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The emerging Biden Doctrine seeks a new way to promote democracy – The Fulcrum

“The United States, the Biden Doctrine is making clear, is not morally responsible to make the world safe for democracy for all peoples,” writes Anderson.
It is not a defect of a refrigerator that it does not make toast. And it is not a defect of your approach to foreign policy if the autocratic state you invaded is not a democratic state when you withdraw, if your primary goal was not to transform the autocratic state into a democratic state.

President Biden says he is not a Wilsonian idealist, someone who wanted a democratic Afghanistan in the same way JFK and LBJ wanted a democratic Vietnam during the Cold War. Nor does he say that the nation-building idealism that led us into Afghanistan (and Iraq) is a point of view he embraces.
The president, who is in the process of articulating and advancing the Biden Doctrine, should also say: The withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan admittedly could have been executed more effectively. Yet a lesson for all, as he has essentially said, is to take the concept of nation-building off of our foreign policy pedestal.
Our pedestal goal in Afghanistan, Biden is telling us, was to protect ourselves from terrorist attacks. And by killing Osama bin Laden and destroying al-Qaida we achieved our goal. Although we spent $887 billion to do this, plus an additional $1.4 trillion in indirect costs, it is a miracle that we lost only 120 valiant American soldiers and advisors per year over the course of 20 years.

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Since 9/11 we have no longer been fighting European-rooted wars or a geopolitical war with the former Soviet Union. America certainly has democratic ideals, but they cannot be packaged in 20th century terms.
The president has made it clear that we bless and express our deepest gratitude to those who sacrificed their lives for the people of the United States to live in safety and with less fear and anxiety. Yet we must understand that who runs Afghanistan is not a matter of preeminent importance to the United States. We are dedicated to saving every American, and we are pained by cruelty toward Afghans, especially women and children. But we cannot save the Afghan people or their country.
The United States, the Biden Doctrine is making clear, is not morally responsible to make the world safe for democracy for all peoples. We are instead morally responsible to protect the lives of our own people, even as we do what we can, within limits, to help those most vulnerable in the world.
The president will be leading a Summit on Democracy this December and again next year that will address the challenge of promoting democracies over autocratic regimes. This summit, however, should not frame its goals either with the point of view of Woodrow Wilson or George W. Bush. Promoting democracy in the third and fourth decades of the 21st century requires a more discriminating taxonomy of concepts than were needed in 2001 or 1962 or 1917.

The fall of Kabul to the Taliban provides a reality check on balancing the good we have done with the reality of the near impossible quest that was neither achieved nor a wise American goal. Yet it is possible for existing democracies to strengthen themselves and work together to fight the coronavirus, climate change and economic inequality. Eradicating autocratic regimes from the planet, on the other hand, is not very likely and should not be a primary goal for the world’s democracies. The autocratic regimes should be contained as democratic nations move forward together.
Idealism and realism in international relations have been the two dominant approaches for 100 years. Our idealist tradition developed as a response to World War I and our realist tradition was fully developed during the Cold War. These are dated binary alternatives. A robust approach of pragmatism is still waiting to be articulated and advanced, one that would have a natural home in the American pragmatist tradition, one that includes figures ranging from John Dewey to Abraham Lincoln.
The Biden Doctrine that is emerging seeks to find a third way that is to be found less in between Wilson and Richard Nixon than over and above them — a point of view that carves out an ambitious new center in foreign affairs. We want to affirm our own democratic ideals and collaborate with other established or budding democracies, but we do not want to police the world or engage in nation-building.
This same robust pragmatism is needed in our domestic politics in order to achieve civility, common ground and bipartisanship. The Biden Doctrine abroad therefore needs to be quilted together with a Biden approach to domestic politics.
Although a government shutdown has been temporarily avoided, there’s no shortage of pressing issues on Capitol Hill.
The federal government will narrowly avoid another shutdown as Congress plans to approve funding for agencies and operations through early December.

Congressional leaders came together on a band-aid solution just hours before the end of the fiscal year Thursday night, as spending was set to expire. Because Congress only agreed to a temporary solution, lawmakers will have to address it all over again in 65 days.
And there’s scant time to start on a long-term spending solution because there’s no shortage of other pressing issues on Capitol Hill: Lawmakers will need to raise or suspend the country’s debt ceiling by mid-October. Democrats are trying to cobble together enough votes to pass a massive bipartisan infrastructure bill and a separate economic package, two of Biden’s top priorities. And major voting rights and election reform legislation also lies in wait.
Partisan disputes in Congress kept lawmakers from reaching a solution earlier. Leaders of both parties said they wanted to avoid a government shutdown, but disagreed on how to do so. Democrats tried to pass a measure earlier this week that both funded the government and suspended the debt ceiling, but Senate Republicans blocked the effort.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said if Democrats want to raise the debt ceiling, they’ll have to do it on their own. By forcing the issue to a party-line vote, Republicans hope to use the higher debt ceiling as evidence of out-of-control Democratic spending during the midterm elections — even though a significant portion of the debt accrued came from spending and tax breaks approved by the GOP during the Trump administration.

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Thursday’s vote on a stopgap spending bill will provide interim funding for the government and keep critical services running during the Covid-19 pandemic. Before it spending expires Dec. 3, lawmakers will need to either approve another short-term solution, known as a continuing resolution, or approve appropriations to fund the government through the end of 2022.
Close calls like this and actual government shutdowns have become increasingly common over the years. In the last decade, there have been three government shutdowns, including a 34-day closure in 2019, the longest one in American history. Since the current budget process was introduced in the 1970s, there have been 20 funding gaps — four of which have resulted in shutdowns lasting more than one business day.
The last time Congress approved federal appropriations before the fiscal year ended, with no need for continuing resolutions, was 1997, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

Because Congress is so polarized, it’s tough for legislation to garner the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster in the Senate. This hurdle is especially difficult “when you’re talking about things in the budget process where Congress first has to agree on big, top-line numbers for how much they want to spend across the board and then they actually have to proceed to the hard work of dividing up the pie,” said Molly Reynolds, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution.
Appropriations measures also become popular targets for other, unrelated issues because of their “must pass” status, which can ramp up the drama. These combined challenges are why Congress finds itself flirting with shutdowns so often, Reynolds said.
To make the federal budget process more functional, Reynolds said, Congress should develop the appropriations bills individually in their respective subcommittees and bring them to the floor in “minibus,” or smaller, packages rather than omnibus packages that put all the appropriations bills together.
“In 2018, we had both the start of a record-long government shutdown and also, earlier in 2018, we had Congress’s most productive appropriations year in several decades. Part of what made that happen was this minibus strategy,” Reynolds said.
The minibus strategy allowed some of the appropriations bills to pass that year, keeping significant parts of the government funded, even though other parts shut down.
“We don’t live in the political world that we lived in when Congress wrote the Congressional Budget Act of 1974,” Reynolds said, adding that lawmakers should try to figure out “what are the things about the 1974 process that we think are valuable and that we can keep, and then how do we adapt other parts of the process to recognize the [current] political realities.”
While Congress has skirted another government shutdown for now, the debt ceiling deadline still looms. If the debt limit isn’t raised or suspended by Oct. 18, according to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, the U.S. won’t be able to pay its bills and the country could default for the first time ever. Because so many countries rely on the U.S. economy, such an outcome would have dire and unpredictable repercussions around the globe.
Democrats could raise the debt ceiling on their own through a process called reconciliation, which only requires a simple majority to pass in the Senate, rather than the usual 60 needed to overcome a filibuster. However, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has refused to resort to reconciliation, calling it “risky” and “uncharted waters.”
The reconciliation process can only be used once per fiscal year and Democrats are already considering using it to pass their $3.5 trillion domestic policy package. However, the fate of that legislation and the $1 trillion infrastructure bill remains uncertain as the Democratic party is divided over how much money to spend on what programs.
And amid the drama over the federal budget and infrastructure package, two landmark election reform bills have taken a backseat, despite voting rights advocates’ urgent calls for passage. The Freedom to Vote Act was introduced earlier this month as a compromise version of the For the People Act. Both the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act face long odds in the Senate if the filibuster remains intact.
President Biden needs to employ some newer forms of leverage in order to advance his agenda, writes Anderson.
The centrist and progressive wings of the Democratic Party are either giving birth to a compromise to move President Biden’s agenda (and their agendas) forward, or they are strangling each other.
Make no mistake, the drama on Capitol Hill this week is not only or even chiefly about whether Biden’s agenda will move forward. The drama is chiefly about the health and direction of the Democratic Party. And although the Republicans of course are also players on the Washington stage — especially concerning the debt ceiling issue and a potential government shutdown — the dominant themes are controlled by the Democrats.
The centrists, especially Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, want the infrastructure bill to be passed by the House and they want a scaled-down version of the social-services-oriented $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill. The progressives, especially the group led by “the Squad “and Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal, want the full $3.5 trillion and a demand that the Senate agree to it before they vote yes on the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
The fighting from afar looks like good old fashioned leveraging and horse trading. We all know that Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer are making promises and deals behind closed doors and Biden is offering what he can to get what he can.

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In this context it is useful to ask the centrists and the progressives if they are relying too much on traditional bargaining leverage and the rigidly defined concepts of their faction.
A more constructive approach at this stage is to employ resource leverage to transform the Democratic Party and better position the president to lead it. With resource leverage, a concept that has become more widely known and used in the last generation, you get the most from the least. With information technology, for example, you get 1 million emails to 1 million potential customers or voters — from one email.
The concept of leverage from ancient physics involves using a minimum input to create a maximum output with a fulcrum of some kind. With resource leverage, the levers may be social or political or economic or psychological rather than physical. Moreover, resources leveraged creatively generate new products, services and brands.
Resource leverage goes beyond traditional physical leverage and traditional bargaining leverage.
The question for the Democrats is what resources can they leverage to transform their factions and their party to serve the nation? Rather than using threats of withholding votes as leverage to get what they want, how can they leverage resources, which includes relationships, to transform their party and our country?

Presumably the solution finds a new center for the Democrats which rejects old concepts about moderation and progressivism. Legislators must break out of their molds and not only compromise but redefine.
Getting from traditional bargaining leverage and negotiations driven by threats to creative resource leveraging is extremely difficult. But greatness requires creativity and imagination and not just dedication and hard negotiating.
The solution, whatever it is, concerns the entire Democratic Party and the nation overall. In truth, any viable solution must address financial leverage as well, since the debt ceiling issue revolves around this third critical concept of leverage.
Indeed, leveraging is not only central to the strategy needed to resolve the crisis, it is central to the content of the crisis itself. This should come as no surprise since leveraging is, at least I have argued, the dominant theme of our time.
If the focus given by the Democrats is on passing the president’s agenda, the effort may fail. At the same time, the one person in Washington who can transcend transactional bargaining leverage for transformational resource leverage is President Biden.
In this episode of Democracy Works from The McCourtney Institute for Democracy, the team looks at the impact of Amazon on democracy and America’s social fabric.

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California permanently adopts universal vote by mail

California became the largest state to permanently adopt universal mail-in ballot distribution when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the measure into law Monday.

The Golden State, like many of the others that expanded access to mail-in ballots as an emergency change in 2020, saw record turnout in November. The state extended this policy into 2021, including in the September recall election. Once again, it saw higher than expected turnout.

“When voters get a ballot in the mail, they vote,” said California legislator Marc Berman, author of the vote-by-mail bill. “We saw this in the 2020 general election when, in the middle of a global health pandemic, we had the highest voter turnout in California since Harry Truman was president.”

The law does not require voters to cast their ballot by mail. Californians who are more comfortable voting in person can still do so.

Keep reading…

Debate

Our freedom

Last year’s election saw record-high turnout, and voting rights advocates say they have seen that enthusiasm for civic engagement carry through 2021. For National Voter Registration Day on Tuesday, it’s all hands on deck to keep the momentum going, writes Jeff Clements, president of American Promise.

Podcast

Podcast: Depolarizing America: Bridge Builders: Bringing People Together.

In this episode of the Let’s Find Common Ground podcast, the Common Ground Committee team looks at the growing movement of bridge builders pushing back against the toxic polarization that separates us.

Pop Culture

Political humor during tough times

As The Fulcrum connects American culture to democracy we would be remiss if we left out comedy. Comedians have a way of expressing uncomfortable truths in a way we can hear it. And we can laugh at ourselves, too.

Top Post
California became the largest state to permanently adopt universal mail-in ballot distribution when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the measure into law Monday.

The Golden State, like many of the others that expanded access to mail-in ballots as an emergency change in 2020, saw record turnout in November. The state extended this policy into 2021, including in the September recall election. Once again, it saw higher than expected turnout.

“When voters get a ballot in the mail, they vote,” said California legislator Marc Berman, author of the vote-by-mail bill. “We saw this in the 2020 general election when, in the middle of a global health pandemic, we had the highest voter turnout in California since Harry Truman was president.”

The law does not require voters to cast their ballot by mail. Californians who are more comfortable voting in person can still do so.

Keep reading…
Debate
Last year’s election saw record-high turnout, and voting rights advocates say they have seen that enthusiasm for civic engagement carry through 2021. For National Voter Registration Day on Tuesday, it’s all hands on deck to keep the momentum going, writes Jeff Clements, president of American Promise.
Podcast
In this episode of the Let’s Find Common Ground podcast, the Common Ground Committee team looks at the growing movement of bridge builders pushing back against the toxic polarization that separates us.
Pop Culture
As The Fulcrum connects American culture to democracy we would be remiss if we left out comedy. Comedians have a way of expressing uncomfortable truths in a way we can hear it. And we can laugh at ourselves, too.
Griffiths is the national editor of Independent Voter News, where a version of this story first appeared.

California became the largest state to permanently adopt universal mail-in ballot distribution when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the measure into law Monday.

The Golden State, like many of the others that expanded access to mail-in ballots as an emergency change in 2020, saw record turnout in November. The state extended this policy into 2021, including in the September recall election. Once again, it saw higher than expected turnout.

“When voters get a ballot in the mail, they vote,” said California legislator Marc Berman, author of the vote-by-mail bill. “We saw this in the 2020 general election when, in the middle of a global health pandemic, we had the highest voter turnout in California since Harry Truman was president.”

The law does not require voters to cast their ballot by mail. Californians who are more comfortable voting in person can still do so.

California is the eighth state to adopt universal mail-in ballot distribution, following Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Hawaii, Nevada, and Vermont. A handful of states have gone the opposite direction in 2021 and either barred or limited sending unsolicited mail-in ballot applications and/or ballots, regardless of the impact it had on turnout.

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The new California law applies to both the primary election in June and the general election in November. For most races, it means every voter will receive a primart ballot that includes all candidates running for legislative seats, statewide offices and Congress, regardless of party. The presidential election, however, is a bit more complicated.

California has a nonpartisan open primary for all races except the presidential election, in which the parties are allowed to choose whether voters registered outside a political party can participate. Some parties don’t. Under the new law, voters will have to request a specific party’s ballot within a certain period of time if their chosen party even allows such a request.
If they don’t pick a party, voters registered No Party Preference will receive a blank page for the presidential primary. There are more than 5.1 million registered NPP voters in California.
This “semi-closed” system has contributed to widespread confusion in California.
Sen. Susan Collins “has long believed that the power of a few people to use their money to control elections violates the equal rights of all Americans,” writes Clements.
“We’re under an avalanche. No one can hear us, and we can’t hear each other.”

That’s my friend, David Trahan. He’s a logger in Waldoboro, Maine. He’s also a former Republican senator in the state Legislature and leads the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. Trahan and SAM represent the interests of 300,000 Maine people who hunt, fish and trap in the state’s vast woods, rivers and lakes. SAM is also Maine’s leading advocate in defense of the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
Under an avalanche. Trahan is talking about the 2020 U.S. Senate race between incumbent Susan Collins and her Democratic challenger, Sarah Gideon. In a mostly rural state with a small population, billionaires, corporations, some big unions and various front groups from Washington, D.C., and a few other cities spent more than $200 million to bury Maine voters in a relentless sleaze bomb attack of division, disinformation and fear. The dirty game was completely bipartisan, and a snapshot of what Americans in every state are facing. Indeed, at $200 million, Maine did not even make it into the top five of big-money Senate elections.
Trahan has become a leader in American Promise’s constitutional amendment campaign to fix this problem for good. Like most Americans, he wants an amendment to the U.S Constitution so we can have even-handed limits on how much money anyone can contribute or spend in elections.

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Trahan was glad that Collins was re-elected. He has supported her for a long time. But his candidate’s win does not make him any less concerned about the future of America without this American Promise amendment in the Constitution. And he has high hopes that Collins can help make it happen, and, he says, for good reason.
Collins has long believed that the power of a few people to use their money to control elections violates the equal rights of all Americans.
She was a leader in the passage of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act that limited the ability of billionaires, corporations, unions, foreign governments and other entities to run big money into elections through super PACs and “dark money” channels.
This bipartisan law now is defunct only because the Supreme Court struck it down — as well as many more state and federal anti-corruption laws — by fabricating a kooky new theory about the First Amendment. Corporate and big-money political operatives sold the court an idea that those with a lot of money — whether they are human beings, global corporations, big government unions, or dark money super PACs — have a “free speech” right to spend as much money as they want to get control of our government and officeholders — no matter the cost to other Americans.

Money is free speech? Corporations are people? So say the justices on the Supreme Court (none of whom has ever run for even local office, and few of whom have ever talked with a jury of Americans in a local or state courthouse).
Americans aren’t buying the “money is speech” experiment, and for a simple reason. After a decade in the lab of American democracy, the experiment has been a catastrophe for the country. No one who can’t afford the new price of admission for “speech” is feeling represented, respected or even connected with the elected politicians and government that results from the big-money attack game. Almost all of us now are “under the avalanche.”
Early in her career, Collins put the counter-argument to this “money is free speech” theory. “Why should [the big money] matter, we are asked by those all too eager to equate freedom of speech with freedom to spend. It should matter because political equality is the essence of democracy, and an electoral system driven by big money is one lacking in political equality.”
How money is used in elections goes to the heart of Americans’ equal rights. All Americans, no matter how rich or how poor, have a right to participate in elections, be represented, have an opportunity to be heard, and to debate issues and candidates. These rights cannot be sold or bought because they belong to everyone. As Trahan says, “Money can’t buy the deep love and passion we feel for the freedom our Constitution guarantees.”
So, it’s about equality, but as Trahan shows, it’s about freedom, too. Our freedom; the freedom of every American. When only the richest individuals, the biggest corporations, or the most powerful unions or special interests are free, no one is free.
Freedom and equality. Too often we think of these as in opposition to each other. But freedom is our freedom, or it’s no freedom. Freedom is not the same as individualism; instead, freedom follows from our equality as citizens and human beings in society, together.
If we are equal in the eyes of our Creator and our Constitution, our own freedoms must be reciprocal, and in relationship to each other. Freedom exists when citizens, all of whom have equal rights as each one has, can debate, argue and compete, over time, election after election, decision after decision, in the various perspectives of what make sound laws and healthy norms in our society.
In contrast to the justices, Collins learned this lesson in her Caribou, Maine, birthplace near the Canadian border, and over a long career in competitive politics and debate.
She and all New Englanders are familiar with nearly four centuries of local democracy in the town meeting, where all the community’s citizens have a right to debate and together to decide budgets and priorities; crime and safety, environmental, zoning and business regulations; and everything else.
Collins once pointed to this experience to explain all you need to know about the First Amendment and money in politics. “Attend a town meeting,” she said, “and you will observe an element of true democracy: People with more money do not get to speak longer and louder than people with less money.”
The constitutional amendment favored by Trahan and so many Americans is advancing rapidly, with 22 states so far calling on Congress to act, and versions of amendment language competing in Congress to reach the two-thirds threshold. Legal experts, business and civic leaders, health care and faith leaders are joining the campaign. And a nonpartisan and diverse panel of experts convened by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences has endorsed the American Promise effort and urged ratification of this constitutional amendment no later than July 4, 2026.
July 4, 2026. What more fit way to honor America’s hard, bumpy and fractious 250-year journey to freedom, equality and constitutional democracy than the ratification of a For Our Freedom Amendment so we can dig us out of the avalanche, and renew our promise?

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