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      Are humans good, bad or neutral? It’s an old philosophical debate, and not just in the West. Confucius thought they were born neutral, for example, while the later Confucian Mencius felt they were good, noting that everyone who saw a child fall into a well would be horrified. Others, including many Confucians and the Christian church, with original sin, have […]
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They Count on Us Not Playing The Way They Do

“They” being the Republicans, and ‘Us,” being the Democrats, liberals, people whom we most generally identify with. “Our side,” as we perceive that.

We know that Republicans have increasingly descended into a group of people who will do anything and everything to win. Their tactics still shock us with their brazen and relentless disregard of fairness, empathy, and concern for the costs to people and institutions of their techniques and policies. There appears to be no limit or constraint, they do whatever they think will help them gain and keep more power. They are emboldened to go further when nothing really happens to them as a result of any of what they do.

Perhaps the biggest danger, and the most significant reason for why Republicans keep pushing and pushing, running over all the guardrails of democracy, is that they apparently know that the Democrats will never do what they are doing. I think that this is a very important way to look at it, not just in terms of the worsenng of all of these situations, but in terms of the psychology which suffuses our politics.

Both parties used to gerrymander, but while Republicans still do, and are given complete license by last year’s Supreme Court decision which permitted them to gerrymander in any extreme form they want; as the Court said it would not overrule any of it, I don’t think that Democratic-controlled states even do it now; or if they do, it is very minimal. I know that California, which is completely run by Democrats, has gone to a bipartisan commission to draw the legislative districts. Most of the Blue states have done that. This is a fair and honorable way to go–except that the Republicans do not do it. This means that Republicans keep drawing districts to carve out more wins for them, while Democrats do not. This inevitably allows Republicans to gain a premium of at least 10-15 Congressional seats that the Democrats cannot balance out, because they want to do things “the right way.”

Republicans are passing truly disgraceful and totalitarian voting laws, we hear about that every day. Do Democrats, in states which they control, pass voting bills to disenfranchise likely Republican voters? Of course not. So again, Republicans not only gain votes, but Democrats’ apparent only response is to somehow try to overturn these laws in court, or to find some way to allow people to be able to exercise their right to vote.

Republicans risk absolutely nothing by this; maybe a few of their bills might be found unconstitutional, but they will just write more of them, and most will stand. Democrats will not do it to them anywhere, so they have what the people in Vegas refer to as a “free roll,” where the player will win money if he rolls a winning point, or picks the winner in a sports event, but he cannot lose money if he does not. Sometimes a casino will offer that to a bettor who has lost a lot of money, just as a minor goodwill gesture. In this context, Republicans get a series of free rolls, because what they do to Democrats, Democrats will never do to them.

It could be analogized to a boxing match where one fighter throws all the punches. and for some reason, the other fighter never punches back; his only responses are to try to block some of the punches, while complaining that this is not right, and his opponent should stop the low blows, sucker punches, and hitting after the bell. No one does anything about it, and so the one fighter just continues punching away, getting more bold about tactics; and of course the more honorable opponent absorbs all the blows, and loses the fight, likely never getting a chance at a rematch.

Now obviously this is not a perfect analogy, few are. But how can Democrats think they are going to win under these drastically different two sets of rules? And “winning” would not mean just for them, of course; there are tens of millions of people who are depending on them to save American democracy, and their right to vote; and to keep the country from turning into a permanent Republican dictatorship, where a minority of the people completely control the rights of the majority, and the Democrats then cannot do anything to change it, because it is cemented to such an extent that only the Republicans can make the laws and control the process in most of the states. In other words, pretty much like Russia or China.

They are our surrogates in that sense, or we can see them as our representatives whom we elect to protect our rights and values. So the approach they choose to take, is not just one which they get to try out, for their own sense of dignity or worth, with the only consequences being to them. All of the consequences are passed to us. So the question is, do we want them to keep acting this way? The answer, no, seems obvious at this stage

It is very true that in general, most Democrats are people who believe in fairness and honor, and not taking advantage of other people; all things Republicans have lost, or maybe never had to begin with, as they are the party of big business, the robber barons, jingoism, red-baiting , and McCarthyism. But is this sense of decency and nobility enough to win elections, and attain necessary significant power in the government? If not, then I absolutely do not think that it is enough to be able to say or think, “At least we are the good people, we have value and ethics. We want to play fair, and treat the other side the way we would want them to treat us.” Not when the results of that noble but naive perspective keep making it harder for us to vote, even survive.

The story of the musical “Man of La Mancha” was that Don Quixote, somehow through the purity of his beliefs, and the way he perceived and treated others, was able to transform Aldonza into Dulcinea. That penultimate scene in the play is one of the most powerful and moving in the history of musical theatre, certainly not just for how it is played (I got to see the excellent actor Jose Ferrer, standing in for Richard Kiley, who had immortalized the role, but had a vocal cord strain; and the superb Joan Diener perform it) , but for what it conveys.

I remember a radio news and comment show which my parents liked to listen to, and which I was sort of a dinner table captive to, but which I sometimes appreciated as well. The comment on one day was about the performance of “Man of La Mancha” on stage in Washington, D.C , maybe the opening performance. And as the commentator, it might have been Edward P. Morgan, or William Winter, said, the D.C. crowd, sophisticated and worldly, and maybe inclined to be blase’ about things, got to their feet at the end for something like a fifteen minute standing ovation. And I am touched still, thinking about that; and I did feel, along with I am sure many others, that this was a musical for our time, and which surely would help and inspire what looked to be an idealistic era. That was an optimistic view, but I still think that anyone who sees it cannot fail to be moved by its theme.

Well, here we are now, and the musical is still as good, and it is often restaged. But Democrats are not able, like Don Quixote, to somehow transform people into the good they hope to see in them. Being nice to Republicans, referring to them as “our friends across the aisle,” always trying to be fair-minded and aboveboard with them, does not seem to be doing us much good at all. They take this for granted, count on it, and go right ahead looking for ways to game or corrupt the system, so that they can roll over us, and control every lever of power.

Frankly, I wish the Democrats would gerrymander in states where they have a legislative majority. That would probably keep the House in Democratic control, but we are not doing it. I mentioned the other day that it might have been worthwhile for Democratic state legislatures to have passed voting laws which severely disadvantaged Republican voters. Why? As a kind of protection against Republicans doing it.

The Supreme Court, as biased as it is, would likely not carefully overturn all the Democratic voting laws, while keeping all the Republican laws. But since the Republicans are the only ones who pass these, the Court can write what purport to be abstract opinions, about the rights of states to do this or that; the reluctance to look into intent, etc., trying to look impartial when they are not. If they had to deal with the Democrats doing the same thing, they could not hide behind this, and they might even be forced to throw most of the laws out; or if not, then the Democrats should keep doing more of them. There are more Red states, but gerrymandering and vote suppressing in Blue states would do us some pragmatic good, even if we like to say that we are appalled at that kind of thing.

You can walk away from a job where the owners don’t treat you fairly, or reward colleagues who lie, and take advantage of you. You can leave your town if it is biased and they don’t seem to like people who look or talk like you. But you can’t abandon the national fight for democracy and individual rights, unless you are ready and able to find a new country to live in; and even then America is so powerful that you could not escape the implications of it turning into a dictatorship. You can give up boxing if it is corrupt and the referees cheat, but you can’t just abandon the political and governmental arena to the Republicans who are relentlessly trying to turn it into a permanently fixed illusory contest.

So what should Democrats do, to fight this? It has to be more than making speeches, or saying “Shame on them,” that is of debatable value in the best of times, almost impotent when the other side is taking away your side’s right to vote for anything. Should we cheat? That sounds pejorative, but I guess that people who cheat somehow rationalize it as good strategy, not cheating, just doing what is permitted.

We certainly have to do something and I would start with gerrymandering, though of course forming all those nonpartisan voting Boards has perhaps made it too late. We keep thinking that doing things the right way is not only admirable, but will win us the support of the people. The history of of the last sixty years has shown that this is questionable; although we do seem to be able to win the national popular vote, for what that is worth, which seems increasingly less so, as Republicans and their media propaganda machine, ignore it, or contend that it was a lie and a fraud.

You see, even when you scrupulously play fair, and have a higher sense of ethics, your enemies will simply project their own lack of morality onto you, so that you get attacked and debased anyway. “Why not?,” they think, it works for them in every other way, why not this one? This is what we are fighting against. Virtue is said to be its own reward; but in the current realm of politics, against a brutal opponent which has not an iota of fairness, decency, or moderation, we simply cannot cling to our sense of virtue as a fragment to shore against our ruins, to use that hauntingly powerful image from T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Wasteland.”

16 Responses

  1. The US Census Bureau will release its 2020 data to the states by August 16th. Then states will begin redrawing their congressional and legislative districts. You can bet your life that GOP-controlled states will waste no time (as in immediately, up all night, weekends and holidays!) gerrymandering their congressional districts to guarantee a GOP majority in the US House of Representatives for the next decade.

    My friends, this cannot be allowed to happen. Senate Democrats must pass the For The People Act before August 16th. Time is running out.

    Abolish the filibuster!!!

    • Yes, Republicans live for this, while Democrats mostly seek fair results. It was a mixed thing, of course, but in that sense we miss some of those hardball Democrats who used to be elected in the South, who also knew how to gerrymander and twist arms for votes. Somehow we have given up gerrymandering, which then accentuates the advantage for the Republicans who use it at any opportunity. And the HR 1 and other bills would help overcome this disparity, but then we have a few Democratic Senators who somehow would rather save the filibuster, which of course was created to give the intransigent minority the power to block the majority.

  2. But how can Democrats think they are going to win under these drastically different two sets of rules? And “winning” would not mean just for them, of course; there are tens of millions of people who are depending on them to save American democracy

    Sometimes it almost seems like they don’t really want to win. If they were a basketball team they would be the Washington Generals

    The Supreme Court, as biased as it is, would likely not carefully overturn all the Democratic voting laws, while keeping all the Republican laws.

    Given that John Roberts’ Raison D’etre is to suppress Democratic votes, sadly, I am not 100% convinced this would be true.

    • That is a good analogy. Of course, the Generals were paid to be the foils for the Harlem Globetrotters, it was all in fun. We know that the Democrats don’t want to lose, but it does sometimes seem as if they would rather lose honorably, then use tougher tactics to actually try to win. Also, the media always goes after Democrats if they deviate from the straight and narrow path, while Republicans are allowed to get away with it. Hillary got blasted for weeks for simply using the word “Deplorables.” Somehow the media acts as if Democrats are not supposed to use strategy, take advantage of anything for political gain, or be anything but nice to Republicans. i think that Democrats in general have to be less concerned about that, because it becomes constricting.

      • the Generals were paid to be the foils for the Harlem Globetrotters

        Sometimes it seems to me that some of the Democrats are also being paid to be foils for the GOP. I know I am a cynic, but it certainly seems that Manchin and Sinema must be getting something for acting the way they are.

    • Yes, I believe that the “purity” caucus Democrats would rather lose. Then they have an excuse for not doing anything.

      I am old enough to remember how McGovern (great guy but not the best candidate) led to Nixon’s win. Old enough to remember how Nader helped cause the 2000 election debacle between Al Gore and GW Bush. Old enough to remember how Bernie Bros and other third party voters helped to usher in a “win” for Trump.

      Remember how Ms. Susan Saradon said that it would be better for progressives if Trump won rather than Hillary? Too bad for the 600 thousand and counting Americans who have died as a result of that election.

      If Hillary had become President, Republicans would be lambasting her for the 20,000 or so who might have died.

      • i agree with all of this; and of course, even though Hillary would have made a great President, Republicans would never have stopped attacking her. I believe it was Trey Gowdy who, when we all thought Hillary would win, said that they were ready for five different sets of House “investigations” of her. I think that she would have somehow handled it, though. And we would have had at least two more liberals on the Supreme Court, which Sarandon didn’t care about, in her self-indulgent and protected space, while everyone else suffers. It takes a special kind of self-absorbed wealthy pretension to have acted as she has.

  3. In 31 states, the state legislature draws up congressional districts. Most of these states are controlled by the GOP.

  4. VP Harris told reporters yesterday that she is talking to GOP Senators about voting rights legislation. Bet that really moved the needle! We all know how strongly the GOP supports voting rights and wants the Biden/Harris administration to succeed, don’t we?

    Democrats need to stop pretending bipartisanship is a real thing. It’s not. The WH needs to be talking about abolishing the filibuster so legislation can get passed with a simple majority. So far the message from Biden about filibuster abolishment or reform has been weak and unclear. Come on, man, you can do better!

    William, was it your mother who said Democrats have a death wish? I think she was right. We’re going off the cliff.

    • Yes, she would say that from time to time, in a matter-of-fact but disappointed way. She and my father closely followed politics, and knew a history which i had not personally known; but it has always seemed validated that she was right. Forcing the nomination of would-be ccmpromiser Obama over Hillary was just one example of that.

      I was very pleased that Speaker Pelosi would not accept Jordan and Banks on the House Committee. And as expected, McCarthy tried to hit back harder, saying that he would not name any members, and that It now is a sham hearing. That is their real nature; do anything they don’t like, and they will try to destroy you. Pelosi and the Democrats offered a totally bipartisan committee at the outset, and the Republicans in the House and Senate rejected it. So then McCarthy put two dynamiters on the committee, who would rant and lie and turn it into the kind of circus that they tried to do with the impeachment hearings. And Pelosi stood up to him. That is what Democrats need to do.

      • Liz Cheney is still on the House Committee, so technically it remains bipartisan. Perhaps Adam Kinzinger could be part of it as well. I don’t know how that might be done but I think it would be a good idea.

    • Democrats need to stop pretending bipartisanship is a real thing. It’s not.

      Unfortunately I don’t see this happening with some of them Feinstein, Biden and some of those other old coots,/b> still think they are dealing with the GOP of the 80’s, which had just started becoming obstructionist.

      • Yes, they think they can still reach across the aisle and find Howard Baker or Dick Lugar ready to shake hands with them. Times have changed.

  5. The DNC is now the party of the Robber Barons: Rocket Boy Bezos owns Washington Post and bans conservative books from Amazon…but all they need to do is slap a rainbow flag on their logos one month a year, and you fools will eat it up.

    • Let me guess. You wrote in Bernie Sanders name on your ballot in 2020 and Jill whatsername in 2016.

      I don’t think you schtick is going to work here.

      • He’s complaining about Slave Driver Bezos allegedly banning wingnut books from Scamazon, so I doubt he’s a Purity Leftist.

        Of course, I’m assuming that his real name isn’t “Boris” or something like that. 😈

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