Well, the US Presidential campaign season kicked off last night in earnest, with ten of the more than 20 Democratic hopefuls up on stage hurriedly answering questions in little one minute spurts. I don’t know why they call these things “debates”; nobody really debates anything much, unless they flout the rules a bit and break in when it’s not their turn. In the main, the candidates simply absorb a question, mostly refuse to answer it, pivot to something they prefer to talk about, then ding, minute’s up.
Still, you get a chance to see how good the various candidates are on their feet, how scrappy they are, whether they project gravitas, and crucially, this election season, whether they seem tough enough and wilful enough to sustain Trump’s withering bully-boy assaults and come back swinging. So far that’s a tough call. At the moment, most of the Democrats are trying to project a positive vision and not spend all their time on camera ranting about the godawful mutant id-monster in the Oval. Thus last night they all seemed generally calm and non-combative, and weren’t trying to prove they’ve got the stuff to slap leather with Orange Idi. They must be getting advice that for the primaries, that’s the way to go. Perhaps. Yet I wonder whether anybody really cares about much beyond making sure the eventual nominee can beat Trump. Yes, yes, bring in gun control if you can, improve health care, cancel student debt, yes, you go girl, but can you beat Trump?
I’m not sure there’s any good way to answer that question. Picking candidates based on their supposed electability is a fraught business that often stiffs you with inoffensive but uninspiring losers like John Kerry and Mitt Romney. Still. Nicolle Wallace has said she’ll vote for Joe Biden’s campaign bus, if it wins the nomination, but we can’t count on the Red State electorate to feel the same way, and that may cause many Democrats to discard the candidates they like in favour of the ones they think can win. That’s risky, but I get it. Who cares what you’d do when you got there, if you’re never going to get there? Trump has to be defeated. Nothing else is important. Right?
No. Wrong, actually. Unfortunately, while we all quite understandably obsess about Donald, there’s another question that needs to be posed which isn’t, or not nearly enough, anyway: who cares if a Democrat wins the White House so long as Mitch McConnell still runs the Senate?
This is fundamental. It’s how the American system was designed. It’s not enough that Trump is sent packing back to his bat cave on Fifth Avenue, thence, hopefully, to be prosecuted and put in a cage to live out the remainder of his miserable life. Mitch has to go, too. He has to be dealt with. Nothing can ever really get better so long as he’s on site, and a few important things are sure to get even worse.
I worry about this every election season. Americans seem to forget that their President is just one cog in a machine that can get gridlocked at multiple choke points, and unless they want to see an extension of Trump’s unconstitutional power grabs and obliteration of the the American democratic system, everything really turns on Congress. Congress passes the laws. Congress raises and spends the money. Congress can override presidential vetoes and cram legislation down the Chief Executive’s throat, if its members are so moved. And Congress has two chambers, each of which can completely stymie the other, with one terribly important exception.
We saw this during Obama’s last six years in office. Mitch can just sit up there and kill anything the President wants, even stop him, apparently, from filling Supreme Court vacancies, and nobody can do a damned thing about it. Today, Mitch sits atop a Democratic House of Representatives and strangles stone-dead every bouncing baby bill that it sends to him. Every one, murdered in the crib. Under the rules – and it’s just a set of procedural rules, not anything in the Constitution, that grants him this tyrannical authority – Mitch gets to decide whether anything even comes up for a vote. If it does, Mitch whips his members to vote it down. If a few of his members won’t fall into line, well, that’s OK, because for most important bills the filibuster rules – again, just rules, not anything in the Constitution – require 60 Senate votes to move things ahead, and Mitch can sure as shit prevent that big a tally.
Conviction upon impeachment requires a Senate supermajority too, 66 votes, and that is in the Constitution. Thus does Mitch, even if he loses his majority, keep Donald safe from removal. Finally, so long as Mitch keeps his majority, he can take advantage of that most crucial and exclusive power: he gets to stack the Federal judiciary. It’s the Senate, and the Senate alone, that gives its advice and consent to judicial appointments. Suppose Trump wins. Then, with just a few more years of Mitch, the Republican 5-4 advantage on SCOTUS becomes a stranglehold of 6-3, or 7-2. A few more years of Mitch, and the Federal Circuit Courts will be chock full of right wing ideologues, many of them hopelessly under-qualified, who see their main role as restricting female reproductive freedom and denying the citizenry health care and regulatory protection from their capitalist overlords. Suppose Trump loses. Then Mitch will see to it that the judicial posts remain unfilled, as he did when Obama sent nominees who weren’t to his liking.
That’s the master plan, actually. Politicians come and go. Despite all the gerrymandering and voter suppression, the GOP can still lose. Judges, though, are there for life. In relative terms, judges are forever. Stack the courts and you don’t need that last vote from that last wavering Senator to kill Obamacare. Your hand-picked stooges on the bench will look after it, and other things like it, long into the future, and Mitch has seen to it that the Senate doesn’t do anything much any more besides hand-pick the stooges.
It has to be stopped.
It gets even harder. For anything good to happen, not only do the Democrats need to win a majority in the Senate, they must then do away with the ridiculous filibuster rules. That’s a two-edged sword, of course, but it’s the right thing to do – what sort of deliberative body needs a supermajority before it can do damned near anything? It can’t go on like this. They’re going to have to gulp hard and change their beloved rules.
It’s all going to be hugely difficult. There are far too many Red State Senators ensconced in safe seats, which is why you see these old white guys returning for one six-year term after another, until after a few decades they have to be wheeled in and out on gurneys – Mitch himself is finishing up his sixth term, and going for a seventh. Only a third of the chamber is up for re-election every two years, and this time the seats up for grabs aren’t the ones that the Dems can easily win. It’s going to take maximum effort by a sparkling set of candidates. It’s going to take money, scads and scads of money in perhaps unprecedented amounts. It’s going to take legions of volunteers, platoons of clever strategists, and tireless efforts to knock on doors and get out the vote. Thus far, I don’t think this has sunk in sufficiently. I don’t see enough being done about it.
Now that the worst fears of the Founders have come true, and Congress is dominated by factions subject to party discipline, Mitch must be excised like the malignant tumour that he is. If Mitch is still kicking around with his Senate majority when the dust settles in 2020, it won’t help all that much if the Dems have installed Jesus Christ in the White House. This has to be a matter of the most urgent priority. A lot of promising potential Senate candidates now running for President should consider where it is they can do the most good, and which branch of government they would best be struggling to join. Money, time, and resources need to be lavished on taking back the upper chamber, starting now. Otherwise, yes, maybe Trump is dispensed with, and at least that will mean an end to Donald’s peculiar brand of incompetent foreign policy chaos, and a lot of other good things, too, don’t get me wrong. It’s just not going to be enough. Mitch must go. As long as there’s Mitch, there can be no justice.
Please, Kentucky, please. Don’t send him back to us.