Democrats must stop shooting themselves in the foot
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has suggested that states struggling to cope with coronavirus should file for bankruptcy rather than seek federal aid. Governor Andrew Cuomo called that notion “one of the really dumb ideas of all time.”
It’s no secret why McConnell doesn’t want to help states hit hardest by Covid-19. They’re blue states and no way is the federal government going to bail those losers out — as if rather than finding themselves at the epicenter of a global pandemic through no fault of their own, New York and California and all their bros went out past curfew, had too many Bud Lights, got picked up by the cops, and now need to spend some time in the clink to learn what happens when you engage in reckless behavior.
Cuomo ripped McConnell for driving an already divided nation further apart. “It’s we and it’s them,” Cuomo said. “That’s not right. Who is we and who is them?… You have human suffering. You have people dying. You can’t stop the politics? Even in this moment?… The American instinct is to help each other in crisis.”
That word “instinct” stuck in my head. Darwin declined to define it. But dictionaries do in various ways, using a lot of “I” words: inborn, inherent, involuntary, intrinsic. They also use the terms “fixed behavior”, “hard-wired”, and “automatic response”. For the purposes of this discussion, I’ll go with: an innate drive that urges the individual toward a particular goal.
I’m not a scientist. I can’t say for sure whether our genetic makeup forces us to behave in ways intended to ensure our continued existence. But if it does, then I wonder whether what Cuomo said about Americans is true. Is our instinct to help each other or it is just the opposite? Are we hard-wired with the mission to protect our own?
This gets me thinking about the idea of a biological imperative versus a moral imperative, and how it might factor into the politics of the day. There is debate over the human biological imperative. Some say it’s to have babies. Those who don’t want to have babies take offense to that. I’m going to keep it simple and go with the idea that the biological imperative of a human is to survive.
Then there’s the moral imperative. I think of that as what humans are compelled to do because it’s right. The complicating top coat, if you will, of feelings such as compassion and empathy, that lies over our animalistic base layer. Morals are not primal, they’re cerebral. Not based in the gut, but in the heart.
Cuomo expressed outrage at McConnell because he believed the Senator was attempting to capitalize on the misfortune of others, that he was being ruthless and divisive. I agree. But that’s because I’m bringing morality into the equation. What if I didn’t? What if I ditched all those squishy feelings and only followed my survival instinct. No sympathy. No altruism. Just win at all costs. In that case, I’d probably give two big thumbs up for withholding funds from blue states. Maybe as a Homo sapiens, I should give two thumbs up. Maybe McConnell wasn’t displaying a shocking lack of humanity with his suggestion, but precisely the right amount as dictated by his DNA.
Don’t get me wrong. I think Mitch McConnell is perhaps the most reprehensible person on the planet. But what if — stay with me now — Democrats, in large part, are guided by a moral imperative while Mitch’s brand of Republicans are ruled by a biological one, that which is more base, more id, but, they believe, in the end, the real end, the evolutionary end, puts them on the winning team. I’m not saying that belief justifies Mitch’s moves. I’m just curious as to whether it explains why he makes them. If he thinks politics is survival of the fittest. Decency, a conscience, a soul — all irrelevant.
McConnell may revel in the wins he notches with his Grim Reaper-Darth Vader ways, but if we’re being honest he also gets a lot of help from a Democratic party that can’t get out of its own way.
In her May 2nd column, Maureen Dowd wrote, “Democrats always set standards that come back and bite them. They have created a cage of their own making.” She was talking about the recent sexual assault accusations made against Joe Biden, and how the left has, once again, found an opportunity to become ensnared by its own righteousness.
When I first heard the #MeToo edict “believe all women,” I thought it was both ludicrous and dangerous. But I kept my mouth shut out of fear. A lot of people on the left did. But behind closed doors, they rolled their eyes at yet another overcorrection born of good intention yet sure to die under the weight of its own rectitude.
In her April 27th piece for The Cut called “The Biden Trap”, Rebecca Traister predicted that whomever Biden chooses as his running mate “will be forced to answer — over and over again — for Biden’s treatment of other women, including the serious allegations of assault leveled by Tara Reade.”
Really, Rebecca? I’d like to think women, especially those qualified to be Vice President, could handle that one with aplomb. #askedandanswered
Many reader comments on Traister’s piece were vicious. One called her argument “counterproductive and damaging to all liberal thinkers and voters and true feminists.” Ouch. But what I found most compelling in the reaction to the article were the nods to the left’s blindness to the unintended consequences of its approach. Just how often and how predictably it plays into the Republicans’ hands, doing their work for them.
Barack Obama warned progressives to avoid a “circular firing squad.” When referring to the destiny of the left, Traister’s readers used terms such as “self-immolate”, “crash and burn”, and “eat itself.” In other words, Dems don’t need Republicans to slay them. They’ll do themselves in.
I don’t know whether Michelle Goldberg’s May 5th column, “Democrats, Tara Reade and the #MeToo Trap”, was a response to Traister’s, but she proposed that feminists, not Biden’s VP pick, are now stuck between a rock and a hard place. If your rallying cry is “believe all women” and a woman comes along who’s not believable… Ruh-roh.
Had “believe all women” left some room for nuance or (gasp!) been open to the suggestion that maybe it went a little too far, its proponents might not be in this pickle. As one commenter on Goldberg’s piece put it, “Anything this polarizing was bound to have its day of reckoning. Whatever else it may be, #MeToo has become a weapon for political destruction. Liberals built it, and they handed it to Republicans.”
You could apply those words to just about any far-left stance these days. Purity, as it turns out, doesn’t produce justice, it produces Trump supporters. Identity politics — same same.
I’ve been waiting for the lightbulb to go off for the left that illuminates just how misguided many of its strategies have been. I’m all for justice and equal rights, but this is not the way. With stridency and inflexibility, the left is hastening its own demise. By prizing righteousness over reason and indoctrination over education, Dems have created a culture where everyone is either walking on eggshells or coiled for confrontation. While the left marches around in pussy hats and wrings its hands on MSNBC, the right is overhauling the Supreme Court, lowering emissions standards, changing the tax code to favor the rich, and figuring out how to make sure, if their guy loses, there will be enough Covid-related voting chaos to claim the election wasn’t legit.
Mitch McConnell may be diabolical. So might Republicans who suggest older people should take one for the team and croak so we can get the economy going again. And those who don’t mind that the virus has disproportionally hit poor and minority communities since a lot of them don’t vote, not usually for Republicans, anyway. That is some sick thinking right there. But is it the biological imperative at work? If so, how do you defeat it? Is that even possible? Or will Dems die out because morality is not an adaptive trait? Does their refusal to go low make make them the short-necked giraffes?
I don’t want to be that nihilistic and I have no idea whether imperatives are driving our politics, but I do know, as my husband points out, that Republicans don’t kill their own the way Democrats do. And they’re much more nimble. They recognize which ideas and stances no longer serve them and move on, often to something even more evil, but still.
I’m not religious, but I do believe in karma. What goes around comes around, like a boomerang. I’m holding out hope that all the greedy, cruel, hateful actions McConnell has taken will be revisited upon him, but I can’t bank on it. I can’t be dumb enough to think that the Democrats’ goodness will be enough to propel them to a win in November. And I think it’s safe to say the left isn’t going to sell its soul to the devil in exchange for a victory. So what will it do?
For starters, Dems need to be smarter, shrewder, and, for God’s sake, stop shooting themselves in the foot. They need a strategy that goes beyond pounding their fists about how unfair and dirty their opponents play. Coming up with one is going to require some out-of-the-box thinking. I’d start by identifying Trump’s Achilles’ heel. He’s a narcissist, right? So ignore him. Stop taking the bait, stop feeding the beast, and do the hard work of pretending he’s not there.
It’s hard because we’re all addicted to his antics and the self-satisfaction of ranting about what a looney tune he is. But Dems need to focus on their own game plan, how they’re going to learn from their mistakes and not blow it this time. They need to distill their message, nix the cerebral gobbledygook and come up with something strong and clear that people will be excited to get behind. And they’d better be thinking five moves ahead because they can be sure Mitch will be.
Also, I’m sorry, but the left needs to grow a pair when it comes to the radicals within its ranks who don’t actually have anything useful to say. Don’t be cowed. Call a bad idea what it is. Recognize that popularity does not equal intelligence or skill, and that sometimes a loud voice is nothing more than an annoying distraction.
Dems can’t afford distractions now. They need to keep their eye on the ball, and that ball is the next election. If they’re going to survive the ugly, brutal, epic battle that’s just around the corner and come away with a win, they need to heed Cuomo’s words of wisdom about the importance of separating the wheat from the chaff when it comes to political leadership.
“Government is fundamentally in a different position than it was just a couple of months ago,” Cuomo said. “This is for real now, right? Politics, it’s not about optics, it’s not about celebrities, not about press releases, it’s not about what I put on Instagram yesterday. This is about government leaders’ performance, their expertise. This is a situation where their competence and their ability can be the difference between life and death.”
It’s life and death for the Democrats, too.