The Court, The Election, The Future…and the Problem

The death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a loss unimaginable in scope, yet at the same time, unfortunately all-too-predictable. Ginsburg was clearly relentlessly battling recurring cancer, and it was only a matter of time. Enough so that many of the “life of…” stories were already written, just waiting for the word to come down to be published. So I will not even attempt what many others have already done much better than I could.

CleanShot 2020 09 19 at 08 31 09 2x

What struck me last night after I heard the news, among all the tribitues and the grieving and the worry about the future was this reaction, which I saw more than once on Twitter last night:



The proximate cause of the current round of Sarandon Derangement Syndrome was almost certainly last week’s kerfuffle, but it scarcely matters what the justification is. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is what I have been saying, in one form or another, for years: if something like RBG’s death happens and your first instinct after maybe a perfunctory “OMG” tweet is to…take a swipe at one aging lefty actress, we are in very big trouble, as I’m far from the first to observe.

Why? Because that instinct – to type something like that at a time like this – indicates that despite everything that’s happened and is continuing to happen, for a very sizable and well-connected segment of centrist Democrats it is still more important to punch left than it is to organize, strategize, or even mourn. Using the death of RBG to tell Susan Sarandon to fuck off (as Boehlert’s tweet did subliminally and many of the replies made explicit) reveals some very unpleasant things about the mindset of the person writing it:

  1. They believe either that it is more important to “own the left” in the same way some right-wingers mindlessly want to “own the libs,” than it is to actually win, or (much more horrifyingly) they believe that crushing their left flank – even if only performatively in snark actually is the path to victory.
  2. They’re getting queasy intimations they’re going to lose again to an eminently beatable lying game show host in a couple of months.
  3. They can’t conceive of any way the Democrats could block or reject a pre-election SCOTUS nomination or, if they can, they’re worried Dems won’t have the spine to pursue such a strategy if it smacks even a little of “incivility,” and finally…
  4. They’re already looking for another scapegoat for the next round of losses. Oooh, hey, here’s one from last time; let’s just dust her off, smack her around a little, preemptively, and get ready to blame a few thousand voters in contested states for our candidate’s loss. Because, y’know…that went well last time.

It’s depressing beyond words to see this still being the operative mindset for so many, because it means the people who thought if we just centristed harder last time, we’d surely win haven’t learned a thing. They seem well prepared to once again fight the last battle, and content with the prospect of getting to smarmily blame Susan Sarandon or Jill Stein or the electoral college if they lose in November, as another four years of ruinous GOP venality and incompetence runs fatally rampant across our hemorrhaging democracy.

In sharp contrast, here’s another tweet I saw within minutes of hearing last night’s news:


Yep. Exactly. It may not be possible to stop McConnell, but there are certainly plenty of voices calling for Democrats to fight tooth and nail to try, and offering to take drastic but long overdue measures like abolishing the filibuster, if they can’t stop the nomination. The problem is: Joe Biden is paradoxically perhaps the least likely person to take such steps. Abolish the filibuster? Here’s what the septuagenarian candidate and thirty-six year member of “the world’s most deliberative body” had to say on that subject in 2005 when Bill Frist was threatening to use the “nuclear option” to stop Democratic filibusters of GOP nominees:


Does this seem like the kind of candidate who will be able and willing to do what is necessary? Sure, that was fifteen years ago. Maybe it was political posturing/gamesmanship in 2005, or maybe Biden’s learned since then. He is already on record today saying the Senate should wait until after the new President takes office in January to nominate/confirm a replacement for RBG. But the big tactical difference between Republicans and Democrats for years now is that McConnell cares not a whit about looking hypocritical for having tree-spiked Merrick Garland under Obama, then turning merrily around and ramming a replacement for RBG through, either before the election or in the lame duck session if there is one. But history and his own words above suggest Biden will not, as Carl Beijer observes, have the backbone to push for something as declassé as court-packing. Like Beijer, I hope to be wrong…but I doubt I will be.

You know who would be in favor of it? Of abolishing the filibuster and leveling the unjustly-tilted playing field in the Supreme Court? Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts:

Mitch McConnell set the precedent. No Supreme Court vacancies filled in an election year. If he violates it, when Democrats control the Senate in the next Congress, we must abolish the filibuster and expand the Supreme Court.

Clear, unambiguous, tough, correct. Everything you’d hope for, to preserve what appears to be slipping away daily in Trump’s America. Why is it important that Markey made this statement? Not just to show that there are still Democrats out there who are genuinely progressive and possessed of a spine. From AOC to Cori Bush, that moment is upon us and rising — if far too slowly for my tastes. No, the main reason worth noting that Markey is one of the ones who is suggesting Democrats fight like hell on this (even if Biden likely won’t) is the following:

Remember Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s stunning 2018 primary defeat of Joe Crowley which paved the way for her to become the force of nature in the House and symbol of a resurgent progressive spirit that she is? Well, in the wake of that upset, the DCCC, to little fanfare, posted new rules for vendors (i.e. – consultants) to their website. Among them was the statement that “to be considered as a DCCC vendor, and to be placed on the DCCC approved vendor list that will be shared with our targeted campaigns, a vendor must agree to the business and reporting terms listed below.” A list of mostly-standard conditions followed, but among them was this money quote:

The core mission of the DCCC is electing House Democrats, which includes supporting and protecting incumbents. To that end, the DCCC will not conduct business with, nor recommend to any of its targeted campaigns, any consultant that works with an opponent of a sitting Member of the House Democratic Caucus.

In other words: if you work for any candidate who primaries a sitting Democrat, you are banned from working for any of the Democrats in general elections against Republicans for 2020 and perhaps permanently. That, my friends, is what you call “hardball.” The type of hardball that Ed Markey seems willing to play against the GOP, but Democrats seem only willing to play against their own left flank. If you read only the news, you could be forgiven for thinking Democrats don’t act ruthlessly when needed — they totally do, but typically only whenever there is a challenge to them from the left…not from the right. Which brings us back to the Sarandon-blaming of the tweet that inspired this post.

And the cherry on top of all of this? Ed Markey, the Massachusetts Senator with the right idea and the backbone to see it done, just won his own primary against a challenger many thought he wouldn’t beat: Joe Kennedy. Yes, that Kennedy family. In Massachusetts. Markey pulled it out despite the instant support that comes with being a Kennedy in MA, partly because of Markey’s progressive bona fides, but also because Markey’s already well known. He’s been a Senator for a term now, and was a congressman for years before that. In other words, he’s the very definition of an incumbent. You know, the kind of insider who is the exact reason the DCCC chose to re-write their own rules to fend off primary challengers.

Well, guess who bucked that DCCC dictum, to endorse Kennedy’s primary challenge against Markey? If you guessed Nancy Pelosi,  you’ve been paying attention. Why would Pelosi do such a thing? Because Markey bucked her authority. He was the Senate sponsor (to AOC in the House) of the Green New Deal (or as Pelosi put it at the time (and no, I am not kidding!), “the green dream or whatever”).

I guess the “no primarying incumbent Democrats” only applies if the incumbent is a centrist. If they’re on team progressive like Markey and the challenger is a centrist, though? Well, rules out the window. If Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden and the rest of the Democratic establishment were willing to fight as hard against the GOP as they are against anyone to their own left…well, you can finish the thought exercise. But make no mistake: that is where the problem lies right now. The GOP have been off the rails for quite some time, and it’s getting worse. They are of course the reason for this…but they are an opponent that can and should be fought and defeated with popular progressive values that put people before corporations, science above prejudice and grudges. But it takes will and skill to do that…and the most charitable read possible is that Democrats, from Boehlert to Pelosi to Biden, appear to have neither. But I suspect the real issue is that the entrenched Democratic establishment would rather defeat any internal threat to their own power than beat the GOP, especially if it means sharing or ceding power to the very people who are willing and able to fight. If the GOP is the problem, the old-guard, centrist Democratic establishment are the main impediment to solving it.

But they’ll sure blame the hell out of Susan Sarandon again if they lose. Here we come, 2020.