The Democratic sweep of the Senate runoffs in Georgia tells us quite a few different things. Most importantly, of course, it tells us that Republicans have lost their grip on the levers of power in Congress. Thanks to Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff’s victories—and if you had “Georgia sending a Black pastor and a 33-year-old Jewish guy to the Senate” on your predictions list, I salute you—Mitch McConnell is being relegated to the minority. More than three pieces of legislation could conceivably pass in the next two years. There’s a lot of fun to be had here.
But there is much more. The wins are a testament to the power of actual organizing and campaigning, rather than soft, woolly sloganeering based on nothing much at all. They are a sign that turning out a multiracial coalition of your supporters, rather than merely lunging at white conservatives, is a good strategy. They are yet another example of the power of committed Black voters, who turned out in staggering numbers on Tuesday.
The wins are a repudiation of the idea that strong economic populism is bad politics. For once in their lives, Democrats promised voters actual, tangible benefits in the form of $2,000 stimulus checks. They promised, in other words, to just give people money. The bet appears to have paid off. Who knew that not listening to Larry Summers was a good idea?
The wins are a rejoinder to the increasingly hegemonic narrative that Democrats lost ground in November because they got too wild-eyed and radical, as Discourse Blog’s Paul Blest pointed out:
The wins also tell us just how pathetic the GOP’s ticket was. Republicans ran two mega-rich crooks who profited off the pandemic ravaging everyone else’s lives, and tried to recast them as normal in any way. Kelly Loeffler, whose husband became a billionaire just days ago, roamed Georgia doing regular-folks cosplay of the most painful variety; her clothes were so obviously shiny and new that they might as well have had the tags still on them. Loeffler and Perdue ran desperate, racist, anti-Semitic campaigns. It didn’t work.
The wins are a sign of the depth of the disarray caused by Donald Trump, who is rightfully being blamed for depressing GOP turnout thanks to his ridiculous insistence that the electoral system was rigged from top to bottom.
The wins are a signal to Stephen Breyer that, unlike some of his former colleagues, he had better hand in his resignation to the Supreme Court the second that Joe Biden says “so help me god” at his inauguration.
But above all, the wins should put the Democrats on notice. With control of the Senate in their hands, they have no more excuses. If Democrats do not do big things in the next two years, it will not simply be because the bad Republicans are blocking their path. It will be because the Democratic coalition—even after crucial evidence that boldness is politically beneficial—is not willing or capable of transformative change. The blockade to ending the filibuster or expanding the Supreme Court—the two moves that would give Democrats their biggest hope of enacting truly sweeping policies—comes from within the Democratic caucus, not just from Republican intransigence. The reluctance to use executive action to its fullest extent comes from Joe Biden, not from a threat from Mitch McConnell. The betrayals of criminal justice activists or immigrant rights advocates will have their roots in the Democratic leadership’s decisions. The forces standing in the way of an expansion of the healthcare system will be on the blue team. The people putting on the brakes will be Democrats. They will have their usual stated reasons—can’t move too far, gotta protect our moderates, there’s an election in one/two/four years—but the underlying truth is still there.
Democrats are set to have a great deal of power. They have real choices to make. The planet is dying and millions of people are suffering in an endless number of ways. Thanks to Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff’s wins, the next two years are about how much Democrats want to do, and what price they’re willing to pay for not doing enough.
Update, 12:30 p.m. ET: As I was saying!