Was It Over When the Germans Bombed Pearl Harbor?! Bad History and Bad Advice for Democrats

Over at Daily Kos, Joan McCarter has a piece titled Democrats Are Not Following the Successful Republican 2009 “Oppose Everything” Playbook. Her argument, which echoes commentary from many Democratic sources, is here:

Congressional Democrats aren’t going to do what Republicans did in 2009, and what many progressives have called for. They’re not going to oppose everything. That’s true of progressive leaders like Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown, who have announced they’ll vote for Ben Carson as HUD secretary, as well as of the party’s leadership. Instead, Democrats are focusing on specific fights:

She later doubles down on this argument, demanding that Democrats adopt the non-strategy strategy “fight all the battles.” In addition to the obvious problem of trying to fight all the battles – A telling metaphor: has there ever been a military that refused to choose where and when to fight, and instead took up the fight everywhere that the enemy chose, that did not end with disastrous defeat? – this argument has another hole in it: her history is a myth. The Republicans didn’t oppose every nominee in 2009, or even most of them; they focused on specific fights.

Let’s take a look back at confirmation votes in 2009, keeping in mind that there were 40 Republican senators:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: 94-2
Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner: 60-34 (10 Republicans in favor, about a quarter of their caucus)
Attorney General Eric Holder: 75-21
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar: Voice vote (Meaning, no Republicans challenged it)
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack: Unanimous voice vote
Secretary of Commerce Bill Richardson: forced to withdraw due to federal investigation.
Secretary of Commerce Judd Gregg (R): Withdrew under pressure from Republicans
Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke: 96-0
Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis: 82-17 (after making hay for weeks over some minor tax problem)
Secretary of HHS Tom Daschle: forced to withdraw for tax thingy
Secretary of HHS Kathleen Sibelius: 65-31
Secretary of HUD Shaun Donovan: Unanimous Consent

I could go on – and on, and on, and on, since the pattern holds throughout the Senate confirmation period – but the point is pretty clear. The Republicans’ strategy in 2009 did NOT include voting against all cabinet nominations at the beginning of Barack Obama’s term. In many cases, all or virtually all of the Republican Senate voted for the nominees. Call Joan’s history “fake news.” Call it “alt facts.” The one thing you cannot call it is true. (At the time I’m writing this, her diary is six hours old, and has not been updated or corrected in any manner. She’s letting the bogus history stand. This bothers me. We’re supposed to be the reality-based community.)

Contrary to the blogger’s assertion, what the Republicans actually did in response to Obama’s cabinet nominations was “focusing on specific fights” – that is, executing exactly the strategy McCarter denounces the Democrats for doing. They put their energy and messaging into stopping people like Daschle, Solis, and Richardson, each of whom had some individual bad story for the opposition to get their teeth into. They did not simply vote against every Obama nominee, or even most Obama nominees, just because they were Obama nominees.

If McCarter wishes to argue that the Democrats should do something entirely unprecedented in American history and implement the novel strategy of bloc voting against every single cabinet nomination, she should make the argument for why they should take such an unheard of step. (She doesn’t, in either piece; the entirety of her argument is that it worked for the Republicans.) What she cannot do is assert that the  Democrats are failing to follow some successful Republican obstruction strategy. The Republican strategy in 2009 was to make hay of the problems of individual nominees, not “universal obstruction.” If Ms. McCarter is so impressed by how the Republicans handled cabinet nominations from Obama, she ought to come up with a strategy around the actual facts of the matter. Instead, she chooses to push some alt-history and waggle her finger at Senate Democrats for no good reason.

I assume most people are familiar with the old computer-programming term “GIGO.” Garbage in, garbage out. The Democrats are not going to come up with an effective political strategy for resisting Trump and the Republicans if they substitute alt-facts for reality.



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