There’s always some truth in The Narrative but rarely an abundance of perspective. Biden has served less than one-fifth of his term in office. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) will be running their chambers and setting the nation’s legislative agenda until January 2023 — at least. And big, transformative legislation does sometimes get signed into law during an election year, with one example being the Affordable Care Act in 2010.
Of course, Obamacare did produce the tea party backlash and huge midterm gains for Republicans. But here’s where The Narrative gets confusing: Is it supposed to be worse for Democrats if they actually accomplish their goals, and thereby risk energizing the opposition? Or if they get nothing done and look like failures?
The context that’s missing is that the Democratic Party, for better or worse, has to represent the entirety of the sane political spectrum, from Sens. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) on the right to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and the Squad on the left. That’s because the GOP has left the building.
The Republican Party once at least pretended to believe in conservative principles such as fiscal restraint, muscular national defense and personal responsibility. It now stands for only two things: reclaiming power and kowtowing to former president Donald Trump.
I can’t recall another time when one of our political parties has so lost its way — and its mind — leaving the other to do all the serious work of governing. And one of The Narrative’s weaknesses is an inability to deal with novel situations — as though the wildebeests, expecting to be galloping across wide-open savanna, somehow find themselves in a dense rainforest.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) faced such white-hot anger from his caucus for simply allowing Democrats to raise the debt ceiling so the treasury could pay its obligations for the next two months — a move necessary to avert a global financial meltdown — that he was forced to swear he would never, ever do so again. This is simply not normal or rational. In terms of taking care of the government’s most basic and necessary functions, Democrats, for better or worse, are on their own.
So when The Narrative warns that Biden urgently needs to get the progressives and the moderates in his party to set aside their differences, I take a somewhat different view. What I see is a pretty normal exercise in legislative give-and-take, except that it’s all happening within the Democratic Party — while Republicans hoot, holler and obstruct from the peanut gallery. When it comes to Congress, things never go as quickly as they might, and there always comes at least one moment when it appears that all is lost.
Sometimes, all is indeed lost. Sometimes a massive and complicated legislative framework collapses, and everyone has to start all over again. The Narrative seems to have internalized the aphorism that the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) used to attribute, perhaps wrongly, to Chairman Mao: “It’s always darkest before it goes totally black.”
But failure is far from inevitable, as I see it, and the window for success is certainly not measured in mere days. Thus far, on votes that really matter, Democrats have shown remarkable unity. Bridging the gap on overall spending between what Manchin wants and what Sanders wants is mostly a matter of the kind of mathematical legerdemain that both men could do in their sleep. Getting Manchin on board with some of the climate change initiatives in the package will be harder, I fear, and may require painful compromise.
As Republicans ever more slavishly bend the knee to Trump, however, it should become clearer that Democrats must act alone. There will come a time when Manchin and Sinema have to decide whether the Senate filibuster is more important than protecting the right to vote in free and fair elections. I hope they choose wisely.
The thing about The Narrative is that it requires periodic plot twists. When the “Biden is toast” story line changes to “Biden is back,” take that, too, with a grai
n of salt. The Serengeti is wide, and there are many miles to go.