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The Decision that will Decide the Next Decade
Keeping the filibuster may be a decision to return to the minority and stay there for at least a decade
The great asymmetry of American politics is that Democrats view political power as a means to an end and Republicans view it as an end in and of itself. That dynamic is playing itself out once again as the parties take stock of what happened in the 2020 election.
The election results included warning signs for both parties. The Republicans were washed away in a wave of Democratic turnout that flipped once solidly Republican states like Georgia and Arizona. Even more ominously, Democrats improved on their 2016 performance in 44 of the 50 states. The demographic trends favorable to Democrats in the Sun Belt will only strengthen in the years to come.
On the other hand, Democrats barely won the White House and the Senate despite winning more than 7 million votes nationally and outspending a historically unpopular and erratic President in the middle of pandemic.
Republicans are aggressively moving to use the political power they won to shore up their weaknesses with new voter suppression laws and partisan gerrymandering. Democrats are not prepared to do the same. And that failure could determine the next several decades of America politics, not to mention the very fate of our democracy.
Republicans Off to the Races
There are two types of Republicans — those who believe the conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and those who are using the election conspiracy theories as a pretext for a raft of new voter suppression laws. Long before Donald Trump’s fragile ego needed soothing from fabulists like Sidney Powell and the pillow guy, Republicans lied about voter fraud to push for laws to make it harder for people of color to vote. And they are doing it again.
According to a report from the Brennan Center:
Thus far this year, 28 states have introduced, prefiled, or carried over 106 bills to restrict voting access. These proposals primarily seek to: (1) limit mail voting access; (2) impose stricter voter ID requirements; (3) limit successful pro-voter registration policies; and (4) enable more aggressive voter roll purges.
The New York Times has a must-read rundown of the ways Republicans are specifically targeting the states that delivered the White House and the Senate to Democrats.
In Arizona, where Democrats captured a second Senate seat and Mr. Biden eked out a 10,500-vote victory, lawmakers are taking aim at an election system in which absentee ballots have long been dominant. One bill would repeal the state’s no-excuse absentee ballot law. Others would pare back automatic mailings of absentee ballots to the 3.2 million voters who have signed up for the service. One ardent advocate of the stolen-election conspiracy theory, State Representative Kevin Payne of Maricopa County, would require that signatures on all mail ballots be notarized, creating an impossibly high bar for most voters. Yet another bill, paradoxically, would require early ballots that are mailed to voters to be delivered by hand.
In Georgia, Republicans are trying to outlaw absentee voting, automatic voter registration, and drop boxes.
In states like Florida, Texas, and Georgia, Republicans are preparing to use the redistricting process to gerrymander Congressional Democrats into the minority.
Republicans believe that making it easier for people to vote makes it harder for them to win elections. They are engaged in a massive, well-funded attack on our democracy that could virtually guarantee that they win the House and Senate in 2022 and the White House in 2024.
For the People Act v. The Filibuster
As Stacey Abrams wrote in the Washington Post yesterday more eloquently than I ever could:
Democrats in Congress must fully embrace their mandate to fast-track democracy reforms that give voters a fair fight, rather than allowing undemocratic systems to be used as tools and excuses to perpetuate that same system. This is a moment of both historic imperative and, with unified Democratic control of the White House and Congress, historic opportunity.
At some point in the coming weeks, the House of Representatives will take up the “For the People” Act, which would:
End dark money in politics;
Ban partisan gerrymandering;
Automatically register eligible citizens to vote;
Expand in-person early voting;
Simplify voting by mail; and
Enhance election security with a paper trail for every ballot.
This would be the most important piece of democracy reform legislation in decades. It would make politics more fair and accessible. It would reduce the power of special interests and increase the power of the people. It would make it harder for Republicans to steal elections and rig politics. And it would dramatically increase the odds that Democrats win in 2022 in beyond.
This should not be a tough vote. The For the People Act is incredibly popular — the most recent Crook Media/Change Research poll found that it was supported by 65 percent of voters including 35 percent of Trump voters.
This bill will almost certainly pass the House. It likely has majority support in the Senate. But it has no path to becoming the law. Why? Because Mitch McConnell would rather give himself a root canal with a spork than vote for a bill that helps people vote. So, the Republican Senate minority will use a legislative loophole to block it from making it to President Biden’s desk.
If the filibuster remains in place, the For the People Act dies in the Senate. If the For the People Act dies in the Senate, the Republicans — who represent a shrinking minority of Americans — will likely return to power and control politics for the next decade or more.
When Senate Democrats like Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, and Diane Feinstein oppose getting rid of the filibuster, they are deciding to make it more likely that their time in the majority is ever so brief.
Can you imagine Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans ever choosing an arcane Senate tradition over the political power needed to enact their agenda?
Making the Case for Democracy
It’s not just that Republican politicians are more focused on political power than Democratic politicians. The disparity extends to the voters too.
In the Crooked Media poll, we asked voters to pick their top three priorities from a list of issues. There were two voting reform options — one that delineated the key provisions of the “For the People” Act and one that focused on dealing with “the rampant voter fraud in the 2020 election.” Only seven percent of Democrats chose the former and 51 percent of Republicans picked the latter. To put it in perspective, about three times as many Republicans want to prioritize stopping (fake) voter fraud as want to prioritize improving vaccine distribution and slowing the spread of COVID.
Democrats must do a better job educating voters about why electoral reform is important. We can’t expect Democratic politicians to stick their necks out for an issue that their voters barely seem to care about. When I use the term “Democrats” in this context, I mean Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Chuck Schumer, but I also mean you and me. We all have a role to play in making the case for these issues. Only yelling about what Democrats in Washington won’t do is a cop out. We have to build enough support for fixing our democracy that they can’t ignore us.
I don’t presume this is easy. Process arguments are hard. Democrats would rather focus on policy. But process is the predicate for policy. Without process reforms, we will never be able to enact our policy agenda. If you care about climate change, health care, paid family leave, or any other progressive goal, you have to care about fixing our democracy first.
Our political system in rigged in favor of the Republicans. That fact was abundantly clear in the 2020 election. Republicans are actively and aggressively looking to make it worse. Democrats have a once in a generation chance to unrig the system and make our politics more responsive to the growing progressive majority. All it takes is changing an archaic Senate tradition and passing a wildly popular bill to fix democracy.
The clock is ticking. It’s on all of us to make the case. If we don’t, we will deserve to lose.