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Opinion: When they go low, we go lower

by Beatrice Neilson 12 months ago in opinion

In Mitch McConnell's senate, Michelle Obama's call to morality walks a fine line of complacence.

Senate Republicans in a press briefing in 2018; Image: Associated Press via NPR

We can all admit it: Republicans can play the political game like a magic flute, but at what cost? Their constituents? The presidency? Public opinion?

Republicans aren't afraid to get their hands dirty when playing the political game, and they're all but apologetic about it. From a wider lens, Republicans have long used arguable immoral tactics to maintain power despite their falling public support.

From gerrymandering and redlining, to soliciting foreign assistance in domestic elections, or even breaking into the DNC headquarters in the middle of the night, Republicans can't help but sink their teeth into that forbidden fruit.

History can't help but to repeat itself this week on Capitol Hill as Republicans gear up for a fight over Trump's pick for the Supreme Court which replaces the late liberal justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

But this narrative is all too familiar. Months ahead of the 2016 election, GOP Senators refused to confirm former President Barack Obama's center-left Supreme Court pick, Merrick Garland. This was in hopes that then-candidates Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Donald Trump (R-NY) could fill the seat with an alt-right justice.

And that they did: Obama's pick was never confirmed, and after President Donald Trump won the general election in 2016, the senate rushed to confirm Neil Gorsuch.

Merrick Garland in 2016; Photo: Getty Images via NPR

In justifying their political power play, GOP senators made a number of comments separating the choice to delay this confirmation from spiteful partisanship.

Among the most famously recalled is the following from Lindsey Graham:

“I want you to use my words against me. If there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination."

Despite the hyper-specific conditions Graham describes, he still cites the historical precedent for a party in power to confirm a third justice to the Supreme Court.

Though Republicans' justifications for their sleazy power play are shallow and baseless, they don't care. For them, this is old news. The news cycle will chastise their scummy power grab, show them their own words just four years ago, and then forget about it almost entirely.

Republicans will have their Supreme Court pick, the news cycle will move on, and we, as voters, will forget all about this low-blow power grab. The cycle of unapologetically evil gameplay will rinse and repeat.

So if we're just going let Republicans keep making these hyper-partisan, sleazy moves that won't be recalled in the minds of voters or even history itself, how can Democrats, their most fervent opposition, continue to accomplish progress?

Former first lady Michelle Obama has famously said "When they go low, we go high," a call to morality when addressing Democrats at the DNC in 2016. The former First Lady asks us to hold our heads high and let history tell the story of who was truly holier than thou.

Michelle Obama addresses Democrats in Philadelphia, 2016; Photo: NBC News

For the last four years, Democrats have, for the most part, taken the high road. Standing up for what's right, but rarely stooping to the low-blow level that Mitch McConnell and the GOP turn to in times of political stringency.

But more and more Democrats have come to realize that if they keep taking the high road, the low road will only get wider.

Last week, as tensions over the Supreme Court pick to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Chuck Schumer threatened that "Nothing is off the table" if Democrats take back the Senate in 2020.

Among the reforms Democrats have threatened should they take back the Senate in 2020 are abolishing the legislative filibuster and the electoral college, expanding the supreme court to 15 justices, and making the District of Columbia the 51st State, Democrats are willing to make major change to get the leverage they deserve in government.

Joe Biden has not been outwardly open to satisfying this list of demands, likely appealing to Republican voters by citing bipartisanship rather than Karl Rove-esque partisan reforms.

So now Democrats face a crossroads as they come up on a potential trifecta of power after the election. Do they take the moral high ground, lean into bipartisanship, let morality drive their motions and votes? Or do they fight back, let history's judgement take a backseat for political gain in the now?


Beatrice Neilson

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