For years I’ve heard fellow Democrats argue that we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, that it’s better to vote for the lesser of two evils, and other inane arguments to convince me to vote for people who have (D) behind their name but are not strong advocates of Democratic values. “It’s always better to vote for a (D) than an (R),” they say. Really? I haven’t thought so for a long time and have voted accordingly come election time. That means I haven’t voted for “Democrats” than I don’t think will stand up for the issues I think are most important: climate change, privacy, jobs, universal health care, gun safety, etc.
Many pundits are saying today that President Obama was very angry yesterday following the US Senate’s ridiculous failure to pass watered down, gun industry influenced amendments. Oh, a majority of Senators (50+ out of 100) voted for the legislation, which in sane circumstances would mean the amendments pass. Not in the US Senate yesterday, where a very small number of fringe Senators stopped honest consideration of any amendments. That is because of the Senate’s cloture rule, which once invoked requires 60 votes (a supermajority) to break. Democrats could have changed or removed that rule at the beginning of the current session with only 51 votes. Unfortunately, Sen. Reid (D-NV) didn’t agree that the majority needed to change or remove the rule. Instead, he made a deal with Minority Leader Sen. McConnell (R-KY) that cloture would be invoked on legislation and nominees only in “extreme circumstances”. Since January, Republicans have invoked cloture again and again and again and again. Apparently, there is a permanent state of “extreme circumstances” in the Senate according to today’s Republicans. Sen. Reid publicly complains that the rules could be revisited mid-session, but his complaints are ever-moving carrots for the Democratic base, who must enjoy being lied to. Sen. Reid will not change the cloture rule because he doesn’t want to; it has nothing to do with courage or will. The sooner the base accepts that, the sooner they’ll vote for Democratic Senators who care more for their constituents than the access to power a Senate position entails.
Observe then that these same Republicans are the people with whom the President wants more desperately than anything to craft a Grand Bargain – be it health insurance in 2009-2010 (note: not health care) or the national debt and social welfare programs (which this “Democratic” President proposed be slashed!) and gun safety legislation now in 2013. The very same Republicans that so angered the President on his surprising signature issue (gun safety – when did he campaign on that?) have worked since 2009 to stop anything the President wants done. Yesterday’s public display of anger, which I’m not sure was honest, will not cause the President to evaluate his most desired goal: that Grand Bargain. The Republicans will not work with the President and the President and his most ardent supporters refuse to acknowledge that basic political reality.
Moreover, the President has only his zealous desire to reach his Grand Bargain to blame for yesterday’s cloture votes. In the absurd push to enact health insurance legislation in 2009 and 2010, which took months too long precisely because the President wanted that Grand Bargain so badly, health care reform was explicitly removed from consideration a priori to negotiation. That health care reform was a central plank of the Democratic Party’s most loyal activists, who worked tirelessly in 2008 to get the President and other Democrats elected at all levels across the nation. There was no mention of a Grand Bargain in the 2008 campaign. Democrats justifiably felt misled and were extremely disappointed. Hence, they didn’t vote with similar intensity in 2010 as they did in 2008, which had enormous ramifications.
Governorships and state legislatures flipped from Democratic to Republican. As a result, the required realignment of political boundaries for the US House and state legislatures following the 2010 census were redrawn in ways that led to more Republicans, many of whom were Teabaggers whose core philosophy is government cannot and should not work, elected in newly safe seats. That is, people in 2010 made sure that the mix of voters in districts leaned heavily enough Republican that any other candidate would have a very hard time being elected. Hence today’s Republican-led chamber despite the fact that Democratic candidates nationally received 1,000,000 more votes than Republican candidates. There simply aren’t enough Democrats and left-leaning unaffiliateds in these districts to challenge what will be Republican dominance. Remember that when Democrats tell you there are “only 17 seats” they need to flip in 2014 to take back control of the House. Absent some significant change in the political landscape, Democrats will not take the House back in 2014. Teabaggers will remain in control of the chamber and a Democratic Senate Majority Leader will not change chamber rules (again) in January 2015, regardless of how many bills Republicans filibuster; regardless of how many judicial and agency nominees Republicans filibuster who are proving that government cannot and will not accomplish anything.
Senators didn’t lack courage yesterday. They simply do not see any downside to voting against their constituents’ wishes. When most Democratic voters “vote for the lesser of two evils” no matter what, they are not holding their elected officials accountable for their actions. Thus, Republicans will continue to abuse the filibuster. The President will seek more Grand Bargains. And we will make very little progress in a time when much progress is needed. But come November 2014, I will hear once again that I have to vote for the same people who voted against my values, who only want to stay in power, because the alternative is just unthinkable.
Senators who abuse a parliamentary tactic do so for one reason: to remain in power. Senators are not there to represent anyone or anything except their access to power. People on the “news” networks are saying Republicans thwarted the will of 90% of the American public yesterday. The President and the Senate Majority Leader both could have done very different things had they wanted to avoid yesterday’s political result. They didn’t want to, so they didn’t do things differently. They did exactly what they wanted to do and stuck the rest of us with the devastating results. Remember that the next time someone tells you it’s better to vote for the lesser of two evils. Evil still happens: someone slaughtered 20 innocent children with a tool designed exclusively to kill other humans. If a plastic toy killed 20 children, we would ban the toy. The right to own a gun ends at the life of others, especially children. More than 30,000 people die because of gun violence in the US every year. Their blood is as much on the hands of “Democrats” who advocate for political cowardice as it is on the shooters; for voting for the lesser of two evils because what other choice have we? We have choices, but are purposefully misled by people who only want to remain in power, then show public displays of anger. Finally, minorities can be vocal, but they shouldn’t be able to thwart democratic processes single-handed.
Actually, one more thought. Does anyone seriously think the NRA won’t target Democratic Senators in their 2014 elections even if those “Democrats” voted against gun safety amendments yesterday? The same amendments that a majority of constituents in those Democratic Senators states supported?