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Senate Democrats Should Put Republicans to Work

The choice for Senate Republicans is two or more years of sitting on their hands or getting to work with Democrats.

Early this congress, Mitch McConnell pressed for a commitment from Democrats: that they wouldn’t kill the filibuster. He did this for leverage in negotiating the rules for a divided Senate, though the key senators voiced their opposition to removing the filibuster outside of that negotiation. While Democrats have the upper hand thanks to Vice President Harris’ casting vote, the day-to-day of the Senate is evenly divided and McConnell wanted assurance that Republicans would keep a check on a Democratic government.

This standoff is predicated on the idea that Republicans as a bloc, lacking any real policy goals, aren’t so interested in legislating. They can afford to stifle America for years at a time without punishment from their base, who are preoccupied with narrow issues like guns and taxes. There’s little risk to the base because they’re all blindfolded and gagged and drugged (those supplements have to do something, right?) in the right-wing media hideout, being held captive. There is a reason that McConnell framed his determination to undermine Democratic policy as “100% focused.” He doesn’t have anything better to do.

This is key to thwarting the McConnell gambit: give the receptive members of his caucus something better to do! Whether it’s fencepainting, Tom-Sawyer-style, or if it’s finding the key issues that excite senators from places like Nebraska who, while they did help the Republicans pack the Supreme Court, still believe in America. Give them something better than what McConnell offers them, which is to do a fat lot of nothing, whether they hold the majority or not.

In the recent House vote on the 6 January commission, 17% of Republicans voted for sanity. That would translate to about 8 Republicans in the Senate, assuming similar levels of support for reality. That would be enough to see some bipartisanship, if the Democrats are prepared to cultivate and reward it. But they have to find their colleagues intriguing legislation to push. Things that will get them reelected against Democratic challengers, even.

They won’t switch parties, and the agenda will not steamroll ahead even with their support, but you can craft a manageable bipartisan vote on enough legislation this way. Yes, you may need to employ some dependency-ordering algorithms from open source projects to construct the legislative calendar so that all bets are paid in the right order, but it is doable.

But the alternative is to continue to deal with the Republicans’ cowardly leaders, who do not care about America’s fate. Better to see those who do get reelected and grow in prominence than to try to fight away the dumb beasts only to have them get dumber and dumber each time their primary voters respawn them.

Many Senate Republicans do not want to waste the next year or so. They want to be productive. Their non-base constituents want them to be, too. They want to spend their time wisely, getting things done that will benefit their states and the nation. The Democrats can offer them that opportunity, through bipartisan bill-crafting.

Certain policies will be harder to craft with Republican support in mind. Those policies are vital to the health and welfare and security of our nation, but the base has been convinced that reasonable measures would destroy the fabric of space-time. There’s a reason why a no-duh policy like negotiating Medicare drug prices hasn’t been passed, despite the fact that the federal government, no less than Donald John Trump’s administration, negotiated prices and purchases for four separate vaccines.

That’s the same pharma lobby that brought us the opioid epidemic that has killed thousands of Americans and ruined families and lives. Who stole away parents and siblings and children from America. Those same lobbyists are the ones who keep drug prices artificially high. Hooray!

And McConnell would rather block any Democratic action than do something about it. And some Democratic senators would rather not give America a fair deal on drugs, because they get campaign funds from those pharma companies. But if some of those Nebraska Republican senators want to, they might be able to push a bill over the top.

There are other issues like that. They aren’t the major priorities, but if the Senate can stop listening to the hypnotic drone of the likes of McConnell, if enough Republican senators want to get some things done, tomorrow we can do far more together than we could ever do with people like McConnell dividing us.

Good Senator, Bad Senator

There’s a natural balance required between the two senators of a state that informs who might win.

The trope and tactic of good cop, bad cop is well known, and it can be useful as an interrogation technique though there are other ways to use the same underlying methods more effectively. It does make for interesting narrative tension.

But this is about the Senate and how each state has two senators. In general, there is a balance and tension formed by the two seats. They are a kind of contrast, a kind of equilibrium exists between them. One is more liberal, the other more moderate, in liberal states and times. Or one is more out there, the other more reserved, personality-wise. Or the one is big on policy and pork, a workhorse, while the other stands out in rhetoric and publicity.

It is through that lens that one should look at someone like Mo Brooks running to replace someone like Richard Shelby.

The long-standing balance of the Alabama Senate delegation was Shelby who is more of the workhorse, head-down type and Jeff Sessions who was more in the mold of shock-jock big-mouths.

That was actually among the factors that made Doug Jones’ reelection efforts harder: he was very much a workhorse-style moderate Democrat. That’s not to say being more liberal would have saved him, but it is to say that one of the strategies that might have helped would be finding a way to somehow counterbalance Shelby.

The why of the phenomenon involves contrast and dichotomy. The electorate needs to be able to tell its senators apart. If a pair of identical twins with identical politics both sought the twin seats for a state, only one would ever stay, even if their politics perfectly aligned and reflected the state. There wouldn’t be enough contrast.

But differentiation is not the only part of it. It also involves power-sharing. The electorate’s various subgroups accept a candidate they don’t want in one seat if it means the other has someone they do want. One picks the restaurant, the other the entertainment, that kind of thing.

If both senators are too much in the same mold, some factions will feel like their position is under threat, that they aren’t getting enough of a say. It’s hard to endure that kind of humiliation if you’re a group that has actual political power: they don’t get to pick both the meal and the movie.

I’m sure political strategists try to find these balances, but it’s much less about finding them than creating them or selling them. If Mo Brooks wanted that seat, he should have modelled his elections and his congressional record to fit that contrast. He didn’t, so while some may think he’s got the seat, his odds aren’t so great.

Now, something else can happen in these situations. Perhaps the shock-jock voting bloc will prefer Brooks’ schtick to Tuberville’s. If so, they might elect Brooks and see to it that Tuberville gets replaced. Or Tuberville might get remade into something that contrasts with Brooks more.

In other states, in other races, these things do happen. A junior senator can become senior for a variety of reasons, and in doing so, in places that prize the familiar, being senior might be enough to keep getting reelected. The contrast onus is on the junior.

(And for the record, part of the reason Donald John Trump was so popular among Republicans was his apparent contrast, perhaps including his weird facial makeup.)

A School Lesson in 20 Years Time.

Republican senators should vote with the Democrats to convict Donald John Trump.

Teach: After a delay of weeks, they held the trial in the Senate. Given the major evidence afforded by mobile computers with cameras, the House managers made a compelling case against the former president.

Johnny: So they voted to convict? Locked him up!?

Kelly: You don’t get locked up if you’re convicted by the Senate. And they voted to—

Teach: We’ll get there. I want you all to understand the evidence. They knew he’d lied about the election fraud. They showed how he moved the date of the rally. They proved his team was aware that violence was planned. They interlaced his speech with the footage his mob took of themselves. This was as easy a case as the Senate would ever see, outside of a guilty plea.

Johnny: Like I said…

Kelly: You said wrong! They—

Teach: Spoiler alert, Kelly! Not everyone reads ahead. Let me finish.

Just imagine Johnny and Kelly are faced with the fact that a major political party left justice fallow at such an important time, with such compelling evidence. Do you think they’ll give that party the time of day?

Perhaps they will. The Democratic party was instrumental in fomenting the Civil War, and yet they continued to exist. They have changed dramatically over the years, as to be unrecognizable as the party that once sent the worst of us to the legislature. But they did face years of exile, however brief and however weak, during Reconstruction. They did other redemptive acts over the years, finally arriving as the pro-civil-rights party.

Over the coming decades there will be tens of millions of johnnies and kellys learning about the attack on our government and the lame response by the Republican members of the Senate and House. This is poison to all right-thinking school kids against considering a party that would sell its country out given these facts.

What will be the redemption story of the Republicans? When will it start? Even before the Civil War, there were some Democrats who, not abolitionists, at least did fervently rise against expansion of slavery. And even in the cradle of the Confederacy there were American patriots who kept in contact with Washington, who President Lincoln asked to serve as aides to the Union, either as emergency governors or otherwise.

If I were a Republican (there, but for the grace of God!) I would be either jumping ship or agitating outright against this sick and weak and rotten strain that Donald John Trump represents to the party. Stand against this anti-reality, anti-American nonsense, Republicans!

Vote to convict! Do not waste this chance to salvage your party. Do not condemn generations of children to learning how poor examples you are to the virtues of humanity! Do not be forever stained as cowards and gladhands to a demagogue!

Do not condemn generations of teachers to explaining to disappointed children that the Republican party were of no help, did not rise up in the country’s hour of need. And generations of parents the same, to ask, “What did you learn in school today?” only to be reminded of their own schoolday lesson when they found out just how horrible the Republicans circa 2021 were, how little they cared for the country and how they put their own reelections ahead of the most basic principles of justice!

It’s not entirely bleak. Some Republicans have woken up a bit more after their party leader caused an attack on the government itself. But the progression has been dismal:

  1. 2015–2016: Emergence of some reasonable Never-Trump Republicans.
  2. 2016–2020 election: Mostly status quo. A few grumbles at key moments, but no major movement.
  3. 2020 election to 5 January 2021: State Republicans in those places Trump lost and lied about make at least some noise regarding Trump’s simultaneously-pathetic-and-dangerous attacks on their elections.
  4. 6 January 2021: A bit more movement, even as House Republicans went on to vote against the USA immediately after it was attacked.

The elephant-boiling has largely continued apace. The idea that there will be a break-away moment for most Republican officials seems as dead as those same officials’ souls. While more horrible behavior from Donald John Trump’s supporters might shake a few more loose here and there, there will be no wholesale departure.

The Republican party will only recover if and as it can weed out these elements. Right now they control the party. What happens in 2022, and in whatever state, local, and special elections intervene remains to be seen, but the fact that they’ve spent so much effort warding off primary challenges makes it all the harder to fix their own party.

But here is your chance, Republicans of the Senate. You can stick it to Upton Sinclair, who said, “It is difficult to get a [person] to understand something, when [their] salary depends upon [their] not understanding it.” Prove him wrong. Understand the case, and understand the guilt of Donald John Trump, which will be known evermore.