Republicans are Playing Chess, Democrats aren’t Playing at all. This has to Stop!
Someone I’ve known a long time is working for the Lincoln Project, an organization of disaffected Republicans dedicated to defeating Donald Trump. This person has been active on Democratic campaigns but says that Lincoln Project meetings are a whole different experience. “These are Republicans, and all they talk about is how to win!” As one of their founders, Rick Wilson said “Democrats play to win an argument, I play to win an election”.
I’ve written previously about how Democrats are given to navel-gazing, indecisiveness, self-purging, naivete, over-thinking, over-the-top political correctness and genuine shock when their opponents run circles around them. Plus, the food at Republican events is so much better. How much humus can one eat?
This political effectiveness-deficit does not just apply to elections, it applies to policies as well. Liberals like me are very clear on how evil we find a lot of the Republican approaches to government. But what a lot of my colleagues on the left fail to appreciate is the intentional symbiosis between Republican policies and Republican political success. That’s because while our friends on the right are playing three dimensional chess, we are playing that game where everyone counts to three, and then goes home. That is a game right? You guys play that too!
There are many examples of this phenomenon. Lets take fundraising. In modern history there have been three main pillars of Democratic institutional support, public school teachers, trial lawyers and trade unions. Conservatives prioritize at least one major public policy initiative to undermine the ability of each of these groups to support Democrats, or even exist. Think of what “school choice” -otherwise known as “vouchers”- that allow students to take public funds and transfer them to private, usually religious schools does to the political operations of teachers unions.
To undermine trial lawyers, the Republicans push “tort reform”. Sure, they’ve never liked our civil justice system for other reasons. A poor person whose life was devastated by the malfeasance of a large corporation, going into a courtroom and getting justice is simply not how the world is supposed to work. But as an added bonus, a closed courthouse door means fewer plaintiff’s verdicts, which means less money in the pockets of trial lawyers to give to progressive politicians.
The right is even less subtle when it comes to trade unions. They obsessively push “right to work” legislation which ends workplace democracy and allows workers to get the benefits of union power, without actually having to join or contribute to the union. Less money in union coffers means less money to host “Bratwurst for Biden” events (again, the food! Seriously…).
Another example includes their efforts on voter suppression, which are truly a work of art, like the Mona Lisa, or the black-velvet dogs playing poker. (Hey, you have your taste, I have mine!). America is becoming more black and brown every year. That’s bad for a party whose leader finds “very fine people” at neo-Nazi rallies. What to do? Just make it harder for black and brown people to vote. Problem solved! And while passing a law saying that black and brown people can’t vote is constitutionally tricky, passing a facially neutral law that just so happens to disproportionately affect black and brown people is really just as good. Hence, Voter ID was born! It’s perfect!
Who doesn’t have photo IDs? People without driver’s licenses, who happen to be people who don’t drive, including people too poor to drive, or people living in crowded inner-cities who don’t need to drive. This has the added benefit of disenfranchising liberal YUPPIES. Also, check out Texas Governor Abbot’s good-government, cost-saving reduction of voter drop-off boxes. Every county can have ONE drop-off box. So tiny Rockwall County in Northern Texas, which has 36,000 voters and where Trump beat Clinton by 71–24% has one box, which everyone can stroll down to after polishing off lunch at Hoss’s Bar-B-Que. And Harris County, which is the size of Rhode Island, has 4,000,000 voters and where Clinton beat Trump overwhelmingly, also has one box. Good gosh almighty! How could poor ol’ Governor Abbot have known about that when he set the policy.
Does this dynamic need to change if Democrats are to succeed in the future? Two words: YES! (Math was never my thing). As yucky as we may find it to actually try to win elections, we have to start enacting policies that not only make the nation better, but also are at least at peace with our own political future. Here are just a few examples, off the top of my head.
= Let’s give everyone who votes a $100 tax credit. This is good public policy. Voting can be expensive for people who have to take off work, take public transportation to the polls, find child-care, etc. Also, the more people who have a stake in the process, the healthier for democracy. And lookee here! Shiver-me-timbers! It just so happens that $100 will be a much greater incentive to voting for poor and working-class people than it will be for members of Mar-a-Lago. Lots more people who need $100, and thus care about people who need $100 will be driven to the polls.
= Eliminate ALL restrictions on voting for those with criminal records. Even if you are IN prison, you should still be able to vote. If you are incarcerated, you lose your freedom, you lose your dignity, and you have to live in a small cell with a cannibalistic-sociopath. There are lots of things about prison that are punishing. But we want felons, 98% of whom are eventually released, to still develop skills, get educated, and be better people when they get out. And part of that is them having a stake in society, which voting fosters. And who can predict how disproportionately poor people who feel they have been mistreated by the criminal justice system will vote? What am I, Nostradamus?
= Let’s start talking about automatic, default union membership. This would mean that every non-executive worker in America would be a member of an appropriate labor union. Any group of workers could vote to de-unionize if they wished to. But the presumption would be that they were in a union, rather than the current opposite presumption. Who will these workers who now have higher wages, better workplace conditions and real grievance procedures vote for? If I could tell the future, I’d be playing the ponies!
= Lets greatly expand Legal Aid and give more people who feel they have been wronged a lawyer. This will allow people’s legitimate rights to be vindicated, while at the same time giving hard-working plaintiff’s attorneys more discretionary income to buy shoes, get facial tattoos, or make contributions to the political candidates of their choice.
This list can go on-and-on, as can I. It’s sort of why I’m not invited to a lot of parties and may have something to do with why I am always muted on ZOOM. But the point is, we cannot allow our competitors to use public policy to advance their future ambitions, while we sit around, eat humus and whine about how unfair it is that the other side is so much better at politics than we are.