Want to Protect Democracy? This Is How To Do It.

Plus: Imagine there's no Facebook

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers looks up at a sign on the ceiling that reads, "The will of the people is the law of the land" as he and other members of the Electoral College cast their votes for the presidential election at the state Capitol on December 14, 2020. (Photo by Morry Gash-Pool/Getty Images)

And a great silence fell across the world when Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger went down in a massive digital blackout that forced nearly 3 billion people to make do with their own lives.

For a few hours, was it just possible that we were a kinder, gentler, less stupid nation?

Did the huddled masses emerge from their social media caves into the sunshine, dazzled by the reality of reality? Was eye contact made? Books read? Did people actually have a conversation with another person?

In the silence, did they hear a song in their heads?

Imagine there’s no Facebook

It’s easy if you try

No likes, no comments

No statuses to write

Imagine all the people

Meeting face-to-face…

Probably not.

But as Robert F. Kennedy once said (cribbing a bit from George Bernard Shaw), “Some men see things as they are, and say why. I dream of things that never were, and say why not.”

**

Since we are quoting people…

Winston Churchill once famously said that ”Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing…after they have exhausted all other possibilities.”

Or maybe he said..

“You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”

Or maybe he never said that all, since it’s apparently a bogus attribution. (As far anybody can tell, the quote really belongs to the Israeli politician and diplomat, Abba Eban.)

But whoever said it had obviously never met Mitch McConnell.

As the nation stumbles toward a potentially catastrophic standoff over the nation’s credit, President Biden pointed the finger at the senate minority leader, who has blocked efforts to raise the debt ceiling.

Asked if he could guarantee the debt ceiling would be resolved, Biden said: “No, I can’t. That’s up to Mitch McConnell.”

Biden added: “I can’t believe that will be the end result, because the consequences would be so dire … But can I guarantee it? If I could, I would. But I can’t.”

Biden’s alarming comments came amid an intensifying standoff as Republicans continue to refuse to help Democrats avert the debt ceiling cliff.

What does McConnell want? Why is he risking a train wreck by blocking the rise in the debt ceiling?

The answer is:

Nothing.

Chaos.

Via the NYT:

But two weeks before a potentially catastrophic default, Mr. McConnell has yet to reveal what he wants, telling President Biden in a letter on Monday, “We have no list of demands.”

Instead, he appears to want to sow political chaos for Democrats while insulating himself and other Republicans from an issue that has the potential to divide them.

This is what the politics of nihilism looks like.

But…

In the end, something will be worked out, right? Because we always manage to do the right thing at the last minute.

Right?

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Meanwhile, progressives are laser focused on...

Harassing, berating, and insulting the senator whose vote they desperately need. Tom Nichols and I had lots of thoughts about this last night.

Exit take: Look up Jim Jeffords.

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How to save democracy…

Sure, gerrymandering, voter suppression, and dark money are all valid concerns. But, over the weekend, the NYT editorial board zeroed in on the one reform that may be the most urgently needed: reforming the dangerously obsolete Electoral Count Act.

We’re still learning more details about Trump’s attempts to overthrow the 2020 election — including the pressure on state officials, the Eastman memo, and Oval Office meetings with VP Mike Pence.

As The Times notes, “The fact that the scheme to overturn the election was highly unlikely to succeed is cold comfort.” Trump is running again “which means the country faces a renewed risk of electoral subversion by Mr. Trump and his supporters — only next time they will have learned from their mistakes.”

That leaves all Americans who care about preserving this Republic with a clear task: Reform the federal election law at the heart of Mr. Eastman’s twisted ploy, and make it as hard as possible for anyone to pull a stunt like that again.

Our colleague Mona Charen has been making this case for months.

There is something Democrats can do at the federal level to respond to the threat: They can amend the Electoral Count Act of 1887. Republicans would be unlikely to filibuster this law, so Democrats can pass it with a simple majority vote. No need to tangle with Manchin and Sen. Krysten Sinema over the filibuster.

This law, blissfully ignored for most of its history with the exception of a couple of law review articles, was passed following the contentious Hayes/Tilden election in 1876—a contest that was so close it threatened to tear the country apart just 11 years after Appomattox. The law is, by many accounts, a “morass of ambiguity.” That’s too kind….

The law directs governors to certify their states’ results and the slate of electors chosen by the voters. But it also specifies that in a case of a “failed election” (not defined), in which the voters have not made a choice, the state legislature can step in to appoint electors….

The Electoral Count Act decrees that if one representative and one senator object, in writing, to the counting of any state’s electoral votes, the bodies must adjourn to their chambers to debate the matter. Here is a video of Vice President Biden, sitting as president of the Senate, rejecting objections to the Electoral College count precisely because the House members did not have a Senate co-signer.

As Ed Kilgore has recommended, congress should amend the Electoral Count Act to clarify that only electoral votes certified by individual states will be counted and that the vice-president’s role is purely ceremonial. Further, the threshold for objections to state electoral vote counts should be much higher than two.

I would add that a supermajority should be required to decertify any state’s electoral votes, not just a simple majority as the law now permits. Additionally, the law should be amended to eliminate the “failed election” section that empowers legislatures to substitute their preference for that of the voters. There are armies of law professors who can provide relevant language and good ideas for other changes.

In August, a pro-democracy coalition, released a new blueprint laying out a way to revise the Electoral Count Act. As Greg Sargent reported in August:

The report recommends numerous ECA reforms. Among them:

  • Dramatically raise the threshold for objections to electors in Congress, well above one member from each chamber. Reform could also codify what grounds must be met for objections to be heard by the full Congress.

  • Clarify how congressional disputes over electors are resolved. The statute needs to explain precisely what happens in Congress in every such scenario.

  • Clarify the “safe harbor” provision so it’s absolutely clear that if a state resolves its own disputes over electors by that deadline, Congress must count them.

  • Clarify the vice president’s role so it’s clear it does not include resolving congressional disputes over electors.

As Sargent noted: “We cannot say we weren’t warned.”

BONUS: No, Mike Pence is not redeemable.

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Leopards Eating People’s Faces Party Update

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Quick Hits

1. What Is the Debt-Ceiling Showdown Really All About?

R. Marshall Brandt writes in today’s Bulwark:

All 50 Republicans in the Senate voted not to raise the debt ceiling and therefore willfully default on America’s debt. That vote was just as antithetical to a functioning democracy as was the votes to decertify the election results on January 6.

For democracy and capitalism to survive, they need each other. And we need a better class of Republicans. Even the “good Republicans.”


2. How Progressives Undermined a Bipartisan Civics Bill

In today’s Bulwark, Ansley Skipper has an important piece about the ideological bumbling that is undermining a crucial piece of legislation about civics education.

This language seemed to confirm the fears and critiques of right-wingers like Kurtz, that the Biden administration aims to use civics education as a mechanism to indoctrinate American students in progressive ideologies. Lobbyists began to meet resistance from Republicans on Capitol Hill who had up to that point been considering signing on to or otherwise supporting the CSDA.

“It was sloppy,” said the source familiar with lobbying efforts for the bill. “It was an unforced error that fed directly into [right-wing] fear.”


3. The Rise of the Moderate Marine

A conversation with Rep. Conor Lamb—and why so many Republican Marine politicians are crazy.

I think that Donald Trump has made someone like J.D. Vance act much less like the Marine that he was trained to be.

. . . I don’t know [Vance] at all, but who he was before he got on board with Trump, was much more like a Marine to me. Whereas the opposite, I would say, is I think the rise of Donald Trump made people like me, and Jared Golden [a second-term Democratic congressman from Maine, who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq as a Marine infantryman], and others really think about our Marine Corps values and try to live up to them maybe even more than we were before, at least in our civilian lives. So, you could say he [Trump] made J.D. Vance less like a Marine, and Conor Lamb more like one, is how I would look at it.

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Cheap Shots

Idiocracy Update. Arizona Edition


Not creepy or fascist at all.