America Needs the Democratic Party to Be Extraordinary

This piece ran as a newspaper op/ed on October 23, 2021.

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Because of the quite extraordinary thing that the Republican Party has become — what the nation needs from the Democratic Party in these times is – in several ways — extraordinary.

1) Extraordinary how essential it is that the Democrats succeed.

Always before, if one or the other of America’s major parties failed, the nation would be at least reasonably OK when the other gained power. On the most basic things, like upholding the fundamentals of American Democracy, both parties (and nearly all Americans) agreed.

But, as is widely observed, America now has only one party that believes in Democracy, and if the Democrats fail, power will go to a Republican Party that’s escalating its war on our constitutional order:

  • trying to overturn a fair election they lost;
  • aligning with a violent Insurrection;
  • uniting behind the “Big Lie,” which profoundly undermines our constitutional system;
  • launching nationwide — in statehouses Republicans control — a campaign to suppress votes and undermine the very election integrity they claim to want to protect.

These extraordinary stakes – the survival of the system our founders gave us – puts extraordinary pressure on the Democrats.

2) Extraordinary in how slender a thread the Democrats’ power hangs on.

It is commonly said that “the Democrats control both houses of Congress” (as well as the presidency). But that “control” is so extraordinarily tenuous that it’s not control at all.

What’s so tenuous is the the Democrats’ margin in the Senate could not be thinner. The 50-50 split tilts to the Democrats only because the VP tips the balance. With the Republicans clearly determined to obstruct whatever the Democrats try to achieve, the Democrats need to achieve 100% unity. Which means also that every single Democratic Senator has it within their power to make the Democrats fail.

And, as it happens, two Democratic Senators — Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Krysten Sinema of Arizona – for reasons unclear – are acting as if they ill-understood how our national crisis makes the unity of their party – at this dangerous moment – essential to the nation.

“Essential” enough when it comes to finally addressing the many issues whose long neglect has led to the United States falling behind other advanced societies in a variety of ways.

But essential especially regarding that most urgent need to protect our fundamental nature as a democratic society governed by the rule of law.

Of all the extraordinary things the nation needs from the Democrats, the most urgent is federal legislation to protect voting rights and block the Republicans’ efforts at the state level to entrench their power through minority rule.

However, such essential protections can only be instituted if the current filibuster rules are changed.

It should be a no-brainer that protecting the Constitution must take precedence over maintaining a Senate rule (even if that rule were a wise one, which the destructive uses to which it has lately been put show quite clearly it is not).

But that obvious truth is something those two Democratic Senators haven’t acknowledged.

Hence, the extraordinary need of the nation for the Democrats to succeed gets dangerously combined with the extraordinary lack of room for even a single Democratic Senator to be unwilling – due to whatever defects of understanding or lack of moral compass — to do what even their oath of office now clearly requires.

3) Extraordinary in how urgent is the need for Democrats to go beyond their habitual ways of communicating and rise to a moral rhetoric this dark moment demands.

In their efforts to meet America desperate needs for the Democrats to prevail, their main advantage in the political battle is that the great majority of Americans would choose to preserve our constitutional system — and thus would repudiate the Republican Party, if they saw it for what it is.

Getting more Americans to see that Republican threat is the essential political task facing the Democrats.

Unfortunately, however, the Democrats’ habitual political style ill-equips for that task: throughout this era, Democratic rhetoric has lacked the kind of power – moral truth-telling fueled by moral passion — that can move people to repudiate “Evil.”

This incapacity has been visible throughout recent decades:

  • Throughout the years the Republican Party has undergone this dark transformation, the Democrats continued to act as if it’s “politics as usual.”
  • Even as the Republicans treated them as enemies — waging continuous war against them — Democrats continued to talk about “my friends across the aisle.”

The main voice for a Democratic campaign of calling out the Republican betrayal of the nation – given the American system – likely must come from the President. And President Biden epitomizes both the strengths and weaknesses of the non-combative liberal spirit in politics.

Biden’s way has always been to be a good-hearted man reaching out to achieve something good together. That suits well in normal times. It’s how our political process should work.

But these are not normal times, and the Republicans have made it clear that nothing will be achieved by that kind of reaching out.

So yet another extraordinary demand on Democrats imposed by these extraordinary circumstances: the need for the Democrats speak to the nation in a new, “prophetic” voice.

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