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Hi there, here’s what you need to know for the week of June 24, 2022, in 8 minutes.

THIS WEEK INSIDE THE BIG TENT:


① As bad as things look for Democrats right now, it isn't very hard to imagine them dramatically improving their circumstances between now and the fall campaign

② Things will look much different if Dems finally round out Joe Biden's agenda, make a clear, actionable promise to restore Roe next year, and continue Trump-accountability investigations at full-throttle 

③ Voters may elect fascists anyhow, but those three things would each reduce the risk they will, and together would allow Democrats to make a compelling case for themselves, against the GOP

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GLOOM SANS DOOM

As a perfect reflection of our blighted times, Big Tent can be a gloomy place. But the idea has always been to point toward (what I think of as) better ways. And not pie in the sky better, just feasibly better than things are now, given existing constellations of forces. 

If I ever thought things were fully hopeless, I wouldn’t bother. But even now, at this just-above-rock-bottom moment, it isn’t hard to see how Democrats could dramatically improve their circumstances ahead of the midterms, and save the country from the next big step down the road to a fascist takeover. It doesn’t even take much creativity. 

What makes the situation so dire? Most of it boils down to the fact that Joe Biden’s approval ratings are in the toilet. They’re so bad it’s a bit surprising Democrats aren’t running further behind, either generically or in specific, challenging races, than they are. The bottom has fully collapsed from under Biden’s favorables with young voters. 

Some liberals blithely chalk it all up to inflation and gas prices. And those are certainly factors. But they don’t tell the whole story or even most of it. They don’t touch on frustrations (fair and otherwise) with Biden’s handling of the pandemic. They don’t explain why Biden’s troubles are so demographically uneven. They don’t explain why Republicans have  been able to control national discourse, despite lacking the most powerful tools of agenda setting. They don’t account for why, until the House January 6 Committee hearings finally got underway, a Democratic Party with a trifecta in Washington was unable or unwilling to use its power to advance a pro-Democratic, anti-Republican message. 

They also don’t speak to what Democrats could do, short of praying the inflay away, to reassert control over the core thematic content of politics before people vote. But there’s a lot. 

Herewith: how NOT to let a fascist party win federal power outright, when things are kinda crap, but the last semblances of American democracy are on the line.

① AMERICA'S PASS TIME

First: Do some shit already! I know, I know, easier said than done. You can’t wish away Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin. But we keep seeing hints that Chuck Schumer is pretty close to an agreement with Manchin on a fairly large bill that would reduce energy prices in the short term, make a huge long-term investment in clean energy, reduce health-care costs, and more than pay for it all with a substantial tax-increase on the rich. 

We see they’re close in comments from Democrats and Republicans (the latter of whom say their energy negotiations with Manchin aren’t going anywhere because he’s about to sign on to a big Democrat-only bill). We see it in endless comments from Manchin quibbling with this or that idea. We see it in the growing concern that if Democrats pass nothing individual health-insurance premiums will spike dramatically right before the election.

My big idea is: They should pass this, and very, very soon. Simple!

Perhaps they’re farther along than I know, in which case this is just going to happen and my input is useless as usual. But as long as the question of will or might is still open, I also think it’d behoove Schumer to clarify that at some point soon Dems are gonna accept that Manchin simply doesn’t want a bill to pass, and move on with a promise to get it done if voters give him one more senator. As bad as it would be and has been for the heart of Biden’s agenda to stop beating, the damage doesn’t stem entirely or even mostly from disappointment among committed liberal voters that Democrats haven’t advanced their pet issues. It stems from a much broader and more general sense that Biden is weak and Dems are shambling around with their shoelaces tied together. 

Best to pass the bill. It’d be very bad if it never passes. But the worst-case scenario is the one we’ve been stuck in for almost a year now, where the bill continues to hang in limbo, and Democrats keep failing to pass it, only to slink off in shame before the election.

Passing it, on the other hand, solves both substantive and political problems. A bill like the one under discussion could in theory provide immediate relief from inflation simply by making inelastic goods cheaper. Baking lower deficits into current law could ward the Federal Reserve off of its current course, which seems destined to plunge the U.S. into recession. Passing it would be in service of the U.S. commitment to Ukraine. 

But just as importantly, it would make Democrats look responsive and capable of doing things, it would make actual officeholders feel better about themselves and restore some of their lost vigor. It would make activists feel bought into the goal of electing Democrats, and rank and file voters—particularly young ones, with serious dread about the future climate—believe the government they helped elect accomplished something meaningful on their behalf. 

A similar thing holds for significant student-debt relief through executive action, especially if a broader reform bill isn’t gonna pass. The policy upside is a bit more contested there (though less so, I think, if a Fed-induced recession is in our future). But the political cost to Biden of doing nothing isn’t just making himself and his party seem feckless; it's also in breaking a campaign promise to a really large cohort of his voters. 

Data geeks will parse how well various debt-relief plans poll in surveys and ward Democrats off of doing anything at all (or at least anything too drastic) to fend off attacks and backlash. But, generously, they’re overthinking it. You know what’s worse, politically, than keeping a political promise to your voters that only polls at 50 percent? Breaking it.

② HELP OR HIGH WATER

Second: Promise to help people!

I’ve belabored this here and elsewhere for months, but with Roe v. Wade likely dead (or dead-letter’d) Democrats should look in the mirror and practice saying something like “give us two more senators and the House and we’ll pass a law codifying Roe in January 2023” over and over until it becomes second nature. I’ve noticed other liberal writers and even some senators cottoning onto this idea, and I’m really gratified to see it, because it’ll only become a party-wide message if it snowballs. 

If it doesn’t, the situation will become doubly gruesome: First, Republicans will criminalize abortion in as much of the country as they can, often in grimly totalitarian ways. Second, the large pro-Roe majority in the country (particularly the tens of millions of Americans who will be affected directly) will look to Democrats for relief. Ideally, Democrats would respond by reforming or abolishing the filibuster to codify Roe right away. But they don’t have 50 votes for that, or for legislation to codify Roe (remember what I said before, no pies in this sky), so the question is what are they going to say? The nightmare scenario is they don’t say anything beyond vague platitudes, let alone offer an actionable plan of any kind. Vote. Make your voices heard. Etc. Etc. Translation: Your problem, not ours. 

What they can do, is make the election in large part a referendum on whether Americans should have their reproductive rights restored immediately, or maybe never again. Plain promises are simple to understand; they're also galvanizing. 

③ NEGATIVE, NANCY

Third: Discredit the opposition. 

The five January 6 committee hearings so far have tapped the potential of the kind of oversight I spent most of 2019, 2020, and 2021 pleading with Democrats to conduct. 

They're breaking through to normal voters, affecting the way Republicans think about Trump, and generating new revelations along multiple fronts. And again, importantly, they're effective because they capture the national media's attention and (thus) change the mixture of information people absorb on a daily basis. 

But we only reached this point reluctantly. Democrats bypassed scores of golden oversight opportunities, in 2019 and 2020. They intentionally cabined the first impeachment (which they also entered reluctantly) such that incredible leads (the classified server Trump used to hide incriminating foreign-leader calls?) went unexamined, as outside the narrow scope of the investigation. Democrats bailed out of their own second impeachment trial. Nancy Pelosi’s primary oversight objective after Biden’s inauguration was to slough off all this insurrection messiness on to a bipartisan commission that gave Republican appointees veto power over investigative steps. The one wise thing she did, after belatedly establishing this committee, was reject GOP efforts to install insurrection witnesses as panelists.

Now, thanks to the investigation, Republicans are in terrible disarray. Trump rages daily at Kevin McCarthy for choosing to boycott the committee altogether (a decision McCarthy—a Trump puppet—presumably made at Trump’s direction). The investigation itself has been devised to sow chaos within Trump world, pitting various loyalists against one another. Republican voters, including Trump supporters, don’t want him to be the GOP nominee in 2024 anymore. The Justice Department has begun taking overt investigative steps against coup plotters. All the positive feedback effects you’d expect from a sprawling investigation have begun to materialize.

For these reasons, they should continue pursuing leads through the election (and, if they can, beyond). They should refer to Trump only in withering terms as a crook with blood on his hands, and make his huge imprint on the Republican ticket this November a central part of their fall messaging. 

They can of course still talk about the infrastructure bill or “following the science” or whatever. Hopefully they’ll be able to talk about uild-Bay ack-Bay etter-Bay. They can talk about pain at the pump and how the Republican plan to address inflation is to tax the poor and throw seniors off Medicare and Social Security, and to force women to carry to term. But every appeal they make in the language of common partisanship should include a tacked on reminder: Two years ago, when they lost the election, they attacked the Capitol to overthrow the government; they brutalized police; people died; they have not renounced it, and now they want you to put them back in charge, so they can try again two years from now. 

It’s unthinkable that voters might do vote Republicans back into power anyhow. But they really might. Doing any of these things would reduce the risk they will. Doing all three is the only way for Dems to enter the election with their heads held high. 

 
The first episode of Positively Dreadful is out now.
Positively Dreadful takes listeners below the headlines of the stories stirring widespread anxiety in today’s news landscape to give them a richer understanding and appreciation of how and why to remain engaged, even in the face of daunting challenges.
This week, I'm talking to Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD) about how personal loss and the insurrection changed him, why unchecked optimism fails us when corrupt people come to power, and how we can still balance realism with hope today.
New episodes of Positively Dreadful premiere each Friday in the Rubicon feed. Listen wherever you get your podcasts.
 

↑↑↑
HEY CHECK OUT MY NEW PODCAST HERE 

Speaking of the Supreme Court, it invented the right to carry concealed weapons on Thursday. Isn’t that nice? No pies in this sky, neither this Democratic majority nor (likely) the next one, is going to stop the out-of-control, illegitimate Court. But Democrats are going to have to have a reality check with themselves at some point about where the Court is taking us.

The anti-anti-Trump Republicans who want to wash their hands of Trump are turning to Ron DeSantis, who is extremely bad in his own right. This Dexter Filkins profile will help you understand why if you don’t already.

Any Wyoming Democrats here?

This is me spitballing, but with DOJ finally taking overt investigative steps against coup plotters, we should worry that Merrick Garland will put the whole thing on ice in the run-up to the election, as if this were a corruption investigation aimed at a particular candidate. This is an investigation of a coup, the people at the center of it aren’t candidates. The investigation should continue full throttle through the election, and if it looks bad for the GOP that former Trump aides are in big legal trouble, well too bad: Life’s hard, especially if you’re an insurrectionist.

Interesting insights here on what effect if any “disinformation” has had on Latino voting trends.

Same here. #NeverForget

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Like parts but disagree with others? Send Brian your feedback bigtent@crooked.com


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