In a move that seems carefully calculated to lose more elections while at the same time crushing the spirit of the base, House Democrats yesterday voted to continue Nancy Pelosi’s term as Minority Leader. Contrary to this headline, Pelosi didn’t manage merely to “hang on;” the vote was 135 to 63 to send a clear message: “Yes, we’d like more of the same!”
Look, the Chimps have nothing against Pelosi. She has, at times, been an effective and competent caucus leader. But if the results of November 8 don’t scream the need for urgent, immediate, and meaningful leadership change, we’re going to need a Magic 8 Ball, some tea leaves, and a healthy supply of killer weed to discern the meaning of the latest electoral debacle.
And we have no interest in hearing about what a brilliant political strategist or tactician Pelosi has been. News flash for the House Democrats: YOU’RE A FUCKING MINORITY! And not by just a few votes but – to use the language of canny political operators – by a shitload of votes. Meaning that for at least the next two years (and with continued tone deaf moves like this one, maybe the next 20 years), you have about as much say in what’s going to happen as did the last passenger off the Titanic.
You’re political spectators, just like the rest of us, but with one important exception: for the indefinite future, your role is to act as the opposition party. Really, how much strategy is needed to do that effectively? Attack, oppose, comment, criticize, argue, research, point and laugh, belittle, persuade, reason, and, when possible, block and obstruct. Above all, don’t provide even one single vote in support of any GOP policy initiative. Unless the GOP loses its collective mind and starts offering up policies that actually, you know, benefit people who aren’t really rich, really white, and really connected. Odds that’ll happen? Slightly worse than the odds that one of the Laughing Chimps will be Trump’s first SCOTUS nominee.
We’re sure there are many within the Democratic party who will scold us for advocating what amounts to full-on obstructionism. We offer two responses. First, the GOP spent the last decade or so test driving this model; not only does it ride like a dream, but it pays handsome dividends. Mitch McConnell has proved, conclusively, that “Fuck you” carries no political cost for the obstructing party. Indeed, it seems to shift the political burden to the President’s party, allowing the opposition to enjoy a sort of ‘free rider’ status.
“But Democrats don’t work that way,” will come the response. “Democrats expect their leaders to lead with bipartisanship, bipartisanly. They want people who will get things done!” Which brings us to our second response. That used to be an effective strategy. But no more. If you want to keep losing elections, stick with that plan. Otherwise, it’s time to start blowing shit up ourselves.
For at least the last three decades, the GOP has been busy laying waste to political norms. In the early-to-mid-1990s, Republicans decided to take the gloves off and fight bare-knuckled. Democrats, meantime, thought they were still fighting by the Marquis of Queensbury rules. Even well into his second term, for example, President Obama tried to get the GOP to work with him, going so far as to support Republican policies and appoint Republicans to key political positions. The results have been disastrous, and the Chimps imagine that behind closed doors, congressional Republicans have had many a good laugh at the Democrats’ naive expense.
It’s tempting to pretend that this is all an aberration, a temporary deviation from centrist political understandings that will work their way back to prominence eventually. And therein lies the crucial mistake. Think of this not as a temporary phenomenon blown in on the political winds, but as a kind of political ratchet: with each passing election, Republicans continue to operate further and further outside the norms where Democrats hope to dwell. Democrats have done – and can do – absolutely nothing to force things back to the status quo ante. In short, and to borrow a term from Kim Jung Don’s lexicon, Democrats are playing against an increasingly rigged system; keep it up, and they’ll continue to lose, worse and more often. Even shorter: time to fight fire with fire.
It’s time to rebuild the Democratic machine from the ground up. No, that doesn’t mean supporting nonsense like the Green Party or the Libertarians. It means getting rid of the old guard, replacing them with new, fresh leadership. Might it take some time to find those leaders? Sure, especially since 2016 caught the Democrats so obviously flat-footed. Pelosi’s re-election is the leadership equivalent of a shoulder shrug, accompanied by a resigned “Oh, well. That was disappointing. Maybe we’ll do better next time.” It’s a great way to demoralize a lot of people who are ready and anxious to get to work, while at the same time guaranteeing that you’ll lose future elections.