The House Democrats’ top priority for this Congress is a democracy-reform package called the For the People Act (HR 1), which is quite ambitious in its scope. As regular readers may recall, the bill is intended to create significant ethics and lobbying reforms, end partisan gerrymandering, expand voting rights, and improve government transparency.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has made clear that he’s not a fan of the proposal, recently condemning a specific provision – making Election Day a national holiday – as a “power grab” that would help Democrats. (In the GOP leader’s mind, it’s apparently not fair to Republicans if more Americans are able to cast ballots.)
But as the House debate on the For the People Act gets underway today, McConnell spoke from the Senate floor yesterday with a new criticism of the Democratic bill.
“Like many Americans, I’ve spent the last several weeks watching with interest as prominent leaders in the Democratic Party have engaged in a political footrace. They’re sprinting as far left as possible, as quickly as possible, trying to outdo one another. The result is that one of our two major political parties has begun embracing one radical, half-baked socialist proposal after another. It’s really a sight to see.
“First came the Democrat Politician Protection Act, a sweeping Washington D.C. takeover of what Americans can say about politics and how they elect their representatives. Speaker Pelosi and her House colleagues were ready with that from day one of this new Congress. They chose it as their ceremonial first bill of the year – H.R. 1. And let me say, this is quite a piece of legislation to hold up as the defining product of the new Democrat House majority.”
Look, I realize the Senate Republican leader is never going to allow his chamber to vote on HR 1. The contemporary GOP is simply too hostile toward voting rights and election reforms to even consider legislation like this.
But to characterize the package as a “radical, half-baked socialist proposal” is emblematic of a larger problem: Republicans are so preoccupied with instigating some kind of red scare, they no longer know or care what their own rhetoric means.
There’s nothing “socialist” about automatic voter registration. Or curtailing partisan gerrymandering. Or requiring officials to use “durable, voter-verified” paper ballots in federal elections.
That’s just not what “socialism” means. If Republicans want to condemn Medicare or public libraries as “socialism,” we could at least have a credible conversation about the proper role of the public sector. But making it easier for Americans to participate in their own democracy is not part of a subtle campaign to empower the federal government to control the means of production.
McConnell’s weird remarks are emblematic of an awkward truth Republicans should probably take a moment to acknowledge: they’ve undermined their own credibility by becoming the boys who cried socialist. The word has been stripped of any etymological meaning through generations of over use.
The Senate GOP leader yesterday effectively admitted that “socialism” in 2019 means little more than “progressive ideas that Republicans don’t like.”