I promise my next post will be a serious one (actually, a very serious one on two books about Africa I recently finished), but what’s the point of having a blog if you can’t occasionally share personal experiences with ten thousand or so total strangers? Saturday night I had a perfectly abysmal sporting experience. I was down at the home place in central Virginia, and since the ground hogs had apparently chewed up the wires from the satellite dish, I had to soujourn to the nearest city, Lynchburg, to watch my Georgia Bulldogs try to wrap up the SEC East against Auburn. Having googled up a “sports bar” in the ‘Burg, I sallied forth, pursued by my wife’s demands that I swear I would not touch Demon Alcohol before returning to the countryside. Forty-five minutes later, I settled in at the “sports bar,” where two screens directly in front of me were supposed to be showing my game, and then, of course, both sets were changed to the NASCAR Classic Channel or something, with the bartenders shrugging and alluding to shadowy robo-managers who programmed the sets two months ago. Finally, after exercising several complex moves I learned while riding Metro, I got to a seat where I could watch the Dawgs and the War Eagles from a 60 degree angle, and settled down with a non-alcoholic beer (dreadful stuff; it helps explain W.’s cranky disposition).About half-way through a tense second quarter, I suddenly saw bright flashing lights and heard a hideous wall of noise. Was I having a stroke? An allergic reaction to O’Doul’s? Had I died and gone to hell? No, I soon discovered, it was Karaoke Night in the “sports bar,” and for the next two hours I tried to watch a football game while being practically blown off the bar stool by bad music from every available genre, badly performed. And my fellow “sports bar” patrons, who were multiplying by the minute, were enraptured with the noise, greeting the first notes of Play That Funky Music, White Boy and Baby Got Back and even Rocky Top with bellows of sheer delight. And these were largely kids: is this what they are listening to on their I-Pods? In any event, I stuck it out to the bitter end, when Auburn beat Georgia on a last-minute field goal after an improbable long pass on a fourth-and-ten, just as the “sports bar” exploded with hormonal delerium to Fight For Your Right To Party. I paid off my tab for an evening of buzzless beer, and wandered off into the packed parking lot–somehow missing the army of Designated Drivers preparing to shepherd the drunken crowd inside safely home–and made a firm resolution never again to mix football with Karaoke. The funny thing is, I sort of like Lynchburg, despite its association with Jerry Falwell’s Church of the Angry God. The other city reasonably close to my Amherst digs is Charlottesville, whose snooty pretensions must torment Thomas Jefferson’s soul each and every day. Lynchburg is a cheerfully unpretentious old river town with impressive architecture and genuine southern food. But you just don’t want to go to its “sports bars.” Not unless you want to watch a game while protecting your non-alcoholic beer from a twenty-two-year-old Baptist strutting her stuff to Baby Got Back.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
With the clock running down and real problems emerging on the legislative front, the president is beginning to meet with key congressional Democrats representing different factions. At New York I took a shot at suggesting what he needs to get them to understand:
We have breathlessly been told by all the Beltway insider outlets that Joe Biden has summoned various congressional Democrats to the White House in hopes of saving his 2021 legislative agenda, which is on the brink of disaster thanks to the irreconcilable demands of competing factions. For once, the eternal “Democrats in disarray” narrative is accurate. On September 27, the House is scheduled to vote on the Senate-passed infrastructure bill, a vote rebellious House “centrists” extorted from Speaker Nancy Pelosi in order to get the votes for a must-pass budget resolution. They are quietly backed by rebellious Senate centrists. Multiple House progressives, who have their own cheering gallery in the Senate, are promising to kill the infrastructure bill if it comes up before the fiscal year 2022 budget reconciliation bill is enacted, which won’t happen for weeks. The one sure thing is that if this transpires, House Republicans will make certain there are not enough votes for the bill in their ranks to save it.
This is a BFD!
Biden should find some way to recycle his famous words to Obama about Obamacare.
The success or failure of the governing coalition Democrats managed to secure in 2020 (and in those two crucial Senate runoffs in 2021) is about to be determined by what happens in the next few days and weeks. If they fail, there will be no tomorrow, no Plan B. Next year will be a lot like 2010, when Democrats lost the ability to pass legislation against Republican obstruction and then got clobbered at the polls. It took them eight years to recover from that debacle. Another one could be staring them in the face.
Biden remembers that, and so do many Hill veterans. He needs to impress on them that this is no time to listen to hammerheaded pollsters or greedy donors or Twitter activists. Like it or not, Biden has defined the paired infrastructure and reconciliation bills as central to his presidential legacy and to his party’s case for maintaining power. He needs to make every Democrat tempted to sabotage either bill feel that his failure would be theirs as well, whether or not they lose their own seats in 2022, which some undoubtedly will if the Biden agenda implodes.
The posturing needs to stop
Obviously, the president must acknowledge and show respect for the fact that legitimate differences of opinion exist in his big-tent party. But lawmakers posturing and grandstanding in order to get a shout-out at Politico as big-time wheeler-dealers are not legitimate or worthy of respect. Biden needs to challenge congressional Democrats very directly on this: Let’s go a week without any name other than mine and Nancy’s and Chuck’s appearing in the national political media. If they are questioned about intra-Democratic negotiations, they should refuse comment, go vague, or say “watch and learn.”
Why is this important? Because the centrist-progressive (and on some issues House-Senate) dynamics are reciprocal and virtually guarantee escalation. A ceasefire in factional hostilities requires some peace and quiet.
Public demands, threats, and hostage taking must end instantly
Whether it’s centrists placing some arbitrary “cap” on the size of a reconciliation bill they can accept or progressives making their votes for reconciliation contingent on inclusion of this or that priority, the proliferation of absolute and totally irreconcilable demands is what has really brought congressional Democrats to the brink of disaster.
Biden needs to show Democrats he understands how and why this is happening: It’s mostly the result of the extremely small margin of control in both Houses — which in fact, objectively speaking, gives every senator and every group of a few House members the power to destroy their party’s agenda. In the past, if that had happened, leaders might have been able to offset intraparty hostage taking by securing votes from the opposition. That’s just not practicable in the current environment. Even on the so-called bipartisan infrastructure bill, Republicans are now making it clear they would love to see it go down to defeat and will work to produce that outcome.
But while expressing empathy for the temptations facing individual members, Biden has to insist that the public demands and threats stop right now and promise with whatever cold anger he can muster that there will be real consequences for those who go rogue at this sensitive moment. Successfully negotiating the size and shape of the reconciliation bill, for example, is going to be excruciatingly hard if the landscape is constantly shifting because Problem-Solver X or Progressive Caucus Y has laid down some personal marker through a press release or a staff leak.
There’s one plan, and we’re all sticking to it
With the clock running down on the endgame for the 2021 legislative saga, Biden and his closest congressional allies really need to adopt a strategy and demand universal support for it right now, even if that means some backtracking by congressional factions. If the infrastructure bill is going to be salvaged, Biden has to bluntly tell progressives the days of “linkage” between reconciliation and infrastructure are now over: The infrastructure bill will be on the House floor next week and it has to pass. But at the same time, Biden needs to tell centrists that while he and Pelosi and Schumer will listen to everyone’s point of view on reconciliation, he needs commitments of support now for the final product, and to threaten permanent ostracism by the entire federal government (within the limits of the law) for anyone who refuses to comply.
In asking Democratic factions and individual members to give up their leverage over one another, Biden will supply his own leverage to keep the party united. It’s probably the only thing, at this point, that will work. And what does the president have to lose in making some exceptional promises and threats of his own? He’s a 78-year-old man who has spent nearly a half-century putting himself in the position to enact the kind of legislative package that is at stake right now. If he loses it, his presidency will at best be hollow and short, and his party will go into the wilderness. Only he can stop that from happening.