Democrats Can’t Win By Taking the High Road

Democrats have a tendency to consider ourselves morally superior to Republicans; we give ourselves credit for not using shady tactics and ethically questionable approaches to pass legislation. The problem is, of course, that the American people don’t give us the same credit.
Let’s consider for an example the Republican Party’s refusal to hold hearings on Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee for the vacant Supreme Court seat. President Obama first nominated Garland on March 16th of 2016, over nine months prior to the presidential election. Republicans claimed there was a longstanding precedent of not confirming a President’s Supreme Court nominations in an election year. Senator Mitch McConnell stated, “We’re right in the middle of a presidential election year. The president we’re in the process of selecting will make this choice”. He was ignoring the fact that the American people had spoken less than four years ago. He also was ignoring the history of confirmations in an election year: Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan had appointments confirmed in 1968 and 1988, respectively.
Democrats rightly saw this as a sneaky, unprincipled way to undermine President Obama’s administration. We cried foul, took our case to the court of public opinion, and the public actually agreed that Garland should at least get a hearing. This of course didn’t compel Senate Republicans to give in and hold hearings for the appointment, rather they maintained that there would be no hearings. Eventually, Democrats conceded. We told ourselves that all would be well when Hillary Clinton won the election and made her own appointments, some of us dreamers even flirted with the possibility that she would nominate President Obama. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Donald Trump won the election and will now nominate at least one, but likely three justices within the next four years, assuming he remains in office that long.
Recently, I saw a tweet suggesting Vice President Joe Biden could use a work-around of parliamentary procedure to confirm Garland on Inauguration Day during a short window when Democrats technically have the majority. The proposal is obviously unlikely to happen, but I found it intriguing. I sent the tweet to a couple liberal friends of mine and they were truly disgusted. They claimed that it was unconstitutional, undemocratic, set an awful precedent and would probably lead to some sort of retribution from Republicans. They certainly believe this is exactly the kind of thing Republicans do that we are so often angry about. I agree with them; it is the type of move we have seen Republicans execute that has angered us to no end. That’s why Republicans always win these battles while we always concede on the basis of being ethically above these sort of moves.
I am not wholeheartedly endorsing this idea, I don’t necessarily believe that it is the best way forward for Democrats, but I think the problem is that we dismiss these types of ideas out of hand whereas the Republicans don’t. This leads me to the following question-why did Republicans refuse to hold nomination hearings for Garland? The answer is simple, they knew Democrats wouldn’t do anything about it. They understand that they can get away with things like this each and every time they do it, that there won’t be retribution for their actions.
If Democrats want to remain competitive, to get a legislative or policy win occasionally we are going to have to at least consider proposals that leave us feeling less than clean rather than immediately dismissing them. My brother put it best when he told me ‘My moral high ground does not include jeopardizing women’s rights, civil rights and the environment for the sake of a sense of superiority’. That is truly the best argument for the point I am trying to make. At some point, Democrats are going to have to get their hands dirty.