OK. The Dems Won the House. Now What?

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Well, there really was a blue wave—reportedly the greatest turnover since 1974—and a number of races remain too close to call or subject to a recount. These victories are especially impressive because of the gerrymandered districts and increased state restrictions that led to long lines at the very least and disenfranchisement of numbers of voters, mostly people of color. For a detailed look at what voters faced, read What It Takes to Win, published by the Brennan Center for Justice in October. 

As I stated in my last post, I view this not as a partisan issue—but as a critical win for our democracy. Unless/until the Republicans become better stewards of their Constitutional oaths, or are replaced by a new political force more willing to seek compromise for the good of the people, I hope Americans will continue to shun them in large numbers.

However, one of the consequences of this election was the defeat of some of the most moderate Republicans, increasing the likelihood that the party will become even more intransigent. 

And so, although I’m grateful that the Democrats can put the brakes on many of President Trump’s chaotic, sometimes horrific actions, I see reason for concern that to accomplish anything on the substantive issues needed to show voters they are delivering and to hold their majority, the Democrats face an uphill battle. 

Healthcare was the most important topic to voters according to exit polls, and the primary topic for many victorious new Representatives. Will even the hyperpartisan Mitch McConnell, who will face reelection himself in 2020, get the message and be willing to compromise—even if he’s likely to face a primary opponent to his right?

In essence, the Democrats will just have to forge ahead, showing the public where they want to go. Economics must be in the forefront. On the critical issue of income inequality, Michael Tomasky’s Op-Ed, The Democrats’ Next Job, which appeared in The New York Times days before the election, provides a terrific roadmap. 

Tomasky analyzes the void in the Democrats’ overarching message over the past several decades, and his prescription for the path forward is one of the clearest, most cogent, and sensible arguments I’ve read. Here are his opening paragraphs, and I quote him further, but I recommend the entire piece.

“Win, lose or draw on Tuesday, the Democratic Party will almost immediately turn its focus to the next presidential election and the fight between the establishment center and the left wing. But while the Democrats have that argument, they must also undertake the far more important task of thinking about what they agree on, and how they can construct a story about how the economy works and grows and spreads prosperity, a story that competes with—and defeats—the Republicans’ own narrative.

“For 40 years, with a few exceptions, Democrats have utterly failed to do so. Until they fix this, they will lose economic arguments to the Republicans—even though majorities disagree with the Republicans on many questions—because every economic debate will proceed from Republican assumptions that make it all but impossible for Democrats to argue their case forcefully.”

Tomaski eviscerates supply-side economics and then provides “the affirmative case for the Democratic theory of growth.” He stresses “expanding overtime pay, raising wages, even doing something about the enormous and under-discussed problems of wage theft.” And he stresses that the Democrats should say they make these arguments not “out of fairness or compassion or some desire to punish capitalists.

“We want to address them because putting more money in working- and middle-class people’s pockets is a better way to spur on the economy than giving rich people more tax cuts.”

Democrats, he adds, “should defend this argument because it’s what more and more economists argue and because it’s what Democrats believe.”

Importantly, he points out that Democrats who vary politically, such as Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Representative Raul Grijalva of Arizona, can agree on this issue.

 “They’re both Democrats for a reason, and presumably that reason is they think government can be a force for good in people’s lives. So, if Democrats think it, they should say it. 

He is thereby offering a unifying position that is essential if the Democrats are to avoid defeat due to factionalism.

Tomaski accurately points out that this strong Democratic response to supply-side economics needs a name. I think the name is extremely important in garnering interest and enthusiasm for the effort. However, the one he mentions in passing, “middle-out economics,” leaves me cold. 

It does have the advantage of brevity, and Democrats are always accused of failing the bumper sticker test with their lengthy explanations of positions, but it’s neither intuitively comprehensible nor catchy. A considerable effort should be made, bringing in some of the most talented wordsmiths available, to arrive at a phrase that is concise and inspiring. 

If you have suggestions, please add them to the Comments section, and I will forward them to Tomaski. You can also forward them to your own representatives, explaining the context.

Two more takes on implications of the election results, both hot-button issues.

1. The speaker. I know all the arguments against Nancy Pelosi, and though I understand them, I think this is absolutely the wrong time to replace her. She’s the most powerful woman in the US government—and she has done her job with great success. She’s a prodigious fund-raising and vote-counter whose experience is essential in these wacky times. 

Plus, health care has been the cause of her life. Reports are that she had planned to retire after Hillary Clinton’s election, so I don’t think she’s doing this for her ego. I expect her to be an effective mentor for the newly elected women in her caucus and to seriously broaden the leadership bench of the Democratic Party. 

2. Impeachment. I fully support the Democratic House committees’ investigations into all the matters that the Republicans stonewalled or distorted. But the Democrats have an important balancing act to perform between conducting investigations and trying to enact meaningful legislation. 

As much as I would love to see the President removed from the Oval Office (and VP Pence investigated for his apparent lies), I oppose impeachment efforts at this time. Unless the Mueller probe’s findings or other investigations persuade enough Republican Senators that they must act, at last, ensuring conviction by the Senate, impeachment by the House will simply play into Trump’s hands, allowing him to play the victim, making him act even more erratically, and possibly strengthening his chances of reelection.

Ultimately, these issues demand the continued and enhanced participation of all of us in our democracy by our ongoing engagement with our elected representatives on all levels. 

Please let me know your thoughts on any or all of these issues. And please don’t forget to share, award stars below my name (one awful—five excellent), or like this post (if you’ve signed on via WordPress). Knowing you’re reading and considering these posts is very important to me. Thanks so much.

Annie

8 thoughts on “OK. The Dems Won the House. Now What?

  1. I’m a glass is half empty kind of guy, I guess. The house results are wonderful and heartening but the senate just sucks the air out of my joy! The recounts appear to be helping but the Republicans’ concerted effort to convince their base that the elections they legitimately lost were the result of fraud by the Democrats (for which there is absolutely no evidence) will fool no one who can think at all but will further harden their base’s conviction that they need to vote Republican no matter what their leader’s do.

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    1. Hi, Terry–

      As I try, with varying degrees of success, to view the glass as half-full, I’m focusing on the expanded electorate–the greater number of first time voters, increased Latino participation, etc.–which has resulted in a more diverse Congress. The challenge I see is for the Dems to somehow defy the odds and actually accomplish some important things so these voters don’t become disenchanted. I wonder what you think about Michael Tomasky’s suggestions for a Democratic message?

      Annie

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  2. A big Yes! moment for democracy. We show again the constitution works.

    Uphill battle? When is it not? Once you win you still have to hold the hill. The people have made a significant choice this past week as they did 2 years ago, albeit in a different direction.

    Nancy Pelosi. I have rarely been a fan of hers, believe she has been very effective over the years and have no need or want for her replacement. In a representative government, I need to trust those duly elected will make the legislative choices, on all levels, to determine leadership and direction. If she decides to run for speaker and they decide to elect her, I am fine with that part of the democratic process.

    As far as legislation by the house, the senate will block as they did throughout the last of the President Obama’s years. That is just what they do. They are not going to budge on their lack of principles and look weak to their constituents between now and the 2020 presidential election. The republicans will be trying keep the senate where they, like the Democrats had to defend 2/3 of the seats. Do not trust the Republicans to do otherwise. They are not fools and have shown their hand over the years with the stalling of legislation import to the people, rejecting (illegally I add) Merrick Garland as a nominee and their full embrace of tax cuts and rejection of legislation of undocumented aliens presently in this country. These issues are Trumps positions, but Republican ideology in every manner. They want the fights to continue. They will not break their line.

    2020? We do not know the greater issue at the time of the election. In 2008 and again in 2016 we were thinking the elections would be of one issue but it turned out they were not. 2008 went from the wars in Iraq to the economy.

    But it will not be what we think it is. It may not be on Trump. However, whatever the greater issue in 2020, it require leadership, a candidate and an inspiring message of hope as it was for 2008 and for the opposition in 2016. We may not like results but we do need to revisit how we get there.

    As I had stated in the response to your last posting, ‘ the stakes could not be higher’ prior to Election Day, we needed to remove 1 leg of the stool but that does not mean we have reached a tipping point. It just means the Republican Party has to do a balancing act. Gaining the house is the 1 leg. It does take more and we need the Democratic Party to lead when they will only be able to propose. It will be difficult for them and then there is the question of legislating when the republicans have all but emptied the National till with needless tax cuts instead of tax reform. There will be a need to find issues that will cost little but offer greater results as in higher minimum wage, greater opportunity for those still lagging behind in our economy and the shoring up on health care as the people just voted to do.

    Thanks for another well researched and proposed opinion piece.

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    1. Charles,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments–and for your thanks to me! You are surely right about the strategic thinking the Democrats must do in picking issues where there’s a chance they can achieve some success–albeit modest. But they sure have a mandate on health care: you know that when you see how candidates who opposed Obamacare now claim they want to protect preexisting conditions. And the Dems will clearly have to stand in the way of Mitch McConnell’s stated plans to pay for the tax cuts by going after Medicare and Social Security. You may well be right that the major issue(s) in 2020 are unknown to us at this point. That may also be the case with the winning Presidential candidate.

      Annie

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  3. Hi Annie,
    As far as the Repubs as stewards and willing to compromise- they could say the same of the Dems. Which could be a reason things are so messed up.
    Tomaski’s eco theories and reasoning make sense. But how much of the economy is related just to changes in the business cycles that occur regardless of who’s in office. Could result in response to events globally or here. Things good now = lucky you’re in office now. Going bad= tough luck.
    The Dems need to be unified with policies reflecting the present electorate. Need to get rid of the old wood leaders- Pelosi, Schumer et al. Even many of the newly elected Dems agree. (Can Chuck say anything non-political as he looks down over his end of his nose glasses like he’s the end all?) Need some good policies vs just Repub bashing.
    I agree re impeachment. He should go but do long as he’s done something illegal by the Constitution definition.

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    1. Hi donthedoctor–

      I certainly don’t think the Democrats are faultless, but there’s a reason so many traditional Republicans have left the party: it has become so extreme that they no longer think it represents their values. I don’t see comparability in intransigence between the parties at this point. And Obama tried very hard–too hard, in my opinion–to reach a “grand bargain” with the Republicans on the Big Issues. Boehner would have none of it, and McConnell made it clear from day 1 that he wanted Obama to be a one-term President. Unless some of these Republicans will stand up to Trump…well, let’s try to be hopeful and look for some solid proposals from the Democrats that the newly elected Congress and aroused citizenry find so reasonable and important that they’re somehow able to enact them.

      I agree we need some good policies vs just Republican bashing. That was pretty much the position taken by so many, possibly most, of the newly elected members of the House. It was also the position Nancy Pelosi took in her public speech just after the election.

      I’m not a Constitutional scholar, but impeachment and conviction are, I believe, more political acts than Constitutional ones. Some experts have already made the case that Trump has violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution. If the House were to vote to impeach him, would enough Republicans join Democrats in the Senate to meet the 2/3 requirement for conviction? At this point, I don’t see that happening, but who knows?

      Annie

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  4. Ah my, what a mess. You make some fine points, as always, and it’s so interesting to me that once again it comes down to the prevailing narrative and, in specific, the actual language used to sell it. Call in the wordsmiths. Is it any surprise that the Oxford Dictionary folks have settled on “toxic” as the word of the year?

    I agree on the victim stance the current president loves to haul out in defense of his erratic, uninformed positions. I agree too that the Democrats have a tricky walk down the balance beam ahead: investigate this Administration, put a check on the crazy stuff, hold them accountable, and still work in a bi-partisan fashion to pass legislation. Tall order. I wonder if corporate America can help — like Twitter. Surely there must be something in the fine print usage of that form of social media that prohibits hate and fear-mongering? I wonder too about our best business minds: Buffet, Gates, Musk, Paige, Soros . . . Could they band together and speak a Declaration of Enough’s Enough?

    But back to the Democrats. Yes, they need a narrative and if it’s tied to economics, I’m fine. But I agree that the phrase “middle-out” doesn’t work — connotes nothing for me except the concern that the vast majority will be left standing on the side of the road, thumb stuck out, hoping for a ride.

    Thanks, Annie. Keep writing.

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    1. Hi, Denise–

      Thanks so much for providing your perspective. Interesting point about the Oxford Dictionary folks and “toxic”; I didn’t know that.

      Yes, it would be great if corporate America would try to band together in a “Declaration of Enough’s Enough!” I wouldn’t ask much of George Soros, however; the poor man (not literally, of course) has long been the symbol of evil to the world’s anti-Semites in a manner that has historical precedents. I find it terrifying that supposedly mainstream Republicans have picked up on demonizing him.

      But I digress. May I challenge you–a very talented wordsmith who shares my opinion of the “middle-out” phrase (and has, not surprisingly, offered a fine visual for it)–to think about a catchy phrase that might be helpful to the Dems’ efforts, one that’s succinct and meaningful and encapsulates the story? You needn’t answer me; I just thought I’d plant the seed and see what happens…

      Annie

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