As we close out the fourth week of the government shut-down, with negotiations seemingly non-existent and replaced by petty, tit-for-tat squabbles between Trump and Pelosi, it seems apt to contemplate the potential loss of a golden opportunity for the Democrats on the policy front.

Trump has painted himself into something of a corner with his very public proclamations that there must be wall money in whatever deal is struck to reopen government. While Trump remains Trump, and could easily turn around today and say “I never said that,” it’s far more likely that he believes he has to deliver on his wall promise in this instance.

Shrewd negotiating tactics call for keeping your must-haves and bottom-line as close to the vest as possible. Once your counterparts learn of what you absolutely must have, what you cannot walk away from or leave on the negotiating table, they gain leverage. In this case, Trump’s just about handed Pelosi and Schumer the keys to the kingdom, if only they have the desire to turn the lock and walk through the door. They could ask for the sky, and get a good chunk of it, in exchange for a sum of money they routinely demonstrate is trivial in their eyes.

Moreso, they could get all sorts of policy concessions, concessions with real and lasting impact, in exchange for a wall that may very likely never get built. It’s inevitable that countless court challenges will have to be sorted out: environmental, eminent domain, and others. Those will take time, a lot of it, and if the Democrats feel confident in their prospects for 2020’s White House run, it would be a trivial matter to run out the clock and let their president rescind the wall work.

The Dems could ask for, and get, immigration reforms that include a Dreamer deal, changes they like in asylum rules, and all sorts of money to see to the southern border arrivals. They could get all that and more, because Trump wants his wall, and because Trump hasn’t shown much worry about excess spending.

Instead, their behavior suggests several other possible priorities.

They might believe that this is the moment by which they’ll set the tone for the next two years, that they have a chance to break Trump’s political back by denying him his wall. This is a bit of a risk, because a President has far more power in the control of public messaging than either the Speaker or the Senate Minority Leader do. Just as the Dems are playing up every instance of Washington Monument Syndrome they can, Trump can spend the next two years cherry-picking bad acts by illegals, splash them across the news, and hang the blame on the Dems. It’s also a fact that the Dems do not control the Senate, and a scorched-earth victory in this fight may very well leave them in a position where they can accomplish nothing on the legislative front. Two years of political gridlock, and a mountain of policy ideas that go nowhere. It may work out for them – they may feel this is the path back to power and to making bigger changes than they could get via compromise. But, it means two years of nothing, with all those they’ve promised to help left waiting again. This is cold political cynicism.

They might believe that their base demands they not “roll over,” in the words of some of my progressive friends, on this demand, and/or might believe that they’ve committed as hard as Trump to their “no-wall” position. This is government-by-petulance, it’s how Trump often operates, and it puts Pelosi and Schumer at the same detestable level that Trump occupies.

Or, they might not consider actually doing anything positive for the Dreamers and other immigrants as a priority or of political benefit. They’re certain to keep most-to-all the voters who want these changes in their corner, even if they choose to leave a deal on the table rather than effect real change. This is also cold political cynicism, and it’s even uglier than government-by-petulance.

The Democrats, and especially their wild-eyed offshoots, the Democratic Socialists, promise that granting government more power is how more and better things will get done. Their leaders’ missing this opportunity to gain major concessions belies this promise, and shows their priority is merely power, not accomplishment. It also runs against Michael Corleone’s cold “strictly business” focus. Pelosi, Schumer, and millions of Democrats have taken Trump’s election and actions as personal affronts, and are ready to cut their noses off to spite their faces if it’ll sate their lust for revenge and fulfill their vendettas.

When Michael Corleone went to Sicily, he asked his minder “Where have all the men gone.” “They’re all dead from vendetta,” was the reply.

Whatever good things government might try to do die this way, from clashes of egoes, from payback, from anger, from petulance, and from zero-sum, salt-the-earth political warfare.

The Dems took the House this past election, and with it they took a chunk of political power. Not enough to do anything other than posture, preen, and engage in endless investigations on their own, but enough to make policy gains should they desire them enough to bargain and compromise.

Deals are out there, waiting to be made, with ample leverage at hand. The Dems should set their rage aside, and get to doing business. Who knows? They might, in addition to getting something done, actually take a step towards remediating the state of total dysfunction we witness today.

Will they seize on this opportunity? I doubt it. For all their denouncing Trump as an intransigent jackass, they’re showing themselves to be no better.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


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