“Dreams of Ending the Filibuster Dashed, Democrats Rethink Strategy”
The above headline in the June 7 edition of The New York Times expresses two brutal truths: The Democrats will not undo the democracy-destroying voter tactics employed by Republicans in more than half the states; and, they will not get 50 votes on any legislation that Senator Manchin and united Republicans disagree with.
I suspect that self-preservation as a Democrat in West Virginia is a key part of Manchin’s decision making. But, with regard to House Bill One (the election bill), his stated reason for blocking it is the lack of bipartisan support. This rings hollow to me because it ignores the fact that it was Republicans who forsook bipartisanship by enacting undemocratic, state-based and totally partisan election laws in more than half the states. Furthermore, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, has been clear that he and his minions reject even the appearance of bipartisanship by committing to “100%” oppose anything that the president proposes.
Manchin and his Republican colleagues should read the Constitution. The crafters of the venerated document anticipated that one party might use its power to corrupt the right to vote. They, accordingly, inserted a Congressional duty to overrule state legislation which denies or abridges that right: “The times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof; but (my emphasis) the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations.” Further, the Fifteenth Amendment states that, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude. The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
Constitutional Framers Anticipated Undemocratic Tactics
According to the National Constitution Center, while the elections clause in the Constitution makes states primarily responsible for regulating elections, “it vests ultimate power in Congress. Congress may pass federal laws regulating congressional elections that automatically displace any contrary state statutes… The framers of the Constitution were concerned that states might establish unfair election procedures or attempt to undermine the national government…They empowered Congress to step in and regulate such elections as a self-defense mechanism….The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the fundamental right to vote, barring states from needlessly imposing substantial burden on the right.” The framers accurately anticipated the events that are happening today, and the Congress has a duty to act.
But, in today’s Congress, fulfilling that duty requires not a majority, but a supermajority. The same people who will benefit by the “unfair election procedures” are attempting “to undermine the national government” by blocking any response to an unjust, anti-democratic Republican undermining of elections.
Democrats in the House and Senate are frustrated and angry. American citizens who care about the sanctity of the vote are frustrated and angry. People who believe that their elected representatives should put the good of the nation above partisan jockeying and personal ambition are frustrated and angry. Anyone who believes that public policy should be framed by truth and fact are frustrated and angry.
What Do We Do Now?
So, what should frustrated and angry people do? What we shouldn’t do is pout, stamp our feet and scream. That amuses our opponents and defuses our energy. What we shouldn’t do is angrily attack people like Senator Manchin. That could drive him across the aisle, and we will have McConnell as Senate Majority Leader.
Those of us who believe in democracy and the principles of fairness, equity, truth and justice have a choice. We can self-righteously ram our heads into the brick will of filibuster, or we can get strategic. We can take a step back from the political combat, recognize the facts of the situation, and tune out the strident talk emanating from both parties’ extreme edges.
We need to understand that the majority of our country is not far left or far right. The future power of the Democratic Party is not Senator Bernie Sanders or Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger and Senator Amy Klobuchar. I support many of Ocasio-Cortez’s and Senator Sanders’s views, but I believe that the way we turn those views into policy is by following the path taken by Klobuchar and Spanberger. That is the path candidate Joe Biden took, that is the path that captured the House in 2018, and straying from it cost us seats in both houses in 2020.
Move Beyond the Politics of Division, Anger and Confrontation
We should present and discuss our policies in a way that sparks enthusiasm and hope in the American voter. I guarantee you: American voters have had enough of the politics of division, anger and confrontation. They want progress and hope. We will never get all that we want in one big legislative package, but we can make a start.
Secondly, do what the Republicans are doing: focus on 2022. If moderate and liberal Democrats focus on beating one another we will lose some of our fragile majority instead of making it stronger. Thirty-four Senate seats are up, and 20 of those are held by Republicans, and in five of those races the incumbent is retiring. None of the 14 Democratic seats on the ballot is held by a retiring Senator. This is a great opportunity for Democrats to pick up seats and build a governing majority.
In the House, history shows that the party of an incumbent president usually loses seats in the off-year election. Democrats do not have any seats they can afford to lose without handing the Speaker’s job to Kevin McCarthy. Again, there is an opportunity to take back some of what we lost in 2020. This will take a coordinated effort by liberals and moderates with the primary goals of articulating a clear and positive agenda, and holding the Democratic majorities.
Comity and moderation are not natural ingredients in the genes of Democrats. But if we want to be part of a governing coalition, they are traits we must be develop and nurture.