Commentary: Democrats’ demolition derby

John Krull

By John Krull

Democrats should feel grateful that Donald Trump exists.

Their opposition to the former president seems to be about the only thing holding the party of Jefferson, Jackson, FDR and JFK together. If Trump didn’t exist, Democrats would spend all their time fighting with each other.

The ongoing struggle to pass President Joe Biden’s infrastructure and reconciliation measures shows just how deeply divided the Democratic Party is.

Progressives want both measures adopted as a package. Moderates would prefer to separate consideration of the bills and pass the infrastructure one—which polls in the high 70s and has a smaller price tag—first, then worry about reconciliation later.

Both sides have dug into their negotiating positions like World War I armies settling into trenches for a prolonged siege. Both sides are convinced they are in control because the other side can’t move forward alone.

They’re both right about that—which means they’re both missing the most important point.

The fact that neither side can get anything done alone means that, if they want to deal with any of the items on their agendas, they need to find a way to start working together.

If they don’t, they probably need to get used to saying the following: “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.”

I have been covering politics and public policy for more than 40 years now. In that time, I never have ceased to be astounded by how short-sighted even the smartest politicians can be.

In this instance, the progressives in the U.S. House of Representatives are crowing because they forced Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, to delay a key vote on the measures. They see the fact that they pushed Pelosi to retreat as a victory.

But what did they win?

There’s still no deal on reconciliation and the infrastructure measures that Americans both want and need are being held hostage. In addition, the progressives have managed to weaken both Pelosi and Biden, both of whom are likely to be far friendlier to liberal hopes and aspirations than McCarthy and—shudder—a re-elected Donald Trump ever would be.

Then there is the brain-dead logic of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, and U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona. Both Manchin and Sinema seem to think there is great value in keeping the other members of their party guessing about what they want and what they’ll do. They each seem to like the enhanced leverage being a perceived swing vote gains them.

But one generally exerts leverage to gain or move something.

Manchin and Sinema seem to think the leverage they have is an end in itself, not a means to achieving some greater good for the people of their states or, heaven forbid, the entire nation.

Worse, they can’t seem to see how ephemeral their elevated status could be.

If the Democrats don’t get things done and the Republicans gain control of the Senate again, Mitch McConnell will have about as much use for Manchin and Sinema as a fish does for a pickup truck.

But those are all crass political considerations.

The larger one is the more important.

In a self-governing society such as ours, government is supposed to be a means of resolving differences among varied constituencies with often vastly divergent interests and priorities. The people we send to lead us are supposed to be problem-solvers, not problem-exacerbators.

This is what makes the whole spectacle of the Democrats’ demolition derby so dispiriting.

We Americans already have seen one political party—the Republican Party—abdicate any sort of responsibility to the nation at large.

The latest evidence of that abdication came when McConnell announced that Senate Republicans would vote to allow the country to default on its debts — debts he and the GOP helped rack up by ramming through a foolhardy tax cut for the wealthiest of the wealthy—rather than raise the debt ceiling.

Democrats correctly argued that this made Republicans “the party of default.”

But the Democrats have demonstrated they still are what Will Rogers said they were, a firing squad that forms a circle and shoots back toward the center.

If Republicans are the party of default, Democrats are the party of dysfunction.

What a choice.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. Send comments to [email protected].