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The Democrats and the Art of Failure

Art credit: Dave Cohen.
  • FAILURE 1aomission of occurrence or performance; specifically: a failing to perform a duty or expected action <failure to pay the rent on time> b (1): a state of inability to perform a normal function <kidney failure> … (2): an abrupt cessation of normal functioning <a power failure> c: a fracturing or giving way under stress <structural failure> – Merriam-Webster

There is, it is said, an art of success. That elusive cocktail of talent, poise, discipline, and persistence that turns the average athlete, artist, or architect into a Serena Williams, a Pablo Picasso, or a Frank Lloyd Wright. The zenith, the top of one’s game, peak performance. What didn’t occur to me is that there is also an art to failure. It took the Democratic Party to teach me that.

The Democrats have lost 1,030 seats since 2008, amongst the Congress, statehouses, and state legislatures. One-thousand and thirty: that’s enough to fill at least four Hillary Clinton campaign rallies. The losses range from between 10% of their seats in the Senate to nearly 36% of governorships. Placed on a chart, the Democratic downslide looks like a hospital patient on life support whose cord was accidentally unplugged while someone was vacuuming.

The Democrats’ art of losing is quickly becoming the stuff of modern legend. They lose in the north, south, east, and west. They lose in the winter, spring, summer, or fall (mostly fall). At the rate things are going, a whole new slew of offices are going to have to be invented for them to lose. The Democrats are the marathon runner whose knees lock a foot away from the finish line. The baseball team winning by 12 runs at the seventh-inning stretch who go on to blow it. They could take Biff Tannen’s almanac from Back to the Future II ahead in time and still lose all the bets. They could have the answer key to the SAT and still get a 400.

The Democrats even found it in themselves to lose to a tiny-handed, orange lunatic who rants and raves about not ranting and raving. And then, instead of facing the unfolding disaster of his month-old presidency with anything approaching resolve, they fall over each other to find the lamest excuses possible for playing nice — because maybe, just maybe, the Republicans will finally like them…really, really like them.

Judgment Calls

The ingrained existence of this knuckle-under reflex leads to bizarre situations where someone like Ben Carson can be nominated to become Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and, despite his openly admitting to having the same level of qualifications to run a federal agency as Homer Simpson does to head up a nuclear plant, someone like Elizabeth Warren will go ahead and vote for him anyway — even when (and here’s the kicker) her vote wasn’t needed to approve him. In her Facebook post defending the vote, Senator Warren stated that in his written responses to her, Carson “made good, detailed promises, on everything from protecting anti-homelessness programs to enforcing fair housing laws.”

Well, that changes everything: who needs qualifications and experience when you can just make good, detailed promises instead? And, of course, Warren didn’t fail in one thing: to trundle the old bogey man out from under the bed. If Carson were to be rejected, the following nominee could be [cue chilling organ music] much, much worse. And you can bet that if such a Nosferatu were indeed to be nominated, some Democrat, somewhere, would find a way to vote for him because he had provided good, detailed promises to stop stalking people and drinking their blood.

Not to be outdone, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island trotted out an original capitulation argument of his own at a recent town hall meeting. Confronted by an overflow crowd of constituents angry at his votes for several of Trump’s cabinet nominees — six as of last count, all as unnecessary and gratuitous as Warren’s — Whitehouse defended his vote to confirm Mike Pompeo as CIA director (see here, starting at 6:30) because he was a “Rubio guy” who would be “in a position to say no if something really, really significant happens.”

Tea-partier Pompeo’s colorful résumé includes support for waterboarding and enhanced-interrogation techniques, expanding the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, scrapping the nuclear deal with Iran, and executing Edward Snowden. But all of that’s all right because he’s a “Rubio guy” who, presumably, wouldn’t be afraid to buck the President due to his undying loyalty to the Florida senator. For the record, Rubio has voted for every single one of Trump’s cabinet nominees so far; so much for whatever faction he leads being in a position to say no. But to Whitehouse, the Pompeo vote came under the heading of a “judgment call” — in the same way, I suppose, that it’s a judgment call for me not to drive my car off into a ditch every time I get out on the road. That (here comes the punch line…wait for it) is the Democrats’ job.

Art credit: Dave Cohen.

The Main Attraction

And the cabinet-nominee divertissement — in which, to be fair, Senate Democrats did get a bit better as time went on, thanks to an unprecedented degree of popular pressure — was just the warm-up act. Coming soon will be the main attraction: the hearings for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, set to begin on March 20. If they hold true to form, Senate Democrats will attempt to wiggle, wobble, waver, writhe, and weasel their way through the confirmation process for Gorsuch, who multiple studies have ranked to be amongst the most conservative of federal judges – more so than even the late Antonin Scalia, a singularly impressive feat. Already, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin (the only Democrat to vote to confirm Jeff Sessions as Attorney General and only one of two to vote yes on Scott Pruitt for the EPA) has indicated that he will not support a filibuster of Gorsuch’s nomination, while senators such as Dick Durbin and John Tester list and flutter like ensigns in the gale. This, of course, despite Republicans spending all of 2016 giving the middle finger to President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, because, looking across at the shiny, obsequious faces across the aisle, their pockets filled with the same corporate cash that lined their own, they figured what the hell, they could probably get away with it. And so they did.

Funny thing, though: people get tired of self-induced failure at the hands of a party hierarchy that will neither listen nor learn. With the percentage of people identifying as Democrats down to 25% in the latest Gallup poll, with the party playing defense in 25 of the 33 Senate seats up for grabs in 2018, and with the only person willing to admit (without a Tom Perez-style retraction) that the DNC put its thumb on the scale during last year’s primaries being one Sam Ronan, the Democrats appear determined to consign themselves to the Smithsonian as a museum relic, despite the open goal of a blundering, vindictive presidency that is even managing to appall Fox News.

On the inside, the Justice Democrats and #WeWillReplaceYou are working to run primary challengers against establishment Democrats who can’t keep their hands out of the Wall-Street till; on the outside, the Draft Bernie movement is seeking to recruit the Vermont Senator to head up a new People’s Party. The country is moving on, the paradigms are popping like the champagne bubbles in their high-class receptions, and, until the Democrats realize that it’s going to take more than renditions of Bridge Over Troubled Water to shake things up, they’re going to find themselves living out the nightmare of every school kid in every decked-out basement across the country: to throw a party where no one comes.

Art credit: Dave Cohen.

Written by Kurt Hackbarth

Kurt Hackbarth is a writer, playwright and journalist working in both English and Spanish, making him highly suspect and potentially un-American. Managing partner of Big Amp Media. Denied entry to the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Kurt wandered the city, seeking inspiration in street food and bands before being discovered in a corner of FDR Park, talking to himself.

Kurt is a Writer for Progressive Army.


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SPLASH! News for February 20, 2017

The Democrats and the Art of Failure