GELFAND’S WORLD--Among the bigger stories of the new year, certainly the biggest so far has been the ability of the Democratic caucus in the U.S. Senate to maintain its unity.
From that 50 vote unanimity will come the passage of Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion relief bill, and from that will come a newfound respect for Biden among the American people. And with that respect for Biden, even among those who don't agree with his policies, will come a renewed ability by our new president to govern.
Yes, we can expect the Republicans, particularly the Mitch McConnell caucus in the Senate, to obstruct as best they can, but that's where the ability to hold that 50 vote margin is critical. And make no mistake about it, this is the result of party discipline -- no obvious thing in a caucus which includes not only Joe Manchin, but also a couple of senators who officially are not members of the Democratic Party. Chuck Schumer has his work cut out for him, and on that depends where this country is going.
But there was another story last week that may also be important -- more so than it looks at first sight. The Democrats in the House of Representatives voted to remove Marjorie Taylor Greene from her committee assignments, based on her threatening comments about other members of congress, her abuse of the survivors of mass shootings, and, in general, her espousal of the wacky QAnon positions. This wasn't just a demonstration of Nancy Pelosi's power and authority, although it contained elements of that. There's a bigger picture here, and it involves trying to turn around a multi-decade trend.
The right wing has been effective in name calling for the past two or three decades. In the Georgia senatorial runoffs, the Republican candidates did their best to tar the Democrats with the taint of left wing extremism. Listening to talk radio, we hear similar taunts that Democrats are really espousing neo-Marxism (whatever that might be) or socialism. The word Leftist is about the kindest term, which is strange when you hear it from the far-right while they are talking about what is really the center.
But the subtext of a lot of right wing ranting really goes to their pretense at being macho. Until they were stuck with Trump's kissing up to Putin, the Republicans liked to get off on their anti-communism. If you took John Wayne and made him into an insulting, conceited braggart, that would have been the Republican ideal.
If you were a Democrat, it was hard to deal with the charge that you were a wimp.
And Republicans made the best of this approach by bullying. Before Trump, we had the Mitch McConnell senate that refused to play nice with anything Democratic. Some Republicans even went so far as to refuse even to say the word "Democratic," referring instead to "the Democrat Party." It is a modest slight but refusing to even mention your self-chosen name is a clear and intentional insult. When hearing this, I'm reminded of the use of the term "the Zionist entity" by those who absolutely refuse to speak the name Israel.
So this is where we've been, and the centrists and Democrats are pointing out that there's a new sheriff in town. Where Republicans have been the busters of norms and accepted traditions, the Democrats are now showing that they can do the same thing. Don't want to consider our Supreme Court nominations? That was a violation of trust. So now, with the shoe on the other foot, the Democrats are doing a little reminding.
The vote last week was a slap across the face to Marjorie Taylor Greene. It was also a violation of the accepted practice whereby each party gets to send its own choices to each committee. The Democrats showed that they too can violate traditions. The fact that the grounds were really rather thin -- she wasn't accused of actual violence or some other crime, or even the misuse of funds -- was itself part of the message. We too, it was saying, can go over the line, so let this be a lesson for the future.
Is election stealing becoming the latest fad?
The obvious answer ought to be a resounding No, considering Trump's defeat not only in the November election but also in all his post-election chicanery. But the bad example seems to have affected some of our local dealings.
On Saturday, there was an online meeting of a group of people who have been running an annual meeting known as the neighborhood council congress. The congress has generally worked out pretty well in terms of making sure there is parking and lunch for the participants. It has been a bit stifling intellectually and politically, and there has been some movement to kick the congress into the 21st century.
So, this meeting included in its agenda the election of officers. It was also clear that there was a slate of candidates who would like to change things, and an incumbent Chair who obviously wanted to retain her office.
And then, when it looked likely that the meeting would begin to take up the election, the current Chair abruptly announced that she was adjourning the meeting.
That's one way to hold onto your office when you don't want to face the voters.
This action of course elicited a series of protests by those who wanted to vote as well as by those who respect the idea of the rule of law. We have lots of expressions for this, perhaps the most common being "a level playing field," but the idea is obvious. Just as in November, there are accepted rules for scheduling and carrying out elections. It is improper for one side to cancel the election, although it happened this time around.
What is also peculiar about this story is that the event was witnessed by none other than the General Manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment. That kind of puts DONE on the spot here, because these congresses (when they are carried out as public events in non-pandemic years) typically cost more than $40,000 of the taxpayers' money and DONE is in charge of collecting and paying out that money.
There are a couple of other elements to this story. Under standard parliamentary procedure, no one person gets to make decisions for the group as a whole. The motion to adjourn is just that -- a motion -- and technically it is subject to the agreement of the participants. I caught it, but this being a Zoom meeting and having no ability to turn on my microphone (unmuting they call it), it was impossible for me to point this out. Perhaps the DONE people could have caught it (why didn't they?) but it would have put them in something of a difficult position because they were supposedly just there supplying technical assistance and offering procedures for the election.
Time's story: Is it a bombshell or just a good read?
They titled it The secret history of the shadow campaign that saved the 2020 election. You can read it here.
It seems that a large number of people and organizations anticipated the cheap tricks and downright illegalities that the Trump campaign threw at us both before and after the election. They did something about it.
Everything they did was legal, but apparently the right wing media are getting off on the description of the group as a cabal and claiming that what they did was a conspiracy.
Perhaps it was, but only in the sense that a large number of people did nothing illegal in the pursuit of preserving that which is legal.
It's a long read but a good read. It does have a little writerly fun in tossing around terms like conspiracy, but if you get through the details, you will learn a lot about what it will take to win the next time around.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)