“Can one political party defend American democracy on its own?”

That is the question Ron Brownstein asks at the beginning of his new piece in The Atlantic today. The answer he gives at the end of the piece, by quoting Ian Bassin of Protect Democracy, is “no”–at least not in the long run: “’It’s not sustainable long-term’ to preserve a functioning system if only one political party is committed to playing by the rules.”

I agree with Bassin on this point, as I’ve said previously in ELB blog posts (including this one). But Brownstein (and maybe Bassin, it’s a bit unclear) thinks Democrats in Congress must now act unilaterally, without any GOP support, in their self-declared effort to save small-d democracy.

Brownstein’s argument is interesting insofar as he expresses regret, saying he would have preferred “a cross-party ‘popular front’ or ‘grand alliance’ to defend the basic rules of democratic society.” But Brownstein declares the effort at that sort of coalition-building to have failed and, most importantly, lays blame entirely on Republicans in Congress and not Democrats. Here’s his full sentence on this point: “Since the Capitol attack, nothing has shaped the ongoing struggle over the fate of American democracy more than this refusal by almost all elected Republicans—and such GOP constituencies as national business groups and social conservative organizations—to lock arms in a cross-party ‘popular front’ or ‘grand alliance’ to defend the basic rules of democratic society.”

I don’t want here in this short blog post to go deep into blame assessment regarding the failure of Congress to adopt electoral reform in 2021. I’ve done some of that already in a previous blog post. I just want to make one quick point about what an effort to build a “cross-party ‘popular front” or ‘grand alliance’ to defend the basic rules of democratic society” might look like and how that effort, at least arguably, differs from what’s happened so far in Congress in the aftermath of January 6, 2021.

As I imagine a “cross-party ‘popular front’ or ‘grand alliance'” for this purpose, it would consist of Chuck Schumer reaching out to Mitch McConnell, or Amy Klobuchar reaching out to Roy Blunt, to say something like: “Let’s build a piece of democracy-protecting legislation together. It won’t be my side’s bill; it won’t be your side’s bill. It will be a bill that our two sides truly build bilaterally, based on a shared vision of how to protect democracy from the kind of threat that led to the January 6 insurrection. This will be a true cross-party grand alliance of two equal partners, not one junior partner and one senior partner, because we’ve got a 50-50 Senate and the need to protect democracy together.” Is that what happened?

Instead, isn’t it true that Senate Democrats basically said to Republicans, “We’ve got a bill that we want. Can you please sign on so that it can be sufficiently bipartisan to avoid a filibuster, and thus we can get our way?” If that’s essentially what happened, is it truly a way to build a “cross-party ‘popular front’ or ‘grand alliance'”? Or maybe it went something like this: “This is the bill we’ve crafted, and you should really want it too.” Whatever it was, it doesn’t appear to have been: “let’s work with whatever are the shared premises that separate us from the Big Lie insurrectionists who want to destroy democracy.”

Democrats can, and will, go forward in the next couple weeks with their effort to reform filibuster rules so that they can pass their bills over GOP opposition. But unless I’m misunderstanding what happened in Congress last year, I don’t think it’s accurate to say that Senate Republicans opposed to the Big Lie insurrection declined an overture from Democrats to work jointly as equal partners in a “grand alliance” to craft a piece of election-reform legislation based on their common opposition to the forces of electoral subversion that displayed themselves a year ago on January 6.

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