In Praise of Democrats

Andrew Harnik/AP

Contemporary Democrats are as admirable a political party as ever existed in the U.S. Animated by a civil rights ethic, the Democrats have been a multicultural coalition for decades and have expanded their horizon to include defending, appreciating, and promoting the interests of the whole range of LGBT folks, Hispanics, Jews, Muslims, Native Americans, the disabled population, and legal and undocumented immigrants. The first black president was elected as a Democrat and so was the first woman to be Speaker of the House. The Democrats nominated the first woman for president, and nominated and elected Kamala Harris as a black/South Asian woman for Vice-President. Likewise Deb Haaland became the first Native American cabinet officer. Indeed, the Democrats have incorporated a broad diversity of women at all levels of political leadership. As the Democratic Party became more broadly American and the GOP retreated from “national” views, the Democrats have also become the “national” party for a multicultural nation and the only “America First” party in international affairs. The America represented by Democrats is identified both in the U.S. and globally with the best America has to offer.

I just want to sketch out a few of the things the Democrats have done and a little of what’s involved in their accomplishments. Since the election of Trump in 2016, Democratic officeholders have raised their game and become more forceful in any number of ways. It begins with the Biden administration. They’ve carried out a legislative agenda for transferring wealth to the poor and middle class, addressing climate change, and making massive investments in infrastructure. The Biden people also broke the bipartisanship barrier by refusing to countenance the delaying tactics of Susan Collins and GOP moderates. Likewise, Pres. Biden upped his rhetorical game to attack the MAGA brand as a form of fascism and an imminent danger to American democracy. At an advanced age, President Biden realized that Republican office holders were unrelenting opponents instead of his “friends and colleagues.” That’s a huge step forward in Democratic Party political culture and Biden has governed accordingly The same is true of Congressional Democrats, Democratic staffers, and the more liberally minded media. Concentrated in D.C. and New York, the Democratic apparatus long saw themselves as having much in common with their white conservative counter-parts, but have followed Democratic voters in leaving a sense of common culture with conservatives behind.

The Biden administration has also done an excellent job of orchestrating American support for the Ukrainian war effort. U.S. intelligence interpreted the Russian intent to launch a full scale invasion of Ukraine early, engaged in a smart political campaign to deter the Russians, and held off full support for the Ukrainians until Ukrainian government and society showed that they were willing to fight. American support for Ukraine has been large-scale and well-timed. The Biden people have shown a great deal of subtlety in prodding reluctant countries like France and Germany to increase their commitments to Ukraine while also giving encouragement to smaller NATO members like Poland and Norway. That subtlety also extends to Biden’s dealings with Russia. The Biden have come pretty close to full tilt in backing Ukraine without doing anything that would provoke a nuclear escalation by Russia. Ukraine is a delicate situation and the Biden administration has played it extremely well.

The Jan. 6 Committee is an example of the extent to which Democrats (with help from Cheney and Kinzinger) have developed outstanding skills at staging events. The Committee and its staff sifted through mountains of documents, texts, cell messages, interviews, and other materials, constructed a dramatic narrative out of the materials, and kept their focus on Trump as orchestrating the whole range of electoral coups leading up to Jan. 6. Cassidy Hutchinson’s appearance was the high point of the Committee’s presentation but the Jan. 6 Committee also made outstanding use of the William Barr, Pat Cipollone, and Eric Herschmann testimony, and every one of the hearings has been a high-profile event. The object of the Committee was to get to the truth of the Jan. 6 Insurrection, they succeeded in accomplishing that goal, and they have been extremely effective in doing so.

Another Democratic leader who’s raised her game is Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi’s long been a great legislator whose public presence suffered from her average speaking skills. But since returning as Speaker in 2019, Pelosi has put it all together. Combining her “I’m All That” shades and red coat after meeting with Trump after the 2018 elections, her FU clapping after Trump’s 2019 State of the Union Address, and dramatically ripping up Trump’s 2020 State of the Union, Pelosi completely owned Trump for the last two years of his term. It’s easy to forget that Donald Trump is all about dominating any human encounter, but Trump’s penchant for domination meant that Pelosi’s “winning” all their major interactions was a very big deal. To cap her performance as Trump-era speaker, Pelosi took over as a kind of acting president while marshalling outside help to combat the Jan. 6 Insurrection.

Of course, Joe Biden’s inauguration as President meant that Pelosi was no longer D.C.’s most important Democrat. But she delivered the House of Representatives for the Biden agenda at every turn and pushed to shape House legislation in the most aggressively Biden direction possible. With Pelosi at the helm, a slim Democratic majority in the House passed the American Rescue Act to counteract the economic effects of the pandemic, a large-scale infrastructure bill, gun control legislation, the CHIPS Act to bring microchip production back to the U.S. from China, and the wide-ranging Inflation Reduction Acts. These bills all became law and it was BFD’s all around. The American Rescue Act provided a cushion that was a big help for poor and lower-middle class people dealing with unemployment, lower income levels, increased medical expenses, and the stress of the pandemic. Biden’s Infrastructure agenda was the first large-scale investment in infrastructure since the 60’s, gun legislation the first since the mid-90’s, and the Inflation Reduction Act was the first systematic approach to climate legislation while also containing serious reductions to health expenses.

And that was the legislation that passed by the Senate and became law. The House also passed a boatload of legislation that wasn’t brought up for votes in the Senate because of the filibuster. That includes far-reaching voting rights legislation like the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act that would have brought back the Voting Rights Act, authorized same day voter registration, eliminated gerrymandering, and otherwise enshrined the expansion of voting as the most important priority of electoral law. The House also took the same aggressive, wide-ranging approach to legislation protecting abortion rights. Not only did the bill to codify Roe v Wade define abortion rights as the law of the land on abortion, it banned all the restrictions on abortion rights that had been passed by conservative states since 1973. Rolling back the 60’s and 70’s has been a mainstay of white conservative politics for the last two generations but Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leadership team, and the House Democratic caucus have shown that they have every intention of “rolling back the roll back.”

This post has largely ignored the impact of Democratic initiatives on the 2022 elections. Indeed, the controlling issue for the 2022 mid-terms is likely to be inflation. But whatever the outcome of the mid-terms, the Democratic leadership has shown themselves to be highly capable.