The voting rights bill is dead, but the filibuster lives
Plus, the return of radical Islamic terrorism
They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. If that’s true then Joe Biden and the progressive wing of the Democrats have a definite psychiatric problem. The Democrats once again pinned their hopes for a grand liberal piece of legislation on nuking the filibuster and having Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema put them over the top.
And once again, like Lucy jerking the football away from Charlie Brown, the pair of maverick Democrats destroyed the hopes of the leftists even as Republicans painted them as a threat to democracy for talking about ending the filibuster. Ironically, many Republican critics of the plan had themselves advocated the destruction of the filibuster back in 2017 when Donald Trump was president and the GOP controlled both houses of Congress.
Here is what the Biden Administration should learn from the experience: In today’s political climate, it is almost impossible to push through a partisan bill with 51 Senate votes because you lose the moderates as the draft bill veers to the extreme. What is possible is to cobble together a moderate bill that has bipartisan support and get it passed even above howls of anger and outrage from Mitch McConnell, Donald Trump, and everyone to the right of Susan Collins and Mitt Romney.
Before Republicans gloat too much, they still haven’t learned the same lesson either. I’m sure they’ll demonstrate that fact as soon as they have control of the White House and Congress again.
The bottom line here is that both parties are controlled by their radical fringes and when the party gains a majority, these party bases insist that they were given carte blanche to enact the most partisan items on their wish lists. Federalizing elections and handing out cash to liberal causes in the name of infrastructure? Check. Building a border wall, repealing Obamacare, and enacting corporate tax cuts? Sure!
You might think that the second list was popular, but that would reflect being in a Republican bubble. Obamacare was historically unpopular until Republicans started talking seriously about repealing it in 2017, at which point it became popular. The border wall was never popular outside the GOP and perhaps surprisingly, the one item on this list that became law, the 2017 tax reform, was unpopular before its passage and remained unpopular even after Americans had a chance to see their smaller tax bills a year later.
[As an aside, I supported the 2017 tax reform at the time, but in retrospect, it seems like a bad idea. The cuts did juice the economy for a time, but there turned out to be at least two problems with the plan. First, budget data shows that the reform bill slowed the growth of tax revenues and caused the deficit to spike. Second, the stimulative effect of the tax reform was severely dampened when Trump launched his trade wars just a few months later. Effectively, the Trump Administration handed Americans money with one hand with tax cuts and then took it back with the other in the form of tariffs and higher costs.]
The point here is that ideas that seem very popular to the party faithful aren’t nearly as popular to the hordes of moderate voters who don’t like either party. The moderates are not swayed by arguments on social media and mostly just want to be left alone. They veer from one party to the other based largely on who seems scariest at the time.
That goes a long way toward explaining why Donald Trump lost to Joe Biden in the same election in which Republicans picked up 14 congressional seats. Trump was scarier than Biden, but congressional Democrats were scarier than their Republican counterparts.
Of course, as I’ve mentioned before, the Democrats focused entirely on the presidential election results along with the Georgia Senate runoff. The fact that they nearly lost control of the House went completely over their heads and they engaged in a headlong rush to push through the progressive base’s priorities rather than those of the average American.
If Democrats really wanted to make their party more popular, they’d be placing Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema in positions of leadership. Instead, they are pariahs and quite a few progressives would be happy to kick them out of the party entirely.
Again, Republicans shouldn’t gloat because the GOP does the same thing to its moderates. I watched Republicans demonize moderates as “RINOs” for the better part of two decades. The most reviled members of the Republican Party are its moderates, like Romney and Collins, and not its radicals like Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Paul Gosar.
The Biden Administration has had several successes. Early on, it passed the COVID relief bill and it also scored a victory with a historic infrastructure bill. These bills were both passed with Republican support that broke filibuster attempts.
So, why is it that the Democrats keep returning to the flawed strategy of writing an extremely partisan bill and threatening to nuke the filibuster? They obviously know what works. It’s a simple matter of math. It’s not hard.
The problem is that the progressive radicals wag the dog. The AOC and Bernie Sanders wing of the party has an outsize influence, especially when its voice is amplified by sympathizers in the media. They aren’t a majority, but they are loud, especially if you’re in a bubble with them.
So, the Biden Administration is headed for another embarrassing rout because it is listening to a vocal Twitter minority rather than paying attention to the middle-of-the-road voters that sent it to Washington in the first place. That is one of the things making Democrats seem scary to those same voters just 10 months ahead of the midterm elections.
Over the weekend, a gunman held hostages at a synagogue in the Fort Worth suburb of Colleyville, Texas. Three people were held hostage for eleven hours in an attack that began while the service was being live-streamed over the internet (an additional hostage was released earlier in the day). Per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the crisis ended when an FBI hostage rescue team stormed the building, freeing the hostages. The kidnapper was killed in the process but no hostages were harmed.
The FBI identified the terrorist as Malik Faisal Akram, a 44-year-old British citizen who recently came to the US. USA Today reported that Akram had demanded the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist who is serving an 86-year sentence in a federal prison in Texas for attempting to kill Americans in Afghanistan. Siddiqui was arrested in Afghanistan in 2008, reports NBC News. At the time, she was carrying notes detailing plans for a “mass casualty attack” on sites in New York.
For the past several years, we have seen Islamic terror attacks decline as domestic political extremists committed more terrorist attacks in the US. The hostage-taking in Texas shows that even as we increasingly fight amongst ourselves, external threats have not gone away.
Today is Martin Luther King Day. King was assassinated in 1968 (speaking of domestic terrorism) and the world has changed a lot in the years since. I wrote about the changes in race relations during my five decades in an article during Thanksgiving. I’m going to share it again in memory of Dr. King.
I’ve grown in my view of race relations over the years. Part of that has been a result of my travels around the country. Two of the most memorable spots that I can recall with respect to the Civil Rights Era are in Wichita, Kansas and Birmingham, Alabama.
While geocaching one day in Wichita, I discovered a small park with a large bronze statue memorializing the sit-in protests at the all-white lunch counter in Woolworth’s department store. The life-size statue replicates the lunch counter and several patrons. If you ever happen to be in Wichita, it’s a neat spot to visit.
The second is the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. In 1963, a bomb placed in the church by the KKK killed four young black girls who were in Sunday School (back to domestic terror). Visiting the church and seeing the statues of the four dead children is very moving.
In one of history’s strange little coincidences, there was another little girl at Sunday School on the day of the bombing. That little girl ended up becoming the first black female Secretary of State in American history. Her name was Condoleeza Rice.
And now you know the rest of the story. (With apologies to Paul Harvey.)
And finally, back at Thanksgiving, Steve Berman published his family recipe for butternut squash bisque. We didn’t make it at the time, but yesterday my wife took advantage of the combination winter storm and last days of quarantine to try the recipe. It’s quite good. Here’s the recipe again in case you missed it.
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I think when we refer to moderates in the GOP, it's important that we are refer to their temperament and not necessarily political philosophy. While Susan Collins is definitely an ideological moderate, GOP Senators like Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, and others of their ilk have amassed a distinctly right of center voting record, to varying degrees. In other words, reliably to solidly conservative. The same can apply to Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, and most of the others who impeached Trump after 1-6. They have solidly right of center voting records, and are more moderate temperamentally, and conservative ideologically. In an age where Trump and his hard core supporters refer to anyone not sufficiently obsequious to Trump as a "RINO", the mainstream media often mistakenly refers to hard edged Trumpists as solid conservatives. While I don't think they intend to do so, they unwittingly help hard core MAGA folks try to redefine the barometer of fealty to conservatism as how loyal one is to Trump. I'm glad that you properly refer to MTG, Boebert, Gosar as radicals, who are pretty far removed from being fusionist conservatives(aka classical liberals).
When it comes to the tax reform of 2017, had the President not engaged in ruinous trade wars and then trying to save face by doling handouts to those most impacted by the ham fisted tariffs, that tax reform might've very well worked as intended. Another thing to note is when there was a GOP trifecta from 2017-2019, then President Trump and many congressional Republicans were fiscally profligate on the spending side of the ledger. While congressional Republicans had problems with profligacy in years past, they largely stopped trying and in many cases didn't even pretend to care about government spending. By March of 2020, we didn't have any budgetary and fiscal leeway to deal with a once in a century global pandemic, and are in a fiscally precarious position. I still think the 2017 Tax Reform was one of the better accomplishments(along with Operation Warp Speed) of the Trump administration and GOP Congress(major credit goes to former Speaker Paul Ryan, as the tax legislation bears a lot of his work). It is just too bad it coincided almost concurrently with some bad policies(tariffs, spending, etc).
As for Obamacare, Republicans have talked about repealing ever since it was enacted into law by Obama and a Democratically controlled Congress in 2010. I think support for repealing Obamacare eroded significantly when Trump started running for President, and especially when he took office, and sapped so much political capital with his behavior. Since repealing Obamacare was a visible GOP priority, and Trump as President was essentially the titular head of the party, the latter's political stench became associated any repeal efforts. And another thing to note is that the GOP base as a whole these days tends to be more blue collar and less affluent than in years past. They tend to have a more favorable view of federal entitlements, and that may have had an impact on the popularity of repealing Obamacare. It's disappointing that federal entitlements get little if any pushback from the two major political parties that have and will continue to alternately hold power in Congress and the Presidency.
If Biden and congressional Democrats keep governing the way they do, the GOP will end up incredibly lucky ducks in enjoying a midterm rout not because of how good they are, but because the Democrats shot themselves in the foot and caused a lot of self-inflicted political wounds. This is unlike 1994 and 2010, when the GOP largely deserved to win the majority by virtue of their own actions.
Major kudos are in the order for the FBI for freeing the hostages, with the only death coming from the gunman. These folks in federal law enforcement represent some of our very best, and deserve our thanks. Being over 20 years removed from the 9-11 terrorist attacks, its easy to forget that threats from jihadists still exist externally. Hopefully, we can try to avoid electing isolationists to Congress to best extent we can.
I've not had time during the holidays to make Steve's butternut squash bisque, but I'll look forward to making it as time becomes available. Since you say it is quite good, I'm very interested in making a pot of it sooner or later.