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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Risks in overplaying hand

by John Brummett | November 23, 2021 at 5:09 a.m.

A new and frequent correspondent expressing true belief in modern Democratic progressivism has engaged me by struggling with a desire to continue appreciating my supposedly liberal columns even as I insist on offending him.

He can't resist writing with what seems to be carefully phrased concern and even frustration each time I express disdain for today's "progressive" Democratic impracticality.

That column the other day assailing extremist certitude and extolling glorious ambivalence ... he didn't mind that so much except that I pulled math out of the air and said 30 percent are certain on the far-right, 15 percent are certain on the far-left and everyone else is in a 55 percent majority of ambivalence that gets shouted down by the polarized political activists of both inordinately powerful fringes.

He figured he was in the 55 percent but didn't belong in any grouping with, say, Mitt Romney. He favored the Build Back Better program; center-right Republicans didn't. It was an ill-serving broad brush, he believed, that painted them the same.

For that matter, I had Romney and Barack Obama in the same 55 percent category, though they managed to be quite different in the presidential election of 2012.

That was precisely my point--that a center-right to center-left political group spanning Romney and Obama would serve America well if it could coalesce into governing pragmatism as it did with the bipartisan infrastructure bill that will do the basic work of roads and bridges while also serving the planet with a nationwide network of electric car-charging stations.

But those views apparently were never well-expressed to my correspondent or his associates.

He wrote that his poker-playing buddies at the club had guffawed when he told them I was no liberal, but a moderate. (People need easy stereotypes for handy hostility, it seems.)

For his part, my correspondent wasn't clear on something: Was I against any element of the Build Back Better program or was I simply opposed to matters of tactics and timing?

I've been thinking about what I told him. I decided to invite everybody to the conversation.

Helping the working class with child care--I'm for that. Universal access to public kindergarten--I'm for that. Expansion of Medicare for more home health service and hearing services--I'm for that. Tax credits to encourage businesses to switch to renewable energy resources--I'm for that. Trying to pay for most of that with higher tax collections on the richest people and the trickiest tax-avoiders--I'm for that.

But raising the ceiling on the federal income-tax deduction for state and local taxes to give a break to higher-income people in high-tax states to bring along the votes of centrist Democratic congressmen from those high-tax states--I'm not for that.

In fact, what I'm against is working too hard to pass something for the sake of passing it. I'm against putting too many big and disparate things together in one bill and cramming it through in order to use budget reconciliation requiring only a majority vote.

That risks political overplay that could give us Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in 2023 and, in 2025, a triumphantly returned and thus validated vengeful president of utterly irredeemable character and a history of fomenting insurrection.

A countering center-based view is that of columnist David Brooks of The New York Times as expressed in an essay re-published Sunday in this newspaper. He argues it would be worth it for Democrats to lose their majorities because the programs are so vital. He says it's common for a new president's party to get drubbed in the midterms and that Democrats might as well get all they want while the getting is good.

But in the same column he laments that, to try to pass it all, Democrats have put sunset provisions on major programs to hold down projected cost estimates for appearance's sake. That raises the stakes of the midterms and the next presidential race because these ballyhooed programs would have to be re-upped by those in charge at the time.

Lose majorities and then lose the programs--that's modern Democratic progressivism.

T he stakes already were unprecedented because 2022 could be the first time we re-install a majority for a party that excuses insurrection and 2024 could be first time we re-install a president who fomented insurrection.

Donald Trump would win the GOP nomination by getting 30 percent pluralities week after week in multi-candidate primaries. He would never get close to a nationwide popular-vote majority in the general election. But the people don't decide the presidency. Electors from states do that.

If you change a few thousand votes in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin--because of inflation, gasoline prices, supply-chain problems, new voter restrictions and progressives not being politically smart--then you could get the guy back.

Progressives say the agenda can't wait. I say that only if we begin 2025 without Trump in the White House can we breathe easily enough to give seminal policy its due.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected] Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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