CAN DEMOCRATS EVER LEARN TO TOOT THEIR OWN HORN?
By Mary Coen
Since January, Democrats have been in control of the White House and both houses of Congress, albeit by a very slim majority. Have we accomplished anything? Are we going in the right direction? Are we in any way better off than we were? If so, why aren’t we shouting it from the rooftops? Are we holding our breath, crossing our fingers and hoping nothing goes wrong? Republicans didn’t do that. If something went wrong for them, they ignored it, or resorted to whataboutism, or simply lied. Do Democrats believe that the only time to toot our own horns is leading up to an election? The Republicans daily reminded us about how great they were. Are we ignorant of the facts? I do think that for many of us, the fact that government is doing its job has allowed us to back off paying close attention. So, what IS going on?
As of this week we have a new bill passed by Congress, and it’s a bill to be proud of, this Fix-It bill, not just because it was so seriously needed but because it passed with bipartisan support. Amazingly! And this is after the Democrats passed: 1) the American Rescue plan – more money for COVID 19-related issues, 2) extensions of some of the protections of the CARE ACT like small-business bankruptcy and paycheck protection, 3) 5 Veterans Affairs bills for such things as vaccine availability, facilities for controlled substance meds and mental health facilities, and retraining assistance for veteran employment, 4) a bill expediting the review of COVID related hate crimes, 5) one naming Juneteenth as a legal public holiday, 6)one about money for the Crime Victim’s Fund and one awarding medals to the Capitol Police who protected the capitol during the January 6th riot. So, the Democrat-controlled Congress has been busy. There has been some re-naming of Post Offices too, but a fair number of these accomplishments are major. Compare this to the all-Republican government of 2017-2018 when the only major legislation was the tax cut for big business and the rich. Not until March of 2020 was other major legislation passed, the CARE ACT, (actually three of them), dealing with the COVID-19 emergency. But by then Congress was divided with the House under Democratic control.
This lack of Republican legislation was by design: under Mitch McConnell the designated job of the Senate was to prevent the Democrats from getting anything done. Their focus was lowering taxes and filling all judicial benches. Nothing else. And they weren’t shy about saying so publicly. But they got it wrong: the conservative ideal of smaller government isn’t accomplished by enacting no new laws but by reducing bureaucracy. Trying to govern without keeping up with the needs of the modern world can be seen as simply laziness. So, the disservice done is that the public has come to expect little or nothing from Congress. And we need to turn that around.
President Joe Biden has been no slouch either: We have rejoined the World Health Organization and the Paris Climate Agreement. He has revoked the Keystone XL pipeline access (and none too soon, since we found out this spring that Enbridge pipeline in Wisconsin had leaked back in 1999, hadn’t been capped for 37 days and then not reported for over a year). He reversed the travel ban for Muslin countries and began the reunification of migrant families, extended protection for DACA. He demanded an Ethics pledge for all executive branch personnel. He also signed 20 COVID directives -all in his first 100 days.
The second part of effective lawmaking is making the law work; that is Joe Biden’s job as head of the executive branch. It is the job at which Trump was particularly bad. For three years he demoralized and demolished department after department so when COVID came there was little left to adequately respond. In the 306 days of the Biden administration, departments have pulled together to provide backing for the states COVID-related needs. Though the spike in new cases today is the equivalent in some places to earlier highest spikes, the panic has subsided. Equipment is available. Vaccines are available. Guidance is available and mostly clear -a very far cry from last year’s chaos. The economy has some fighting chances to become better for the working class with the current infrastructure bill.
The days of expectations of government as “smart and responsible” are gone. “Confidence in government” has become a joke. “Ethical politician” is seen as a contradiction of terms. We cannot rely on the public to recognize any good if we don’t publicize it. Not tooting our own horns is seen as having nothing to toot about. Maybe we need to take a lesson from the preceding administration: more photo ops, more catchphrases, more nicknames (people remember nicknames) – but positive ones for our best people. We need to shout some truths: Rejoining the world is not giving our money away. We are still reuniting families. Unless we are from First Nations, we are all from immigrant families. Children deserve our protection. Biden did win (and if he didn’t a lot of Republicans didn’t either). And if they ask us about Cuomo, ask what about Trump? We do ourselves a disservice if we focus on the negatives when there are so many positives we can beam out there.