Progressive in the Sheets, Centrist in the Streets

Progressive in the Sheets, Centrist in the Streets January 22, 2020

If this is the case, why waste effort trying to repair a gap that the very survival of the Republican Party depends on? Beats me.

On the other hand, some progressive-here, centrist-there people argue that true progressivism requires altering the structures of our democracy, that it requires expending a possible president’s political will to break the Republican stranglehold on institutions like the Senate. Practically speaking, this means destroying the filibuster, adding new states, and maybe even packing the Supreme Court. Bernie Sanders actually took quite a beating when he declined to focus on these strategies. This was, people said, terrible idealism; his supporters are deluded thinking anything can get done without addressing these problems first. Early on, this was Buttigieg’s rallying cry, including doing away with the electoral college. Elizabeth Warren said much the same.

There is, however, one big problem here: these institutions will not go softly into the night; their continuation guarantees this iteration of the GOP its power. The filibuster is a Senate rule; you would need senators to agree to get rid of it. The GOP rules the Senate (and, many think, is likely to for some time, given their dominance in sparsely-populated states). This is putting the cart before the horse. You need a wave of good feelings benefiting the Democrats such that they could seize enough Senate seats to enact the change (and that’s if they can all agree to do so). This is not something the president can control directly. It’s a distraction to make it a “point of policy,” a talking point that re-inscribes the problem it sets out to solve. Senator Warren inadvertently makes this clear in a 2019 interview with Ezra Klein:

Ezra Klein

Do you need to start with the filibuster before you can do any of those plans?

Elizabeth Warren

That depends on whether or not we have a majority on our side in the Senate, and it depends on what Mitch McConnell does.

Ezra Klein

But you know what Mitch McConnell will do.

Elizabeth Warren

Yeah. Okay. I always want to say he is the one who will determine that. But I will say this for sure: This business that Democrats play by one set of rules and Republicans play by a different set of rules — those days are over when I’m president. We’re not doing that anymore.

Ezra Klein

What is the difference in the rules?

Elizabeth Warren

Oh, come on. I watched Mitch McConnell when the Republicans were in the minority in the Senate and President Obama was in the White House, and the Democrats obviously were in the majority in the Senate. He used every rule, every trick, every blue slip to delay, to hold back, to keep anything from passing, and Democrats largely respected that and said, “Well those are the rules.”

Then, when it flips and the Republicans are in the majority, it all starts to look different. They steal a Supreme Court seat. Now the Republicans have Donald Trump as president and they’re in the majority in the Senate, and the rules are entirely different from where they were before. Watch what’s happening not just with the Supreme Court, but with judges up and down the line. Mitch McConnell has made it clear that there is no point of principle. For him, it is all about power. (“Elizabeth Warren’s Plan to Pass Her Plans”)

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