Polman: Should Democrats become the party of No?
Barack Obama had just beaten John McCain by a margin of 10 million votes and 7.2 percentage points — the biggest Democratic win since 1964. Democrats also won both congressional chambers. And yet, despite this decisive pro-Democratic mandate to govern, congressional Republicans resolved, at a private dinner on day one, not to offer a scintilla of cooperation. They resolved to thwart Obama's efforts to fix the Great Recession, hoping that his failures would grease a Republican comeback in the 2012 race. Newt Gingrich, a dinner guest, reportedly told his former colleagues, "You will remember this day. You'll remember this as the day the seeds of 2012 were sown."
Here's where we are today: Trump has lost the popular vote (as of Wednesday) by a whopping 2.66 million. His losing share of the popular vote (46.2 percent) is the worst for an Electoral College winner since John Quincy Adams in 1824. Even his winning electoral vote margin (74) is a pittance compared to Obama's winning 2008 margin (192). So why should Democrats on Capitol Hill give Trump the cooperative deference that Republicans denied to Obama?
As Michael Corleone said in "The Godfather II" movie, "My offer is this: Nothing."
Cooperating with Trump, behaving as if he were just another Republican, would lend legitimacy to his authoritarian bent. Cooperating with Trump would "normalize" his racist populism and his serial lies. Such a strategy — tantamount to surrender — would be disastrous for a Democratic Party that has spent decades fighting for tolerance and diversity.
Democrats have buckled in the past. Even though George W. Bush lost the popular vote in 2000, they acted as if the guy had a mandate to govern. Lots of Democrats voted for Bush's deficit-cratering tax cuts. They voted for his Iraq war resolution, despite the dearth of evidence that Saddam had WMDs. They supplied enough votes to put John Roberts in charge of the Supreme Court.
Republicans reciprocated by foiling Obama on a regular basis, blocking everything from his 2011 American Jobs Act (which could've put as many as two million people back to work) to his last Supreme Court nominee (the radical refusal to even hold hearings on Merrick Garland was unprecedented).
David Faris, a political science prof at Roosevelt University, said it well in a column the other day:
"[Cooperation] is the first instinct of the Democratic Party even after a crushing, incomprehensible defeat ... The urge to minimize the damage in defense of the public interest is broadly shared, and understandable. It must make many Democrats proud to support a party that truly believes in the public good, even at the expense of winning.
"On the other hand, no. It's time for Democrats to say no. To everything ...
"It helps that the Republicans — led by a man who rage-tweets fake news in the middle of the night — are about to embark on a long voyage of turning every single thing they touch into garbage. There should be no Democratic fingerprints whatsoever on the coming catastrophe ... Hand Trump the keys and let him drive into a tree."
That sounds harsh. But, lest we forget, Republicans paid virtually no political price for their eight years of anti-Obama obstruction. Voters didn't seem to care that Republicans thwarted a president who twice won elections with a majority of the popular vote. Why would they punish Democrats for standing in steadfast opposition to an unqualified poseur who was rejected last month by 53.8 percent of all voters? Chuck Schumer, the new Senate minority leader, is indeed warning that when Trump gets too extreme, "we'll go after him with everything we've got."
Senate Democrats can set the tone by putting Trump's Cabinet picks through the wringer, because a number of them deserve to be seriously slow-walked — most notably, attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions (rejected for a federal judgeship 30 years ago, due to his racist remarks), Treasury nominee Steve Mnuchin (who made piles of money foreclosing on homeowners during the Great Recession), and Health and Human Services nominee Tom Price (who wants to kill Obamacare, a move that would nix coverage for 20 million people). And what remotely qualifies Ben Carson to be housing secretary, beyond the fact that he lives in a house?
Fortunately, Democrats are indeed vowing to combat those nominees. Hey, it's a start. My unsolicited advice is simple: Grow a pair.
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (newsworks.org/polman) and a "Writer in Residence" at the University of Pennsylvania.