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Better a Pretend Fight Than None at All
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A friend and I were at a bar when someone opined that France didn’t resist the German invasion in 1940. “It’s true, France lost fast,” my friend replied. “But they fought hard. They lost 90,000 troops in six weeks. It was a bloodbath. We lost 58,000 over a decade in Vietnam but we’re still whining about it.”

Every conflict ends with a winner and a loser. There is no shame in losing — only in not trying.

Democrats need to learn this lesson. Voters want their elected representatives to fight for them.

This administration is not without accomplishments: Last year’s coronavirus stimulus package saved millions of Americans from bankruptcy and prevented a recession; though poorly executed, President Joe Biden deserves praise for the withdrawal from Afghanistan; and, inflation aside, workers are benefitting from rising wages and record-low unemployment. The pandemic seems to be in our rearview mirror. Now, The New York Times reports, party bosses are trying to decide on a unified message for the midterms: “Should they pursue ambitious policies that show Democrats are fighters, or is it enough to hope for more modest victories while emphasizing all that the party has passed already?”

Democrats have been bragging about their accomplishments for months. But “Democrats deliver” — their flaccid midterm slogan — hasn’t delivered.

The news that the United States Supreme Court plans to overturn Roe v. Wade may well sweep aside the other issues that have been percolating in voters’ minds over the last few months. But conservatives are just as energized as liberals when it comes to abortion. And many progressives are asking themselves: Why didn’t Democrats pass a federal abortion rights law when President Barack Obama had a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate? At other times, why didn’t they go on the record with a vote? Abortion repeal probably helps Democrats, but not as much as they think and not enough to keep control of Congress.

Before the Supreme Court leak, Biden’s own pollster was repeatedly warning Democrats that disaster loomed in November. The president’s approval ratings stubbornly refuses to budge above a dismal 40%, hobbled by incredibly shrinking support among voters under age 30. Vegas bookies give the GOP 3-1 odds of recapturing the Senate and a 90% chance of taking back the House. “We haven’t sold the American people what we’ve actually done,” Biden moaned recently.

Messaging isn’t the only problem. “Allies and some voters note that polling is partially driven by anger over extraordinary events, including the war’s impact on gas prices, that the White House could not fully control,” the Times says. Of course, it was Biden’s decision to get involved in Ukraine and to impose sanctions against Russian oil and gas. Gas prices wouldn’t be soaring if Democrats hadn’t gone after Russia. It was an unforced error.

When you control Congress and the White House, and voters are angry at you because they don’t think you have done anything for them, you don’t calm them down by telling them that they are wrong and stupid and that, actually, you have done all sorts of good things for them that they have been too ignorant or ungrateful to recognize. There’s only one way to campaign: tell people that you get it, you understand their pain and you’re going to fight like hell to make them feel better.

“People can forgive you, even if you can’t get something done,” Nina Turner, a progressive challenging an establishment Democrat for an Ohio congressional seat, argues. “What they don’t like is when you’re not fighting. And we need to see more of a fighting spirit among the Democratic Party.”

For Democrats, however, not fighting — not even going through the motions of pretending they are fighting — is longstanding procedure. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi maintains a strict policy of not putting a measure up for a vote unless she is certain that a Democratic bill will pass. Like other corporate Democrats, she believes a losing vote is a sign of weakness.

Thus the refusal to try to federally legalize abortion rights.

Refusing to hold losing votes in Congress has led to one disappointment after another for progressives. After counting votes in the Senate, Obama decided in 2010 not to hold a vote on a “public option” in the Affordable Care Act. He blamed recalcitrant Republicans. Without forcing them to oppose this wildly popular idea on the record, however, Republicans could never be held to account in attack ads. (“Congressman Jackson hates people like you. That’s why he voted against health care for your babies!”) Meanwhile, Obama took heat from the left for breaking his campaign promise.

You can argue that you secretly, in your heart of hearts, wanted something that you never put up for a vote. But who will believe you?

Obama betrayed his promise to close Guantanamo for the same reason: He didn’t think he had the votes in the Senate. No one remembers that now. Americans who care about the issue remember that Obama was unwilling to spend political capital to shut down the camp.

Biden’s adherence to Democrats’ count-votes-first practice on his Build Back Better infrastructure plan was more understandable. After conservative Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin announced that he wouldn’t support it, the White House pulled the \$1.75 trillion bill from Senate consideration because it would have highlighted internal divisions within the party. Sometimes, however, a rogue member of your own caucus must be reined in. If Democrats wanted to show their left-leaning base voters that they were fighters, they would have disciplined Manchin by taking away his committee memberships and held the vote despite inevitable defeat. Then they could have run ads against Republican senators who opposed a giant jobs package.

ORDER IT NOW

Democrats have failed to hold votes on increasing the minimum wage to \$15 an hour, student loan forgiveness or bold action to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis. While it is true that these ideas might go down to defeat against a united GOP and Democrats in Name Only like Manchin, young voters in particular would like to see them put up for a vote and fought for. And those “nays” could be leveraged against vulnerable Republicans.

Republicans understand the optics of appearing to fight for a cause dear to their voters even if it’s doomed — especially if it’s doomed. Knowing full well they didn’t stand a chance at succeeding, the GOP voted 70 times to repeal Obamacare. After Donald Trump won in 2016, however, they didn’t move to repeal or truncate — because the ACA was popular. “Now that it makes a difference, there seems to not be the majority support that we need to pass legislation that we passed 50 or 60 times over five or six years,” Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama admitted. Fighting and losing — even pretending to fight only when defeat is assured — gets more results than pointing at your supposed actual accomplishments.

It may well be that corporate Democrats are too beholden to their major donors to, say, increase the minimum wage. Unless the polling changes in a big way, Democrats will have an opportunity to virtue-signal about the minimum wage and student loan forgiveness the same way the Republicans did on the ACA beginning early next year.

Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.”

 
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  1. TG says:

    “workers are benefitting from rising wages and record-low unemployment.”

    Sometimes Mr. Rall says some very sensible things. And sometimes he is living on the planet Skyron in the galaxy of Andromeda. This time is the latter.

    Counting inflation, worker’s real wages are being decimated. And with the border thrown open to the overpopulated third world in a vicious amoral policy of driving wages down and rents and profits up, this downwards trend for workers is only getting started.

    Democrats not fighting? Democrats are fighting tooth and nail to throw the borders open so wide that it can never be brought back under control. Democrats fight and win, when their wealthy donors tell them to. If they’re not fighting for your interests, it’s because they just aren’t that into you.

    • Replies: @One-off
  2. meamjojo says:

    “Sometimes, however, a rogue member of your own caucus must be reined in. If Democrats wanted to show their left-leaning base voters that they were fighters, they would have disciplined Manchin by taking away his committee memberships and held the vote despite inevitable defeat.”

    One of the rare things I can with Rall on!

    The Dems problem is that they are wimps, afraid to take a stand unless/until they are assured a win. Sometimes they need to take the shoe off and bang it on the table, make some noise, win or lose.

    • Replies: @Notsofast
  3. Mac_ says:

    I think it may be a point that, republican fronts pretending to try to repeal the insurance mandate is easily seen as a con, because all they had to do was refuse to vote for whatever phony ‘budget’ with the fat military spending and that would have been the lever. Of course all of them knew that but since ninety percent are in the pockets of warmongers they instead did distraction act pretending to be helpless. It’s such a show. Though with consequences.

    • Replies: @Bro43rd
  4. Bro43rd says:
    @Mac_

    Mac says “It’s such a show.”

    Yes, doom comedy!

  5. One-off says: • Website
    @TG

    Counting inflation, worker’s real wages are being decimated. And with the border thrown open to the overpopulated third world in a vicious amoral policy of driving wages down and rents and profits up, this downwards trend for workers is only getting started.

    Correct. Inflation is a tax that destroys the poor and further enriches the elite. Now that the Democrats are whoring for the war machine right along with the GOP militarists, inflation will be impossible to control. Rall is right quite often, but his blindness to what the Democrats have done and are doing to people who earn less than six figures renders his other opinions kind of moot. Take note that there is barely a progressive voice against the proxy war with Russia and the nuclear holocaust it very well may entail. What little opposition there is to this psychotic war tends to come from the Right.

  6. Notsofast says:

    …… “coronavirus stimulus package…prevented a recession”….that is now assured by the federal reserve shock therapy interest rate hikes……”biden deserves praise for the withdrawal from afghanistan.”……a total clusterfuck demonstrating the u.s. govt doesn’t give a shit about the afghan people as they ran away in the middle of the night….”inflation aside, workers are benefiting from rising wages”….this is utter bullshit as inflation has eroded any wage hikes and rents are at an all time high.

    ted you need to stop drinking the blue kool-aid, you look ridiculous in that undersized cheerleader outfit. put the blue pom-poms down and realize we have a uniparty, stop making excuses for it and stop believing the propaganda.

    • Agree: BuelahMan
    • Replies: @Greta Handel
    , @Sollipsist
  7. Notsofast says:
    @meamjojo

    one of the rare things i can withdrawal on! fify, i’m assuming your talking about the methadone kool-aid you and rall are drinking.

  8. @Notsofast

    Keep in mind that he’s Tom Engelhardt’s replacement as Useful Progressive. Sometimes it seems that Mr. Rall is starting to figure Washington out

    There is a long and honorable tradition of voter boycotts throughout the world. This is especially true in countries without vibrant functioning democracies like the United States’. (In a European-style parliamentary democracy, most voters can find a party close to their personal ideological alignment. A two-party monopoly cannot possibly serve 330 million people.) [August 29, 2020]

    but he thinks only as deeply and consistently as someone on his third beer in a freshman dorm.

    Basically, an easily distracted sheep dog for the Establishment, helping to channel and periodically blow off dissent through Red+Blue politics.

  9. @Notsofast

    Not to mention that gas prices began their steep increase BEFORE there were any sanctions.

    That entire paragraph listing Democratic accomplishments is so unbelievable that I assumed it was some kind of satirical set-up.

  10. Kenneth says:

    Gas prices were going up before Biden imposed sanctions on Russian oil and gas. In fact, gas prices were going up before Putin invaded Ukraine. This has even been acknowledged by many in the left wing media, and by key members of Democratic leadership.

    We were energy independent under Trump. But Biden, on day one, shut down the Keystone Pipeline, eliminating thousands of jobs. He later cut off drilling in ANWR and other Federal land. Again, this was all before Russia invaded Ukraine.

    That said, I’m an old-right paleoconservative (think Pat Buchanan or Ron Paul), and I enjoy your columns – mainly because of your anti-interventionist, anti-war world-view.

    This shows me there’s at least some common ground between elements of the right and left – hopefully enough to where we can find more areas to agree, or at least compromise on, later. We can only hope and Pray!

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