Just when I thought I was out…
Finally some policy news pulls me back in. With the second government shutdown in three weeks taking place and lasting for about 3 hours on Friday morning, a bill was finally passed that brought some policy back into the beltway zeitgeist.
But diving back into the policy discourse happening in the U.S. also got me thinking about how much of an advantage Democrats already have on policy items, and how many people dislike the current President, and how can the democrats take advantage of that, to make sure they exploit those advantages fully in the 2018 elections?
To recap quickly – the budget deal includes $300 billion in new spending; about $160 billion for defense and the rest for non-defense. The defense spending isn’t for anything in particular – the appropriations committees will actually end up deciding what programs that money gets spent on. The non-defense spending included some very liberal-friendly programs – extending CHIP for an additional 3 years (on top of the 6 that had already been passed), funding for National Institutes of Health, disaster relief, some money for the opioid crisis, etc.
It seems the Democrats have figured out that Republicans don’t care about spending or the deficit as long as it’s military spending or tax cuts that’s expanding the deficit, so they just attach spending they want to increase in defense spending and call it a win. There’s some good stuff in that $140 billion or whatever the final number happens to be. It’s a deal with the devil, for sure, but from a policy perspective, at least its an increase, and at least it has some substance to it other than, ‘Repeal Obamacare’ or ‘Take money from the poor and give it to the rich.’ If this were the only legislative issue on the horizon, this would be considered a win for a party that doesn’t control any of the House, Senate, or Presidency.
However, given DACA is set to expire March 5, there was a lot of consternation over whether House Democrats should vote for this bill, particularly without any sort of ‘promise’ from Paul Ryan akin to the one Mitch McConnell gave to Senate Democrats. It’s a tricky situation – if the Democrats don’t vote for the bill without any sort of promise or action on immigration, then the government shuts down. You’d essentially have a repeat of three weeks ago when the Republicans blamed the shut down on Democrats, and for a brief moment, Republicans standing on the generic ballot improved, showing that they might be winning that argument, however briefly (and that’s before getting into whether it would even matter in the November elections). If Democrats get blamed for the shutdown, and the reason they are shutting the government down is to protect DREAMers and DACA recipients, their plan could backfire in the world of public opinion – by the transitive property (I think that’s the right one), DREAMers and DACA recipients will get the blame for the shutdown, thus weakening the Democratic position.
But the Democrats didn’t get a promise from Paul Ryan, but I don’t really think that matters all that much. I mean, do you know who Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell are? Is there any reason to believe anything either of them ever says? Mitch McConnell doesn’t give two fucks about your decorum or Senate procedure. The man held a Supreme Court seat hostage, and won. You believe in promises? Aww, how cute.
There’s a lot of political calculation here on the ‘should they or shouldn’t they’ have shut the government down over immigration. And props to Nancy Pelosi for her record setting speech on the House floor, and sharing the stories of immigrants. And props to everyone on Twitter sharing stories of how ICE is basically Hitler’s Army. I’m definitely on team #AbolishICE. But I don’t want to pretend to know the ins and outs of the policy here, and particularly the ins and outs of the politics. It’s fucking hard.
What I do want to get into, is something that I’ve been wondering about since the results of the 2016 election. I’m definitely not going to re-litigate the election, and I’m definitely not on team Bernie Would Have Won. But I do have a question – how can democrats turn their policy advantages into political wins? And that got me wondering further – would the 2016 election have been different if Jon Stewart were still at The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert still on The Colbert Report?
It seems a bit far-fetched at first, given that those audiences were already very liberal, and mostly Democratic. However, I feel like if anyone could have bridged the gap between the Bernie Bros and those With Her, it would have been Jon Stewart. I can’t help but think that viral videos and segments that would have been passed around on Twitter during the months before the election could have helped motivate a few thousand extra Wisconsinites, and Pennsylvanians, and Ohioans, and Floridians, to either get out and vote or change their vote. For all the talk about what happened in 2016, and how did Hillary lose – remember, she still got 2.5 million more votes than Donald Trump. She lost by just a few thousand votes in just a few cities. If those few thousand votes go a different way, we have a totally different history on our hands.
The question is, could Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have changed those votes – those people who wrote in Bernie Sanders, or Tulsi Gabbard, or voted for the Allepo Man himself Gary Johnson, or Jill Stein? Could they have gotten people who decided to stay home and not vote, out to the polls to vote for Hillary? I have a feeling the answer is yes.
Think back to 2016 and what liberals were missing – someone to unite them. Hillary was failing to do so – the Bernie crowd is still butt-hurt about what happened. Why couldn’t Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have done it? Can you imagine Stephen Colbert doing his character as an ardent Trump supporter, and how ridiculous he would have made it look to support him after the pussy grabber tape, the sexual assaults, and all the other ‘scandals’ that Trump survived? And what about how Stewart could have bridged the gap between the ultra-liberal and the establishment, practical and pragmatic wings of the Democratic party?
Most of the people watching those shows are liberals, or as Bill O’Reilly liked to call us, ‘stoned slackers’. And most of that audience probably did vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016. But if we’re talking about a loss of just a few thousand votes in a handful of cities in even fewer states, there has to be the possibility that – even if they weren’t regular watchers of the two shows – they would have seen enough clips on Facebook about how Jon Stewart ABSOLUTELY DESTROYS Corey Lewandowski, or some other Trump comment or staffer, that they would have been motivated to change their vote or vote for Hillary instead of whatever throwaway candidate they ended up voting for.
Again, the point here isn’t to re-litigate 2016. The point I’m trying to make is that Democrats need a unifying force. A central figure that they can relate to and rally around. I think Jon Stewart (with the help and contrast of Stephen Colbert’s character) could have unofficially been that person in 2016. He had the platform and the charisma to bridge the gap between the two wings of the party, and motivate people to vote, even without explicitly doing so. The party itself doesn’t have that person. The Democrats are winning on all the policy positions – people favor gay marriage, legalizing marijuana, path to citizenship, DREAMers, more taxes on the wealthy, etc. etc. etc. They have spent years building a big tent, and getting on the right side of policy issues, yet now they have no one who can credibly espouse those values and at the same time get people excited about them. Barack Obama could do that. Bernie Sanders was close, but the only person in 2016 who could have done it was Jon Stewart.
Now they need someone for 2018, and 2020 to be that person, because Jon Stewart is not walking through that door. This is what worries me about the Democrats and the liberals – they like to spend a TON of time calling Trump a liar, and talking about how awful and crazy he is, and how he’s a sex offender, and a criminal, and every other thing that is absolutely 100% true but also absolutely does not matter. He’s always been these things and he still got elected. Democrats need someone who can get them excited about – and make them feel – politics. Hillary Clinton definitely couldn’t do that. Bill Clinton could. Obama could. Corey Booker can’t. Kamala Harris and Kirstin Gillibrand can’t. Elizabeth Warren kind of can, but also kind of can’t.
This is why Oprah picked up so much presidential buzz after her speech at the Golden Globes. She’s the type of person who can give a ten minute speech and make you laugh tears of joy and cry tears of sadness and dab away tears of hope. She makes you want to get out and knock on doors and make phone calls and volunteer for 16 hours a day. You catch feels when she speaks.
Electing Oprah as President would be along the lines of the Lakers hiring Magic Johnson as President of Basketball Operations but also hiring Rob Pelinka as General Manager. Which, I suppose, isn’t the worst scenario in the world (it’s certainly better than Trump and Pence, who are like Donald Sterling and a white, racist, homophobic Billy King), I would hope that the Democrats could find someone that is more Gregg Popovich – the charismatic leader and the policy wonk, all in one.