The lame duck Republican majority is doing everything they can to cause a backlash
Mitch McConnell, he of the “Merrick Garland will never get a vote,” raised a few eyebrows when he wrote in an OpEd for that unbiased publication FoxNews.com “[w]ill Dems work with us, or simply put partisan politics ahead of the country?”
This, of course, is the man who famously stated after Barack Obama was elected that “[t]he single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” We all know how well that worked out for him. Nevertheless, his unbridled partisanship and unparalleled obstructionism made any efforts of Obama at reducing polarization in Washington futile.
And try he did. Obama seemed to have two fundamental beliefs when he came to the Presidency. First, he believed that good government equals good politics. Here I agree with him, as did his political mentors the Daley family of Chicago. If people are doing well and feel that the economy is on the right track, they generally re-elect whoever is in charge.
His second belief, however, was not shared by me nor by the Daleys. He believed he could reduce negativity through honest conversation and open discussion of the issues. This is an admirable goal, and it seemed to fit well with the message he delivered in his 2008 campaign, but it was, frankly, naive. The Republicans understand only one thing and that is power and self-interest.
Bill Clinton understood this fact. He gave them rope enough to hang themselves then pulled the noose tight when the Republicans under Gingrich decided to shut down the government. After that showdown with the political master, Gingrich admitted that “I’m not a natural leader. I’m too intellectual; I’m too abstract; I think too much.”
Obama, however, famously caved each time the Republicans handed him an opportunity. When they decided to hold America hostage over extending unemployment benefits in the middle of the Great Recession, he gave them what they wanted, rather than calling their bluff as would a great poker player. This happened time and again, such as when he gave in to their demands to release some government funds they wanted — such as air traffic control funds to reduce congestion — when other government programs that serve the poor and middle class were being sequestered. Or when he held the live town hall meeting with Republican legislators to convince them to support his health care initiative. Or when he proposed a health care plan that had been originally conceived by Republicans. Or when he nominated a relatively old, relatively moderate Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court. He always thought the Republicans would work with him. He was always wrong on that point.
John Boehner, the House Speaker could hardly believe his good fortune. He controlled only one Chamber of Congress, but yet he was dictating much of Washington’s agenda. I would be surprised if Pelosi will have such good luck with McConnell leading the Republicans in the Senate.
To be fair, Bill Clinton — and Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi for that matter — had spent their entire lives preparing for their moments. They were students of politics their entire lives and had cut their teeth through dozens of political battles. The first-term Senator from Illinois Barack Obama could not hope to match their experience.
So now Republicans, after taking a shellacking in the midterm elections and losing control of the House, are saying that Democrats need to be bipartisan. Despite such words, at this late time, the Republicans are doing the best they can to infuriate the incoming majority.
Mitch McConnell, right after he called for Democrats to be bipartisan, refused to allow a vote on a criminal law reform bill that truly had bipartisan support. The lame duck Republican House leadership is subpoenaing James Comey and Loretta Lynch to grill them on why they did not prosecute Hillary Clinton. And then Trump says he does not want the incoming Democratic majority to investigate his affairs.
At this point, if the Democrats simply do what the Republicans have been doing to them, there will be howls of outrage. For that matter, Trump even complained about Democrats when they had virtually no power in government. So just imagine what he’ll tweet now that they can actually do something in Washington other than just show up for meetings.
But why should the Democrats do any different? Some may say that the time has come to extend an olive branch to reduce partisan polarization. But Obama tried that route, and we saw what happened. Unfortunately, at this point, Republicans need to face some big losses before they are willing to come back to the table. They need to be beaten into the ground as they so richly deserve. It is only then that they will be willing to be reasonable.
There is actually a progressive majority in this country — the past two elections have shown that clearly. Structural factors, though, have protected Republican power for now. We Democrats cannot back down until the Republicans show — with more than just words — that they are willing to deal with us fairly. Until that moment comes, we cannot let down our guard.
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