Democrats Need to Suck It Up

George Orwell may have had the
right idea about how Democrats should react to the apostasy of Joe Manchin. In 1984,
Orwell describes Two Minutes Hate as a daily ritual during which party members rage against Enemies of the People like Emmanuel Goldstein who had rebelled against
Big Brother. As Orwell puts it, “The horrible thing about Two Minutes Hate
was not that one was obliged to act a part, but, on the contrary, it was
impossible to avoid joining in.” So maybe Democrats should scream
about how Manchin has sold
out his economically struggling
home state of West Virginia by repeatedly betraying
Joe Biden and the White House in negotiations over the Build Back Better
Act. They can roar about his campaign contributions
from the energy industry and his popularity among major GOP donors.
Two Minutes Hate, with a bit of invective reserved for the mercurial Senator Kyrsten Sinema, may feel cathartic. But in the end, it’s as effective as primarying Manchin from the
left in 2024 in a state that Donald Trump carried by better than a two-to-one
margin.Barring a Manchin
conversion experience on par with Liz Cheney’s, the truth is that Democrats—whether progressives, liberals,
or moderates—will soon have only one pragmatic option as the 2022 elections
loom on the horizon: “Suck it up.” This
applies to dispirited members of Congress, frustrated party activists, and
occasional viewers of MSNBC. The message is akin
to the opening words of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity
Prayer: “God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that
cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the
wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”  Manchin is unlikely to change, so Democrats need the serenity to accept the limitations of a senator who does
offer, according to FiveThirtyEight, a 97 percent voting
record in support of the Biden agenda. That means once the calendar rolls
over to 2022, no more Sunday shows appearances griping about Manchin’s intransigence, and no more public outcry from Bernie Sanders and the Squad.Serenity is not
exactly the Democrats’s strong point these days. But consider the alternative. Chuck Schumer is Senate majority leader only with Manchin’s vote, which is why Mitch McConnell is so ardently wooing
him and Democratic rage is counterproductive. If
Manchin were
to abandon caucusing with the Democrats, McConnell would swap positions with
Schumer. Majority Leader McConnell would mean no more Biden judicial
appointments, even if Stephen Breyer could be
coaxed off the Supreme Court. Every other Biden appointee would, in effect,
have to be cleared by Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley. And if another Covid emergency
bill were needed, it would be McConnell who would dictate its terms.A strong case can be made that
Biden and the congressional Democrats have already accomplished more than might
have been expected with a 50-50 Senate and a House majority that can counted on
the fingers of one hand. The Biden $1.9 trillion stimulus was more than double
the size of Barack Obama’s economic program in the wake of the 2008 financial
meltdown. Although left-wingers wanted to hold it hostage, the Biden $1.2
trillion infrastructure bill is the largest legislation of its kind in American
history. Not just a highway bill, the legislation
includes the biggest upsurge in funding for Amtrak
in history, more than $15 billion for the elimination of lead
pipes carrying drinking water, and nearly $50
billion to help communities protect against the extreme ravages of climate
change.But instead of touting these successes
as a laudable track record for any president, Biden has
spent his first year in office fostering grand,
unrealistic expectations with a sense of optimism that Mr. Micawber, the
cheerful deadbeat in David Copperfield, might have envied. The
president’s premature July celebration at the White House (“The virus is
on the run, and America is coming back”) provided a prime example. So did
the Biden team’s stubborn willingness to keep floating an ambitious $3.5
trillion spending figure months after it was evident that Manchin might only
support a plan half that size.Some of this may have
reflected internal Democratic politics, since Biden was keenly aware of the lengthy
left-wing wish list and the fervor of those who demanded immediate action on all
fronts. The roll call of festering problems is long: the melting icecaps; the
broken immigration system; Republican assaults on voting rights; the burden on
parents struggling to afford childcare; the uneven trajectory of the economic
recovery; and, of course, the never-ending pandemic. But the magnitude of the
problems neither created a single new vote in the Senate nor prevented a small
group of Northeastern moderates in the House from prioritizing a subsidy
to the affluent by increasing the deductibility of state and local taxes on
federal returns.History should have encouraged
realism in the White House. Unless you recast FDR as a Marvel superhero
(“New Deal Man”), no president can transcend the policy challenges of
a lifetime in just the first year in office—even if his party enjoys much wider margins than a tied Senate. But the problem
with Democratic voters has long been impatience. As the
party that believes in activist government, Democrats are particularly prone to
disappointment in off-year elections following a presidential victory when they
discover that unicorns are not grazing on the White House lawn. While, of
course, there were other factors, this helped upended Bill Clinton in 1994 and
Obama in 2010.  Electoral politics is not a fad
diet that you abandon after two years if you don’t like your reflection in the
mirror. It is a long-haul commitment based on a belief that, in a democratic
society, most positive change comes incrementally. Medicare was
enacted in law in 1965, two decades after Harry Truman had initially proposed
universal coverage. The Affordable Care Act was built upon the 1994 failure of
Clinton’s health care plan.Right-wingers have typically understood
the realistic pace of political change. The likely
repeal or massive evisceration of Roe v. Wade is the culmination of more
than four decades of conservative judicial activism. The expansion of gun
rights and open-carry laws has followed the same trajectory. The Federalist
Society didn’t go out of business in 1990 because conservatives were still a minority
on the Supreme Court.
Many Americans are suffering from
Democracy Fatigue, a malady almost as debilitating as Covid Fatigue. After
being warned that democracy was on the ballot in 2020 and reveling in the
defeat of Trump, it is tempting for many sometime-voters to take a breather
from politics. Suburban moderates, who voted for Biden in 2020 out of distaste
for Trump rather than an endorsement of Democratic ideology, may be tempted to
return to their GOP roots in 2022, following the model
of the successful Glenn Youngkin gubernatorial campaign in Virginia.Nothing could be more dangerous. Where once the Republicans were a party that combined patient
opposition to domestic spending with socially conservative fearmongering, they
have morphed during the Trump years into something far more odious. These days, Republicans from the House GOP caucus to the Fox News studios have become the
party of Coup Denial. In the GOP’s retelling, January 6 was a glorious day when
patriotic Americans took a well-deserved, unescorted stroll through the
Capitol. Talk of “hanging Mike Pence” was as misunderstood as the
supposed cries of “Let’s go, Brandon.” What the Trumpian protesters
at the Capitol were really shouting was “Hug Mike Pence,” just an
expression of gratitude for his loyal service as a lapdog vice president.Democracy is again on the ballot in
2022, as it will probably be in every election throughout the decade as long as
the GOP continues to express its support for
Trump-style authoritarianism. Republican congressional gains next year would empower future efforts to thwart
voting rights and to undermine a free election in 2024. Gubernatorial races in
swing states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Arizona may determine
whether the electoral votes in 2024 will be cast honestly or rigged for a
Trumpian restoration. Even though both congressional
gerrymandering and new obstacles to voting, particularly in the South, are apt
to aid the Republicans in 2022, the situation is not nearly as bleak as many
Democrats assume. The Senate map, for example, offers
potential pickup opportunities in states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and
North Carolina without any Democratic incumbent facing an impossible race like those of Doug Jones in Alabama in 2020 or Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota in 2018.Already, Democrats are awash with
pessimism about 2022 as they confront daunting poll numbers for Biden and strong indications that voters are currently primed to elect Republicans to Congress. But almost everything could change between now and next
November as inflationary pressures likely ease and the unemployment rate
plunges below 4 percent. Even more important, at this stage, almost all polling is about the pandemic, no
matter what question is asked. If omicron—or an even more frightening letter of the Greek alphabet—remains dominant in the fall of 2022, then the outlook is
indeed dire for the Democrats. But there is also a strong possibility (and, no,
I don’t claim to be an epidemiologist) that the pandemic will eventually start
petering out. If that happens, then 2021 poll numbers will probably give way to
a more buoyant expression of confidence in the future under Biden and the Democrats.  Any optimistic scenario
about the Democrats holding their own in 2022 depends on one factor—turnout.
The more that pique with Manchin and the truncated Biden agenda fuels
disillusionment about electoral politics, the more that Democratic despair
becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. The easiest way to disempower Manchin is to
elect another Democratic senator or two in 2022 so that the West Virginian is
not always the deciding vote in a 50-50 body. Sucking it up for the 2022
elections may not reflect the gospel of feel-good politics, but sometimes there
is a major difference between strategies that are effective and those that are
merely emotionally satisfying.The truth is that,
more than ever, the Democrats need to be a big-tent party with a willingness to
reach out to never-Trump Republicans and dismayed moderates. Ideological litmus
tests make no sense when the future of the nation is on the line. Democrats don’t have time for
the pain of disappointment. All it takes is one devastating GOP wave election
like 1994 or 2010 and democracy is doomed. These apocalyptic words are
not offered lightly or hyperbolically. But after January 6, no civics-book
truth about America can ever again be taken for granted. That’s why it is
dangerously self-indulgent for frustration with Joe Manchin to undermine
Democratic turnout in 2022. Revile Manchin all you want—but organize and vote.

2021-12-23 | The Soapbox, What Now?, Politics | English |