Words of Wisdom … But Will We Listen?

Once again, Robert Reich has wise words, but will this nation listen?  That, my friends, is the $64 million question.

Voters can replace a party that knows how to fight with one that knows how to govern

Robert Reich-4Robert Reich

As America heads into its quadrennial circus of nominating conventions (this year’s even more surreal because of the pandemic), it’s important to understand the real difference between America’s two political parties at this point in history.

Instead of “left” versus “right”, think of two different core competences.

The Democratic party is basically a governing party, organized around developing and implementing public policies. The Republican party has become an attack party, organized around developing and implementing political vitriol. Democrats legislate. Republicans fulminate.

In theory, politics requires both capacities – to govern, but also to fight to attain and retain power. The dysfunction today is that Republicans can’t govern and Democrats can’t fight.

Donald Trump is the culmination of a half-century of Republican belligerence. Richard Nixon’s “dirty tricks” were followed by Republican operative Lee Atwater’s smear tactics, Newt Gingrich’s take-no-prisoners reign as House speaker, the “Swift-boating” of John Kerry, and the Republicans’ increasingly blatant uses of racism and xenophobia to build an overwhelmingly white, rural base.

Atwater, trained in the southern swamp of the modern Republican party, once noted: “Republicans in the south could not win elections by talking about issues. You had to make the case that the other guy, the other candidate, is a bad guy.” Over time, the GOP’s core competence came to be vilification.

The stars of today’s Republican party, in addition to Trump, are all pugilists: Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio; Florida governor Ron DeSantis and Georgia’s Brian Kemp; Fox News’s Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson; and attack dogs like Rudolph Giuliani and Roger Stone.

But Republicans don’t have a clue how to govern. They’re hopeless at developing and implementing public policies or managing government. They can’t even agree on basics like how to respond to the pandemic or what to replace Obamacare with.

Meanwhile, the central competence of the Democratic party is running government – designing policies and managing the system. Once in office, Democrats spend countless hours cobbling together legislative and regulatory initiatives. They overflow with economic and policy advisers, programs, plans and goals.

But Democrats are lousy at bare-knuckles political fighting. Their presidential campaigns proffer policies but are often devoid of passion. Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid was little more than a long list of detailed proposals. Democrats seem stunned when their Republican opponents pillory them with lies, rage and ad hominem attacks.

This has put Democrats at a competitive disadvantage. Political campaigns might once have been about party platforms, but today’s electorate is angrier and more cynical. Policy ideas rarely make headlines; conflict does. Social media favor explosive revelations, including bald lies. No one remembers Hillary Clinton’s policy ideas from 2016; they only remember Trump’s attacks on her emails.

As a result, the party that’s mainly good at attacking has been winning elections – and pushed into governing, which it’s bad at. In 2016, the Republicans won the presidency, along with control over both chambers of Congress and most governorships. On the other hand, the party that’s mainly good at governing has been losing elections – pushed into the role of opposition and attack, which it’s bad at. (The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, however, seems to have a natural gift for it.)

This dysfunction has become particularly obvious – and deadly – in the current national emergency. Trump and Senate Republicans turned the pandemic and economic downturn into American catastrophes. They have no capacity to develop and implement strategies for dealing with them. Their kneejerk response is to attack – China, Democrats, public health officials, protesters, “lazy” people who won’t work.

Democrats know what to do – House Democrats passed a comprehensive coronavirus bill in May, and several Democratic governors have been enormously effective – but they’ve lacked power to put a national strategy into effect.

All this may change in a few months when Americans have an opportunity to replace the party that’s bad at governing with the one that’s good at it. After all, Joe Biden has been at it for most of the past half-century.

Trump and the Republican party will pull out all the stops, of course. They’ve already started mindless, smarmy attacks. That’s what they know how to do.

The big question hovering over the election is whether Democrats can summon enough fight to win against the predictable barrage. Biden’s choice of running mate, Kamala Harris, bodes well in this regard. Quite apart from all her other attributes, she’s a fierce fighter.

24 thoughts on “Words of Wisdom … But Will We Listen?

  1. Jill, we have long discussed the Democrats are lousy marketers. Bill Clinton was the exception as his skill was making you feel you were the only person in the room (this came from someone who met him).

    Data shows from several sources, the economy, stock market, and jobs growth perform better with a Democrat in the White House, but even Democrats don’t know this. Trump was handed an economy that was on third base and he convinced everyone he hit a triple. Trump did not create this economy (before the COVID-19 recession, but he did maintain. But, his mishandling and misinformation on COVID-19 has contributed to the recession.

    Reich’s piece will be viewed as partisan, but that does not mean it is nor true. This is why there is an alternate Republican convention for a new president later this month. Keith

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve always been puzzled by Trump’s ability to win over an audience with his b.s. … I watch him and I feel nothing but loathing and disgust. His smile is never genuine, he cannot string a sentence together, he rants, curses and puts down good people, and that thing he does with his mouth is just not natural. And then there is what he actually says, which is filled with … cotton batting? Helium? Nothing of substance, that’s for sure. But yet, he woos the crowd and they go home being lifelong converts to trumpism. Equally puzzling is that the GOP has allowed him to completely hijack the party without much resistance at all. Let us hope the democrats can step up to the plate this time and not whiff the ball, for we cannot afford another 4 years of this monster.


  2. “Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid was little more than a long list of detailed proposals.” I can’t even remember them, even though I thought at the time they were pretty good. Trump, meanwhile offers nothing but pie-in-the-sky promises to make everything “great again,” and his voters remember that “even when they don’t believe him.” He rode those four words (not even four-letter words) to a tainted victory, but again tainted doesn’t matter, because it’s now okay to cheat to win!
    Meanwhile, “[the Rep-ugly-garbagecans] can’t even agree on basics like how to respond to the pandemic or what to replace Obamacare with.” Please read that line again, especially the last 6 words, out loud: “or what to replace Obama care with.” Trump has everyone convinced that Obamacare needs to be replaced! Does it? No. It may need to be tweaked here and there, but it does not need replacing. That is Trump-talk, and like everything else Trump utters, IT IS A LIE. Even an idea so simple as improving on an existing bill is ignored in favour to rewriting a new bill. Obama wrote that one, IT HAS TO GO. No, it does not have to go. It helps people other than Trump’s fairies. and in this pandemic that is more important than anything else.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I fully agree with all you say … especially about ACA (Obamacare). It is unconscionable that he continues to chip away at it and would have overturned the entire thing, except the courts would not allow it. Still, he has caused some 20 million people to now be without health insurance. You’re right, ACA needs a bit of tweaking, but we knew that in the beginning … Obama knew it would. But Trump, who has never had to be without excellent health care, just as he’s never had to miss a meal, cannot understand … does not care to try to understand. He’s got his cult trained, so he doesn’t have to actually produce, but only promise.


  3. This is the second time that I have read Robert Reich’s excellent column. Today’s newsletter version is similar but also has a link to this same column in “The Guardian”. It is well worth taking the time to read it more than once and sharing it far and wide…using my trusty little forward button! Thank-you!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I actually meant to put a link to this column in The Guardian in this post, but this new WordPress editor frustrated me as I tried to format this and I forgot. Hopefully they won’t sue me for forgetting? 😉


    • You are so right! And in order to win it, we have to VOTE! I hear so many people shrug it off, say “Trump can’t possibly win”, but that simply isn’t true. He shouldn’t win, but then, he shouldn’t have won in 2016, and in fact didn’t win the vote, only the electoral college, which is a disaster! Sigh.

      Liked by 1 person

    • It is a shame, but it is also reality, Nan. It is why I continue to call Democrats to change the way they operate. For right now, even though Democrats reign in one Chamber, one out of three is not enough. You can play the old game, but if no one plays with you, the whole thing is a meaningless charade. Trump and McConnell put the lie to government. They are the power, working hand-in-hand, to stop government in its tracks.
      I do like the words Robert Reich uses to make his points. Governing, vs street fighting.

      Liked by 1 person

    • It is a shame, and I wonder how … or perhaps ‘if’ … we can overcome this partisan divide that keeps growing ever wider and wider? I still believe taking the big money out of the campaign process is the first step, but I’m not expecting to see that happen in my lifetime.


  4. Spot-on. I would add that the Republican Party under Trump has abandoned governing and democracy because they know how unpopular they are with the American people. And, because they will not alter their dark agenda for any reason, the only way for them to maintain political power is to embrace authoritarianism regardless of cost.

    Democrats’ biggest mistake is an inability and/or unwillingness to understand this Republican mindset. Consequently, they are frequently unprepared for Republican attacks and refuse to consider effective counter strategies and tactics. It’s analogous to a bar fight where one combatant stands up for fisticuffs while the other pulls out a gun.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I think they have so closely aligned themselves with Trump and his agenda that to backtrack now would be political suicide. I’m hoping that their adulation, their capitulation, their sycophancy, will be their undoing. As for the democrats … ’tis true they are totally unprepared for this fight … they are bringing knives to a gunfight … but I keep hoping the people of this nation will wake the f*** up and see that the republican promises only cover a small percentage of this nation … those who’s bank accounts exceed six digits! Sigh.

      Liked by 1 person

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