“When your enemy’s drowning, throw ’em an anvil” is a common political expression. I understand the feelings behind it, but it presumes too much. Our political dialogue needs a sensible opposition party. (More)
“Throw ‘Em an Anvil?” (Non-Cynical Saturday)
This week Republican leaders, strategists, and rank and file activists began the struggle to unskew themselves in the wake of their electoral defeats on Tuesday. And on Wednesday night, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow wished them well in that struggle:
Yet many progressives have offered variations on a less charitable perspective. As a comment at in a news story about the GOP’s struggle to learn the lessons of 2012 put it, “I hope they don’t learn anything. I like Democrats winning.”
As grassroots Democratic activists, should we hope Republicans learn real lessons from 2012 and become a more sensible, more productive opposition party? Or should we hope they learn nothing and continue to lose elections until they go extinct?
“The report of my death was an exaggeration.”
Mark Twain wrote those words in response to a rumor that spread after his cousin’s illness. And despite the wishes of some progressives, rumors of the Republican Party’s imminent demise are equally exaggerated.
While the GOP in their current form probably cannot win the White House in the foreseeable future – absent a Democratic scandal or a very week Democratic candidate – redistricting has all but assured them continued control of the U.S. House and they extended their majority among state governors. As the Republican Governors Association Chairman Bob McDonnell put it:
There’s no doubt that the Republican Party’s strength comes from the states, and the RGA’s ability to expand our majority provides optimism for the future.
Republicans also still dominate state legislatures, and GOP-led attacks on public employee unions and voter suppression laws prove that Republicans in state houses can hurt progressive policies as much as their colleagues in Congress.
Yesterday’s news that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a challenge to the Voting Rights Act may signal that the Court will clear state Republicans to pass yet more laws to block Democratic voters. The Democrats’ growing demographic advantage means nothing if those demographics can’t vote, after all.
And Massey Energy CEO Robert Murray firing 156 workers in response to President Obama’s victory, although hardly the “massive layoffs across America” breathlessly headlined on Fox News, shows that Republican supporters still hold significant clout. It’s easy to shout “throw ’em an anvil” … until they step aside and let the anvil land on hardworking American families.
There’s another risk in the “throw ’em an anvil” view of politics: it presumes Democrats have a monopoly on good ideas and problem-solving skills. While I obviously believe in the Democratic Party’s values – stated most briefly: “We the People” means all of us – I’m almost as wary of unchallenged Democratic government as I am of unchallenged Republican government.
History has shown that monopolies – in business or politics – breed ossification, corruption, and infighting. Fresh ideas to meet new challenges are dismissed in favor of “the way we’ve always done it.” Favors, rather than better solutions to problems in Realworldia, become the most important currency for continued power. Power blocs form and harden into internal dominance battles that serve no public good. To avoid those pitfalls, companies and political parties need competition that focuses their efforts on the needs of their customers or voters.
“Marketplace of Ideas”
But not every form of competition is beneficial. The savage partisan warfare waged by Republicans over the past four years, their willingness to pursue “protection racket politics” that threaten the public welfare for electoral advantage, their transformation into a party that is “ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition” does not serve the democratic ideal embodied in the phrase “marketplace of ideas.”
That marketplace, as Maddow noted, requires that both parties accept and weigh common facts. We can debate the best response to the threat of climate change, but not until Republicans accept that climate change is real. We can debate the scope of our social safety net, but not until Republicans recognize a social duty to care for each other in time of need. We can debate tax policy and the deficit, but not until Republicans admit that cutting taxes – with rates are at their current levels – will not magically spur growth and increase tax revenues. We can debate what levels of income inequality best balance work, education, and investment incentives, but not until Republicans admit our current income inequality is rending the social fabric of our nation.
Those debates are useful and necessary, but they cannot happen only within the Democratic Party. The Republicans’ inability to win the White House does not leave them unable to wreak havoc, and all the more so when the only reality-based policy debates happen within our party, fueling media narratives of “divided Democrats,” fraying our coalition, sapping our strength.
For the “marketplace of ideas” to work, Democrats need a sensible opposition party. We should celebrate and be encouraged by our victories Tuesday, but the “throw ’em an anvil” mentality is beyond unseemly. It’s arrogant … and it’s bad for America.