American politics and American sports at the national professional level are both active spectator events with relatively few players. Because both politics and sports have a huge fan base, both command a considerable amount of attention. Just because a lot of us talk a lot about politics and sports, however, doesn’t mean we always know what we’re talking about.
In sports, unless you’re at practice, in the locker room, or in the huddle, you don’t know why a play was called in a critical situation. In politics, unless you’re a player in the room where it happens, you don’t always know what you’re looking at. Given that, here’s this fan’s opinion about the recent federal government shutdown.
You learn growing up there are fights you won’t win, but in spite of that, there are fights you must fight. That lesson applies to politics as well; serious politicians understand there are moments when the point is the fight. We witnessed such a moment with the government shutdown over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, not hamstrung protecting the political flank of a Democratic president or candidate, was free to play his cards. He took a weak hand and an indefensible position and over three days played them into a potentially game-changing position while providing political cover for red-state Democratic senators facing reelection in November, like our own U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill.
Schumer demonstrated to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Democratic base that he was willing to bring the house down on this issue. But he didn’t volunteer to commit political suicide or offer up red-state Democratic Senators as human sacrifice to prove his fidelity to the cause.
He got accused of folding, but the reality is on 4th and long, snapping from your own 35-yard line with time on the clock, you punt, play defense, and get the ball back. By staying in the game, you give yourself a chance to win the game. Any coach who wants to keep working will ignore fans in the stands yelling, “Go for it!”
In the shutdown, McConnell lost control of the Republican Caucus on the immigration issue. The truce was not brokered by Schumer and McConnell, but by moderate Democratic and Republican senators. This increases exponentially the chances of a real solution for the Dreamers passing the Senate. This is where McConnell got played, because the fate of immigration in the Senate is no longer in his absolute control – and that wouldn’t have happened without the shutdown.
Getting a real solution to DACA out of the Senate puts the issue in the House, where the worst elements of the Republican Party will be on full display. There will be only two possibilities, and both work long-term for immigrants, progressives, and Democrats. If a bill passes the House, that breaks the Republican Caucus and demoralizes the Republican base. If it doesn’t pass the House, it shames white moderates into action and mobilizes the rest of us for a November political massacre of Republicans.
You need to think about this issue the way history now views Alabama in the summer of 1965. DACA is the Edmond Pettus Bridge, and the House Freedom Caucus are Alabama State Troopers. The 1965 Voting Rights Act passed because Lyndon Johnson, in partnership with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., got racist Southern segregationists to overplay their hand, finally awakening the comatose conscience of moderate white America. Simply and cruelly put: No Bloody Sunday, no Voting Rights Act.
As in 1965, the federal government is being held hostage by white supremacists. And as in 1965, America will make no progress on any social justice issue until we break the stranglehold of the Make America White Again Republican Party. Immigration in general, and DACA in particular, is the 21st century civil rights struggle.
November is the end game, because nothing in America will change until the midterm elections. You can’t win the game until the fourth quarter. What McConnell and Schumer were both trying to do was maximize their party’s tactical advantage for that day in November, because November is the fourth quarter. This is the next defining moment in American politics.
Mike Jones is a former senior staffer in St. Louis city and county government and current member of the Missouri State Board of Education and The St. Louis American editorial board. In 2016, he was awarded Best Serious Columnist for all of the state’s large weekly by the Missouri Press Association.