Just when you’ve settled into a comfortable rut, and resigned yourself to the mournful yet somehow serene calm of hopelessness, the cruel devils sidle up all stealthy-like and whisper in your ear that a little hope might yet be warranted. Bastards. As my avid readers well know, It’s the hope that kills you is one of the mottoes on my family coat of arms (it’s written across the top, above the griffon; at bottom, beneath the shield, is I want you to hurt like I do, both translated into Latin, of course). Words to live by, and I do so try to live by them, I really do, but then something good happens and I trip up, with heartbreak almost inevitably to follow.
This time around, two diabolically encouraging things have occurred. First, the Republican appointees on SCOTUS, as if suddenly unaware of their assigned role in the GOP master plan, largely rejected the latest (and maybe the last?) legal effort to overturn Obamacare, joining the liberals in a resounding vote of 7-2. Sure, this most recent lawsuit was legally preposterous, but that’s usually no reason to expect a proper ruling out of the Roberts court. What gives? Am I wrong about this bunch? After all, come to think of it, they likewise laughed the bums out the door when they tried to overturn the election. Are there limits to the partisan hackery beyond which even stooges like Kavanaugh and Thomas can’t be pushed? Dare we believe it?
Then, almost immediately, we were informed of another near-miracle: Joe Manchin, of all people, having long since declared that not only would he never do away with the filibuster to pass the For The People Act, he’d never, ever, vote for that bill anyway, stopped being nothing but a witless roadblock and came up with a constructive proposal of his own. No, it’s true! He did! Why not, he suggested, a pared down voting rights act containing just a few essential reforms?
Is that as good as the bill he won’t vote for? Nope. Will it stop all forms of State-level Republican rat-fucking? Not by a long shot. Is it a stroke of strategic brilliance? Oh, hell yeah, it is. Maybe it’s by accident, maybe it’s an inadvertent product of darling Joe’s sheer blockheaded naïveté, but yessir, it’s a thing of genius, because it’s almost bone-crushingly reasonable. Especially the voter ID requirement. Progressives hate voter ID laws, because these things, as framed by Republicans, are always designed to stop Democratic voters from making the cut – like the law in Texas, which permits the use of gun licences, but not Student ID cards – but Joe seems to understand that in principle, ID requirements can be thoroughly innocuous. Most democracies have such laws, including Canada. The key is what kinds of document will fill the bill. Look, the federal government could go ahead and issue IDs to everybody, or you could decide to accept a driver’s licence, passport, social security card, or anything with your photo on it, or even a phone or electric bill sent to you that shows name and address. It doesn’t have to be set up so that an NRA membership card is A-OK, but an ACLU card is no good.
Who could argue with that? The GOP says it’s afraid of voter fraud, so fine, let’s prevent voter fraud. Perfect!
The rest of the proposal is equally even-handed – who’s in favour of gerrymandering, right? – and polls well with the voters of both parties. Yet the Republicans must gag at the prospect! Heck, do away with gerrymandering – do that alone – and that’s practically the ball game right there. There goes project REDMAP! There goes the most important guarantee of minority rule! All those years of effort out the window! I mean, yikes, if the districts are drawn fairly, the GOP might never take the House again! Egads! I’m telling you: genius.
I’m hearing nothing but howls of disapproval from most of the progressives today, except for the smart ones. Stacey Abrams, the smartest of the whole bunch by a country mile, has jumped all over Manchin’s proposal. Hell yes, she’s in favour. You’re damned right she is. She saw right away what Joe probably didn’t: the thing was so appallingly gosh-darned reasonable that Mitch and his merry men could never accept it. They’d reject it out of hand, faster than you could say screw democracy, and then things might start to get interesting.
And you know what? That’s just what Mitch did. He crawled up to the microphone this morning, stuck his leathery head out from under his shell, and rejected Joe’s compromise categorically, while as much as saying that he likewise wouldn’t accept anything else either, no way, no how, nothing at all, no matter what Joe or anybody else lobs over the net.
I’ve no doubt this came as a surprise to Manchin. The man’s no Machiavelli, you know? He’s not up for McConnell’s endless marathons of three dimensional chess, and doesn’t even know that’s the game he’s in. He really believes that bipartisan shit he’s been shovelling. He almost certainly thought that if he took the For the People Act and sliced away all the stuff that was said to be most irksome, the campaign finance reform, the automatic voter registration, and all the rest, and handed the GOP something so pared down and golly-gee-whiz middle of the road that nobody acting in good faith could possibly object to it, he’d actually get GOP buy-in. He was, after all, taking their complaints to heart. He was being reasonable! Surely they’d be reasonable right back, in the time-honoured spirit of bi-partisan comity, just as the Founders intended!
It’s almost enough to make you feel bad for the knucklehead.
Never mind, it might leave him all confused and befuddled, it might make him sad, but what Joe’s managed to do, amazingly, is exactly what you’d do if you were planning to trick McConnell into giving you an excuse to go back on your prior opposition to filibuster reform. It’s the perfect move as a prelude to saying to your own voters that hell, you tried, you gave it your very best shot, met them more than half way, bent over frigging backwards, and still – still – nothing but obstruction from the other side, and folks, that’s bad faith. That right there is just a plain, bloody-minded, do-nothing refusal to govern in the public interest, and faced with that sort of ugliness, well, all bets gotta be off. A fella’s gotta do something, even if it means changing your mind on matters once assumed to be sacrosanct. They leave you no other choice, much as it breaks a guy’s heart.
That’s not, I’m quite sure, where Manchin was going with this. Doesn’t matter. By forcing Mitch’s hand, he’s managed to paint himself into a corner too. It’s now incontrovertible. He just proved it. The Republicans will not, under any circumstances, be reasonable. His beloved bipartisanship is just as dead as it can be. He can’t flog that poor lifeless horse any longer. Now it’s up to him. Does he fold? Does he give up and do nothing anyway? Or does he finally accept that something must now be done to save the American experiment?
Hell of bind he’s in, our Joe. Yup, he’s gone and got himself into quite the fix. It’s not impossible that he now grits his teeth, changes tack, and agrees with the rest of his caucus that the time has finally come to act without the GOP on board, whatever that entails. He might! He actually might!
Now to brace for the heartbreak.