Let’s just start here, with three quotes from Democratic leaders.
“We believe that we have a responsibility to seek common ground where we can. Openness and transparency, accountability [and] bipartisanship [are] a very important part of how we will go forward.” — Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi after taking control of the House in November 2018.
“On the thorniest issue, of immigration, the president said many times he would take a deal that had included DACA in exchange for the wall. I put that deal on the table in the Oval Office in a sincere effort at compromise. I put the wall on the table in exchange for strong DACA protections.” — Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in January 2018.
“The thing that will fundamentally change things is with Donald Trump out of the White House. Not a joke. You will see an epiphany occur among many of my Republican friends.” — Heavy favorite for 2020 Democratic Presidential Nomination, Former Vice President Joe Biden this week.
Now, let’s contrast these to a quote from an unlikely opponent. Joy Reid is an MSNBC anchor who is more entertainer than journalist. When confronted with tweets and blog posts from her past that were shockingly homophobic, Reid claimed that someone hacked her and posted them, and never provided any proof that it was anyone but her who said these things. She also elevated Malcolm Nance, a former intelligence officer who used his time on MSNBC to hype the Mueller investigation into a McCarthyite fever dream that was wholly rebuked by the Mueller Report (MSNBC shelved Nance after the report came out). Reid has also been one of the leading anchors pushing the false “Bernie Bro” narrative since 2016.
She is simply a creature of the infotainment that is cable news, and she has been extremely loyal to MSNBC—the cable news station run by the Democratic Party and Comcast. I bring all this up, because you might have thought she just made an appearance on the insurgent leftist podcast, Chapo Trap House, given this tweet.
“Bipartisanship” is the liberal version of Make America Great Again. That's simply not how big liberal things have gotten done—ever! A simple scroll through Wikipedia could tell you how the 1964 Civil Rights Act fractured the Democratic Party and birthed a new GOP. Medicare, the most popular government program, was pushed through by a majority in defiance of an incredibly intransigent minority declaring this health care plan for seniors to be a socialist takeover of America (sound familiar?). FDR threatened to add seats to the Supreme Court when they kept striking down his new deal. This never happened because Associate Justice Owen J. Roberts swung to FDR's side—known as The Switch In Time that Saved Nine.
The only way to decentralize power is to exercise political power.
Like “incrementalism,” “bipartisanship” has been co-opted by a generation sponsored by the C-suite class, and now these words are both a BS excuse to implement pro-corporate policies under the guise of “bipartisanship,” and also just the way that things work. Actual political incrementalism played out in the 20th century—as we endured long fights that culminated in vast expansions of basic rights in near-unilateral action by the Democratic Party through the New Deal, Medicare and the Civil Rights Act. Progress doesn't move at a constant pace, and it doesn't always go forward.
We have been struggling since the 1960s, and Americans are desperate for a new burst of life-altering legislation. Bipartisanship is necessary to keep the lights on, etc…in the United States Congress, but when it comes to the large ideological battles about serious legislation, bipartisanship is the last thing liberals need—especially in this Trumpian moment.
Joy Reid understands this. Chapo understands this. Hell, my dog probably understands this, and yet, the three most powerful Democrats in our current moment still preach the importance—nay, the requirement—of bipartisanship. This worldview centers Republicans—not liberal outcomes—because according to the religion of bipartisanship, without Republicans, there can be no real legislation, and therefore no outcomes, let alone liberal ones.
Bipartisanship is a nice fairy tale that liberals tell themselves to distract from the fact that Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf about how much he wanted to model his Germany off our early 20th century racist laws. This is and always has been a brutal, unforgiving country built on the dual foundations of genocide and slavery. We have yet to fully reckon with that fact, and that is a major reason why we have Trump.
The only way that anything productive ever gets done is with major fights that result in leveraging levers of power against entrenched interests in order to create broad prosperity. That's how politics has worked forever and ever. Just because the 1990s brought a new Industrial Revolution-event (and a vast expansion of capital with it) doesn't mean that the basic rules of politics have changed. Power is still power.
And Democrats refuse to engage in the political system that afforded them so much power, even when they have a historic mandate from the people. Nancy “I'm not for impeachment” Pelosi is giving a green light to Trump and all future presidents to commit impeachable offenses by refusing to honor Robert Mueller's request to look at the mountain of obstruction of justice evidence he collected. The current fight over subpoenas that Democrats are waging against the White House was literally one of Richard Nixon's articles of impeachment. All this is damning detail unnecessary to even go in to, because Democrats had all the evidence they needed to present an impeachment case the moment Trump started locking children in cages.
And yet, the promise of tax returns, multiple investigations, fighting on the Mueller front, possibly impeachment…none of those have fully materialized for a Democratic House that has held power for about four months now.
Republicans understand power. Democrats refuse to wield it. That’s why we find ourselves in a constitutional crisis (Pelosi is right about that). Trump is going outside the bounds of the law to defy constitutionally-mandated Congressional oversight, and the Democrats are declawing themselves and pledging not to use their biggest weapon before the fight has even begun, and thus we find ourselves in a stalemate (at best). By promising to only wield power via bipartisan consensus in an increasingly polarized country, the Democrats are ultimately pledging to do nothing to address the failures that led to President Trump—other than fundraising off his widespread unpopularity.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.