What Democrats Could Learn From Republicans
It seems counterintuitive, I know, but it’s still true: Sometimes, the farther away we go, the closer we are to home. Or, to put it another way, the more distance we have from things, the more clearly we see them.
I learned that lesson again over the last couple of weeks – did you miss me? – while combining a study-tour of magnificent French Gothic cathedrals with pure relaxation in the beautiful Tuscan countryside. Despite best efforts not to think about my regular beat – the maddening, meaningless ups and downs of Washington – news of infighting among Democrats over their own legislative agenda still occasionally managed to sneak through. And every time, with the advantage of 3,000 miles distance, I came to the same conclusion.
It’s the single most frustrating question I’ve wrestled with in years of political commentary: Why can’t Democrats behave more like Republicans?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a fervent life-long Democrat. A true believer. I’m not one of those cynics who claim there’s no difference between the two parties. On policy, there’s a huge difference. Democrats are the party of workers’ rights, women’s rights, civil rights, voter rights, universal healthcare, environmental protection, combatting climate change, investing in renewable energy, creating green jobs, and tuition-free community college. I support that agenda 100 percent.
Meanwhile, to tell the truth, it’s hard to tell what Republicans in Congress stand for anymore, except: they’re for whatever Donald Trump wants, and against everything else. Under feckless leaders like Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, and Mitch McConnell, it’s been decades since Republicans have put forth any ideas of their own.
No, no. Where Democrats fall short is not a question of political policy. It’s a matter of political power. Unlike Republicans, when Democrats gain power, either they don’t know how, or they’re afraid, to use it. There are two big lessons Democrats can learn from Republicans and should have learned a long time ago: fierce loyalty and ruthless determination.
LOYALTY. You’ve got to give Republicans credit for that. Their agenda may stink, but once they decide on a course of action, they all rally behind it. They stick together. They form a team. They’ll die for the team. They’ll even oppose something they once enthusiastically supported, if that’s what the team wants. And anybody who breaks from the team – Mitt Romney, for example – is treated like an outcast.
Contrast that with Democrats. They’re all over the place. There’s no loyalty. There’s no team. It’s every man and woman for themselves. Democrats spend more time fighting with each other, over their own good ideas, than they do fighting Republicans over their bad ideas. And the most disloyal, outliers like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who reject any semblance of teamwork, are treated like gods. They should be branded as traitors.
DETERMINATION. Here again, give Republicans credit. Once they get the power, they’re not afraid to use it. Three examples. He only made it to the Oval Office thanks to the Supreme Court, but George W. Bush acted like he had a mandate, pushing his tax cut for the rich through Congress by May 2001. Donald Trump didn’t win the popular vote, either, but by December 2017, he’d rammed through his own version of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Mitch McConnell, under the lamest of excuses, single-handedly prevented President Obama from filling a vacancy on the Supreme Court.
All three are cases of raw abuse of political power for bad public policy. But the point is, Republicans didn’t hesitate to use their power. And, once the decision had been made, like teamwork, every last Republican rallied behind it.
Again, contrast that with Democrats today. For years, their top priorities have been infrastructure, climate change, universal childcare, clean energy, affordable housing, and lowering the cost of prescription drugs. Now they have all the power they need to deliver – Democratic control of both houses of Congress, a Democratic president who supports the entire package, two historic infrastructure bills – and they still can’t deliver. Why? Don’t blame Republicans. Democrats are too busy fighting each other: centrists v. progressives, both willing to destroy Biden’s presidency and their own legacy unless they get 100 percent of what they want. It’s embarrassing. It’s pathetic.
Sadly, Democrats have never learned the basic imperative of political power: Use it or lose it. Which is what Democrats are bound to do, unless they stop the infighting, bind together, seize the moment, and boldly use their power. If only Democrats would start acting like Republicans!
(Bill Press is host of The BillPressPod, and author of the new book, “Trump Must Go: The Top 100 Reasons to Dump Trump (And One to Keep Him).” His email address is: email@example.com. Readers may also follow him on Twitter @billpresspod.)
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