Folks in my age group will remember the banner that was famously hung in Bill Clinton’s campaign headquarters: “It’s the Economy, Stupid!” I wish I could hire a sky-writer to outline a different message every day until it sinks in: “it’s the structure, stupid!”
What do I mean by that?
Anyone who reads this blog with any regularity knows that I am desperate for voters to rid us of the proudly ignorant, deeply corrupt lunatic currently in power. His moral and intellectual defects certainly matter. But he and his Keystone Kop administration are only there because of systemic dysfunctions–which is why the various pissing matches on the Left over candidate purity are so beside the point.
Until we fix the system, God herself can’t get Medicare-for-All or free college or a UBI or even immigration reform passed. (I personally give props to candidates like Mayor Pete who clearly recognize the need to focus on how to get from point A to point B, rather than simply identifying point B as a desired destination.)
Yes, we need to get rid of the morons and crooks running the White House and the Senate. We also– desperately– need to elect people who understand the need for systemic change and who will make that change their number one priority.
Connecticut’s Democratic Senator, Chris Murphy, made this point in a recent interview with The New Yorker. The interview, not surprisingly, revolved around Impeachment and the Democratic primary, but when Murphy was asked whether he agreed with Joe Biden’s expressed belief that bipartisanship would ultimately return–that Republicans and Democrats would once again be able to work together–his response was absolutely dead-on.
I think we can’t be dependent on the culture of this town changing based on personality changes. There are incentive structures that reward dysfunction. You have got to change those systems. You have to change the way that congressional districts are drawn. You have to publicly finance elections and get rid of dark money. You have to stop the habit of Democrats and Republicans meeting every single day, separate from each other, so that we can never talk across the aisle about big problems. There are rules that incentivize partisan bickering. Barack Obama ran on a promise to be able to change political realities in Washington through sheer force of personality, and it didn’t work. I just think we have to be focussed on changing the rules.
The rules Murphy is referencing have created the toxic culture we inhabit, and that culture won’t improve until those rules change.
It’s simple enough to prescribe what’s needed: massive turnout to eject the repulsive remains of what was once a respectable political party, replacing them with people who: 1) are committed to the restoration of democracy and the rule of. law; and 2) who understand the structural reforms that will be required in order to achieve that restoration.
“Vote Blue no matter who” is an essential first step, but it is only a first step. Then the hard work begins. We have to eliminate gerrymandering, the filibuster, and the disproportionate influence of money in our political system. We have fight vote suppression and pass the National Popular Vote Compact. We have to repair the enormous damage this administration has done to our federal government and our stature in the world. We have to move aggressively to combat climate change and protect the environment. We have to restore civic education and teach news literacy.
In other words, ridding ourselves of Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump is essential but not nearly sufficient.
We will have our work cut out for us–and we can’t do what absolutely needs to be done unless and until we change the systems that got us here.