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President Biden Speaks to the Nation Again, but Ignores a Big Part of the Story

Last night, President Biden gave a televised speech about the right-wing attack on democracy. But he didn’t express the obvious truth that most Republican politicians are in on it. Maybe he actually believes it’s just those extreme MAGA Republicans we have to worry about, not the average ones who are lukewarm on democracy and the rule of law. Anyway, here’s most of what he said:

Just a few days ago, a little before 2:30 a.m. in the morning, a man smashed the back windows and broke into the home of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the third-highest-ranking official in America. He carried in his backpack zip ties, duct tape, rope and a hammer.

As he told the police, he had come looking for Nancy Pelosi to take her hostage, to interrogate her, to threaten to break her kneecaps. But she wasn’t there. Her husband … was home alone. The assailant tried to take Paul hostage….

The assailant entered the home asking: “Where’s Nancy? Where’s Nancy?” Those are the very same words used by the mob when they stormed the United States Capitol on January 6th, when they broke windows, kicked in the doors, brutally attacked law enforcement, roamed the corridors hunting for officials and erected gallows….

It was an enraged mob that had been whipped up into a frenzy by a president repeating over and over again the Big Lie, that the election of 2020 had been stolen. It’s a lie that’s fueled the dangerous rise in political violence and voter intimidation over the past two years.

Even before January 6th, we saw election officials and election workers in a number of states subjected to menacing calls, physical threats, even threats to their lives…. 

This intimidation, this violence against Democrats, Republicans and nonpartisan officials just doing their jobs, are the consequence of lies told for power and profit, lies of conspiracy and malice, lies repeated over and over to generate a cycle of anger, hate, vitriol and even violence.

In this moment, we have to confront those lies with the truth. The very future of our nation depends on it. My fellow Americans, we’re facing a defining moment, an inflection point. We must with one overwhelming unified voice speak as a country and say there’s no place, no place for voter intimidation or political violence in America. Whether it’s directed at Democrats or Republicans. No place, period. No place ever.

I speak today near Capitol Hill, near the U.S. Capitol, the citadel of our democracy. I know there’s a lot at stake in these midterm elections, from our economy, to the safety of our streets, to our personal freedoms, to the future of health care and Social Security, Medicare. It’s all important. But we’ll have our differences, we’ll have our difference of opinion. And that’s what it’s supposed to be.

But there’s something else at stake, democracy itself. I’m not the only one who sees it. Recent polls have shown an overwhelming majority of Americans believe our democracy is at risk, that our democracy is under threat. They too see that democracy is on the ballot this year, and they’re deeply concerned about it. [Note: The president failed to point out that Democrats are worried about a real threat to democracy, while Republicans are worried about an imaginary one premised on the Big Lie. Voting by mail? Truckloads of counterfeit ballots?]

So today, I appeal to all Americans, regardless of party, to meet this moment of national and generational importance. We must vote knowing what’s at stake and not just the policy of the moment. Institutions that have held us together as we’ve sought a more perfect union are also at stake. We must vote knowing who we have been, what we’re at risk of becoming.

Look, my fellow Americans, the old expression, “Freedom is not free,” it requires constant vigilance. From the very beginning, nothing has been guaranteed about democracy in America. Every generation has had to defend it, protect it, preserve it, choose it. For that’s what democracy is. It’s a choice, a decision of the people, by the people and for the people. The issue couldn’t be clearer, in my view.

We the people must decide whether we will have fair and free elections, and every vote counts. We the people must decide whether we’re going to sustain a republic, where reality’s accepted, the law is obeyed and your vote is truly sacred.

We the people must decide whether the rule of law will prevail or whether we will allow the dark forces and thirst for power put ahead of the principles that have long guided us.

You know, American democracy is under attack because the defeated former president of the United States refused to accept the results of the 2020 election. If he refuses to accept the will of the people, if he refuses to accept the fact that he lost, he’s abused his power and put the loyalty to himself before loyalty to the Constitution. And he’s made a big lie an article of faith in the MAGA Republican Party, the minority of that party [Unfortunately, recent polls say up to 60% of Republicans accept the lie.]

The great irony about the 2020 election is that it’s the most attacked election in our history. And, yet, there’s no election in our history that we can be more certain of its results. Every legal challenge that could have been brought was brought. Every recount that could have been undertaken was undertaken. Every recount confirmed the results. Wherever fact or evidence had been demanded, the Big Lie has been proven to be just that, a big lie. Every single time.

Yet now extreme MAGA Republicans aim to question not only the legitimacy of past elections, but elections being held now and into the future. The extreme MAGA element of the Republican Party [is] its driving force. It’s trying to succeed where they failed in 2020, to suppress the right of voters and subvert the electoral system itself. That means denying your right to vote and deciding whether your vote even counts.

Instead of waiting until an election is over, they’re starting well before it. They’re starting now. They’ve emboldened violence and intimidation of voters and election officials. It’s estimated that there are more than 300 election deniers on the ballot all across America this year. We can’t ignore the impact this is having on our country. It’s damaging, it’s corrosive and it’s destructive.

And I want to be very clear, this is not about me, it’s about all of us…. It’s about the durability of our democracy. For democracies are more than a form of government. They’re a way of being, a way of seeing the world, a way that defines who we are, what we believe, why we do what we do. Democracy is simply that fundamental.

We must, in this moment, dig deep within ourselves and recognize that we can’t take democracy for granted any longer. With democracy on the ballot, we have to remember these first principles. Democracy means the rule of the people, not the rule of monarchs or the moneyed, but the rule of the people.

Autocracy is the opposite of democracy. It means the rule of one, one person, one interest, one ideology, one party. To state the obvious, the lives of billions of people, from antiquity till now, have been shaped by the battle between these competing forces, between the aspirations of the many and the greed and power of the few, between the people’s right for self-determination, and the self-seeking autocrat, between the dreams of a democracy and the appetites of an autocracy.

What we’re doing now is going to determine whether democracy will long endure and, in my view, it is the biggest of questions, whether the American system that prizes the individual bends toward justice and depends on the rule of law, whether that system will prevail. This is the struggle we’re now in….

There’s been anger before in America. There’s been division before in America. But we’ve never given up on the American experiment. And we can’t do that now.… We have to face this problem. We can’t turn away from it. We can’t pretend it’s just going to solve itself.

There’s an alarming rise in the number of our people in this country condoning political violence, or simply remaining silent, because silence is complicity. To the disturbing rise of voter intimidation, the pernicious tendency to excuse political violence or at least, at least trying to explain it away. We can’t allow this sentiment to grow. We must confront it head on now. It has to stop now….

Look, even as I speak here tonight, 27 million people have already cast their ballot in the midterm elections. Millions more will cast their ballots in the final days leading up to November the 9th — 8th, excuse me…. Once again we’re seeing record turnout all over the country. And that’s good. We want Americans to vote. We want every American’s voice to be heard. Now we have to move the process forward. We know that more and more ballots are cast in early voting or by mail in America. We know that many states don’t start counting those ballots till after the polls close on Nov. 8.

That means in some cases we won’t know the winner of the election for a few days — until a few days after the election. It takes time to count all legitimate ballots in a legal and orderly manner. It’s always been important for citizens in the democracy to be informed and engaged. Now it’s important for a citizen to be patient as well. That’s how this is supposed to work.

This is the first election since the events of January 6th, 2021….I wish I could say the assault on our democracy ended that day, but I cannot.

As I stand here today, there are candidates running for every level of office in America — for governor, Congress, attorney general, secretary of state — who won’t commit, that will not commit to accepting the results of the election that they’re running in. This is a path to chaos in America. It’s unprecedented. It’s unlawful, and it’s un-American.

… So I ask you to think long and hard about the moment we’re in. In a typical year, we’re not faced with questions of whether the vote we cast will preserve democracy or put us at risk. But this year we are. This year I hope you’ll make the future of our democracy an important part of your decision to vote and how you vote….You have the power, it’s your choice, it’s your decision, the fate of the nation, the fate of the soul of America lies where it always does, with the people, in your hands, in your heart, in your ballot….

We Need To Work Together the Way They Have

The Atlantic has an article called “America Is Growing Apart, Possibly For Good”. It includes a few statistics that show how states with Democratic and Republic political leaders are diverging. 

For example, blue states lead in such factors as life expectancy, gross domestic product per person, median household income, spending on elementary and secondary education, access to health insurance, minimum wage rates, union membership and abortion rights

Red states have more children in poverty, more working households in poverty, more gun deaths, and higher maternal and COVID mortality rates.

It’s also easier to vote in blue states.

David Roberts, who publishes the Volts newsletter on politics and clean energy, cited the Atlantic article and took it from there:

The differences between red & blue America are rising to the surface again after a late-20th century period of anomalous convergence. This isn’t about misunderstanding or incivility or “partisanship” — these are real, deep, fundamental differences in values.

Red America is well into a program of attempting, with a numerical minority, to impose its will & its values on the entire country. It is aided by innumerable biases in the US constitutional system & a wildly unrepresentative Supreme Court.

This is all obvious enough (one would hope) by now, but all I want to add — as someone who woke to find his wife quietly sobbing at her computer & is filled with helpless fury — is that Red America has also been helped over the last several decades by the fact that a large number of people in Blue America refuse to take its side — refuse to take sides at all. Instead go about trying to impress each other with how above-it-all they are, how they see the flaws in both sides, how they’re too clever to just fucking fight.

I’m talking about the self-righteous lefties pissing on “libs”, the self-righteous moderates pissing on the activists, the pundits wringing their hands over process questions & tone policing, the gerontocratic Democrats lost in fantasies of bipartisanship.

Survey the whole landscape & you find legions of people naturally situated on one side of this battle simply refusing to fight it, refusing even to clearly describe the battle lines, mostly out of vanity masquerading as nobility.

Pick your episode — start with the stolen 2000 election, start earlier, whatever — and you find Blue America divided, squabbling, irresolute, taken by surprise again & again, bizarrely resistant to simply identifying Red America for what it is & trying to stop it.

Over & over again, it’s “well, maybe they have a point” or “sure I disagree but let’s not fight” or “if you squint, they’re actually just worried about lost factory jobs” or “the problem is us, we need to spend more time in diners,” on & on ad nauseam.

This isn’t unique to America of course — history provides plenty of examples of the Blue parts of society failing to take the Red parts seriously until it’s too late, only to find themselves swept up in rising autocracy & violence. A certain German example comes to mind.

So let’s make it plain: Red America wants a fundamentalist Christian patriarchal society, with white Christian men on top, protected by the law but not bound by it, & everyone else bound but not protected, begging for leftovers.

If you don’t want that — if you want a multiethnic, multiracial democracy in which every citizen is ensured a basic level of material security & dignity — then it’s time to wrench your gaze away from the ways fellow Blue Americans annoy you (yes, yes, I do too) and fix your gaze on the enemy of rising fascism.

“I’m too clever to be on any team” is over. Nobody’s impressed. Join the fucking fight or get out of the way.

Unquote.

As if the gun ruling and the abortion ruling weren’t enough, the renegade Supreme Court majority is poised to issue a ruling that could fundamentally change the way the federal government functions:

The Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision in the coming days that could curtail the [Environmental Protection Agency’s] ability to drive down carbon emissions at power plants.

But it could go much further than that.

Legal experts are waiting to see if the ruling in West Virginia v. EPA begins to chip away at the ability of federal agencies — all of them, not just EPA — to write and enforce regulations.

It would foreshadow a power shift with profound consequences, not just for climate policy but virtually everything the executive branch does, from directing air traffic to protecting investors [to dealing with pandemics].

Sherilyn Ifill, former head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, explains what we need to do to get out of this “democratic freefall”:

We need radical structural reform to the functioning of all three branches of government in this country. Extremists have found the keys to gaming & hijacking the system – in Congress, the White House, & [the Supreme Court].

We have witnessed the vulnerability of the rules that govern each branch of government, which have been weaponized to herd us toward minority rule. Do we have the boldness & courage to reset the rules of government so that they serve democracy? Because that’s the project. It begins with power.

If we hope to remain a democracy then we need to be prepared to fundamentally reset key aspects of how we’ve allowed our government to function (or malfunction): Congress, the Presidency, the Supreme Court. Healthy democracies learn & adjust. Can we? I don’t see how we make it any other way.

It’s a huge job, but we can do it.

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What’s a Fusion Party?

Third political parties don’t do well in the US. What they usually do is take votes away from the major party they’re ideologically closest to. Thus, in the 2020 election, 1.8 million people voted for the Libertarian Party candidate, not the Republican, and 400,000 voted for the Green Party candidate, not the Democrat. In 2016, 4.5 million voted Libertarian and 1.5 million voted Green. Voting for a third party in America is a way to “send a message”, while helping to elect the Democrat or Republican you probably can’t stand. A classic case was Ralph Nader, noted progressive and consumer advocate, getting 97,000 votes in Florida, in an election with a final margin between Bush and Gore of 573 (thanks to the Supreme Court). Bush should have invited Nader to the White House, although Nader wouldn’t have shown up.

But some third parties make sense. They’re called “fusion” parties. A fusion party nominates the major party candidate they like best. All votes cast for the fusion party in the general election go to the Democrat or Republican they’ve nominated. Thus, in New York, where fusion parties are legal, the Working Families Party usually nominates the Democrat and the Conservative Party usually nominates the Republican. It may sound like a dumb idea (why not just vote for the Democratic or Republican nominee?), but it allows the fusion party to run its own campaign and allows fusion party voters to avoid thinking of themselves as Democrats or Republicans.

The most interesting case, however, is when the fusion party nominates a candidate they’d ordinarily oppose. That happens when the other major party candidate is so bad, the fusion party can’t support them. That’s what’s happening in New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District this year. Disaffected Republicans have created the Moderate Party and nominated the Democrat (who happens to be relatively moderate). They don’t want to support the Republican, because he’s an empty suit who’s aligned himself with the Make America Great Again crowd. They see the Moderate Party as a political home for Republicans or others who might ordinarily vote for a Republican, but can’t bring themselves to support an extremist.

As of now, however, fusion parties are illegal in New Jersey and most other states. They were popular in the 19th century and legal in New Jersey until 1920. For whatever reason, Democratic and Republican politicians have usually preferred the two-party system that put them in power. In 1997, the Supreme Court ruled that states have a strong interest in “the stability of the two-party system”, so although a third party could “endorse” a Democrat or a Republican, they could be prohibited from casting ballots for that candidate.

Assuming the state of New Jersey declines to recognize the Moderate Party, its organizers plan to sue. According to the New Jersey Globe:

The Moderate Party is expected to argue that fusion voting protects voter rights, free speech and equal protection for candidates and voters. Organizers say their group will include Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters.

The Globe article cites two cases in which fusion parties made a difference:

Democrat Daniel Malloy was elected governor of Connecticut in 2010 by 6,500 votes after winning 26,000 votes as the candidate of the Connecticut Working Families Party.

In his 1980 U.S. Senate race in New York, Republican Alphonse D’Amato received 275,000 votes on the Conservative Party line and an additional 152,000 as the Right to Life Party candidate.  That enabled him to defeat Democrat Elizabeth Holtzman by 81,000 votes.

Now that the Republican Party has lost its collective mind, fusion parties would be a way to elect more Democrats. We’ll see if New Jersey’s Secretary of State and Supreme Court allow it to happen.

Yeah, There’s a Name for It

We’re having a primary election today. The people I planned to vote for had no opposition, but I walked over and voted anyway. Voting is a ritual of democracy! (Plus our local election workers used to provide cookies.)

It was worth the trip. They have new, electronic, paper ballot machines. You put in a piece of paper, vote on the touchscreen, and then you look through a little window to see your votes printed on the paper. If it all looks ok, you press “cast your ballot” and the paper goes into a container. So there’s a paper trail if there’s a recount. Very cool. Every voter in the US should be able to use a machine like that. While voting still matters.

From Greg Sargent of The Washington Post:

“1776 motherfuckers.”

That’s what an associate texted to Enrique Tarrio, then the leader of the Proud Boys, just after members of the group stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. In a new indictment that prosecutors filed against them, variations on that idea abound: Members refer to the insurrection as a glorious revival of 1776 again and again, with almost comic predictability.

… The way 1776 comes up in the indictment — combined with some surprising new details it reveals — should prompt a serious look at how far-right extremist groups genuinely think about the long struggle that they envision themselves waging.

In short, groups such as these generally are driven by a dangerous vision of popular sovereignty. It essentially holds that the will of the truly authentic “people,” a flexible category they get to define, is being suppressed, requiring periodic “resets” of the system, including via violent, extralegal means.

Such groups aren’t going away anytime soon. We should understand what drives them.

The new indictment that a grand jury returned on Monday against Tarrio and four other Proud Boys is for “seditious conspiracy.” This requires prosecutors to prove that at least two people conspired to use force to overthrow the U.S. government or subvert the execution of U.S. law.

To build this case, prosecutors have sought to present extensive evidence that the Proud Boys fully intended to use force to subvert governmental authority and relevant laws concerning the transfer of presidential power. This included arming themselves with paramilitary gear and discussing violent disruptions online in advance…. The indictment alleges that they attacked police officers, breached police lines with violence, and helped coordinate the storming of the Capitol in real time.

What’s more, in the indictment prosecutors disclose highly revealing text exchanges between Tarrio — who was not present that day — and another member later on Jan. 6. The exchanges appear to refer back to a document Tarrio possessed called “1776 returns,” which reportedly contains a detailed scheme to attack government buildings.

Those text exchanges compare Jan. 6 to both 1776 and the attack on “the Winter Palace,” which helped lead to the Russian Revolution. This seeming reference back to that document perhaps suggests they viewed Jan. 6 as the successful execution of a premeditated plan….

In this context, while all the 1776-oriented talk might seem like posturing, it points to something real and enduring on the far right.

It isn’t easy to pin down the Proud Boys, who tend to define themselves as defenders of Western civilization. Tarrio’s views appear pretty convoluted. In a 2021 interview, he admitted that the 2020 election had not been stolen from former president Donald Trump,… yet he openly celebrated the “fear” that members of Congress felt of “the people,” and helped mobilize Proud Boys to mass around the Capitol that day.

So how to make sense of that, as well as the broader tangle of ideologies on the far right?

helpful framework comes from Joseph Lowndes, a scholar of the right wing at the University of Oregon. As Lowndes notes, a longtime strain in American political culture treats procedural democracy as itself deeply suspect, as subverting a more authentic subterranean popular will.

For such ideologues, what constitutes “the people” is itself redefined by spasmodic revolutionary acts, including violence. The people’s sovereignty, and with it the defining lines of the republic, are also effectively redrawn, or even rebirthed, by such outbursts of energy and militant action.

In this vision, Lowndes told me, the “people” and the “essence of the republic” are “made new again through acts of violent cleansing.” He noted that in this imagining, the “people” are something of a “fiction,” one that is essentially created out of the violent “act.”

“This regeneration through violence is going to be with us for a long time,” Lowndes said, “because it is fundamental to the right-wing political imagination.”

Lurking behind all the 1776 cosplay, then, is a tangle of very real radical and extreme ideologies…. They aren’t going away.

Unquote.

Journalist John Ganz sums up the current situation in response to a New York Times article by a “National Review fellow”, Nate Hochman:

Since he’s fond of Marxist categories, I’d like to introduce Hochman to another one: totality. This refers to the notion that we have to analyze a social and political situation in its entirety, and that failing to do so will give us a false or incomplete picture. While he is more frank than most, Hochman doesn’t want to look at the Right in its totality. While he seems comfortable with the portions of the right that, despite being demagogic and repressive, remain within the bounds of legal and civic behavior, like the anti-trans and anti-Critical Race Theory campaigns, he doesn’t really want to talk about January 6th, or the stolen election myth, great replacement, or the cultish worship of T____, or the Proud Boys, who now have a significant presence in [the] Miami-Dade Republican party….

But these things are as much, if not more, emblematic of the modern Republican party as young Mr. Hochman in his blazer over there at The National Review….

So now let’s recapitulate the totality of the political situation, with the help of Mr. Hochman’s fine essay. He wants to say this new right is essentially a secular [non-religious] party of the aggrieved, [a coalition that feels] the national substance has been undermined by a group of cosmopolitan elites, who have infiltrated all the institutions of power. That believes immigrants threaten to replace the traditional ethnic make up of the country. That borrows conceptions and tactics from the socialist tradition but retools them for counter-revolutionary ends. That is animated by myths of national decline and renewal. That instrumentalizes racial anxieties. That brings together dissatisfied and alienated members of the intelligentsia with the conservative families of the old bourgeoisie and futurist magnates of industry. That looks to a providential figure like T___ for leadership. That has street fighting and militia cadres. That has even attempted an illegal putsch to give their leader absolute power.

If only there was historical precedent and even a neat little word for all that.

Unquote.

Well, here’s a hint. The precedent is Nazi Germany and the neat little word is “FASCISM”.

Who’s On Your Side: A Simple Dichotomy?

The White House website has a new page devoted to last year’s very big infrastructure bill.

Untitled

It got Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post thinking about the Democratic Party’s “message”, a phrase that ideally would fit on a bumper sticker:

While Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine and a highly impressive Supreme Court nominee afford Biden his first chance in months to break the bad news cycle and to project strength, he still lacks a big picture that ties it all together.

Biden faces several challenges: 1) He can’t do much about the biggest economic concern (inflation) which fairly or not voters blame on him; 2) Voters seem to have taken job growth and a return to post-covid normal for granted; 3) The GOP noise machine of constant conspiracies and baseless accusations effectively manipulates the mainstream media, which regurgitates GOP talking points; and 4) Voters forget how positively nutty the GOP has become and the degree to which its worst elements will predominate if it returns to the majority in one or both houses.

So what can Biden do? At its most basic, Democrats must convince voters they are on the side of regular Americans — making progress and solving real problems (e.g., jobs, covid). They need to remind voters that Democrats are on the right side of the middle class, democracy and law and order. Democrats must leave no doubt as to which party did a lot to clean up the mess left behind by the previous administration and which party understands the real problems left to work on (e.g., inflation, green energy, defending against international bullies).

Republicans? They are bullies and chaos creators (be it attacking the Capitol, letting the country default on the debt, setting up a litigation machine to sue teachers, undermining elections, threatening to take away kids whose parents give them medical care and inviting a truck blockade). Do voters really want to give power back to the crowd that defends violence (“legitimate political discourse”), lets their cult leader extort Ukraine, and goes to bat for big corporations (e.g., allowing them to escape paying taxes, protecting Big Pharma’s price gouging)?

Democrats need to get back to a fundamental message: When in power, they make government work for ordinary people and defend American values (democracy, opportunity, fairness, playing by the rules). They solve real problems. When Republicans are in power, they create division, conflict and chaos. They are not on your side. That’s it. A simple dichotomy.

Unquote.

The problem is that if there are voters out there who don’t already understand the difference between the two parties, they’re probably unreachable. If they bother to vote, they’ll make their choice one of two ways. If they see themselves as a Democrat or Republican, they’ll stick with the party that makes them feel comfortable. If they don’t have a particular political identity, they’ll vote for or against “change” (i.e. for or against the incumbent) depending on their mood that day. The irony is that if voters want meaningful change, they should elect more Democrats. In particular, more Democrats in the Senate would make roadblocks like Manchin and Sinema irrelevant. But since Democrats “control” both houses of Congress, many voters will mistakenly think electing more Republicans will bring about the kind of change they want.

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