stop what's happening in real time.

26 thoughts on “POST-HOC”

  • If one grows up in an abusive family, there's always the actually abusive parent and the enabling parent. The only way to actually get better eventually is to understand that the enabling parent got off on the dynamic too.

  • mago something says:

    Short con, long con, it's all con.

    As with any illness/disease, once symptoms present, it's too late.

    Alas, death of patient doesn't mean end of disease. It's generational.

  • The analogy that came to me yesterday is that Democrats are trying to negotiate in good faith, not realizing that Mitch McConnell shot the hostages years ago.

  • You think the courts are their long game? They've been working at taking over state legislatures since the early 80s, and now they're just a few states short of calling an "article V" convention to amend the Constitution. Ostensibly it's to pass a balanced budget amendment, but a lot of them are of the opinion that, once convened, such a convention can do just about anything. The late Phyllis Schlafly, of all people, spoke against the idea for that very reason. Remember, the first Constitutional convention was convened merely to amend the Articles of Confederation.

  • I actually think you give Schumer a little too much credit. It's a combination of the lack of spirit and just being a centrist dipshit who doesn't mind some of the battles he is "losing."

  • An Article V convention CAN do just about anything. Remember, though, that it can only propose; any change still needs three-quarters of states to ratify.

  • I was going to say that, it’s not too late for me to drink gin on my lunch break, but the right-wingers made this a dry county. Touché Ed, touché.

  • One thing that I have yet to hear anyone state intelligently is what exactly is the supposed political gain for *being* the 'nice guy'. Every time dems lose there seems to be some rush to explain to us frustrated base-members that 'you should be happy with what we got' and 'if we pushed [bill X] it would make the dems unpopular'. Seriously, what is the political downside of fighting this stuff and losing? Of fighting the losing battle in Kavanaugh? Or a jobs guarantee? Or free college tuition? Or medicare for all?

  • One thing confuses me. I know the Republicans changed the senate rules to get rid of the easy filibuster. But isn't the hard filibuster (i.e., a senator standing up and talking until he dies or yields to a teammate) still possible?

  • @Mike: Indeed. But at the moment Republicans have 33 state governors and 35 state legislatures (31 whole, 4 partial). They need 38 to ratify an amendment. It's not out of reach, particularly with energetic voter suppression.

    Here's a metaphor I used recently: The US Democrats are like eunuchs at the medieval Chinese court. They dress in silken finery, enjoy rare delicacies, compete for the favour of the Emperor and try to poison one another. They assume the Mongol armies of Genghis Khan can be bribed to go away, since that has always worked in the past. They do not understand the error of their ways until their severed heads are displayed on spikes outside the burning palace.

  • Thanks to the foregone conclusion, the Kavanaugh hearings are less about Kavanaugh than they are about establishing and reinforcing the issues and narratives of the November election. I'm hopeful that the Dem caucus, despite their failings on the parliamentary battlefield, are at least savvy enough campaigners to recognize the spotlight and make the most of it. I have less faith that their center- and left-leaning constituents are savvy enough to recognize the situation and do all they can to encourage, demand, and support that effort, which strikes me as critical.

  • And the congressional Dems just cannot figure out why they can't get a base together to keep voting for them… Shit, Schumer can't even whip his party into enough shape to get all of the Dem senators to vote no on Kavanaugh. It just makes people wonder what the point is in voting for Democrats.

  • @ Geoff:
    Yep. But, then my ticket is not set to run a whole lot longer than the next decade or so.

    The youngs are fucked and blaming people like me instead of their FUCKING PARENTS.

  • I'm now being 67 years old. I watched Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre come across teletypes from the Post, the Times, The AP and UPI all night long in a dark newsroom after the Sunday paper went to bed, early as it was a Sunday. This is nothing like that. That was watching a Murder Show on TV.

    This isn't watching the Murder Show on TV… This is running through a junkyard having Freddy right behind you with a fucking chainsaw, screaming about rape and death and blood.

  • Nothing yet has happened to second-guess my conclusion that American democracy was a great idea that has now slipped from our grasp by every objective measure. But if there is any positive news worth noting, it's been the surfacing of young progressive candidates who are also women of color, like Pressley and Ocasio-Cortez. The candidates who speak matter-of-factly about universal health care and even free college, without hedging, are attracting large followings. Being older than JR in WV, I lived through Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern and their quixotic, failed campaigns, but this seems different, not depending on "hope" or some sentimental ideal but ferocious common sense. If their prominence is only momentary and their wins isolated, I can still fall back on my earlier conclusion. There is something to be said for the serenity that comes with hopelessness. We tried, and we lost. We are an oligarchy, a plutocracy, even if we can shake autocracy. So good for Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Japan and others who've gotten closer to utopia than we could. At least we helped inspire them.

  • PhoenixRising says:

    Losing forward. That's what we are seeing in this hearing: Harris/Heinrich 2020 ads. Losing forward works. Eventually.

  • Bear in mind Congress's anemic response to Wall $treet's 2007 Charlie Foxtrot, and that even that is being chipped away, additionally, consider that a more catastrophic crash opens the possibility of radical change and the lessons of 1932 won't be lost on what passes for conservative these days. I fear they do not want this country, they wish to break it, to remake it closer to the heart's desire of sociopathic coke heads. If they succeed, I suppose they'll always be puzzled by the poor economic performance of a Nation of serfs, or mystified by their inability to field overwhelming armed force against a world that despises them.

  • > I actually think you give Schumer a little too much credit. It's a combination of the lack of spirit and just being a centrist dipshit who doesn't mind some of the battles he is "losing."

    Right. The fundamental problem is not so much that "Schumer is completely unwilling to fight", though that is true. The problem is that he doesn't even see a disagreement or battle to be fought.

    Those 7 judges? Schumer is fine with them. They're all Federalist Society picks, chosen for their right-wing viewpoints. (Indeed, the advice for young lawyers today is that you should exhibit right-wing views, whether or not you have them, because that's the only way to advance in public service.) And there's no significant difference between their views and Schumer's except, perhaps, on abortion. (Schumer knows the abortion issue won't be decided by a lower court so it's unimportant here.)

    If you picked a random 100 issues and asked Schumer, Democratic voters, and those Republican judges what their feelings were – under truth serum – I guarantee you that Chuck will be a lot closer to those judges than to his party constituents. He doesn't fight because he's fine with the outcome.

    If the Republicans were proposing socialist judges for some reason, Schumer might fight them.

  • As President Obama said – the secret is to vote for Democrats. Primary the centrists, and then vote for the Democratic nominee in the general election. You may need to hold your nose and vote for a DINO, but anything's better than a Republican.

    I expect Schumer's biding his time. McConnell's not shy about changing the rules whenever necessary to get his way, but that takes time. It's likely that Schumer's waiting until after the election. If the Democrats make big gains, Schumer can start playing hardball to block as much of the Republican agenda as he can before the next Congress is sworn in – at which time he'll hopefully have more ability to resist.

    If Schumer's still dreaming of Ye Olden Days of Yore, when Senators played by the rules, it'll be half-past time to replace him with someone better connected to today's reality.

  • "Whether or not he succeeded, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell would do absolutely anything – without limit from scruple or law – to stop the nomination process." A better example is Obamacare — despite knowing he would lose every cloture vote, McConnell still made the Democrats take the full 3 days (right before Xmas) and numerous votes to pass the Obamacare bill – and the Democrats indulged him!

  • @ H-Bob:

    But that's because McTurtle is an "esteemed, elder statesman*". I'd sorta like to see Mitch die b4 I do, my kidneys are still in great shape.

    * Unindicted multi-term GOP.O.S. scumbag.

  • "… I think we're going to have to wait until everyone involved is dead before any progress can be made. "

    Bingo… you hit the nail on the head.

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