Update On The Power Primary

Until this week, every Democratic candidate was losing the ‘power primary’:

If we briefly allow ourselves to be optimistic about 2021, let’s say Democrats control the House, the presidency, and the Senate. Even in the highly unlikely events of Democrats holding sixty or more seats–and could then move past cloture–that would require every Democrat toeing the line (or picking up Republicans). The best case scenario is that the majority of the Democratic caucus is held hostage by a handful of conservative/corporate Democrats. In reality, what this would mean is that any progressive would be heavily watered down, if not outright dead.

While D.C. and Puerto Rican statehood would help (and, more importantly, should be passed on their own merits), it still doesn’t get past the need for an unattainable Senate supermajority…

What this tells me is that no Democratic candidate is serious about enacting their program, whatever it might be. Democrats love being in the majority, but they don’t seem to want to wield power on behalf of their constituents. In other words, every candidate is failing at the power primary–will they use the means at their disposal–which includes ending the filibuster–to pass progressive legislation?

…There’s lots of good policy being bandied about, but there’s no plan to make it a reality.

Well, there’s good news. Two candidates, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Pete “It’s pronounced like ‘.gif'” Buttigieg have realized that removing the filibuster needs to be an option. Since Buttigieg doesn’t seem to have any policy positions, let’s focus on Warren (boldface mine):

What these senators mean is that for all the broad left’s justified alarm about the brittleness of our democracy, and the hardening of minority rule in America, 41 out of 100 senators, representing much less than 41 percent of the U.S. population, should be allowed to doom their ambitions. Even a Senate that could reliably pass legislation with 51 votes would still not be a majoritarian institution. The senators from the 25 smallest states would still have as much power as the senators from the 25 largest states, and because of how our population is sorted, the Senate would still allow a minority of the country, through their elected representatives, to hobble the progressive agenda.

Still, abolishing the filibuster would at least give the next Democratic president a fighting chance to govern. It would also strike a blow for core democratic principles liberals claim to stand for, bringing the country closer to a one-person, one vote ideal. Democrats who support its abolition could appeal to voters not just on the basis of policy checklists and anti-Trump sentiment, but as tribunes for a more responsive democracy. The problem is that many Democratic senators seem to believe that this would be bad. And unless that changes, the primary will be less a contest to determine which ideas a unified Democratic government might enact than a grand but meaningless celebration of liberal empowerment. A laboratory simulation to determine where consensus among Democratic base voters lies, before that consensus gets dashed upon the shoals of Republican obstruction…

The Democrats’ infatuation with the filibuster may place key items on the progressive agenda out of reach, but it is most galling as an indicator of how many Democrats intend to respond both to the harms conservatism has caused and to the threat to democracy Trump has thrown into relief.

In her speech announcing her candidacy earlier this month, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) warned supporters against the temptation to turn the page. “Once [Trump’s] gone we can’t pretend that all of this never happened,” she said. By no coincidence, Warren is also one of the few candidates who hasn’t run scared from the idea of eliminating the filibuster. “Everything stays on the table. You keep it all on the table. Don’t take anything off the table.”

Her insight is that these objectives are related. You can’t defeat antidemocratic forces by cementing their minority rule, and there will thus be no meaningful reckoning for Trump so long as the filibuster remains in place.

This is also disturbing because so many Democratic candidates are sitting senators–they could do something about this, but choose not to. While they seem to want to hold power, most seem far less interested in governing (boldface mine):

If Trumpism means anything, it means a rearguard action to deny our people self-government on grounds that the country has lost its greatness and requires rule by a righteous remnant of “real” Americans composed of taxpaying Jesus-worshiping gun-toting patriarchs. Progressives have long quoted Paul Wellstone in identifying themselves as “the democratic wing of the Democratic Party.” That’s simply not consistent with a willingness to maintain the Senate filibuster. This needs to be a 2020 campaign issue.

Not matter how awesome your plan is, if you don’t have a realistic plan of governance, there’s really no point.

I leave it to readers as an exercise to determine if the unwillingness to confront the filibuster is, from those candidates’ perspectives, a feature or a bug.

Update to the update: Gov. Jay Inslee, who might or might not be running, calls for abolishing the filibuster.

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1 Response to Update On The Power Primary

  1. Bern says:

    Yes. Filibuster-busting should be a minimum policy position to get onto Dem primary ballots…

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