Part 4—We need what he did back in March: For one brief shining moment, not so long ago, Democrats controlled the United States Senate with a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority.
This brief era of ascension ran from July 2009 through January 2010. We're unlikely see its like again.
We recall one of the ways we accomplished this remarkable dominance. We got Ted Stevens locked up!
Stevens was an endlessly-serving Republican senator from the state of Alaska. But yay yay yay yay yay!
In the fall of 2008, he was found guilty in a federal corruption trial—and eight days later, he lost his bid for re-election! For one brief shining moment, the fact that we got Stevens locked up allowed us to control the Senate bigly.
Uh-oh, though! "Prior to sentencing, the indictment [of Stevens] was dismissed...when a Justice Department probe found evidence of gross prosecutorial misconduct," the leading authority notes.
Still, the fact that we got him locked up gave us that brief, six-month advantage. Gross misconduct be damned!
That temporary domination of the Senate was the fruit of several gifts. In the years preceding, several major House Republicans had managed to get themselves accused of high-profile sexual crimes. (In 2006, this happened during the fall campaign.)
Also, a Republican president had started a war which seemed to have gone rather poorly. Along the way, one of his leading aides had managed to get himself locked up on a related perjury rap.
Meanwhile, oops! Under his less than spectacular leadership, the entire financial system collapsed in September 2008. This turned national polls which were disturbingly close toward the subsequent Democratic presidential win.
We liberals were handed a lot of gifts during those later Bush years. Now, we're hoping, in the case of Donald J. Trump, that we'll be able to lock him up. As with Richard M. Nixon of old, so too here with Donald J. Trump:
If we can't beat 'em, we don't plan to join 'em. We dream about locking them up!
This may not be the greatest way to pursue national politics. In yesterday's New York Times, Bernie Sanders noted the horrible string of election defeats the Dems have amassed in the years since that last set of gifts.
"If these results are not a clear manifestation of a failed political strategy, I don’t know what is," the senator pluckily observed. He went on to offer his prescription for political recovery. His recommendations ran beneath this nugget paragraph:
SANDERS (6/14/17): If these results are not a clear manifestation of a failed political strategy, I don’t know what is. For the sake of our country and the world, the Democratic Party, in a very fundamental way, must change direction. It has got to open its doors wide to working people and young people. It must become less dependent on wealthy contributors, and it must make clear to the working families of this country that, in these difficult times, it is prepared to stand up and fight for their rights. Without hesitation, it must take on the powerful corporate interests that dominate the economic and political life of the country.As Sanders unpleasantly noted, Democrats have been losing elections on every level—federal, state and local. It's hard to argue with his claim that something must change "in a very fundamental way."
That said, alas! As he continued, Sanders listed a tired old set of policy proposals, roughly seven in number, with which Democrats should restore their primacy. While we don't disagree with Sanders' prescriptions, we think his overall advice was quite narrow.
Sanders listed a set of proposals, all of which may make sense. It's also true that, under current procedures, all his proposals can be demagogued and distorted in ways which ensure more defeats.
In this age of corporate partisan "news," the nation's problem is increasingly the medium, not the messages. It's easy to hurl gorilla dust around each of Sanders' policy stands. Until liberals come to terms with the range of ways we get defeated, all the policy in the world won't obviate our current political need—our nee to lock them up because we can't defeat them.
Sorry, Charlie! Listing good policy isn't enough. We have to come to terms with the ways our discourse has been turned to dust by the rise of partisan "news" on cable, on talk radio, and of course on the Internet. We also have to come to terms with the way we "liberals" increasingly behave, in part due to the thrall of our own corporate media.
In our view, Sanders' policy proposals wouldn't be nearly enough to restore glory days. We also need to consider the way Sanders behaved back in March.
Back in March, Sanders accompanied MSNBC's Chris Hayes to McDowell County, West Virginia, part of that state's coal country. They conducted, then televised, a full-blown town hall meeting.
We thought Hayes' performance was extremely good that night. We thought Sanders was superb, pretty much off the charts.
When's the last time you saw a pair of liberals address a room containing Trump voters without informing them, right off the bat, that they're a gang of deplorable racists?
As moderator, Hayes eschewed that approach. As we noted back in March, this is what Sanders did:
HAYES (3/13/17): So Senator, coal, I think, is on a long-term decline."You are not my enemy?" Is Sanders permitted to say that?
HAYES: What do you tell the folks here for whom, like Philip, that is the one job that pays a decent wage and gives benefits?
SANDERS: Well, let me be honest and say two things.
I think—and disagree with me if you think I'm wrong on this—but coal in this area has been in decline I think, since the '70s and the '80s. It's not anything that's new.
And I think— And second of all—and I know not everybody, you know, will be happy with me saying this—but I happen to believe, unlike the president, that climate change is real and it is a threat to all.
But having said that, I don't hold this gentleman and the coal miners responsible for climate change. In fact, in fact, these guys are heroes.
I remember, I grew up in a rent control apartment house in Brooklyn, New York, and I will never forget the piles of coal. I don't know if it came from here or wherever it came. You kept my house warm. Thank you. So you're not—you are not my enemy.
But what we have to do, in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, what we have to do is to say the choice is not transforming our energy system to protect the planet and throwing people out on the street. The choice is reinvesting in communities that have been devastated by changes in energy and make sure folks have decent paying jobs and we can do that. We are not a poor country.
Sanders spoke about policy there, and in the comments which followed. But before that, he did several things:
First, he invited people to disagree with him. This is a sign of respect.
Then he did something amazing. Instead of informing the crowd that they were slobbering racists and/or very dumb, he said he regards them as heroes! You're not my enemy, he said!
In other remarks, he made it clear that he understands, and sympathizes with, the difficult parameters of their families' lives, including the way Big Coal has been stripping them of promised health care after they acquired black lung. At one point, this behavior by Sanders occasioned these remarks:
RETIRED MINER: I never dreamed that I'd get to thank you personally, myself, for the bill that you have co-sponsored, the Senate Bill 175, the Miners Protection Act, which—We've checked the transcript of the hour-long program. The word "deplorable" wasn't uttered all night. Are Hayes and Sanders allowed to behave that way?
I'm one of those miners that will lose his health care at the end of April if they don't pass that law. I come from Local 1440 in Matewan...We have over 800 members, all inactive. They're all retired. So we look at things different. And we look at our health care and what we've already worked out.
We're not going to mine any more coal. Our coal mining days are over. And we look to have the funds that we worked for—
SANDERS: And were promised!
RETIRED MINER: —that were promised to us taken care of. That's all we asked. And it's— I think it's kind of ironic that a senator from the northeast—
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes!
RETIRED MINER: —takes care of my benefits better than someone like Mitch McConnell.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: All right!
[LONG ROUND OF APPLAUSE]
We liberals! As our own corporate media have increasingly dumbed us down, we've become perhaps the least competent people ever to inhabit the earth.
We've invented perhaps a million ways to ensure electoral defeat. For starters, we seem to insist on insulting the voters, even before we stoop to instruct them as to how they should vote.
These leaves us losing elections far and wide, but always blaming The Others. As we get stroked by our own corporate millionaires who are paid to serve us our own tribal porridge, it never seems to enter our heads that we might be a large part of the reason we keep getting smoked.
We've invented a million ways to lose. We'll plan to explore them next week.
For today, we'll only say this. Bernie on policy isn't enough. We also need the good human sense he displayed on coal country night.
"Lock him up," we shout about Trump. For ourselves, we'd offer this question:
How in the world did we ever manage to lose to this nut in the first place?
Tomorrow: When it comes to our glorious lineup, five out of six is quite bad