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Nolan writes: "A quarter of a million Americans are now dead due to the incompetence at the head of the Republican Party and the moral cowardice that caused the party to support that incompetence at all levels."

Democrats could hold the defense budget hostage until Republicans fund health­care, edu­ca­tion and hous­ing. (photo: Jim Watson/Getty)
Democrats could hold the defense budget hostage until Republicans fund health­care, edu­ca­tion and hous­ing. (photo: Jim Watson/Getty)

Democrats Are Scared to Use Their Best Leverage

By Hamilton Nolan, In These Times

19 November 20

They need to start holding hostage the things that Republicans hold dear

quar­ter of a mil­lion Amer­i­cans are now dead due to the incom­pe­tence at the head of the Repub­li­can Par­ty and the moral cow­ardice that caused the par­ty to sup­port that incom­pe­tence at all lev­els. Tens of mil­lions more Amer­i­cans are suf­fer­ing from the eco­nom­ic fall­out of our fail­ure to con­trol the pan­dem­ic. Repub­li­cans in Con­gress have refused to pass a min­i­mal­ly ade­quate relief pack­age, and 12 mil­lion Amer­i­cans could see their ben­e­fits run out by the end of the year, leav­ing them des­ti­tute. The Repub­li­can Par­ty has spent its time dur­ing this health cri­sis try­ing to legal­ly inval­i­date the health care law that pro­vides cov­er­age to near­ly 30 mil­lion of their constituents.

Wide­spread death and mate­r­i­al ruin are what the GOP has already deliv­ered in 2020. We are long past the point of hav­ing debates over whether to “play hard­ball” with them.

For­tu­nate­ly for those who enjoy the process of watch­ing our nation’s decline play out as a sort of apoc­a­lyp­tic real­i­ty show, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty has done lit­tle to demon­strate that it is up to the task of stop­ping any of this. It’s not just the fail­ure to get even a mod­est relief bill passed, or the Democ­rats’ unin­spir­ing results in the most recent Con­gres­sion­al elec­tions. It is their years-long pat­tern of being out­ma­neu­vered by Mitch McConnell and com­pa­ny, who are will­ing to destroy any insti­tu­tion and cause any amount of suf­fer­ing among the low­er class­es in order to win. Repub­li­cans have seized con­trol of the courts, engaged in sys­tem­at­ic vot­er sup­pres­sion and cre­at­ed large-scale pro­pa­gan­da net­works to stay in pow­er, as Democ­rats wave around the rule book and won­der why no ref­er­ee has stepped in to tell every­one that they are, in fact, right.

In (mod­est) defense of the Democ­rats, it is not easy to nego­ti­ate against some­one who does not care about break­ing any num­ber of rules and caus­ing any amount of human mis­ery in pur­suit of vic­to­ry. It’s like one army try­ing to meet under a white flag to des­ig­nate a bat­tle­field, while the oppos­ing army takes the oppor­tu­ni­ty to burn the cities. It cre­ates a fun­da­men­tal pow­er imbal­ance. As any­one who has wres­tled with such a foe will tell you, there is a cer­tain point at which you must accept the fact that you need to be ruth­less in order to have any chance of stop­ping a ruth­less oppo­nent. Don’t bring box­ing gloves to a machete fight. The Democ­rats have nev­er been able to con­vince them­selves of this basic truth, and so they — and we — con­tin­ue to lose.

No mat­ter how bru­tal, all nego­ti­a­tions still adhere to a basic log­ic. In order to main­tain bal­ance, you must exer­cise pow­er over some­thing that the oth­er side cares about. If the Left (very broad­ly speak­ing) cares about basic health and human safe­ty — mean­ing fund­ing for health­care, edu­ca­tion, hous­ing, and oth­er human needs to pro­mote equal­i­ty and take care of the less for­tu­nate — and the Right does not care about any of that, and is will­ing to scrap it all in pur­suit of their own goals, then the Left will always find itself forced to give Repub­li­cans what they want in order to sim­ply guard the basics against destruc­tion. Thus the Right can seize an ever greater degree of pow­er as the Left tries to stop the social safe­ty net from shrink­ing quite so fast. This dynam­ic has got­ten us to where we are today: fucked.

Appeals to fair­ness or norms or human decen­cy do not work. Nor do appeals to the pub­lic at large, which is now so divid­ed and entrenched that “We want to take away your health­care” is a posi­tion that the Repub­li­can Par­ty holds open­ly and the base will enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly back, despite the fact that it will kill many of them. Democ­rats in Con­gress need to stop wait­ing for the arc of the moral uni­verse to bend towards jus­tice, and start decid­ing what they can hold hostage that Repub­li­cans care about.

I have an idea: the Defense bud­get. That is what the Democ­rats can hold hostage. That is the bar­gain­ing chip that they can use to extract some of their pri­or­i­ties from the Repub­li­cans. They should fil­i­buster the Defense bud­get every sin­gle year as a tool to make Repub­li­cans nego­ti­ate for things that nor­mal peo­ple need. There are only so many things that will make a moral­ly bank­rupt par­ty lose its cool, and this is one of them. So do it.

There is a con­cep­tu­al prob­lem among Democ­rats. They see “cut­ting the Defense bud­get” as a pro­gres­sive pri­or­i­ty that is not shared by the party’s mod­er­ates, and there­fore just one more issue to be hag­gled over inter­nal­ly. That is the wrong way to look at it. Instead, they should rec­og­nize that the Defense bud­get is one of the only Repub­li­can sacred cows that they can grab onto, and there­fore, it is lever­age. Don’t just give your oppo­nent his pri­or­i­ties for free, get some­thing in return for them. This is an insight that Mitch McConnell had long ago, but his Demo­c­ra­t­ic coun­ter­parts appar­ent­ly have not. A rea­son­able per­son might say, “Not hav­ing tens of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans slide into des­per­ate pover­ty or risk death due to inad­e­quate pro­tec­tion from this dead­ly pan­dem­ic is a pri­or­i­ty that we all share, regard­less of par­ty.” But a ruth­less bas­tard would say, “The lives of all of these Amer­i­cans, most of whom are not donors to my polit­i­cal cam­paigns, is a per­fect bar­gain­ing chip for me to use in order to achieve whol­ly unre­lat­ed things that I want.”

Mitch McConnell is that ruth­less bas­tard, and he keeps on winning.

I don’t care whether or not you “sup­port the troops.” The Democ­rats owe us all the will­ing­ness to fight this bat­tle on its own terms. The lack of a mean­ing­ful relief bill is an acute human cri­sis that Repub­li­cans do not care about one bit. The response must be as urgent as the cri­sis itself. No relief? No mil­i­tary. No health­care? No mil­i­tary. No safe schools? No mil­i­tary. If your oppo­nent does not care about the cri­sis at hand, cre­ate a cri­sis that they will care about. Any Democ­rats wor­ried about the Repub­li­can attack ads that would result from such a strat­e­gy should ask them­selves why 250,000 dead bod­ies this year has some­how not caused Repub­li­can vot­ers to dis­ap­pear. You need to do what you need to do.

Of course, Demo­c­ra­t­ic lead­ers have already nego­ti­at­ed against them­selves on this issue in advance. But the fact is that if they keep doing the same thing, we will get the same results: dead poor peo­ple, and plen­ty of guns. your social media marketing partner
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