I studied political science at Berkeley, where I took a particular interest in constitutional law, in part because the professor was among the best I ever had. He was, contrary to what you’d assume for Berkeley, rather conservative, and it was in one of his lectures that I first encountered the idea that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided and should be someday overturned. I mean, I remember the actual lecture. It was a blueprint for something very much like Alito’s decision in Dobbs. So my sense of exactly how this might all go wrong someday has been pretty clear since about 1995.
Though my career path didn’t go in a political direction, I’ve remained a watcher of all things political, and a person with very strong political opinions. And back in the aughts when “the blogosphere” was still the primo Place To Have Opinions Online, I blogged quite a bit about politics.
When I re-launched this site in early 2021 as a gift to myself, I also made myself a promise: “No blogging about politics.” Really! I was determined to avoid the topic entirely. Many reasons, but chief among them: As far as I can tell, it is damn near impossible to change anyone’s mind about anything online. (Strange thing for the person who also writes Mad Props to say, but it’s true.) And furthermore, staking out a position on any issue online — political or otherwise! — is like painting an enormous, permanent target on your back, and for years now I’ve just been largely unwilling to play that game.
So why, why, WHY am I blogging about politics today?
Because I am angry. No, way more than angry. Way more than furious. Way more than even “incandescent with rage.” And yes, the rage starts with the fact that
yesterday two days back [this took some time to write; I’m still recovering from surgery and COVID] the Supreme Court obliterated a constitutional right that had been established a half century prior — an action unlike any the Court has ever taken. But like I said, that is only where my rage starts. Because after the Court (with snipers stationed on its roof!) did that, the Democratic Speaker of the House did this:
And then some other Democratic members of Congress went outside on the Capitol steps and took this brave action:
There was also a Democrat who felt the moment called for — I shit you not — yoga.
Not bad enough? OK, Democratic Majority Whip Jim Clyburn — in case you don’t know, it is literally part of the Whip’s job to get the Caucus riled up! — had this to say: “It’s a little anticlimactic, I think we all expected this.” (Just for context, I’ll remind you that it was Clyburn’s endorsement that led to South Carolina making Biden the Democratic nominee in 2020.)
And, over at the White House? Only what you would predict from an administration that is consistent only in its ability to be caught completely flat-footed. Biden gave a speech, Harris released a statement, and what they both said was that this is horrible, but people should remain calm, and people should get out and vote. Which would not be wrong if we had the Platonic Ideal of American government — where, say, a bill could pass the Senate with a simple majority vote, or where Supreme Court vacancies were actually filled by the President in office at the time of the vacancy, or where congressional districts weren’t gerrymandered to dilute certain voices, or where there was not an active, nationwide campaign by one political party to actively disenfranchise voters of color. But as anyone who’s been paying attention since the turn of this century knows, we are living in a particularly Grim Timeline. So we don’t live in that world where simply Getting Out the Vote fixes this problem. Because in case you hadn’t noticed, the Dems are in the White House, and control both houses of Congress. The real problem is shit like this right here:
That’s the reality that Biden, Harris, Pelosi, Schumer, and the rest of the Democratic leadership do not see: That the system doesn’t respond to people Just Voting anymore. The game is much bigger than that.
Here’s the kind of bigger game I’m talking about. I think that if the Democratic party had actual leaders (in the historical sense), it would have hit the ground running in early 2021 to address the coming storm. I’m not just talking about codifying Roe in law (as Obama promised but never delivered). I’m talking about a wholesale pushback against the way that the system is rigged to minimize Democratic power.
I’m saying statehood for the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico should have been debated and voted on as a means of pushing back against the mis-balance of power in the Senate. You don’t need Manchin or Sinema if you’ve got three or four new Senators on your side.
I’m saying expanding the Supreme Court to 13 seats (matching the modern number of federal judicial circuits) should have been debated and voted on as a means of countering Mitch McConnell’s shameless, unprecedented hijinx that gave us the Garland/Gorsuch stolen seat, plus Barrett replacing Ginsburg.
I’m saying a constitutional amendment abolishing the Electoral College should have been drafted and finalized. No, you won’t get it passed in Congress, but the damn thing should be out there. We should be able to point at it and fight for it. It was bad enough this didn’t happen after Bush v. Gore in 2000; it’s unimaginably stupid that it hasn’t happened since 2016.
I am not saying that all (or even any!) of these ideas could have been pushed all the way through in the short term. I’m saying the Dems don’t even try. They always want to work within the confines of the broken system, and never say anything about addressing the broken system itself. They do not understand that sometimes you have to go all-out even when you know you’re going to lose some battles. If you’re playing the long game — and believe you me, the Puritans who have been pushing for the downfall of Roe for fifty years know how to play the long game — you know that lost battles help win the war by moving the goalposts and changing the terms of the debate. It is an Overton window thing. Republicans have understood this for decades. Democrats punt and fall back to poetry and singing. No plans. Nothing but “get out and vote, and send us money.”
On the other hand, there are some entities in this country that do seem to understand which timeline we are living in, because they had actual plans ready to go the moment the Court dropped its horrific decision. The first one that I saw was Dick’s Sporting Goods announcing that it would pay for employees to travel in order to pursue a needed abortion. Several other companies followed, with Patagonia going an extra mile, saying it would cover “training and bail for those who peacefully protest for reproductive justice.”
I’m not suggesting these are great solutions to the problem at hand. I’m just pointing out that these companies spent more time working up a response to Dobbs than the Democratic Party did, despite the fact that a draft of the decision was leaked two months ago. Christ Almighty, even The Satanic Temple has more of a plan to push back than the Democrats do! (A synagogue in Florida is taking a similar approach.)
So, what should the Democrats be doing right now? There are a lot of good ideas out there. Some of them address the abortion issue directly:
And some of them target the systemic rot that brought us to this moment:
And if you want a long piece on things Biden could be doing, The Nation has that covered.
I am guessing that almost none of these things are going to happen. Because the Democrats are led by Biden, Harris, Pelosi, and Schumer. None of them fighters. None of them leaders.
I’ll close this angry rant by circling back around to something I learned at Berkeley. In political science, we talk a lot about legitimacy, a good definition of which is “the belief that a rule, institution, or leader has the right to govern.” Look at history and you’ll see that things get very dicey very quickly when institutions lose their legitimacy.
How fares the legitimacy of our federal government? The way I see it, no high court — in any nation, anywhere — can be seen as legitimate when it takes up the task of destroying established human rights. Strike one. The recurring nightmare of the Electoral College mires the presidency in an on-again off-again legitimacy crisis. Strike two. And I hate to bring up the Senate again, but start with the fact that the 50 Democrats we currently have there represent 56.5% of the American public, while the 50 Republicans there represent 43.5% of the public. Now add the filibuster — an extra-constitutional cancer requiring a supermajority to get anything done — and you’ve got a legislative body that has dubious claims (at best!) to legitimacy. Strike three.
So, yeah, I guess there will be political posts here again. Because all three branches of American government are suffering from a crisis of legitimacy. And because I am so angry, and the system is so broken, and the needless harms that are arising are so stupefyingly awful, that I just can’t sit it out anymore. And because you know what else happened Friday? Q came back. Grim Timeline, people! So everyone needs to buckle up and speak out. It will take every voice we can muster to turn the tide against so much madness, and when the shit goes down, I want it to have been clear all along where I stood.
I welcome your comments below if you have anything to say about all this. Or if you remember Night Flight.