Here’s something I shouldn’t even have to be saying, but based on the doomsday hysteria that’s erupted across social media over the past twenty-four hours, apparently I do have to say it: Lay off Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
The trouble began when Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, who knows he needs to pass voting rights legislation in order to have a fair shot in his own reelection effort in his Republican-controlled state, decided that he didn’t want to be seen as supporting voting rights legislation. So Manchin is speaking out against HR1, even while offering support for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, even though those are two birds of a feather.
Manchin is clearly doing a Susan Collins routine. We all remember when she used to loudly insist that she was going to vote against her own party, but once she finished verbally establishing her supposed independence (and once she was sufficiently bought off), she ultimately fell in line with her own party about 95% of the time.
So President Biden and Chuck Schumer are doing with Joe Manchin what Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell used to do with Susan Collins. They’re letting Manchin defiantly run his mouth until he peters himself out, all while publicly ramping up the pressure on him, and surely offering him enticements behind the scenes. Collins nearly always caved to her party in the end; Manchin nearly always caves to his party in the end.
But all these mechanics of politics have somehow been lost on a boatload of liberal activists on social media, who decided yesterday that Manchin is absolutely never coming around on anything, the entire liberal agenda is out the window, all hope is lost, we’re all doomed, we’re all going to die, and Chuck Schumer is a helpless damsel in distress who should be ousted as Senate Majority Leader. This wasn’t a mere isolated sentiment either; so many activists began repeating this doomsday sentiment, it ended up trending on Twitter.
To be clear, this is one of the stupidest things ever said in the history of politics. It’s based on so many false premises, such failure to understand the basics of how politics works, and such a fictional recollection of the previous four years, it borders on a hallucination from a suicide cult. It’s important to pick this nonsense apart.
First, these defeatists are relying on the false claim that when Trump and McConnell had full control of the government, they were able to instantly pass anything they wanted. Of course if you accurately remember anything about that era, you’ll recall that it took McConnell months to get almost anything through the Senate, because he always had wait for Collins, Murkowski, Romney, and the other “holdouts” to finish displaying their supposed independence before they were finally ready to cave.
McConnell had to drag most of his legislation limping across the finish line – and in the end he and Trump were only able to accomplish a fraction of their legislative goals. Remember when they tried and failed to repeal Obamacare? Remember when they tried to fund a border wall? Remember immigration? These were all things that the Republicans just couldn’t get done, even when they had full control of the government in those first two years. It’s simply a load of fiction to claim that the Republicans were able to quickly and easily accomplish whatever they wanted when they were in control.
The same political realities that routinely plagued McConnell when he was in charge of the Senate are now plaguing Chuck Schumer now that he’s in charge of the Senate. If you’re familiar with how politics works, you just call this kind of thing “Tuesday” and move on. It always looks from the outside that your legislation isn’t going to pass, until it does. And with the rarest of exceptions, it takes several months to pass any major legislation, even with a majority.
Yet even within this factual reality that it took McConnell several months to just barely eke anything into law, liberal defeatists are now insisting that Chuck Schumer should be ousted because he’s been on the job for a few months and thus far he’s only passed the COVID stimulus relief bill.
By the McConnell standard, Schumer is right on track, perhaps even ahead of the game. Schumer has already passed one huge groundbreaking piece of legislation. He’s already found a parliamentary way to pass the infrastructure package with just fifty votes, so that one’s inevitable. And when it comes to voting rights legislation, Schumer is merely at the part where Joe Manchin is still playing out his Susan Collins routine, which means it’s still absolutely still in play.
But this overwhelming tidal wave of facts just doesn’t seem to matter to the defeatists. They’re insisting that Chuck Schumer be replaced so things can move more quickly, as if there’s a magic wand that Schumer is simply refusing to wave, and that some other Democratic Senate Majority Leader would simply wave. This is a kindergartner’s view of the world. And yet so many liberal defeatists are subscribing to this nonsense, it’s more or less taken over the political discussion this week on social media.
The problem here is two fold. First, it does extraordinary damage when so many liberal activists are so clueless about how anything in politics works, they’re mistakenly demanding the ouster of their own Majority Leader because they mistakenly think the battle over voting rights legislation is somehow lost. These dummies are taking out Schumer’s legs, and thus taking Schumer’s leverage over Manchin away from it. So these dummies who hate Manchin are unwittingly helping Manchin, because they don’t even understand what they’re watching unfold.
Second, this is a time when the Democratic Party leadership – which is fighting like hell for us in smart and savvy fashion – needs us to help out by applying real pressure to opportunists like Manchin and clowns like Sinema. The way you apply pressure is to push Manchin and Sinema to cave on voting rights, and make clear to them that you’re not going to let up until they do cave. You 100% assume you’re going to be able to bend them to your will, and then you do it.
In contrast, the defeatists are unwittingly doing the opposite. They keep insisting that Manchin and Sinema will never cave no matter what. In so doing, they’re telling Manchin and Sinema that they’re off the hook. When you concede defeat right off the bat, what your adversary is hearing is that they’ve won, because you’ve given up trying. This kind of defeatist “activism” is actually the opposite of activism; it’s how you turn a potential win into a guaranteed loss.
To make things worse, far too many prominent liberal pundits (on TV and online) are pandering to this general cluelessness by also insisting that Manchin and Sinema will never cave no matter what, calling for Chuck Schumer’s ouster, and proposing silly magic wand solutions aimed at making themselves look clever. Whenever the liberal defeatism machine gets out of control, these pundits are always eager to opportunistically feed the machine for the sake of likes and retweets.
So what’s the solution? As always, we have to educate ourselves about how the political process actually works. We have to remember that most of what transpires in politics takes place behind the scenes. We have to keep in mind that when politicians speak in public, it’s only ever for the sake of posturing, or trying to influence what’s going on behind the scenes; it’s never to be taken as a statement of fact.
Most importantly, we have to keep in mind that placing pressure on your adversaries, and assuming you’re going to be able to get them to cave, is how you win; assuming you’re going to lose is how to guarantee you’ll lose. Political activism isn’t about trying to lose so you can feel outrage. It’s about trying to win, so you can make things better for everyone.
Those “activists” who can’t understand any of the above need to be educated on the harm they’re doing with their defeatism, or failing that, nudged out of activism entirely. And pundits who seize every opportunity to ramp up the defeatism need to be seen as the menace they are.
Will we still make voting rights legislation happen? The odds are highly in our favor. But we’ll only get it done if we realize that this is a time for fighting and winning, and that the stakes are too high to indulge anyone on our side who thinks it’s all about whining and pouting. Now let’s go win this battle, both so we can save our democracy, and so we can silence these defeatists once and for all.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report