Saturday, January 23, 2021

What Democrats need to do - Just help people, and do it fast

Quote of the Day: We can’t afford for the Senate to remain the place where good ideas go to die. We need to make the Senate great again. - Adam Jentleson in the NY Times.

Two op-eds, highted by our roving Editor-At-Large Sherry, are featured today. Both, in different ways, address what the new administration needs to do to restore faith in the ability of our democratic government to make a difference in people’s lives.

Ezra Klein, now an opion writer at the NY Times, advises Democrats, Here’s How to Lose in 2022. And Deserve It. You don’t get re-elected for things voters don’t know about.

Here are several excerpts.

President Biden takes office with a ticking clock. The Democrats’ margin in the House and Senate couldn’t be thinner, and midterms typically raze the governing party. That gives Democrats two years to govern. Two years to prove that the American political system can work. Two years to show Trumpism was an experiment that need not be repeated.

Two years.

This is the responsibility the Democratic majority must bear: If they fail or falter, they will open the door for Trumpism or something like it to return, and there is every reason to believe it will be far worse next time. To stop it, Democrats need to reimagine their role. They cannot merely defend the political system. They must rebuild it.

“This is a fight not just for the future of the Democratic Party or good policy,” Senator Bernie Sanders told me. “It is literally a fight to restore faith in small-d democratic government.”

Among the many tributaries flowing into Trumpism, one in particular has gone dangerously overlooked. In their book “Presidents, Populism and the Crisis of Democracy,” the political scientists William Howell and Terry Moe write that “populists don’t just feed on socioeconomic discontent. They feed on ineffective government — and their great appeal is that they claim to replace it with a government that is effective through their own autocratic power.”

Donald Trump was this kind of populist. Democrats mocked his “I alone can fix it” message for its braggadocio and feared its authoritarianism, but they did not take seriously the deep soil in which it was rooted: The American system of governance is leaving too many Americans to despair and misery, too many problems unsolved, too many people disillusioned. It is captured by corporations and paralyzed by archaic rules. It is failing, and too many Democrats treat its failures as regrettable inevitabilities rather than a true crisis.

But now Democrats have another chance. To avoid the mistakes of the past, three principles should guide their efforts.

  • First, they need to help people fast and visibly.
  • Second, they need to take politics seriously, recognizing that defeat in 2022 will result in catastrophe. The Trumpist Republican Party needs to be politically discredited through repeated losses; it cannot simply be allowed to ride back to primacy on the coattails of Democratic failure.
  • And, finally, they need to do more than talk about the importance of democracy. They need to deepen American democracy.

You should read the entire Klein’s essay for details. For example:

“The wisdom from much of the political science research is that partisanship trumps everything,” said Amy Lerman, a political scientist at the University of California at Berkeley, and author of “Good Enough for Government Work.” “But one of the insights from the policy feedback literature in particular is that when people experience policy, they don’t necessarily experience it as partisans. They experience it as a parent sending their child to school or a patient visiting a doctor, not as a Democrat or Republican. And because people are often thinking in nonpolitical terms during their day-to-day lives, they are much more open to having their views changed when they see the actual, tangible benefits of a policy in their lives. It’s a way of breaking through partisanship.”

In her book “Good Enough for Government Work,” Lerman argues that the U.S. government is caught in a reputation crisis where its poor performance is assumed, the public is attuned to its flaws and misses its virtues, and fed-up citizens stop using public services, which further harms the quality of those services. The Trump years add another dimension to the analysis: Frustration with a government that doesn’t solve problems leads people to vote for demagogic outsiders who create further crises. But this is not an inevitability. Her titular phrase, she notes, “originated during World War II to describe the exacting standards and high quality required by government.” It was only in the 1960s and ’70s that it became a slur.

It is no accident that World War II led to the idea that government work was a standard to strive for, not an outcome to fear. Crises remind us of what government is for in the first place. Biden has an extraordinary opportunity to change the relationship between the people and their government. If he succeeds, he will not only deprive authoritarian populists like Trump of energy, he will give Democrats a chance to win over voters who’ve lost faith in them, and he will give voice to millions more that the American political system has silenced. “The best thing we can do right now to reduce levels of anger and frustration on both sides of the aisle is to give people the things they need to live better lives,” said Lerman.

In other words, what Democrats need to do is simple: Just help people, and do it fast.

But: Joe Biden May Have Only Two Years to Get Things Done. Democrats must kill the filibuster and make the Senate great again. Observes Adam Jentleson author of “Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate and the Crippling of American Democracy.”

In his memoir “A Promised Land,” Mr. Obama chronicles his regret that he “hadn’t had the foresight” to rally Senate Democrats to “to revise the chamber rules and get rid of the filibuster once and for all.” Because of his long Senate service, Mr. Biden has unique credibility to lead a successful push for reform. We can’t afford for the Senate to remain the place where good ideas go to die. We need to make the Senate great again.

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