Eric Zuesse, originally posted at Strategic Culture
UPDATE: on January 26th, Newsweek headlined “Mitch McConnell Wins Filibuster Battle as Primary Pressure Builds on Chuck Schumer”, which (as is explained in the following) means that unless Senate Democrats now use “the Nuclear Option” — which they resist doing — Biden’s Presidency will be a failure.
The success or failure of Joe Biden’s Presidency will be determined more by the policies that he establishes in order to deal with America’s raging coronavirus-crisis than by anything else. And the fates of both of America’s political Parties will also largely depend upon these decisions, which he is making at the very start of his Presidency. In normal times, an American President’s first 100 days in office are crucially important; but, this time around, the first 30 days will probably be decisive. The signs, thus far, are not looking good, for his success. Here is why:
On January 22nd, Politico headlined “Republicans bludgeon Biden’s big stimulus plans” and reported that the Senate’s Republicans have decided to block President Biden’s Covid-19 relief package unless Biden will cut it in ways that would prevent it from doing what Biden has long been promising to do. Either he will fulfill his promises on Covid-19 policies, or he will compromise with Senate Republicans. However, there is a way in which Biden and the Senate’s Democrats would become enabled to overcome that block (it’s called “the Nuclear Option”), but doing so would delay the legislation and would require changing the rules of the Senate, which would require even further delays. Democratic and Republican Senators would then basically lock horns in battle against one-another and fight to the political death, over Covid-19 (coronavirus) policies. Whichever side would quit the contest sooner would be embarrassed amongst its electorate, and would therefore produce a significantly weakened Party.
The victorious side will probably control Biden’s Presidency. Either the Democrats will outlast the Republicans, who will be profoundly embarrassed (especially because the polling shows that the position of congressional Republicans on coronavirus-policy is rejected overwhelmingly by the American public), or else the Republicans will outlast the Democrats, who will be profoundly embarrassed (by having caved so fast to congressional Republicans on this matter where Biden and congressional Democrats have an overwhelming political advantage over their supposed ‘opponents’).
If Democratic Senators win on it, then not only will Republican Senators lose the support of some Republican voters (who favor passage of Biden’s proposal and who therefore don’t want Republican Senators to force a delay of its passage), but Republican Senators who had voted with Democrats on this will be challenged in 2022 and 2024 primaries by more-extreme Republican candidates who will call the incumbent a “RINO” “Republican In Name Only” for having capitulated to the Democrats. So, some of the less-extreme Republican Senators will probably lose their seats. If, however, to the contrary, Republicans win, then not only will President Biden have been defeated in his first legislative initiative (and his Presidency will have been hobbled at its very start), but Democratic Senators who have sided with Republican Senators on this and who will be running for re-election in 2022 and 2024, will be challenged in primaries by progressive Democratic candidates who will call that Democratic incumbent a “DINO” “Democrat In Name Only.” So: either the Republican Party in the Senate will be moving farther to the right, if Democrats win on the coronavirus legislation, or else the Democratic Party in the Senate will be moving farther to the left if Republicans win on it. And there is no way in which Biden’s campaign promises to function as President in a bipartisan manner will be able to be achieved.
In other words: this is going to be a fight to the political death of either the Democratic or the Republican Party. And the chasm separating the two Parties is virtually certain to become even wider than it has been.
Any compromise on coronavirus-policy by Biden would be widely seen (by Republican and many independent voters) as his conceding to the Republicans the superiority of their position regarding any area on which he had conceded (such as Republicans’ belief that “deficit spending is bad”) — and his doing that would greatly weaken him going forward (especially because Americans support Biden’s announced Covid plan by over 2 to 1, and 59% even of Republican voters support Biden’s requirement regarding the wearing of masks and social distancing at commercial establishments).
Any compromise by the Republicans on it would likewise be damaging to them. However, they don’t control the federal Government now, and, so, they wouldn’t be blamed as much. Nominally, Democrats control all three electoral branches of the federal Government.
Furthermore: Biden will get more of the praise or blame for whatever legislation ends up resulting from this than will the Republican Party. Whereas Republican voters will be able to say “We lost because the damned Democrats control the Government,” Democratic voters won’t be able to say “We lost because the damned Republicans control the Government.” If Democratic voters turn out to be disappointed with the outcome, then they won’t have any excuse for it — other than to increase yet further their hatred of Republicans if Biden and the Democrats turn out to be the capitulationist side.
In any case, Biden is obviously not going to be able to fulfill on his promises that he will be a bipartisan President. That fact (the mythological character of ‘bipartisanship’ in today’s America), alone, is certain to weaken him — though not nearly as much as would be the case if he holds firm, refuses to compromise on Covid-19, and defeats congressional Republicans on this issue that’s vastly more important to Democratic Party voters than it is to Republican Party voters.
This situation is similar to what had pertained when Barack Obama became President in 2009 and dumped his proposed “public option” the moment he won the Presidency in November 2008. However (as was made manifestly clear during the 2008 Democratic primaries, when Obama handily beat Biden, Clinton, and Edwards), Biden’s hold on the Democratic Party won’t be nearly as solid as Obama’s was, if Biden capitulates on this issue, which is so important to Democrats. Whereas a comprehensive public option, or else universalized Medicare, is a do-or-die issue only for some Democratic Party voters, conquering Covid-19 is a do-or-die issue for virtually all Democratic Party voters.
Back in 2009, the Republican crisis that the incoming Democratic President was dealing with — the economic collapse and the lie-based invasion/occupation of Iraq — wasn’t killing four thousand Americans per day like the coronavirus-crisis now is. Just as Trump will be blamed for America’s disastrously poor performance in the coronavirus-crisis (a higher infection-rate than any other medium-sized or large nation), Biden will get either the praise or the blame for his effectiveness or ineffectiveness at reversing that Republican failure. Congressional Republicans will politically benefit if Biden fails. Any compromises that Biden allows on the Covid-19 relief package are not going to buy for him a “We are all in this together” response from Republicans in Congress, but will only buy for him a less effective policy, which will (quite reasonably) be seen by the American public as being, essentially, a Democratic policy (which had failed).
This is the way that America’s Party system now functions: the incentive for our political leaders is not to benefit the American people, but to benefit the given political leader’s own Party, in competition against the other Party, in an extremely polarized electorate. But is it actually instead merely a competition between Democratic Party billionaires (who fund Democratic candidates) versus Republican Party billionaires (who fund Republican candidates)? Has the electorate become virtually irrelevant, so that the Government now reflects only those billionaires, who fund whatever politicians serve billionaires’ personal interests? (And those personal interests are always wanting more tax-dollars to buy the weaponry that their armaments-firms make, and less to buy “social welfare programs,” such as Covid relief payments.)
Regardless of which side ends up winning on the Covid-19 relief law, that side will likely control the U.S. Government for a long time to come, because the other Party will be so politically damaged — discredited — by having lost this fight, which is a do-or-die battle between America’s Republicans and America’s Democrats.
Actually, however, Democrats have far more “skin in this game” (or at stake) in this battle, than Republicans do, because Democrats care vastly more about the coronavirus-issue than Republicans do. For example, on 21 October 2020 (which was already well into the “second wave”), Pew bannered “Only 24% of Trump supporters view the coronavirus outbreak as a ‘very important’ voting issue” and reported that, “the widest differences are on the importance of the coronavirus outbreak. About eight-in-ten Biden supporters (82%) say the coronavirus will be very important to their vote, compared with just 24% of Trump supporters.” Consequently, if Biden and congressional Democrats cave on this, then they are actually not serious about winning on it. By contrast, this issue is, indeed, a do-or-die matter for Democratic Party voters. Whereas congressional Republicans can afford to lose on it, both Biden and congressional Democrats simply cannot (without greatly weakening their Party).
Normally, America’s two Parties play a ‘good cop’ versus ‘bad cop’ routine with each other, in which both Parties represent positions that are acceptable to all of America’s billionaires, who provide most of the money that’s donated in political campaigns (and it’s the decisive money, so that the politicians usually “compromise” upon a policy, which represents the billionaires’ views — such a “compromise” represents only billionaires, regardless of which ‘Party’ wins). But that deceit won’t be able to work for Democratic Party politicians, this time around, though it still could work for Republican ones, since those voters don’t care nearly as much about Covid-19. Therefore, a Republican capitulation on it wouldn’t be fatal for the Party. To them, it would be only a minor loss. But a Democratic capitulation on it could sink Biden’s Presidency and any Democrat who participated in such a capitulation. Democratic Party voters would find such a capitulation very hard to accept, and progressives who might challenge capitulationists on it, in Democratic Party primaries in 2022 and 2024, would therefore stand outstanding likelihoods of winning.
In the past, Democratic Party voters (just like Republican Party voters) continued voting for the Party no matter how bad it became; but, this time, that might turn out not to be the case. This time, “bipartisanship” could actually sink the Democratic Party — or else cause it to replace lots of its incumbent ‘moderate’ or ‘centrist’ office-holders. (After all: Biden was supposed to be the ‘moderate’ or ‘centrist’ candidate in the Democratic Party Presidential primaries; so, this is not as if there would be a compromise being sought between congressional Republicans and a President Bernie Sanders. Democrats had already made their compromises, when they voted for Biden in the 2020 Democratic Party primaries. He was ‘Mr. centrist’; and, so, compromising with the Republicans now would only move the Democratic Party itself even farther toward the right, and thus away from what the Party’s voters want.)
Furthermore, on Sunday, January 24th, “according to a new ABC News/Ipsos poll released Sunday, … the more than two-thirds of Americans who approve of his [Biden’s] leadership on the coronavirus includes 40% of Republicans — a notably high level of support from across the aisle a year into the pandemic. An overwhelming 97% of Democrats and 70% of independents also back Biden’s management of the crisis in his early days in office.” Question #1 in that poll was “Do you approve or disapprove of the way Joe Biden is handling the response to the coronavirus (COVID-19)?” 69% answered “Approve.” 29% answered “Disapprove.” Only 2% did neither. The pollsters said: “Four in five (81%) support federal mask requirements, including nearly all Democrats (99%) and a majority of Republicans and Independents (59% and 83%, respectively).” Another poll, issued the following day (on January 25th) found that 59% of Republican voters “support” Biden’s proposed Covid-relief spending amount, of $1.9 trillion. In other words: there is overwhelming public support for the announced Covid-relief proposals by Biden. If he refuses to instruct his Party-leadership in Congress to do whatever they must do in order to defeat the Republicans on this, then he is accepting defeat not only of himself, but of the overwhelming majority of Americans who support his announced plan. Why would he do something like that? Perhaps in order to satisfy his political mega-donors (who made him the President)? It would enormously weaken the Democratic Party.
Also on the 24th, The Hill bannered “Biden officials hold call with bipartisan group of senators on coronavirus relief plan”. Then, on January 25th they headlined “Moderates vow to ‘be a force’ under Biden”, and reported that,
“The numbers are so tight. All of us want this place to work. We’ve got a golden opportunity to make it work, we really do. And our bipartisan, bicameral group [the most strongly billionaire-controlled members of Congress] is going to be a force, and when I say a force, we’re going to try to find that middle,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), the most outspoken Senate Democratic centrist.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), another member of the group, said their objective was to “try to get results and avoid a lot of the stalemates that we’ve had in the past.”
In the House, the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus added 16 new members, bringing its total to 56 members.
Either Biden wants not to beat the Republicans on this, or else he is willing to compromise in ways that Republicans have never done in this century — or both. But regardless of what the reason is, the indications, as of the fifth day of his Presidency, were that his Presidency would become a colossal failure — not only for the American people, but also for his own Party. After all: he would then be ‘compromising’ even to the right of most Republican voters, on this matter. And whom would he then actually be serving, in order to do that?
As was said earlier here: “The victorious side will probably control Biden’s Presidency. Either the Democrats will outlast the Republicans, who will be profoundly embarrassed, or else the Republicans will outlast the Democrats, who will be profoundly embarrassed.” Furthermore: “Democrats have far more ‘skin in this game’ (or at stake) in this battle, than Republicans do, because Democrats care vastly more about the coronavirus-issue than Republicans do.” However, despite all of that, there seems to be no public indication that the leading congressional Democrats actually want to win this battle. They — and not congressional Republicans — appear set to become politically very embarrassed, and defeated, in whatever Covid-19 legislation becomes passed. As the progressive Democrat and investigative journalist David Sirota headlined, about this, on January 26th, “Reminder: This Never Ends Well. Signals of retreat on the $2,000 checks echo Democrats’ disastrous surrender on the public option in 2009.”
Furthermore, the Brookings Institution, in its detailed article about eliminating Senate filibusters, noted that, “For his part, Biden told reporters in July that ‘depend[ing] on how obstreperous [Republicans] become … I think you’re going to just have to take a look’ at abolishing the procedure.” So, Biden certainly has to be aware, by now, that he must demand that the Senate’s leader, Democrat Charles Schumer, not only take the Nuclear Option, but go all the way to abolishing filibusters altogether, for anything — ending the practice, altogether. If Biden won’t go for a democratic (and that means majority-rule, on all matters except where the Constitution itself specifies instead a two-thirds majority) Senate, then Biden’s Presidency will inevitably fail. Apparently, he’s aware of this, himself. The choice is his to make, but he would need to make clear to the public that Senate filibusters are anti-democratic and need to be eliminated altogether. Only then could he put the pressure on Schumer to get it done. This is the time to do it.
If any of America’s billionaires who invested millions of dollars in getting Biden into the White House wants really to beat the Republican Party, then why are none of them now flooding their ‘news’ media with articles and commentaries making clear that this issue is do-or-die for Biden’s Presidency? Why isn’t Biden himself saying he’s going to beat congressional Republicans on Covid-19 policy — not compromise with them on it? What does all of this ‘bipartisanship’ indicate about the political reality in today’s America? Is this political reality (the fakery of ‘bipartisanship’) what’s being reported on by America’s mainstream ‘news’ media? Or, are Americans being informed of it (that it is fake), instead, only in independent news-media, such as publish the present article?
For any Party, there actually are some things on which they will not compromise. If Covid-19 policy isn’t one of those policy-issues for a Democratic President and for all Democrats in Congress, at a time like this, then what does that Party actually stand for? If they will capitulate on this, then what won’t they capitulate on? That is why this issue will constitute a historical turning-point in American politics. It is a very stark test of American ‘democracy’. It is that, if anything is. Will the U.S. Government pass this test, of whether or not this nation is a democracy? Will the American people get the coronavirus-policy that all the polls show that they overwhelmingly want? Perhaps the answer will be clear on this, within the next week or two.
Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.