Quiet Hardball vs Loud Weakball.

Here’s the news you won’t hear about, but the one that shapes our laws in discreet but powerful ways. The other day California legislature have ceded to Big Soda companies’ campaign to ban soda tax in the state until 2031. You might wonder how did it happen in California, of all places? This is how: because of CA ballot initiative system. A proponent of an idea, no matter how outlandish, can collect signatures to put any issue on the ballot in November. Many interests groups (especially conservative and business) use this tool to gain leverage over the local legislature by threatening to put an idea, tailored in such a way that it has a pretty good chance of passing, on the ballot and then use it as a cudgel to hammer concessions from the legislators.  They also have an option to then withdraw this initiative, if their demands were met in the legislature. Which is what happened with the soda tax: The beverage lobby ‘proposed’ to limit all new taxes and tax increases in the state to two-thirds, knowing full well that when people, even liberal Californians, see something like this on the ballot they will check ‘yes’ box. It’s the equivalent of Democrats in a red state, putting a ballot initiative that proposes to give everyone free Medicare coverage in that state – the implication being that it has such a high chance of passing that the local GOP legislature will be hard-pressed to cede to whatever Democrats demand. This is what happened in CA except it was the business lobby that forced the Democrats to bend to their will.

This is what Democrats lack: a killer instinct, the readiness to play dirty, to play hardball. And it doesn’t have to be illegal: all of the tools used by business lobby above are perfectly legal. They exploit local ballot dynamics to their advantage.

Also, if Democrats play this kind of hardball, it will be hard for the other side to accuse them of incivility (not that it matters at this point). This kind of hardball is played by men and women in suits in air-conditioned offices. It is not TV friendly, which is how they (and us, if we knew how to play it) want it. There’s no cinematic value in filing paperwork, but it delivers the results. Plus, nobody really knows about it. Quiet hardball.

I saw a meme today, a graph showing how many Democrats vs Republicans were either convicted or indicted while in office. In short, it’s not even close: GOP is a party of habitual criminals. I guess the point of the meme was to show how much more honest the Democrats are while in public service. But I read this meme in a different way: it shows how ruthless, how driven, and charged the GOP is, how they possess the sense of urgency when it comes to politics (not policy, politics!), that even if they cross a few lines it’s all worth it in the end. If so many of them are caught, think of how many of them were not and never will be. They are not deterred by the law, by the possibility of jail, where we, Democrats, still playing ‘civility’. Except Maxine Waters, she understands it.


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