Democrats are tired. I understand that; I am tired, too. Left-handed people made fun of the woman – yes, blonde and white – who wore a sign at the 2017 women’s march that read, “If Hillary were president, we’d be at brunch.” How bourgeois can one become! Imagine wanting to have pancakes and mimosas with your friends instead of demonstrating, going to meetings, knocking on the door, handing out leaflets, raising funds, and doing all the fun things so many of us do spent so much time in the Trump years. Indeed, women like this sign holder braced themselves for action and became the much derided “resistance” that did so much to turn the House, Senate, and White House over to Democrats. For some, activism has become a way of life. But it’s not surprising that a lot of people are now wanting to resign. Oscar Wilde is credited with joking that the problem with socialism is that it lasts too many evenings. As Michael Walzer emphasized, this also applies to participatory democracy.
After four years of non-stop obsession with the recent outrage from Donald Trump, his administration, and his terrible family – Barron not counting – I am relieved that they are no longer living in my head. I also find that I’m pretty desperate for Biden and the Democrats to take advantage of any doubt. Do I just want to go to brunch? Biden’s Infrastructure Bill is a good thing, and Build Back Better, its $ 3.5 trillion climate change and social spending bill, is a game changer. Paid family leave, the financing of childcare and general early intervention, and the expansion of extended tax breaks for children would change the lives of women and families. But the pressure is on to cut the bill; Senator Joe Manchin wants a lot more cuts, and Senator Kyrsten Sinema doesn’t even want to say what it takes to support the law. Given how high our hopes were, it’s easy to feel discouraged or exhausted.
If Manchin and Sinema are doing their best to undermine Build Back Better, you blame the Founding Fathers. It is their fault that two senators who represent less than 3 percent of the population are the most powerful people in the country. If life were a political thriller, the President would call her into his office and blackmail her with secret files about her sex life that were discreetly placed on his desk by his creepy henchman. If I were president, I would definitely try that.
But I digress. My point is that Biden and “the Democrats” are being held responsible for the behavior of only two Senators. So, as is so often the case in this fallen world, it’s half a loaf or no bread – a reduced bill or none at all. And also because it’s a fallen world, Biden’s popularity is underwater. After all, he’s been in the White House for nine months and hasn’t kept every single one of his election promises – so it must be because he’s weak, indecisive, clueless, old, and conservative. Many people seem to think that the President is like a king who can make things happen by waving his magic scepter, even though the Constitution purposely made this impossible. Split government and such. Drat these founding fathers.
It doesn’t help that the media never misses an opportunity to portray the Democrats as out of order. But it would be a terrible mistake to withdraw from the fight. At the moment there is worrying news from Virginia. This recently turned blue southern state could return to Republican hands on November 2nd if all government offices are up for grabs. Cynics who claim the Dems did nothing for the people are wrong: on a variety of topics, they have from expanding Medicaid to making it easier to vote and restoring the right to vote for more than 200,000 felons to increased funding for childcare and lifting of Republican restrictions on abortion. In their most recent report for The nation, Joan Walsh cites both complacency and weariness for the lack of volunteer and electoral enthusiasm. Covid doesn’t help.
But turnout will be critical, especially among black and female voters. Poll expert Sean McElwee tells me Virginia will stay blue, but I was so concerned last week that I signed up for Vote Forward to write letters to registered Democrats in Virginia who don’t always vote. Some of my political friends call this make-work for people too lazy to call a bank or knock on the door, but Vote Forward says his studies show his letters increase the turnout in 2020 campaigns and more have increased by an average of 0.8 percent in some specific competitions. If the choice is tight, that could make all the difference.
Could Texas’ ban on abortion bring a surge in the number of women to the polls? (And why not a flood of men too?) Six other states – Florida, North Dakota, South Dakota, Arkansas, Indiana, and Mississippi – have expressed interest in passing a similar ban, and the Supreme Court is due to hear arguments in December a Mississippi case that could tip over Roe versus Wade and let each state go its own way. Stephen Holmes, a well-known law professor at New York University, tells me I’m falling over roe would be a good thing. After all, most Americans want abortion to be legal. “Republicans have benefited tremendously from transforming the roe but not being able to do something so overwhelmingly unpopular, ”he wrote to me in an email. “If it happens before the 2022 midterm elections, the backlash could save the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. Then Congress could do it roe the law of the land. A politically accountable Republican Congress would be much less likely to reverse this than an unaccountable court.
It’s great to hear from someone who is optimistic for a change, but it sounds a little too clever to me. Even if Roe’s overthrow resulted in a few more Democratic senators being elected, would they really be blue pro-voters or “non-partisan” compromises? As we see on Build Back Better, a few divided senators can wield a lot of power. And what happens to these new abortion protection measures when Republicans take back power? Roe may not be perfect, but it is the umbrella under which reproductive rights have the best chance of survival and expansion.
In other words, the stakes are as high as ever.
So voters and volunteers of all races, ethnicities, income levels, ages, genders, and genders are not really shaking us now. Enjoy your brunch, then get back to work.