In late September, Californians got news that shocked absolutely nobody. A federal judge ruled as unconstitutional a California law that would remove Donald Trump from the state’s primary ballot unless he releases his tax returns. If you felt even a twinge of sadness at that news, then you know firsthand why Republicans keep winning, even though they garner millions fewer votes in presidential elections, and why they controlled Congress even despite having fewer total votes than Democrats. They know how to win and use power, while Democrats know how to feel good.
A few of things to note. First, most people apparently didn’t understand the tax return law. The law would only have kept Trump off the primary ballot, not the general election ballot. Second, Trump didn’t need to be on the primary ballot anyway; he would get more than enough delegates in other states to secure the nomination of his party, whose apparatus is now completely controlled by him. Third, the GOP has been dispensing with primaries altogether in some states, despite at least three declared Republican challengers. So the national GOP isn’t terribly concerned about getting grassroots primary buy-in for their candidate.
All of that could have been foreseen, so why did our heavily Democratic state legislature pass and our Democratic governor sign the legislation?
Why? It made them look like they were doing something, and it made their voters feel good. It didn’t actually do anything, and even if this federal judge is overruled by a higher court, it won’t do anything for the reasons stated above. The only acceptable answer is that it was feel-good politics.
Because the other answer is too depressing to consider: They didn’t understand the bill or the way politics work, in which case they are merely the lead lemmings marching fellow Democrats off a cliff, while patting themselves on the back for sharing great Facebook memes.
In President Obama’s final year in office, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to allow a vote on the president’s pick for an open Supreme Court seat. Why? Because he could. Because he had the raw power to do so, and the Democrats lacked the power to do anything other than complain and call him mean. For a simpler example, google “lib tears.”
Conservatives love that. There is a company selling — I am not making this up — “Liberal Tears bacon scented gun oil.”
Speaking of which, San Francisco recently passed some feelgood legislation that will do nothing but make lawyers happy. The Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a nonbinding resolution that declared the National Rifle Association a domestic terrorist organization. The NRA, as is its wont, immediately filed a hyperventilating lawsuit against San Francisco and the supervisors.
Though the resolution calls for the city to “assess the financial and contractual relationships our vendors and contractors have with this domestic terrorist organization” and try to limit those vendors’ business with the NRA, it’s a nonbinding resolution. Mayor London Breed neither signed it nor vetoed it. Nonbinding resolutions are useless, so why make people think you’ve accomplished something when you’ve done nothing more concrete than the U.S. House of Representatives declaring March 15, 2009 as National Pi Day?
Let’s be clear: These are great times to be opposed to the NRA. That organization has been imploding in spectacular fashion, lawsuits a-flyin’ between current and former NRA leaders, investigation by New York state, firing and then suing for $40 million its longtime P.R. agency (which bizarrely ran the organization’s television channel — who hires a P.R. firm to run their TV channel anyway?), getting sued for $100 million by that longtime P.R. agency, claims about Russian funding, and sundry details about overspending and infighting. The Germans invented the word schadenfreude for times like this.
But even more delicious is that the gun control forces have been winning. Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, has pointed out that groups such as hers have had successes in statehouse after statehouse, even in red states, passing common-sense gun laws, which polls show are supported by the overwhelming majority of Americans, even Republicans.
District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani, who authored the NRA resolution (in 20 minutes, as she told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Heather Knight), is correct to say this wasn’t a waste of her time, because she can indeed walk and chew gum at the same time. But it was a waste of energy even at that, because it really accomplishes nothing. “Nonbinding” is a pretty crucial part of a “nonbinding resolution.”
Stefani also knows where the real work on ending gun violence is getting done; she has done a lot of it as a longtime leader in Moms Demand Action, and is a brave and outspoken opponent of the gun lobby. She is to be respected for all of that. But let’s not make nonbinding resolutions a career high for anyone.
San Francisco is known as the city of sharp political elbows — it’s a rough training ground that helps local politicians become some of the most successful politicos in the state (and the base of both of the state’s U.S. senators, the speaker of the House of Representatives, the governor, and others). So San Francisco liberals do know how to exercise actual power, but too often they reserve that for their fights with fellow liberals. For the Republicans, they reserve their nonbinding resolutions and street protests, which don’t scare Mitch McConnell in the least.
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