These Democrats Are Running Roughshod Over Republicans With No-Faith Politics

These Democrats Are Running Roughshod Over Republicans With No-Faith Politics
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz signing a bill that would provide free breakfasts and lunches to every public school student in the state. 

You would think providing food for children would be a bipartisan issue, or even a nonpolitical one. You would, of course, be wrong about this.

Making sure kids get food every day was the goal of Minnesota Democrats when they took it upon themselves to pass legislation providing free school breakfasts and lunches to every public school student in the state. Completely ignoring odious Republican opposition to the anti-hunger bill, Minnesota Dems rammed through the legislation, which will use about $388 million over two years to make sure children – again, I can’t emphasize this enough, they are kids – are provided food during the school day.

Republicans, mercifully, are a powerless minority in the Minnesota legislature. Democrats hold majorities in both chambers and hold the governor’s office. The state’s conservative lawmakers opposed the food-for-children legislation with various bad faith arguments such as “I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t have access to food” and, “Where will the money come from” – a breathtakingly bad-faith question in a state with a budget surplus of more than $17 billion.

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That state governments have to step in and ensure children have food is a dark and fully ignored part of our descent into the deep, dark pit of late-stage capitalism. In a country where dignity is reserved for those who can pay for it, millions of children without proper access to food makes perfect sense. These kids are just starting their wholly undignified lives, and conservatives see no problem with this arrangement.

But enough of that. Good things are happening in the state with a really big shopping mall, where people have to root for Kirk Cousins.

In Minnesota, Democratic lawmakers used the government’s surplus to cover the costs not covered by the federal free and reduced price meals program. That’s because the federal school lunch program was designed with laser-guided means testing; no kid on the edge of poverty receives a dollar of assistance. They go hungry. Only the most desperate benefit. This is what good-faith politics looks like when it curdles, leaving needy people out in the proverbial cold because they’re not quite poor enough to get help. It's all so convoluted.

Republicans in the Minnesota legislature begged and pleaded and raged (in bad faith, naturally) about the grave risks of providing breakfast and lunch for students who have some food in their home’s pantry.

"We want children whose families cannot afford to feed them to have lunch or breakfast," Republican Rep. Peggy Bennet said during a hearing on the bill. "The issue is the solution we're providing is a shotgun technique instead of a surgical approach."

Well, good. It should be a shotgun approach because that ensures everyone who needs food assistance gets food assistance. Being surgical with social safety net policymaking is a surefire way to create stigma and resentment along economic and racial lines. The only way to get off the Republican playing field is to make programs universal -- all programs. Who cares if a rich kid eats a free breakfast if half a dozen poor classmates don’t have to start their day with a hole in their belly? (No one cares, and if you say you do, you’re either a liar or a committed enemy of the good).

As computer scientist Donald Knuth said in the 1960s: “Premature optimization is the root of all evil.” Knuth chastised fellow computer programmers who “have spent far too much time worrying about efficiency in the wrong places and at the wrong times.” Fretting about economically comfortable people reaping the benefits of a government initiative at the potential expense of those who require that assistance to survive is the height of premature optimization. The left has to abandon this mindset if they are ever to build an even somewhat-reliable working class base that has become increasingly attracted to the promises of fascism cloaked as populism.

The only reason congressional Republicans haven’t repealed or privatized Social Security is because Social Security is universal. Republicans haven't been able to wink and nod and say, “We’re taking away Social Security from those people,” meaning poor folks or people of color or immigrants or any other conservative out-group they needed to persecute in order to excite their base. A lack of universality is what makes Medicaid so politically vulnerable; expanding Medicaid to anyone who wants it over their shitty private health insurance would make the program invulnerable to any and all attacks. And again, who cares if some Americans who live in McMansions and own a big, beautiful boat adorned with a MAGA flag get that health-care benefit? I surely don’t.

Minnesota Democrats deserve credit for (mostly) refusing to engage with the right’s bad faith arguments as they rammed through the state’s anti-hunger program. A smarmy Republican legislator standing up in the state senate chamber and outright saying no one in Minnesota struggles with food insecurity because he’s never known someone who has gone hungry did not – as far as I can tell – draw liberals out of the woodwork to present data on childhood hunger.

Bad-faith arguments should never, under any circumstances, be countered with good-faith arguments: Charts and data and other proof that what the conservative is saying is actually quite wrong. I know this is difficult for liberals and some leftists – especially those suffering from acute Leslie Knope Syndrome – because they are certain that if everyone knows the facts, everyone can agree on a way forward in solving pressing problems like children not having enough food. If those who disagree with me only see that what they’re saying has no basis in objectively reality, the thinking goes, we can achieve some level of agreement, some consensus.

But you can't shame the shameless. So don’t try.

State-Level Democrats Are Testing The No-Faith Formula

Some truly heroic advocates for fair electoral maps in Michigan made it possible in 2022 for Democrats to take control of the house, senate, and governor’s mansion for the first time in generations. Though I take issue with how liberals talk about gerrymandering, undoing Republicans’ anti-democratic maps was the first step to making the Michigan legislature more responsive to the will of its voters – a stunning concept in our 21st century political hellscape.

Michigan Democrats made no qualms about pushing through their agenda with full control of their state government. There was vanishingly little effort to compromise with Republicans or even get their input on how legislation should be written. In January, Democrats in the Michigan legislature passed more bills than the house had approved over the past six Januaries combined.

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They got shit done, enshrining abortion rights into state law, repealing a ban on medication abortion, pushing through a series of gun regulations, shoring up anti-discrimination statutes, and passing state budgets that allocated far more funding for affordable housing. Michigan Democrats’ accomplishments aren’t only of the culture war variety: They repealed Republicans’ anti-worker “right to work” law and ignored conservative opposition to jam through legislation forcing state government contractors to compensate employees at the level of unionized workers (this is called a prevailing wage law and all Democratic-majority legislatures should pursue it).

It is heartening in these unbearably dark times to see Democratic lawmakers finally get it. The radicalization of their Republican colleagues is complete (and has been for some time), making them unworthy to weigh in on legislative matters. To engage with Republican bad faith would be a betrayal of the voters who put Democrats in power. And it’s that power that must be wielded against conservative lawmakers who have dominated state-level politics over the past dozen years, crafting laws designed to immiserate and degrade human beings both for political gain and just for the fuck of it.

In Michigan, Democrats have ignored Republicans as they whine and rage about wokeism and socialism and whatever other “isms” make them shit their pants. Michigan Democrats have so far operated not in good faith, not in bad faith, but in no faith.

Democratic legislators in New Mexico have adopted a similar no-faith approach in riding roughshod over Republicans who have proven that they will only use governmental power to attack those who oppose their insane agenda (see southern Republicans focusing exclusively on depriving trans kids of rights as their constituents' life expectancy drops by the hour). New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who has proven quietly effective, last month signed a bill that would expand voting access by granting voter rights to formerly incarcerated people, strengthen automatic voter registration, and, critically, make Election Day a state holiday – as it is in much of the developed world.

Automatically registering voters when they interact with a government agency – the motor vehicle division, for instance – has been critical to keeping Republicans out of power in formerly purple states. Colorado has become one of the most reliably blue states in the country thanks largely to automatic voter registration. Arizona, much to Republicans’ horror, is next.

Republican lawmakers are universally opposed to the expansion of voting rights and access. This becomes painfully obvious when the first thing Republicans do when they take a state legislative majority is pass legislation restricting who can vote and when they can vote. This unconscionable attack on a basic human right would be illegal but for the far-right takeover of the U.S. judiciary, which is now full of judges playing the bad-faith Republican game with gerrymandering and voting rights crackdowns. Voting, as New Mexico Dems pointed out during debate over the pro-voting legislation, is not a privilege, but a right. It can and should never be revoked.

State-level Democrats seem to be increasingly attuned to a brand of no-faith politics in which they pass laws that need to be passed without worrying about Republican pushback. This has not yet translated to federal lawmaking; I would guess that’s because so many congressional Democrats are too old to understand the power and corrosive nature of conservative bad-faith politics. Lawmakers who came of age in the 70s and 80s are incapable of adopting the no-faith approach because they can’t acknowledge that their political opponents don’t really mean what they say. This leaves us with a crop of congressional Dems terrified of their own shadows.

For now, we can draw some modicum of hope from state-level legislators who refuse to play the bad-faith game.

Follow Denny Carter on Twitter at @CDCarter13.