Scorched Earth Politics
Democrats have enormous power. It's time for them to use it.
Nineteen days after Joe Biden became the 46th President of the United States, the journalist and political analyst Nina Burleigh published an op-ed for NBC News calling for D.C. statehood. After ticking off the many viable reasons why a tiny sliver of the Lower 48 that’s had “taxation without representation” on its license plates for decades should become the 51st state—including the fact that it’s flat-out racist to deny Washington residents those rights—she explained the tactical reason for doing so:
When the House sent a statehood bill to the Senate in 2019, McConnell, in refusing to consider the bill, called it a “power grab” and “full-bore socialism.” Last year, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called a statehood bill “a brazen power grab.”
Putting aside the incredible irony of men like McConnell bemoaning power grabbing, Republicans aren’t wrong: Adding D.C. would be a power grab for Democrats, as much as it would be a bid to secure better representation for the people of the district. D.C. statehood could be the first test of how ruthlessly the Democrats plan to use the power they have won.
Four hundred forty-nine days later, it’s fair to say that the Democrats have failed that particular test. Last year, I wrote that Joe Biden was the best president of my lifetime. I still believe that. Fifty years from now, historians will rank him along with Eisenhower, Truman, and Kennedy in the second tier of all-timers. His list of achievements is vast, he’s been solid taking on Putin on the invasion of Ukraine, and he’s a man of honor, which matters. But like most Democrats, he is reluctant to upend the norms, even in this moment of extreme crisis.
Like Barack Obama before him, Biden believed that his innate social skills, his winsome manner, and his good relationships with Republicans in the Senate would allow him to succeed where others have failed in convincing his former colleagues across the aisle to work with him to help Americans. They have not. And they will not. The GOP is no longer the party of Lincoln, or T.R., or Eisenhower. It’s not even the party of Reagan and Bush. The so-called Republican Party is now a full-blown fascist outfit. The Republican platform consists of tax cuts for the rich and voter suppression, and stands against any law designed to help non-billionaire Americans.
I understand why the media treats the GOP with kid gloves, although doing so has helped the country list rightward toward tyranny. But there’s no reason—none—why Biden has to kowtow to a bunch of hateful fascist pricks who actively want to bankrupt and kill us.
Biden’s first order of business when taking over as president should have been to purge the federal government of any late-term Trump appointee. By 2020, Justice, State, the IC, and a host of other departments were honeycombed with so many obvious traitors that people like me were calling them out on Twitter. Likely to avoid being accused of a Stalinesque purge, Biden removed some of them, but not all. That was a “it looks like the horror-movie killer is dead, but let’s run away and not chop off his head just to be sure”-level mistake.
From the gate, the prime objective needed to be securing control of the Senate. Because of the miracle in Georgia, Democrats won 48 seats instead of 46. Two more Senators are independents who caucus with the Democrats. That should have given the non-fascists a majority, as the VP is the tie-breaking vote.
Unfortunately, Joe Manchin is the most obviously venal politician since the guy on The Wire who said “sheeeee-itttt,” and Kyrsten Sinema is a proponent of the “no publicity is bad publicity” dictum. So the Dems don’t really control the Senate. And by “control,” I don’t mean dominate. I mean simply get the Senate to actually, you know, vote on legislation, like it’s fucking supposed to.
This is why popular bills—voting rights, gun control, protections on a woman’s right to choose, healthcare reform, and so on—languish in the Senate. Under the sinister watch of Mitch McConnell, that august legislative body did fuck-all, by design—unless a Supreme Court Justice needs to be replaced, in which case they move like Ja Morant on a fast break. Obstruction is not democracy.
With just two more seats, Democrats could vote to end the filibuster, and our democracy would be off to the races. That majority could be achieved if Senators Hawley, Cruz, and Tuberville are arrested by the DOJ for their roles in the insurrection, but the Rapture will go down before that does. So how can Biden & Co. be proactive?
Burleigh’s inspired suggestion 15 months ago was genius. Statehood for D.C. and Puerto Rico would create four more senators. At least three of them are sure to be Democrats. Once they were sworn in, the filibuster would be relegated to the racist dustbin of history, and real progress could begin—starting with voting rights.
Republicans know this—they are good at math, despite having learned arithmetic in textbooks riddled with CRT—and will use every dirty trick in the book to stop it from happening, just like they try and stop common sense gun regulation. (The GOP always votes in favor of the Moscow-infiltrated NRA, even if it means more Americans, especially more kids, will get shot, because they are all soulless monsters in thrall to their evil dark money overlords.)
But, as Burleigh also points out, statehood is the right move for the District, whose residents deserve equal representation. Puerto Rico was always more iffy. There is less of a hue and cry in San Juan to join the union. But two weeks ago, the reactionary Supreme Court gave the statehood movement fuel. In a 8-1 ruling, with Justice Sotomayor the lone dissenter, the Court ruled that it was legal for the federal government to deny residents of Puerto Rico disability benefits enjoyed by other Americans. U.S. v. Vaello Madero is an unsexy case, for sure, and there are rational reasons why the “liberal” justices voted the way they did. But why not use this as the impetus for full statehood for Puerto Rico? Maybe the residents of that U.S. territory would like being able to vote in presidential elections, to ensure that the Chief Executive isn’t a dotard who will show up after a terrible natural disaster only to hurl Bounty paper towels at the crowd like he’s playing a game at the county fair.
On Sunday, it will be six months until Election Day. There is still opportunity, but time is running out. This is the playbook to ensure the survival of democracy in this country:
Statehood for DC and Puerto Rico (four new senators)
Kill the filibuster
Pass sweeping voting rights legislation
Expand the Supreme Court to 15
This is not, it’s important to note, a straight power grab. The Senate is inherently skewed to favor slave states…er, red states…and in that hallowed chamber, residents of Wyoming have much, much more say in how the government works that residents of New York or California. This is merely an attempt to bolster democracy in the United States, by giving more people more equal representation.
When McConnell and the Republicans fucked us out of a Supreme Court seat by letting the clock run out on Obama’s presidency, they were exercising minority rule. What the then-Majority Leader did in 2016 was, in hindsight, a soft coup. It is not a soft coup to demand that the Senate bring pieces of legislation to the floor. That’s democracy.
Democratic diffidence has damaged democracy. The Republic stands on the precipice—as, historically, republics tend to do. Last night, Politico obtained a leak of the forthcoming decision, written by Leonard Leo radical Catholic fascist Scalia fluffer Sam Alito, that will overturn Roe v. Wade. This is cataclysmic. There is no non-religious reason to criminalize abortion—and even the religious reasons are phooey. Illegal abortion is bad for women’s health, bad for medical providers, bad for the economy (more unwanted kids = higher crime + higher taxes), bad for democracy. A sizable majority of Americans are pro-choice. This is an abomination of justice, and it will cause real, lasting harm to untold thousands of women, many of them poor, many of them minorities.
The reason the Court is positioned to do that is because Republicans don’t play by the same rules as the Democrats. Democrats are all about good sportsmanship and Roberts Rules of Order, sunshine and lollipops. Republicans are Bill Belichick secretly filming the Jets’ practice. Republicans bring guns to the knife fight. Republicans are fucking privateers. For decades, Republicans slowly, methodically gummed up the works, maneuvering the chess pieces just so until the Supreme Court was fully captured by radical Catholics who voted their way. Is it any wonder Alito’s name came up during the January 6 investigation? Of course he’d back a more despotic president. The guy’s a full-on fascist.
Once Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office, he went bananas, testing the limits of power, throwing every piece of legislative spaghetti he could grab hold of against the walls of Congress, seeing what would stick. Today’s Democrats need to channel FDR. No more pussy-footing around. No more Mr. Nice Guy. None of this Marquess of Queensbury shit; Democrats must take off the proverbial gloves, slip on the proverbial brass knuckles, and beat the fascist GOP to a proverbial bloody pulp.
The Democrats hold the White House. The Democrats hold the House. The Democrats have a razor-thin advantage in the Senate. That should be enough power—if they are willing to use it as ruthlessly as McConnell does. Dems need to kill the filibuster, and use every trick in the book to do so.
When I wrote the first draft of this piece yesterday morning, I ended it by saying that it was unlikely that the Democrats would find the spine to get this done. But after the Politico leak, I’m not so sure. If the captured Court overturning Roe doesn’t snap the Democrats out of their rose-colored-glasses stupor, nothing will.
It’s time to go scorched earth.
Photo credit: Josh Elie via Wikipedia. Sam Alito in 2017.