Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Difference Between A Pipe Dream and A Strategy


Throughout the entire 2016 campaign I was very rough on Bernie Sanders, and with good reason. I thought many of his proposals, while laudable and perhaps even morally right, were completely impractical and politically unworkable. From Medicare for all to free college tuition, I never saw any path forward for any of them to see the light of day. The base may have loved his proposals, but love doesn't produce legislation, much less laws.

So it wasn't all that much of a shock that Sanders has once again dipped his big toe into the healthcare debate by introducing a single-payer bill that, not surprisingly, has the support of only one senator - Sherrod Brown of Ohio - from a swing state. The other 15 senators who stood up on that podium with him, from Kirtsen Gillibarnd to Kamala Harris, are about as safe as a new-born baby in her mother's arms.

This stunt - and it is a stunt - is eerily reminiscent of Republican attempts at repealing the Affordable Care Act during the Obama years. The GOP knew full well that so long as Barack Obama was in the White House he would veto any repeal bill that reached his desk, so they were basically free to shoot for the moon as it were. The nuttier and crueler the bill, the more the base lapped it up. But when Trump won the 2016 election, Republicans had a real problem on their hands. They had to actually govern. Repeal and replace wasn't just a rallying cry anymore; it was a sobering moment in which they found out that the majority of the country really didn't support their vision for healthcare.

Now before I go any further, I want to make it perfectly clear that I am not conflating what the GOP tried to do for eight years with what Bernie is attempting to do now. What Republicans are proposing is not only morally reprehensible, it's fiscally irresponsible. If any of their hair-brained schemes had become law this year, healthcare costs for a majority of Americans would've gone through the roof. Even if you don't give a shit about the working poor - and there's little evidence that Republicans do - sending insurance markets into that kind of chaos just to make a political point is about as dumb as it gets.

No, what Bernie and his supporters are proposing is not cruel and irresponsible: it's simply a pipe dream, pure and simple. And this is where the parallels exist. Neither the GOP bills to repeal the ACA or Bernie's single-payer bill have an ice-cube's chance in hell of becoming law. And furthermore, both sides know it. Oh, you'll never get them to admit it, but what we are really seeing play out in Washington is a tug of war between the respective bases.

We know what the Right has wanted for years. Indeed, we have more than 50 examples by the Republican-controlled House attempting to mollify that constituency, to no avail. Why? Because, as it turns out, real policy is a lot more complicated than giving speeches at rallies. It involves a little bending and - dare I say it - compromise. And both are four-letter words in today's GOP.

So now it's the Left's turn to huff and puff and throw down the gauntlet. And what better champion to lead the way than the man who progressives still insist would've beaten Dr. Strangelove last November. Bernie Care is their opening salvo in an all-out offensive to remake and reshape the Democratic Party into their own image, and I have no doubt that, just like their Tea Party counterparts did in the 2010 midterms - they will make this issue a litmus test for all Democratic candidates in 2018. Their threat will be simple: support our positions or face a primary challenge.

But in the majority of states that Trump won that actually have Democratic senators running for reelection next year, things are a lot more complicated than that. If you're Joe Manchin or Claire McCaskill or Heidi Heitkamp or Jon Tester, it is a matter of flat out survival. All four of these Democrats, along with a few others, are in for the race of their political lives. At stake is the survival of the Democratic Party. At present, Republicans hold a 52 - 48 seat majority. It is quite conceivable that after next year's midterms that majority could increase by as much as five or six. Of course, it could also stay right where it is or perhaps even shrink a bit. Most political pundits, however, feel that it will be a good day for Democrats if things stay as they are after next November.

So, while Bernie was having his little shindig over in the Senate, at the White House, the two actual leaders of the Democratic Party were busy trying to secure a deal with President Shit-for-brains on DACA. There's no beating around the bush. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have now schooled Donald Trump twice in as many weeks. Last week it was raising the debt ceiling with no offsets or funding for his stupid wall; this week, a deal to rescue eight hundred thousand Dreamers from almost certain deportation next March, again with no funding for the wall.

This is how you make policy, not by pining to your base, but by going into the Lion's den without so much as a chair or a whip. We don't yet know all the details, as they are still fluid. But so far what we do know is this: Trump has apparently acquiesced to allowing the Dreamers to stay in the country in exchange for increased border security. What the hell that means is anyone's guess. But there doesn't appear to be any funding - at least not in this go around - for a border wall.

If Schumer and Pelosi manage to pull this one off, it will be the master stroke of genius for the ages, and for three reasons. One, it will give Democrats something they can actually run on in 2018: a political win. For all his lofty expectations, Sanders has never been a terribly accomplished senator when it comes to passing legislation. Virtually none of his bills have ever become law.

Secondly, this deal, if it goes through, will be yet another thorn in the side of Republican leadership. Any time you can get your bill passed and embarrass Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell in the process, it isn't just a good day; it's fucking Christmas in July.

But lastly, and perhaps most importantly, what this deal does is send the alt-right into a hissy fit. I have written at great length about the racist element that was critical to Trump's success last year, and while I'm still not prepared to say it was the ultimate deciding factor in the outcome, it would be naive to believe it played no role at all. As soon as word leaked out of a pending deal, they all lost their shit like never before. Ann Coulter tweeted, "At this point who doesn't want Trump impeached?" Breitbart referred to him as "Amnesty Don." And Steve (drug mule) King went so far as to say that Trump's base is "blown up, destroyed, irreparable, and disillusioned beyond repair."

All throughout the country Trump supporters are burning their Make America Great caps and denouncing Trump as a traitor. Sean Hannity, who if Trump ever stopped short would be wedged in his ass for a week, got his panties in a bunch. And even Rush Limbaugh is thinking about going back to Oxycontin. It all kinda brings a lump to your throat and a tear to your eye, doesn't it?

Seriously, though, we're getting ahead of ourselves. Who knows, maybe Trump gets a call from Steve Bannon and has second thoughts, or thoughts period. As I wrote in an earlier piece his attention span is measured in seconds. It wouldn't surprise me one bit if Trump did a one eighty. In fact, nothing this president has done since taking office has surprised me. Appalled, yes; surprised, no.

But that's not the point. What Schumer and Pelosi did was extraordinary, regardless of how it turns out. Both understand that simply opposing Trump won't work, anymore than opposing him in 2016 worked. They clearly have settled on a strategy that, if properly executed, could prove to be a winning formula for Democrats in purple and red states. After all, you don't get to pass legislation if you don't have the majority, a fact Bernie supporters seem unable to grasp.

Look, there's little doubt that Sanders tapped into something big in 2016. And I give him full props for sounding the alarm regrading the Rust Belt states. Perhaps if Democrats hadn't so arrogantly dismissed his warnings, things might've turned out a bit differently last November. But there's a big difference between a pipe dream and a strategy. For all his positive attributes, Bernie would never have struck that deal with Trump. It would've been beneath him.

And that's why his movement is so dangerous, not just to the Democratic Party but to the country as a whole. Their insistence on instituting a purity test for all their candidates is suicidal. Bill Maher was correct when he said the Left has to learn the difference between an "imperfect friend and a deadly enemy."

Over the last eight years we've seen what happens when one major political party is taken over by a group of extremists hell bent on sterilizing it of all imperfections. The last thing the country needs is for the remaining major political party to have the same thing done to it by another group of extremists. One hundred eighty degrees from wrong is still wrong.

Again, I'm not conflating the Left with the Right; it's clear there are substantive differences. But when both sides employ the same methods to achieve their objectives, what you are left with are two competing visions of America that are totally incompatible with each other.

The ends justifying the means, if I'm not mistaken, is how we got stuck with Trump.

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