In his 2020 book “Politics Is for Power,” Eitan Hersh, a political scientist at Tufts, sketched a day in the life of many political obsessives in sharp, if cruel, terms.
I refresh my Twitter feed to keep up on the latest political crisis, then toggle over to Facebook to read clickbait news stories, then over to YouTube to see a montage of juicy clips from the latest congressional hearing. I then complain to my family about all the things I don’t like that I have seen.
To Hersh, that’s not politics. It’s what he calls “political hobbyism.” And it’s close to a national pastime. “A third of Americans say they spend two hours or more each day on politics,” he writes. “Of these people, four out of five say that not one minute of that time is spent on any kind of real political work. It’s all TV news and podcasts and radio shows and social media and cheering and booing and complaining to friends and family.”
Real political work, for Hersh, is the intentional, strategic accumulation of power in service of a defined end. It is action in service of change, not information in service of outrage. This distinction is on my mind because, like so many others, I’ve spent the week revisiting the attempted coup of Jan. 6, marinating in my fury toward the Republicans who put fealty toward Donald Trump above loyalty toward country and the few but pivotal Senate Democrats who are proving, day after day, that they think the filibuster more important than the franchise. Let me tell you, the tweets and columns I drafted in my head were searing.
But fury is useful only as fuel. We need a Plan B for democracy. Plan A was to pass H.R. 1 and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Neither bill, as of now, has a path to President Biden’s desk. I’ve found that you provoke a peculiar anger if you state this, as if admitting the problem were the cause of the problem. I fear denial has left many Democrats stuck on a national strategy with little hope of near-term success. In order to protect democracy, Democrats have to win more elections. And to do that, they need to make sure the country’s local electoral machinery isn’t corrupted by the Trumpist right.
“The people thinking strategically about how to win the 2022 election are the ones doing the most for democracy,” said Daniel Ziblatt, a political scientist at Harvard and one of the authors of “How Democracies Die.” “I’ve heard people saying bridges don’t save democracy — voting rights do. But for Democrats to be in a position to protect democracy, they need bigger majorities.”
There are people working on a Plan B. This week, I half-jokingly asked Ben Wikler, the chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, what it felt like to be on the front lines of protecting American democracy. He replied, dead serious, by telling me what it was like. He spends his days obsessing over mayoral races in 20,000-person towns, because those mayors appoint the city clerks who decide whether to pull the drop boxes for mail-in ballots and small changes to electoral administration could be the difference between winning Senator Ron Johnson’s seat in 2022 (and having a chance at democracy reform) and losing the race and the Senate. Wikler is organizing volunteers to staff phone banks to recruit people who believe in democracy to serve as municipal poll workers, because Steve Bannon has made it his mission to recruit people who don’t believe in democracy to serve as municipal poll workers.
I’ll say this for the right: They pay attention to where the power lies in the American system, in ways the left sometimes doesn’t. Bannon calls this “the precinct strategy,” and it’s working. “Suddenly, people who had never before showed interest in party politics started calling the local G.O.P. headquarters or crowding into county conventions, eager to enlist as precinct officers,” ProPublica reports. “They showed up in states Trump won and in states he lost, in deep-red rural areas, in swing-voting suburbs and in populous cities.”
See FULL STORY at New York Times.