Those Who Seek to Control Others Know Power, Those Who Seek to Control Themselves Know the Way*
— Lao Tzu; The Tao Te Ching
There’s been a lot of sturm and drang in the comments recently, not just today, about all is lost, there’s no way out, we’re doomed. This has often been married to doom and gloom about the primary, the differences between the candidates, and whether idealism, incrementalism, or pragmatism is the way to win the 2020 election. How about we all just step back, take a deep breath, and focus on the actual fight that is the 2020 campaign. That fight has five components:
- Winning the presidential election
- Keeping the majority in the House
- Winning back the majority in the Senate
- Holding the governors’ mansions and state legislatures currently in Democratic hands
- Flipping as many governors’ mansions and state legislatures as possible
The fourth and fifth components are important to set the conditions for a more representative redistricting after the 2020 census. The first three are important for other reasons. Maintaining the Democratic majority in the House is a necessary, but not sufficient requirement to return the US back to a solid political and economic footing. Retaking both the presidency and the Senate are both necessary and sufficient requirements to actually being able to do so. If the Democrats retake the presidency, but don’t retake the Senate, the next president will be a lame duck before her or his hand ever comes off the bible at the inauguration. No one they nominate, for political or judicial or diplomatic appointments, will ever get a vote. Nor will any legislation that passes a Democratic majority House, other than, perhaps, continuing resolutions to keep the government running at a previous year’s top line budget number. Right now the only way to reverse the damage that has been done, and to ensure that we get good policy on the climate and the environment, on immigration, on healthcare, on the economy including trade, and on criminal justice is to not just be able to pass laws through both chambers of Congress, but to have a Democratic president to sign that legislation and her or his political appointees in place to administer the executive branch agencies and fill judicial vacancies.
The only good news out of Senator McConnell’s court packing scheme, and that’s what it was a decades long strategy to achieve a Republican majority in the Senate and a Republican president to fill the vacancies that McConnell abused the Senate to keep vacant, is that almost every judicial vacancy that McConnell has filled was a judgeship that was held by a judge appointed by a previous Republican president. Retaking the Senate stops this before McConnell can replace the last batch of Bush 41 judicial appointees still serving, as well as the older Clinton and Bush 43 judicial appointees who will begin to retire. And it also stops him from replacing the next three Supreme Court judicial vacancies, vacancies that are likely to come open over the next several years whether we’d like them to or not. And yes, I fully expect that even as I write this, McConnell and members of the White House Counsel’s Office and Leonard Leo are working on Justice Thomas to get him to retire next year to both prevent a potential Democratic president from being able to replace Thomas after 2021 and to once again put the Supreme Court majority in play as a successful campaign strategy to both reelect the President and maintain a Republican majority in the Senate.
That reality recognized, this is all in our hands. We have the ability, we have the power to elect a Democratic president in 2020 and a Democratic majority in the Senate, as well as maintain the Democratic majority in the House. This is what the 2020 election is all about. And yes, it is about healthcare, immigration, climate, environmental, economic, foreign, defense, criminal justice, and trade policy, but it isn’t actually about whether to take an incremental approach versus a revolutionary approach. Or something in between. It isn’t really about a choice between VP Biden or Senator Warren or Senator Harris or Senator Sanders or any of the other Democratic primary candidates. The simple reality we face as Americans is that nothing positive, not a single damn thing, is possible on healthcare, immigration, the climate, the environment, the economy, foreign policy, defense policy, criminal justice, and/or trade policy if the President is reelected and if the Senate remains in Republican hands. The real issue right now isn’t whether VP Biden’s healthcare plan is too incremental or whether Senator Sanders is too idealistic and therefore unrealistic and improbable. And that either of them have the ability to deactivate Democratic voters because they’re not having their ideological pleasure centers tickled. At the Federal level, the real issue is electing a Democrat president with a Democratic majority Senate and maintaining the Democratic House. That’s it. Almost any of the Democratic primary candidates is acceptable given this reality. And even a one seat Democratic majority in the Senate is as well.
This is all doable. It is within not just the realm of possibility, but also probability and plausibility. But it is only doable if we both recognize the actual strategic objectives we’re trying to achieve and don’t give in to despair. One of the ways that tyrannies are able to subvert democracies, regardless of whether it is a democratic-republic like the US or a parliamentary democracy or any of the variations in between, is by exhausting the citizenry. Exhaustion and despair are the means to that end. The President, Senator McConnell, their trusted agents, their surrogates, and their supporters want everyone strung out, worn out, and so stressed out they can’t respond effectively. Americans are tired, they’re upset, they’re angry. Even the President and his supporters are angry and they’re getting everything they claim to want. They are the sorest winners in history. How about we give them something to actually be sore about!
It is within our power to turn this around. And to do so at the ballot box, which is the easiest way to do it. Trust me, you don’t want me to have to write the post about how to deal with this the hard way! The ways and means to do this are registering voters and getting out the vote and staying as calm and focused as possible. This means that the Democrats in Florida need to get their acts together and mobilize the Puerto Rican community in Florida. Both those who have been there for a long time and those who have arrived since Maria devastated the island. Do actual, real outreach. Get them registered. Get them motivated. Stay in regular contact. Remind them who has their back, who recognizes them as fellow Americans, and who doesn’t. Similar efforts need to take place, tailored to the demographic realities of each state, in each state to ensure the broad, multi-generational, ethnically and religiously diverse coalition that is the Democratic Party turns out to vote in such large numbers than no amount of shenanigans, no matter who is behind them, can thwart the will of the majority.
The fight right now is to elect a Democratic president, a Democratic majority in the Senate, maintain a Democratic majority in the House, maintain all the Democratic governors and state legislatures, and flip as many to the Democrats as possible. And the battlespace for the presidential election is the Electoral College, no matter how much we’d all like to see it placed in the dustbin of history.
We can do this. We can save ourselves. No one else will. But to do so we must stay focused, we must pace ourselves, we must not give in to despair and frustration and infighting. Because the alternative is simply unacceptable.
* Also translated as “Mastering others is strength, mastering yourself is true power” and “He who knows others is learned, He who knows himself is wise”, as well as several other variants depending on which translation one is referencing.