Well, this has not gone the way Howard Schultz was expecting it to, has it? When even fellow billionaire and chronic party-swapper Mike Bloomberg is saying an independent presidential run is a daft idea, you know you’re in the soup.
Schultz has taken a thousand shots by now from people pointing out that an independent run by a socially liberal candidate can only split the non-right-wing vote and reelect Trump. This is obviously true and I certainly agree with it. But there’s another critique of Schultz that I haven’t seen and that needs to be aired. And since I hope somehow that the man himself reads this and takes it semi-seriously, I’m going to write it in a non-vituperative way.
Howard, you’re blaming “both parties” for the current dysfunction and asserting that neither represents the great silent majority, as in this tweet:
This just isn’t true. Both parties are not to blame for the current dysfunction. All right, the Democratic Party is not blameless. But political polarization has been driven almost wholly by the Republican Party.
I could write a book about this (wait, I have!), but here in a column, let me just give a couple of examples.
The first is Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge. You probably know of it; he has this pledge that he makes Republican members of the House and Senate sign agreeing that they’ll never raise a tax. He dreamed it up in the 1980s, and it really took off after George H.W. Bush broke his “no new taxes” pledge in 1990. They’ve almost all signed it, and with very minor exceptions, no Republican in Congress has voted for a tax increase since 1990.
This has caused untold dysfunction. How? It’s a government’s job to assess the needs of the body politic and address new needs as they arise through some combination of spending cuts, borrowing, and tax increases. The government wanted to create Social Security; it imposed a tax. It wanted to build interstate highways; it borrowed and imposed a tax. It wanted to bail out the Social Security Trust Fund; it did so through a negotiated combination of spending cuts and tax increases.
Well, if taxation is taken off the table, the government can’t do its job. And that is what Norquist and the Republicans have done.
Imagine if the Democrats had done the opposite. If some Grover Norquist of the left had imposed a no-spending-cuts pledge. They would be branded as complete obstructionists, and reasonably so. But they have not. They accept spending cuts. Maybe grudgingly, but they accept them. They agreed to the 2011 sequestration deal that included big domestic cuts.
So in other words, one party, the Republican Party, has said, for 30 years now, that one of the two major tools any legislature has as its disposal to address society’s problems is unusable, untouchable. That is divisive. That has caused dysfunction. And it’s all on the Republicans.
If you don’t understand, Howard, the anger you’re hearing today from Democrats on the question of taxes, you might consider all this history. Taxation really is the price we pay for civilization, as Oliver Wendell Holmes said, and for 30 years, Washington has barely been allowed to discuss the topic.
Number two: the Hastert Rule. This is the rule the Republicans imposed on the House that no bill could pass unless it enjoyed majority Republican support. In other words, says the Hastert Rule, we don’t even want bipartisan legislation anymore. We just want to pass legislation that will run roughshod over the minority. And: We won’t pass legislation that Democrats like.
Let me raise here immigration. As you might recall, Howard, the Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform in 2013. The vote was 68-32, with 14 Republicans joining the majority. For this day and age, that’s pretty bipartisan.
Then it went to the House, where it never got a vote. Now, there is general agreement around Washington, as far as I know, that it would have passed any time then-Speaker John Boehner brought it to the floor. But he never did. Why? Because it would have passed with about 190 Democrats and maybe 40 to 50 Republicans. That is, it would have violated the Hastert Rule (and cost Boehner his speakership, because the red-hots in the House GOP caucus would have deposed him over such an apostasy).
In other words, comprehensive immigration reform, which we’ve talked about for 20 years, did not fail because of both parties. It didn’t fail because of some mystical lack of will. It failed because the Republican Party made decisions that ensured its failure.
I could go on and on. I could detail vote counts for you—how Ronald Reagan and both Bushes won the support of a respectable minority of Democrats for most of their big initiatives, while Bill Clinton and especially Barack Obama got zero or nearly zero Republican support for theirs. But please try to accept this. The dysfunction in Washington is driven, oh, 75 or 80 percent by Republicans.
A lot of centrists like yourself don’t want to believe this. You are committed to the idea that both parties are equally to blame. But they are not. If you want to do some actual homework before you decide for sure that you’re going to do this, read McCarty, Poole, and Rosenthal. Or Grossman and Hopkins. Or Skocpol and Hertel-Fernandez. Or Hacker and Pierson. Or a lot of things, by a lot of authors. Believe it or not, Howard, intelligent, serious people have been studying this problem for many years. You may dismiss them as liberals, but they’re scholars, and they’re devoted enough to the principles of scholarship that they report what they find. And, funny, they all find the same thing.
You are wrong also, Howard, that no one is representing the silent majority. I study polls pretty closely. I see a large silent majority that wants a much higher minimum wage. Both parties aren’t preventing that from happening. I see a large silent majority that wants reasonable gun-control policies. Both parties aren’t preventing that from happening. I see a large silent majority that wants action on climate change. Both parties aren’t preventing that from happening. I see a large silent majority that believes health care should be a right not a privilege. Both parties aren’t preventing that from happening. I even see a large silent majority that wants to raise taxes on rich people like you. Both parties aren’t preventing that from happening. In fact, one party wants to do all those things. I’d say that party, for all its flaws, is doing a reasonably good job of representing the silent majority.
The only problem is that that party can’t pass the agenda the silent majority supports because of structural impediments, some imposed by the Constitution (the Senate) and others put in place by the party that supports minority positions on all the above-named issues. We may not be able to do much about the Constitution, but we can do something about the second set of impediments.
Howard, if it’s gridlock that bothers you, and if you’re really itching to spend $400 million on politics, you might take a hard look at that.