In one American capital, the party in power is making big plans to overturn decades worth of policies, and boldly pursue controversial policies that change fundamental systems, from public safety to health care, despite fierce opposition.
In another American capital, the party in power is preaching caution, noting that just winning elections isn’t any kind of mandate for big change.
Which capital is which? Bizarrely, the bold party in power is the Republicans of Washington D.C. They’re pursuing massive changes –ending alliances, reversing policy on China, privatization of Medicare and the end of Obamacare, mass deportations in immigration, reversals on climate change-minded regulation — despite the fact that their president-elect got 2.5 million fewer votes than his opponent, and despite the fact that the party now has narrower majorities in the U.S. House and Senate than it did before the election.
And the cautious party is the Democrats of Sacramento. They have a popular governor and just won supermajorities in both the Assembly and Senate. But their leaders aren’t talking about using their 2/3 vote to make bold (and I dare say, necessary) changes in taxes or the broken state constitution. They have the power to rationalize the initiative process, reverse many of the constitutional constraints on budgeting, and even to begin the process of drafting a new constitution. Instead, they’re saying that supermajorities don’t matter.
In Washington, Republicans will likely be punished, by the federal system and by voters, for overreach. But Republicans don’t care—they understand that American politics requires using the power you have when you have it.
The real puzzle is why California Democrats don’t seem to understand this lesson.
Their caution is indefensible in these times. Democrats are hamstrung by broken taxes and governing systems. If they won’t use their supermajorities to fix these systems, what’s the point of winning those supermajorities?
Of course, Democrats made a fundamental mistake in not laying out an agenda for supermajorities during the campaign. But it’s not too late for the Democrats to get their act together and start aggressively using the supermajorities they won.