Biden and the Democrats Could Change Everything. But They Won’t Try.

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            “When someone shows you who they are,” Maya Angelou said, “believe them the first time.” We’re about to be reminded who and what the corporate-owned Democratic Party is—something they showed us in 2009.

            A pair of upset victories in the widely-watched pair of Georgia senatorial runoff elections has handed Democrats what they said they needed to get big things done: control of the White House, the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. If they want, they have argued over the last year, Democrats will be able to push through a lot of important legislation on the liberal agenda: a dramatic increase in the minimum wage, student loan forgiveness, an eviction ban, Medicare For All, expanded economic stimulus and addressing the climate crisis come to mind.

            They don’t want to. They won’t try.

            And they’ll have an excuse. Democrats will still be 10 votes short of the supermajority needed to override Republican filibusters. The billion dollars spent to elect those two Democrats in Georgia created some interesting symbolism about the rising influence of Black voters and hopes for further Democratic inroads in the South, but it didn’t defang Mitch McConnell. Gridlock goes on.

            Not that Biden and his pet Democratic Congress have much of an agenda. He’ll reverse Trump’s executive orders on stuff like rejoining the Paris Agreement but he won’t move the policy meter left of where it stood under Obama—a guy who was so far right of progressives that they launched the Occupy Wall Street movement to oppose him. Biden campaigned tepidly on adding a “public option” to Obamacare, but McConnell will almost certainly block it and anything else that requires GOP votes. The exception, of course, will be the next bloated military spending bill. For six consecutive decades Americans have been able to count on death, taxes, rising income inequality and bipartisan support for blowing up brown people in countries we can’t find on a map with $640 toilet seats.

            But you shouldn’t let the filibuster get you down. Even if Nonexistent God were to smite 10 deserving GOP senators with the coronaplague and said smitten senators had represented states whose Democratic governors were to appoint their replacements thus giving the Bidenocrats a coveted 60-vote supermajority, nothing would get better.

            We know this because it happened 12 years ago, during the 111th Congress.

            Obama’s presidency began in the strongest power position of any Democrat since FDR. With the economy in a tailspin and shedding hundreds of thousands of jobs a month—back then we still thought that was a lot—voters were both desperate and optimistic that our young new leader would lead us out of the Great Recession. He had a 68% approval rating, indicating bipartisan support. Democrats had picked up 21 seats in the House, giving them a 257-to-178 majority. They had a 59-to-41 majority in the Senate. (This included two independents, Bernie Sanders and Joe Lieberman, who caucused with Democrats.) They were one tantalizing vote short of a supermajority.

            That changed on September 24, 2009, when the seat vacated by Ted Kennedy’s death was temporarily filled by a fellow Democrat, until February 4, 2010, when Scott Brown, a Republican, won the Kennedy spot in a special election.

            Democratic apologists explain away Obama’s lack of progress on progressive policy goals during that halcyon period by pointing out that total Democratic control of the White House and both houses of Congress “only” lasted four months, during which they passed the Affordable Care Act.

            Let’s temporarily set aside the question of how it is that Ronald Reagan rammed an agenda so far right that it still affects all of us today through a 243-to-191 Democratic House and “just” 53 GOP seats in the Senate. What about those four magic months during which Obama could have gone as far left as he and his fellow Democrats wanted?

            Well, Democrats did pass one of those 60 straight bloated defense bills. That would have happened under Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. They extended unemployment benefits by 14 to 20 weeks, depending on in which state the poor jobless schmuck lived. And the ACA. And that’s it.

            In order to secure the vote of Lieberman—who represented the insurance company-owned state of Connecticut—the ACA did not include the “public option” that Obama had promised during his campaign. DNC chairman Howard Dean, then in his pre-neutered state, called the deletion of the public option “the collapse of healthcare reform in the United States Senate. And, honestly, the best thing to do right now is kill the Senate bill and go back to the House and start the reconciliation process, where you only need 51 votes and it would be a much simpler bill.” He was right, but Obama, his House and his supermajoritarian Senate didn’t bother. Like Lieberman, they cared about insurers, not patients.

            Four months isn’t that long. Yet Reagan used less time than that to crush his opponents and pass tax cuts for the rich that shredded the New Deal social safety net. “The president used the bully pulpit to overcome opposition among House Democrats, building support for the cuts,” recalled Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. “He gave a speech on television, urging citizens to write their legislators and tell them to support the cuts. House Democrats, now the sole base for the party in Washington, joined in once they saw the public pressure.” LBJ took less time to “set Congress on the path to passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as a tax cut and Medicare,” wrote presidential scholar Jeffrey Tulis. FDR created modern liberalism in under three months. You can imagine what Trump would have done during four months of a GOP House and Senate supermajority.

            Republicans didn’t prevent Obama from taking on the minimum wage or student loan debt or poverty. Obama had four months to do those things. No one could have stopped him. He didn’t try.

            And neither would Biden if he had the chance.

CORRECTED 1/6/21 to reflect that Brown won a statewide special election. He was not appointed, as I wrote initially. I regret the error.

            (Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

Both Parties Lost the Election. Now the Real Trouble Begins.

Five myths about lame-duck presidents - The Washington Post

            My liberal friends are relieved. I am terrified.

            Democratic voters got what they wanted last Saturday: the electoral defeat of Donald Trump.

By this time next year if not sooner, Joe Biden’s win will look like a Pyrrhic victory.

            Rather than pushing an affirmative platform of policy proposals, Biden’s entire campaign boiled down to opposition to Trump. This is the first time that a purely negative campaign has unseated an incumbent president.

            I was skeptical of Biden’s decision to target disaffected anti-Trump Republican swing voters rather than shore up the progressive base, but it worked. That’s why he won personally, yet didn’t have coattails in the House (where Dems lost seats), Senate or state races. Many Republican voters, tired of Trump’s tweets and disgusted by his COVID buffoonery, voted straight red except for crossing party lines for President-elect Biden.

            Going forward, there are several reasons to be scared.

            First: Trump isn’t gone. He isn’t the quiet type. Coupled with his refusal to concede the race, Trump’s silence and that of his MAGA supporters is spooky. As previously discussed in this space, Trump is a desperate man fighting for his freedom. On January 20th he loses executive immunity, becoming exposed to the New York prosecutors who are gunning for him on bank fraud, tax fraud and insurance fraud charges that will probably land him in prison for the rest of his life. He will do anything — wouldn’t you? — to avoid that fate.

            Trump’s Plan A, I believe, is his flurry of lawsuits related to supposed voter fraud and vote-counting irregularities. Trump doesn’t care about winning his cases. He wants to run out the clock by delaying ballot certifications past the December 14th electoral college deadline in enough states in order to trigger the 12th Amendment, which would grant him a second term via a vote in the new House of Representatives. Trump’s legal filings probably won’t prevail. But his odds are better than zero. This is why so few GOP politicians have broken rank — they know the SOB isn’t yet done for.

            Plan B, because there is no other option that leaves him in the White House and thus out of prison, is for Trump to declare some sort of “state of emergency” in response to a real or imagined crisis (Antifa, coronavirus, ISIS, just the election having been “stolen”). Martial law, tanks in the streets, stay in your homes or you will be shot. We’ll figure out the election later…much later…never.

            On-and-off Trump crony Roger Stone recently suggested that Trump invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act, declare martial law, arrest Harry Reid, Mark Zuckerberg, the Clintons and journalists. Trump himself threatened to use it to crush the Black Lives Matter movement this past summer.

His armed redneck MAGA brigades may be deputized as the coup’s paramilitaries “to protect law and order.” He could pull it off; liberals are wimps and Trump has widespread support among local police forces and sizable support among the white nationalists and other reactionaries within the military. On the other hand, a presidential attack on democracy could unite the left and the mainstream right.

            There might not be a coup. Trump might slink off into the night or fly into Saudi exile. Point is, I won’t breathe easily until he’s gone on January 20th.

[Edit Added 11/10/20:]

Adding to the growing sense that a coup attempt may be in the works were Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s statement on the floor of the U.S. Senate yesterday, and the fact that no Republican not previously identified anti-Trump has come out to urge Trump to accept defeat and concede the election to Biden. “President Trump is 100-percent within his rights to look into allegations of irregularities and weigh his legal options,” McConnell said. Only one GOP senator, moderate Susan Collins of Maine, congratulated Biden on his win. While acknowledging that Biden won, Fox News continues to use weasel language like “if and when Biden takes the oath of office.”

Two other developments give cause for concern.

First, Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper. Why would an outgoing administration fire a cabinet officer two months before the end of its term? Because it intends to remain in office. Esper was notable for refusing Trump’s order to deploy the military against BLM protesters in June. Trump will require a compliant defense secretary to stage a coup that cannot succeed without troops in the streets; he appears to have found such a figure in Esper’s acting replacement.  Second, Attorney General William Barr ordered the Department of Justice to investigate voter fraud in the recent election, providing a fig leaf for Trump’s allegations that he was cheated.

[/end of edit]

            If that happens, Joe Biden’s problems begin. And ours become immeasurably worse.

            Republicans will probably retain control of the Senate. Anyone remotely familiar with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell knows that it will be impossible to pass big-ticket Democratic legislation. The $15-per-hour federal minimum wage, public option for Obamacare, partial student loan forgiveness and anything that approaches a Green New Deal are all dead on arrival.

Biden hasn’t even taken the oath of office yet. But he is already the lamest of all lame ducks. Progressives will protest and attack Biden from the left, arguing that his centrist campaign failed to generate the Blue Wave necessary to get big things done. (They will be right.) Centrists, seeing that Biden’s presidency is doomed, that Bidenism never meant anything and will never accomplish more than to simply exist, will resign themselves to apathy.

The country will be in big trouble. It will have been over half a year since the last infusion of economic stimulus. Unemployment will be soaring, the long-term unemployed will face evictions and foreclosures, the sagging housing market will begin to collapse and securities markets, which have managed to teeter along through COVID, will start to feel the pain. And the coronavirus will be ravaging us through its second or third wave of death and disability, no vaccine yet available, in an insane for-profit healthcare system.

Biden and the Democrats will be in the worst possible position. The pandemic will be raging and the economy will be in depression. Democrats will be blamed for the mess left behind by Trump but they won’t be able to do anything to try to fix it. They’ll complain about McConnell but voters won’t listen.

Ordinary citizens will suffer the most. We need a huge stimulus package but we’re not going to get one. Gridlock will prevent the U.S. government from doing anything to save the planet, the economy or us.

Or itself.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

No Country for Old Airline Passengers

The U.S. Senate voted down an amendment that almost every American could have approved of heartily, a Chuck Schumer-sponsored measure that would have allowed the FAA to tell airlines to stop packing passengers into planes like sardines. At a time like this can anyone doubt that this isn’t a democracy?

Most Transparent Administration Ever

U.S. Senators who want to read the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement with Asian countries can’t get a copy to read. Instead, they have view the long, confusing document in a secret locked room where they can take notes, but not keep them. The only way they could credibly consider the agreement would be if they had a photographic memory.

Better Never Than Never

Obama finally admits that he should have closed Guantanamo concentration camp on his first day in office, rather than waste time. Unfortunately, his mistake has added years of torture to the innocent detainees there.

ANewDomain.net Essay: US Torture: What’s Really New Here?

Originally published at ANewDomain.net:

A long-awaited report on torture under the Bush administration has just been released – sort of. Actually, it’s just the 600-page “executive summary.” The full 6,000 pages remains classified. Still, it’s making big news, and for good reason: it’s the first official attempt by the political class to walk back some of the most extreme American responses to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. If you’re not like me, you haven’t been following the ins and outs of the torture debate since the very start. But I have, so I’m here to tell you what you need to know over the water cooler.

What’s new?
 Not that much. The CIA already admitted that it had subjected three detainees – men suspected of terrorism but never formally charged under American law, kidnapped and brought to so-called “black sites” (CIA secret prisons around the world, in countries like Romania and Thailand) – to waterboarding, which is a form of simulated drowning widely considered to be torture under international law. Due to the new Senate report, we know that it happened to a lot more than just these three men. But that doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who follows the CIA.

They’re liars. They’re spies. Same thing.

Most of the other revelations were previously leaked, including the use of threats to the lives of detainees’ wives and children, and of the use of a power drill during at least one torture session. Why is the media treating this stuff as new? After years of cuts in newsrooms, young journalists simply don’t remember this stuff or weren’t around when it happened.

What will happen as a result?
That’s hard to say, but probably nothing much.

US President Barack Obama set the tone back in early 2009, shortly after taking office, when he said that it was his inclination to look forward, not backward, by which he meant that the United States shouldn’t wallow in the past sins of the Bush administration by looking at torture and holding those responsible for it accountable. Backpedaling on that policy would open all sorts of cans of worms for him and his administration, setting the stage for unknown repercussions. Politicians rarely do this voluntarily. Don’t expect any calls for Bush-era torturers to be prosecuted, much less for the high-ranking officials, including former national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and VP Dick Cheney, to be investigated.

So torture is pretty much a thing of the past, right?
 Wrong.

Although Obama says the United States no longer tortures, there is nothing that has happened under his administration that would prevent a future president from authorizing torture again. Obama has never canceled or declared null and void the shoddily worded and legally dubious legal opinions issued by the Bush White House’s Office of Legal Counsel, which means that the legal infrastructure authorizing so-called “harsh interrogation techniques” remains in place. Which is why Obama used very lawyerly, very weasely words in his 2009 statement: “after I took office, one of the first things I did was to ban some of the extraordinary interrogation techniques…” The word “some” wasn’t an accident.

Even now, many of the abuses that took place at places like Guantánamo under Bush have been moved to more discreet locations such as a new expanded post-Guantánamo detention center for detainees held at Bagram airbase north of Kabul, Afghanistan. One of the reasons that Obama moved detainees from Cuba to Afghanistan was to be able to torture them more discreetly and deny them access to their lawyers, who were far more easily able to fly to Cuba.

Also, under the Obama rules, only the US military is specifically prohibited from torturing detainees. The CIA and other agencies in the so-called intelligence community still enjoy carte blanche. And Appendix M of the Army Field Manual still allows torture under Obama.

There’s a reason the Senate report doesn’t cover the period beyond 2009.

But now that people know the truth, aren’t they going to get mad and demand action?

Maybe, but there’s no reason to believe that now. The fact is, Americans have known for 12 years through one report after another, many of them filed by this reporter, and have chosen to either ignore the issue, shrug it off as a necessary way to extract information from terrorists who mean to attack the homeland, or outright applaud it as vengeance against those who mean us harm. True, Americans are much calmer now than they were in 2001 and 2002, but once a country has accepted a behavior as normal, it’s very hard for it to reconsider that and achieve a different political consensus. Also, there’s no evidence that there is widespread disgust among the public for torture. Earlier this year, a poll found that 68% of Americans approve of torture depending on the circumstances.

 Still, you cynical bastard, isn’t this report better than no report at all?

Yes. The truth is always a good thing. There’s no way for a country to begin a journey toward redemption until it starts to acknowledge its sins. Speaking of which, don’t take Sen. John McCain too seriously. He talks a good game about torture now, but when he had the votes to pass a bill that would have banned torture, he succumbed to pressure from the Bush White House to remain quiet when the president issued a “signing statement,” stating that the US government would ignore the law.

Only in America

The Senate special report on torture by the CIA under the Bush Administration reveals such horrors as rectal feeding, murder, threatening children and lying to Congress, Meanwhile, conservatives are angry – that these facts are being made public.

At This Rate

The 113th Congress will have 20 female Senators, the most in U.S. history. At this rate, we’ll have 50 by the year 2366. And this is progress?

Cover Illustration for Isthmus: Tommy vs. Tammy

Freelance illustration assignments are few and far-between these days—at least for me—so it was fun to do this week’s cover for the alternative weekly in Madison, Wisconsin. It’s about the Senate race in Wisconsin.

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