There is No Moral Leadership

Yesterday the US Senate voted to end the government shutdown that was sparked over Senate Republicans' failure to deliver a deal on CHIP and DACA. The majority of Senate Democrats capitulated after the initial stunning display of caucus line discipline on Friday, voting to allow funding through with a deal on CHIP and a promise on DACA.

The game theoretics of this move can and will be discussed ad nauseam. I'm by no means insensitive to this assertion that this is how you make progress: in increments and deals and maneuvering. And I'm not completely closed to the idea that perhaps Senate Democrats are preparing to shut down the government again if a DACA deal isn't reached at the expiration of this continuing resolution.

But for me, that's not really the point. I don't support a clean Dream Act because it's sound economic and national security policy (even though it is), I don't support a clean Dream Act because it's a good move for building power to oppose the GOP monolith (even though it is), I support a clean Dream Act because it's the right thing to do. Somewhere along the line, my Party abandoned a primary narrative of righteousness and embraced a narrative of intellectualism. Wonkery, both policy and political, has become the core brand of Democrats. But as people smarter than I have pointed out, it's a brand that's total vapor.

Moral leaders die on hills. They go down guns blazing because it's the right thing to do. The GOP stonewalled the nomination of one of the most qualified Supreme Court nominees in history for a year while pushing a moral narrative: they claimed that it was just plain wrong to allow a "lame duck" President to fill a SCOTUS seat. If our leaders had moral backbone, they would have mounted this hill and refused to budge. If they got threatened with moderate primaries, or attacked by an intransigent GOP, they would have looked that challenge in the eye and said, "Fine. Unseat me. Because a line in the sand on DACA is the right thing to do."

Maybe that would have lost this particular fight. Maybe that would have cost us both CHIP and DACA. I very seriously doubt it, but maybe. But if not here, where? Where is our line in the sand? Where do we make our moral stand? The fact that we have no answer for that--and that we routinely have no answer for that, or back down from an answer we claim--is the larger issue. The moral spinelessness of Party leadership has systematically generated an under-enthusiastic base, and a ceding of the terms of the conversation.

As I've said before, our goal must not be to simply retake the White House, but rather total hegemony. Bipartisanship is a myth, and when we're being asked to share power with an institution that is hell-bent on killing poor people, deporting immigrants, jailing people of color, and destroying the planet, our answer can only be absolute refusal. We will of course have to compromise and maneuver on the way, and I'm fine with that. But without moral leadership, without the courage of our convictions we will never achieve dominance. Maybe we can ride a blue wave into unseating some particularly unsavory bastards of the right, but that is insufficient. We must lead the conversation, we must establish our moral virtue and reshape the very foundations of our national conversation. And we cannot do this by caving to the GOP on the backs of vacuous promises after three days of negotiations on the lives of 800,000 young Americans.