Is It Time for Democrats to Fight Dirty?

Political science professor David Faris joins Mehdi Hasan to discuss the structural reforms that could redress the power imbalance in Washington.

Photo illustration: Soohee Cho/The Intercept, Getty Images

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The 12 leading Democratic candidates met in Westerville, Ohio, on Tuesday for the fourth debate of the 2020 primary season. The usual topics — health care, taxes, the impeachment inquiry — dominated the discussion, but the CNN moderators also asked the candidates to weigh in on a controversial proposal gaining currency of late on the left to expand the Supreme Court. So-called court packing is normally a taboo in U.S. politics, and predictably the top contenders were reluctant to endorse it. David Faris, professor of political science at Roosevelt University and author of “It’s Time to Fight Dirty: How Democrats Can Build a Lasting Majority in American Politics,” believes that court packing is precisely the type of radical structural reform that Democrats and progressives need to pursue if they want a chance at defeating the right in years to come. He joins Mehdi Hasan to discuss what the left can do to overcome minority rule in Washington.

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Mehdi Hasan: Before we start the show today, I have a quick message for our listeners in Canada—Deconstructed is coming to the Hot Docs Podcast Festival in Toronto on Friday November the 8th at 6:30pm with a panel of amazing guests. Lots of other great podcasts will be putting on shows there that weekend, including Vox’s Today, Explained and Jon Ronson’s The Butterfly Effect.

This is your chance to see a taping of the show live and in person, so head over to for tickets or go to the Deconstructed episode page on The Intercept website. Now, on to this week’s show.

Bernie Sanders: I will tell you what the issue is here, the issue is whether the Democratic party has the guts, whether we have the guts to stand up to the corrupt, price-fixing pharmaceutical industry. And if we don’t have the guts to do that, we should be ashamed of ourselves.

[Music interlude.]

MH: Welcome to Deconstructed. I’m Mehdi Hasan. And that was Senator Bernie Sanders at the fourth Democratic presidential debate on Tuesday, acting as if he’d never had a heart attack.

It was a lively night, with strong performances from Sanders and also from Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren and maybe even Cory Booker too. But whoever wins the nomination, are they ready to take the fight to the Republicans next year? And not just defeat Donald Trump but transform the political system in this country?

David Faris: You have to do things that might feel procedurally disruptive if in fact, you want to get progressive legislation passed. If you’re not willing to abolish the filibuster in the Senate, you might as well just go golfing for four years because you’re not going to get a thing done.

MH: That’s my guest today, the writer and academic David Faris, author of the contentious book “It’s Time To Fight Dirty: How Democrats Can Build a Lasting Majority in American Politics.” He says the Democrats need to grow a backbone and fight fire with fire. But are any of the 12 candidates who we saw on stage this week willing to listen to him?

On Tuesday night, some of us gave up three hours of our evening to watch a record twelve candidates, twelve candidates — seven of them, by the way, former Deconstructed guests — crowd onto the stage in Ohio to debate. And I use the word debate in the loosest of terms.

Anderson Cooper: And live from Otterbein University just north of Columbus, Ohio, this is the CNN/New York Times Democratic presidential debate.

MH: We did though see Pete Buttigieg go after Elizabeth Warren.

Pete Buttigieg: Your signature, senator, is to have a plan for everything, except this.

MH: Amy Klobuchar go after Elizabeth Warren.

Amy Klobuchar: I appreciate Elizabeth’s work but again, the difference between a plan and a pipe dream is something that you can actually get done.

MH: Beto O’Rourke go after Elizabeth Warren.

Beto O’Rourke: Sometimes I think that Senator Warren is more focused on being punitive or pitting some part of the country against the other.

MH: Joe Biden go after Elizabeth Warren.

Joe Biden: The question is who’s going to be able to get it done? And part of that requires you not being vague.

MH: In fact, everyone except Bernie Sanders went after the new frontrunner and top target Senator Elizabeth Warren. Bernie and Liz though still seem to have their non-aggression pact in place. You know who Bernie went after by the way? Apart from his usual targets of billionaires, bankers and fossil fuel companies? Joe Biden. This was one of my favorite moments from Tuesday’s debate.

JB: I’m going to say something that is probably going to offend some people here, but I’m the only one on this stage that has gotten anything really big done.

AC: Senator Sanders, respond.

BS: In two ways, Joe, you talked about working with Republicans and getting things done. But you know what you also got done? And I say this as a good friend. You got the disastrous war in Iraq done. You got a bankruptcy bill, which is hurting middle-class families all over this country. You got trade agreements, like NAFTA and PNTR, with China done, which have cost us four million jobs.

MH: I think it’s fair to say, and many of his usual critics have conceded this too, that Bernie was on fire on Tuesday night. Reports of his political demise were much exaggerated. The proverbial martian landing outside the debate hall in Ohio would have refused to believe you if you told them that it was Bernie Sanders, and not Joe Biden, who had a heart attack just two weeks earlier. Did Bernie get stents put into that artery or rocket launchers? Here’s how he responded when CNN host Erin Burnett tried to ask him about his health:

Erin Burnett: Now to the issue of candidates and their health. Senator Sanders, I want to start with you. We’re moving on, Senator, I’m sorry.

BS: I’m healthy. I’m feeling great, but I would like to —

EB: Well —

BS: — Respond to that question.

EB: I want to start by saying, this debate does mark your return to the campaign trail. Go ahead and finish your point and then I’ll ask my question, Senator.

BS: I’m more than happy to answer your question but I wanted to pick up on what Kamala and Cory and other have said. Let’s take a deep breath. Take a look at this opioid epidemic. They knew that they were selling a product to communities all over this country which were addicting people and killing them. And last year, the top ten drug companies made $69 billion in profit. This is what unfettered capitalism is doing to this country.

MH: Only Bernie Sanders can get asked about a heart attack and pivot to an attack on “unfettered capitalism.” Bernie had a great night, probably his best debate so far and before it was even over, he got one of the biggest boosts his campaign could get — the much-sought-after endorsement of three of the four members of the Squad, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. So much for all those lazy liberal critics of Sanders who pretend his whole campaign is powered only by white, middle-aged reactionary Bernie Bros. Not quite.

Talking of reactionary white men, though, Joe Biden I thought had an awful night. Again. I know a lot of pundits disagree with me on this but that’s because they grade him, like they grade Trump, on a curve. The reality is that we saw what my colleague Ryan Grim has called his “sunsetting incoherence” on full display. This is a candidate who rambled and ranted, stumbled and stuttered, confused Iraq with Syria, confused Iraq with Afghanistan, couldn’t answer the most basic of questions about his son Hunter and Ukraine, and who wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with the capital gains tax.

JB: I would eliminate the capital gains tax — I would raise the capital gains tax to the highest rate, of 39.5 percent. I would double it.

MH: There was even this moment where Biden first shouted at and then patronized Elizabeth Warren.

JB: I went on the floor and got you votes. I got votes for that bill. I convinced people to vote for it, so let’s get those things straight too.

AC: Senator Warren, do you want to respond?

Elizabeth Warren: I am deeply grateful to President Obama who fought so hard to make sure that agency was passed into law and I am deeply grateful to every single person who fought for it and who helped pass it into law.

JB: You did a hell of a job at your job.

EW: Thank you.

MH: One of the most annoying moments of the debate came when CNN asked this question about the Supreme Court.

EB: Vice President Biden, the Constitution does not specify the number of justices that serve on the Supreme Court. If Roe v. Wade is overturned on your watch and you can’t pass legislation in Congress, would you seek to add justices to the Supreme Court to protect women’s reproductive rights?

MH: Joe Biden said he wouldn’t do it. He wouldn’t pack the court. Julian Castro said he wouldn’t do it. Elizabeth Warren would only say she’s willing to “talk” about it. The only person who said he’d do it was Mayor Pete.

And this is part of what I want to talk about on the show today. Because it’s all very well having grand plans for healthcare reform or gun control or taking on the oligarchy, as Bernie likes to put it, but if you can’t get any of those plans passed because a Republican Party with a minority of the vote keeps blocking you in the Senate, or a nakedly partisan Supreme Court filled with men who stole seats keeps ruling against you, then what’s the point of them? What’s the point of those plans? When will Democrats, confronted by a far-right, obstructionist, anti-democratic Republican Party, when will they learn to fight back, fight harder, fight better, or even, fight dirty?

[Music interlude.]

MH: My guest today is David Faris, associate professor of political science at Roosevelt University and the author of the acclaimed and controversial book, “It’s Time to Fight Dirty: How Democrats Can Build a Lasting Majority in American Politics.” He joins me now from Chicago. David Faris, thanks for joining me on Deconstructed.

David Faris: Pleasure to be here.

MH: Before we get into Tuesday night’s debate and what you made of the Democratic presidential candidates, I just told our listeners that your book is a very important book. It’s clearly “A Call to Arms” but explain to our listeners, what it is that you’re calling for when you say it’s time to fight dirty, a very provocative phrase, I think it’s fair to say, what exactly do you mean by that?

DF: So the thesis of the book is that Democrats are fighting elections on an unfair playing field. In other words, that we frequently lose elections that we should have one. And so the idea of fighting dirty is not, you know, digging up dirt on your opponents or soliciting intervention from a foreign power. It’s using the perfectly legal, perfectly constitutional powers that the next democratic government will have to do things like add states to the union to rectify the imbalance in the Senate, to change the way that we vote for the House to end gerrymandering. And so the book offers a set of reforms, all fully constitutional, that can be passed into law the next time democrats are in power in DC, and it links all of the ways that Democrats are at a disadvantage in our antiquated, ridiculous electoral system and offers some sort of a practical ways out of that mess.

MH: And you’re not advocating for the breaking of laws or doing criminal illegal things. You’re saying work within the system, play, I think what the academics call constitutional hardball.

DF: Exactly. Yeah. So no, I’m not calling for any criminal activity, any collaboration with foreign powers or anything like that. It’s really just, you know, use the powers that you have the next time you win a presidential election, and the next time you take Congress to make sure that you have a better chance of staying in power, and also to stop losing elections that you’ve actually won.

MH: And we’ll talk about what those powers are that the Democrats can use in a moment, just before we get to that point, just to set the scene as to where we are, because some listeners, I’m very much on board with what you’re saying. Some of our listeners might not be. You say in your book that under normal circumstances altering the political system suddenly and in the myriad ways recommended here would be a dreadful idea. But normal circumstances assume that a functioning democracy is in place. You say it isn’t. You say, “This country is indeed, in an end of the world scenario, a crisis just as grave as that faced by our political elites prior to the Civil War itself.” David, justify that claim to our listeners, why is America in 2019 in as grave a crisis as America in 1860, in your view?

DF: Well, I think the biggest problem has very little to do with Donald Trump and a lot to do with the way that the Republican Party itself has declared war on representative democracy. And that’s everything from all of these sort of voter suppression laws in the states, purging voters from the rolls. And it’s also sort of procedural escalations mostly perpetrated by Mitch McConnell in the Senate holding open a Supreme Court seat which was unprecedented in 2016, eliminating the filibuster for those nominees. So what you see is you see a Republican Party doing everything that it possibly can to entrench its power against the political majority, democratic political majority that we have in this country. And they are willing to do and say just about anything to prevent a legitimate majority from taking power. But the problem is it’s not just Republicans, right? It’s also our our institutions and the combination of those factors means that we now have a government in DC that represents a political minority. We have a Senate that represents a political minority. And so we have a Supreme Court that represents a political minority. And I think if you take those three things together, what they do is they deeply de-legitimize our democracy. And so what I see is an emergency, right, when you have a government wielding power on behalf of people, you know, less than half of the country, and then passing policies and laws that punish them and that are deeply divisive.

MH: And it is a curious definition of democracy, which allows a minority to control most of the branches of government, which allows parties to get majorities in a legislature either the House of Representatives or a state legislature without winning a majority of the vote while winning a minority of the vote. And yet, whenever you make this point, and I’ve made this point before, some smart ass on Twitter says, but we’re a republic, not a democracy. What do you say to them?

DF: That’s just it’s a very absurd claim that I assume that they remember vaguely from like a freshman level American government class from 20 years ago.

MH: If that.

DF: If that, yeah. The reality is, you know, there is no democracy on earth that works in the way that the “republic not a democracy” people think it does, you know. The United States is unique in the world of democracies in the way that some of its institutions really, you know, accidentally or sometimes on purpose empower the people that got fewer votes in the election, you know.

MH: Indeed.

DF: And it’s absurd in comparative perspective. People from other countries are like, what is this Electoral College? It’s crazy, you know.

MH: Two presidents from the Republican Party in the last 20 years elected while not winning a majority of the vote, while failing to win the popular vote.

DF: Exactly. And if we if we did not use that system, if the person who won the most votes won the presidency, Democrats would have a six-three majority on the Supreme Court right now and our politics would look very, very different.

MH: Talking about politics looking very different — On Tuesday night, the Democratic presidential candidates spent three hours getting into some very detailed discussions, by cable news standards, detailed discussions about universal basic income versus a federal jobs guarantee, about Medicare-for-All versus a public option, mandatory gun buybacks versus universal background checks. You argue in your book, though that Democrats have fallen into this trap of thinking that politics or elections are about policies or about policy differences when they’re not, you say. You talk about the actual structural barriers to them winning power, not about whether they or their ideas are popular or not. Let’s talk about some of the proposals that you’re making in your book and that you say the Democrats should push for if they take control of the White House and presumably the Senate too. What kind of things do you want to see happen across the board? Let’s just run through them. What do you think should happen in the Senate?

DF: Okay, so the Senate, you know, so Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed with senators representing 46% of the population and opposed by senators representing 54% of the population. There’s a deep structural imbalance in the Senate and you really can’t do anything about it in terms of the Constitution because the Constitution says that states can’t be deprived of their equal representation there without their consent. So I woke up after Election Day 2016 very depressed. And I was like, “Well, look, what can we do about this?” You know, and sort of the day one solution is you make Washington DC and you make Puerto Rico states. They would almost certainly send four Democrats to Washington. And then let’s say that we have a 51-49 majority after the 2020 elections, right? Day one, DC, Puerto Rico, suddenly you have a 55-49 majority, right? And maybe you do have the votes to get around a Joe Manchin.

MH: What was interesting in your book, and as we’ve discussed in terms of the Senate and the states, is you say, “While many people assume that critical features of our electoral politics are enshrined in the Constitution, few of them actually are.” And I think people are unaware of that. And even elected Democrats, I would argue, are either unaware of that or don’t want to talk about the fact that there are practical proposals on the table that don’t involve impossible constitutional amendments, and that can be done. But David, what about the fact that a lot of these Democrats just don’t have it in them to fight dirty. They’re not Republicans. They don’t want to be Republicans. They’re not built for it. They don’t know how to be fighters. The Democrats bring a knife to a gunfight the Republicans bring a rocket launcher.

DF: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s changing slowly. But I think you’re absolutely right. So for instance, the idea of adding justices to the Supreme Court next year, you could hear on Tuesday night’s debate sort of skepticism, even of leading Democratic contenders for the presidency, about what is, you know, a perfectly legal, perfectly constitutional maneuver that would really help the next Democratic administration get things done. And yet, you know, most of the people up on that stage would not endorse something like that. I think that the Democrats have sort of, a long standing bias towards bipartisan cooperation, getting things done, being the practical minded-set in Congress. And I think probably to be honest with you, I think what probably has to happen is that a new Democratic government comes into power, and then they can’t get anything done because they’re not willing to do any of these things.

MH: Yeah, but even then, David, I mean, Obama couldn’t get a lot of stuff done. And yet his vice president for eight years who watched Obama not be able to get anything done, that same vice president is now running a campaign where he says, “Oh, we can reach out to Republicans. I’m the guy who can do a deal with Mitch McConnell.” They don’t seem to have learned lessons. Not all of them anyways, or not most of them from the eight years of Obama and Mitch McConnell saying we must reduce Obama to a one-term president and the Republicans being the party of no.

DF: Yeah, I mean, I think Joe Biden is delusional. I don’t know what else to say about that other that he is committed to a set of norms that are that are dead, that have been destroyed by his adversaries. And he still wants to play by those rules, which I think is crazy and I think he’s getting a lot of heat for that in the primary. I do think that we’ve gotten to the place where we might be able to abolish the filibuster to pass routine legislation through the Senate. You know, Senator Warren has gotten behind that proposal. She’s been I think, the leading advocate in the field for those things.

MH: Yes. And she repeated it again on Tuesday night in the context of gun control, not being able to get gun control through the Senate, even though it had 54 senators behind it because you have this ridiculous 60 Senate bar anti-majoritarian hurdle.

DF: Yeah, it’s crazy. I mean, when you talk about the vote after Sandy Hook about gun control, it’s like we lost the vote 54 to 46. And it’s like, what do you like, what are you talking about? Like that’s a win, that should be a win in any other democracy on earth, right? You pass laws with simple majorities, because that is how democracy is supposed to work. And I think that Warren sees this better than anyone in the field that you have to do things that might feel procedurally disruptive if in fact, you want to get progressive legislation passed. If you don’t like I don’t understand what the point of running for office is, if you’re not going to pursue your priorities.

MH: It’s a line Warren said in one of the earlier debates to John Delaney. “What’s the point of running for the presidency only to say what you can’t do and shouldn’t try and have?” You say in your book, “Democrats must be prepared to mimic their tormentors by intentionally destroying the Trump administration and then unleashing this dizzying array of electoral and institutional reforms when they recapture total power.” The problem is Democrats are horrified at the idea of mimicking their tormenters. You talk to liberals or talk to Democrats, they say, “Oh, we want to keep the moral high ground. We don’t want to lower ourselves to Republican or Trumpian standards.” It’s almost self destructive on their part.

DF: It’s deeply self-destructive. And it also, I think, relies on the public, the voters to punish politicians for their bad behavior. And I think unfortunately, what we saw during the Obama era is quite the opposite, right, where Republicans determined from from the get-go that they were not going to work with Obama at all, far from it. They were going to use every institutional power at their disposal to stop him from passing laws, to stop him from staffing the judiciary, to stop him from filling that Supreme Court seat. And I remember back in 2015, 2016, thinking like, you know, surely now that they are holding up a seat on the Supreme Court — the most absurd thing I’ve ever seen — surely the voters will come out and punish them for it, and they simply didn’t. I think the lesson is that obstruction if you sort of torpedo the President’s agenda, it makes the president look bad. It turns the —

MH: Yeah, there isn’t a cost.

DF: There’s no cost for it.

MH: And have you had any positive responses to your book from any of the Senate or House leadership on the Democratic side from the Schumer’s or Pelosi’s of this world.

DF: I think unfortunately, because of the title of the book, nobody wants to be seen with it. But you know, the way that people are talking about Supreme Court reform, the way I think DC and Puerto Rico statehood has become kind of a default position within the party. I do think that the ideas in the book are out there. I think they’re being discussed by strategists. I think they’re being shared with the candidates. But I just don’t think anybody’s talking about me because they don’t want to be talking about fighting dirty.

MH: When you say the ideas are out there, I mean, I don’t know about you, I was pretty amazed on Tuesday night when CNN asked a question about court packing. I didn’t see that coming at all and I was glad they asked it. I was disappointed in the responses. We had Pete Buttigieg, who on this show earlier this year, talked about court packing. He’s been one of the only candidates who’s been willing to talk about it. Joe Biden pooh-poohed it. Julian Castro, who’s been radical on a lot of other areas from, you know, gun control to immigration reform, he pooh-poohed it. Elizabeth Warren said, “Oh, it’s an interesting idea, one of many ideas,” but didn’t come out for it. So on the one hand, I was delighted to see the question asked, it seems to be going mainstream, on the other hand, disappointed by the responses. What about you?

DF: Well, I mean, I’ll tell you, when I published this book, I almost took the court packing chapter out because my wife told me it was crazy. And I —

MH: Which is headlined, “The Neutron Option, by the way for those people who haven’t read the book.

DF: Right, yeah, so I think it was before I wrote the book, I thought it was probably the most divisive, and probably the most far-fetched idea in there. So I’ve been actually really, really shocked, but in a happy way to see that this idea is finally getting traction, and people are talking about it.

MH: And just just for our listeners, what is your plan for “packing the court” and what’s the justification?

DF: So, it’s a two-pronged plan. In an ideal world, we would pass a constitutional amendment to cap lifetime tenure on the Supreme Court. Everybody would get 18-year terms. Every president would get the right to fill a seat in the first and the third year, their terms, right. And so you would see control of the court, I think, change hands quite frequently. But like I said earlier, I think a constitutional amendment is highly unlikely under the current environment, but I do think that if a Democrat comes in office, they have to offer that compromise before they proceed to court packing. Right, so on day one, it’s “Give me two bills. Give me the amendment and give me this court expansion plan.” And the court expansion plan would add however many justices we need to get to a Democratic majority, depending on what happens in the next year, okay. So right now, it’s just two seats, right, we would expand the court to 11. You would find the two most outrageous liberals in the country, and you would appoint them to those seats. And that way you can be sure that Medicare-for-All would survive the court challenges that are inevitably coming at it. The Constitution does not set the number of justices on the court at nine, right? That’s just a statute that can be repealed by a simple act of Congress.

MH: Yeah, people don’t realize it hasn’t been fixed at nine forever.

DF: Right, exactly. And in the past the court has frequently changed size. And I’d like to say that what Republicans did in 2016 was they temporarily shrunk the court. They shrunk the court from from nine to eight seats. And not only that, but they were prepared. They went out in public, John McCain, Ted Cruz, all these senators went out in public and said “We are willing to keep it at eight throughout the entirety of Hillary Clinton’s term, and we’ll shrink it further.” And so I think that people really need to understand that Republicans will do this if we don’t do it first.

MH: So you preempted my next question because you say in your book, that this plan, in your own words is “an incendiary threat to the very idea of peaceful politics.” But you’re saying basically, well, the threat’s already there from the Republicans, the Democrats should just do the same or do it better.

DF: Right, so I mean, I think of what Mitch McConnell did with Merrick Garland’s seat on the Supreme Court as an act of court manipulation, right, as an act of court packing in its own way. And so, my position is that this has actually already been done to Democrats, right. And if we come into office, and we’re not willing to do something like this, what we’re doing is we’re giving republicans permission to do it again. And we’re telling them, there’s no cost to it. If we come into office, and we say, I’m going to expand the court unless you agree to a constitutional amendment. That is, I think, that’s the only way to make a credible threat for a real compromise, a real settlement of this issue. And if Republicans won’t take it, then I feel perfectly comfortable saying let’s expand the court.

MH: So, I agree with you on this, but I don’t deny that there is a cost to it in terms of legitimacy. Whether or not the U.S. Supreme Court ends up being perceived as the Venezuelan Supreme Court or the Hungarian Supreme Court, you can’t deny that there is a legitimacy problem then isn’t there when it’s so nakedly political?

DF: Of course, yeah, and this is what the authors of “How Democracies Die” talk about, right, like court packing. So manipulating the courts to preserve the power of one political party is a hallmark of a declining democracy. And so I like to say, you know, the crisis is actually already upon us, right? We are in a declining democracy. The score that we get from a group like Freedom House where they rank all the democracies, America’s democracy score has gone down over the last few years. And part of the reason is these ridiculous battles that we have over the courts. And so, while I worry about the legitimacy of the court, I actually think that the court already is illegitimate. We may have a court full of appointees of minority presidents, couple of sexual abusers overturn Roe v Wade in the next or so. And I think once this court, once the sort of Kavanaugh, Gorsuch court starts doing really outrageous things to us, I think people are going to realize a little bit more the kind of predicament that we’re in, in terms of we already have a court that represents a minority of the country, making very divisive, very controversial, pretty ridiculous decisions that are going to put progressives on their back feet for a long time.

MH: And what do you say to people who say the last Democratic president to try and pack the court was Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the late ’30s. He was humiliated in his attempt to do so. He failed in his attempt to do so.

DF: I actually think that we sort of misunderstood the lesson of FDR. The congressional leaders at the time were actually, were willing to add seats to the court. They just didn’t want to add as many as FDR wanted to add, right? His plan was to put six additional justices on the court, his allies in Congress were willing two, maybe even four justices, but they drew the line at six. And the reality is we don’t know how that battle would have ended because the court began ruling in ways that were much friendlier to FDR and the New Deal precisely to head off the threat. And so, you may see that here too, like, if Republicans really want to avoid a legitimacy crisis on the Supreme Court, they would have appointed more moderate justices to the court. And also, those justices might not sort of like drive the knife in when they have the opportunity. And I think we’ll see in the next year, whether or not they see the reality of that threat coming or not.

MH: David, what is the end goal for you? How do Democrats know, under your proposals under your strategy, when they’ve won, when they reached the point where they can stop fighting dirty, stop the constitutional hardball?

DF: The point at which Democrats can stop is when we have a fair electoral field. The goal of the reforms in this book is for Democrats to be able to fight on a playing field that is equal, where they have an equal shot of winning every election that they contest, where voters are empowered. They don’t have to show IDs at the poll, right, like we get rid of this voter suppression stuff with the new voting rights act. We’ve balanced the senate. We have changed the way that we elect the House of Representatives. We have a liberal majority on the court which we should already have. At that point, like once once fairness has been restored to the system, these reforms actually just sort of run themselves. I would argue for all of these reforms as fundamentally important for the fairness and the legitimacy of democracy moving forward. It just feels disruptive because the system has been tilted against Democrats for so long, that the very process of rectifying those imbalances will feel disruptive. It will feel like an escalation. But I think that it has to happen. And when we do pass these reforms, elections will feel more fair. They will feel more legitimate. And I think that that will be very positive thing for our democracy.

MH: And I like the way you put it there about how it feels like an escalation when it’s not. It’s redressing an imbalance. But unfortunately, it’s not just Democrats, but you even have the media which is obsessed with kind of both sides coverage, not recognizing that there has been this asymmetric polarization, that there is this one side that’s bent on undermining democracy at a state level, at a federal level. And the media has failed us to in terms of its coverage of this crisis that we’re in. Just before we finish David, one last question: Is there a presidential candidate on the Democratic side who you think can do what needs to be done right now in terms of fighting dirty, in terms of beating the Republicans at their own game? Is there a Democratic Mitch McConnell on the horizon?

DF: I mean, I hope there’s not a Democratic Mitch McConnell per se, because Mitch McConnell is deeply evil. I do think that of all the candidates on stage on Tuesday night, that I think Elizabeth Warren has the best sense that the agenda that she wants to pursue, the progressive agenda that she wants to pursue requires some some disruptive procedural maneuvers, and it requires some disruptive electoral change. And I think that she’s been more willing than anyone to come out and say those things. Somebody saying, I will abolish the filibuster. That’s like the gateway drug to the rest of the stuff. If you’re not willing to abolish the filibuster in the Senate, you might as well just like, you know, go golfing for four years because you’re not gonna get a thing done. And so, so far, I mean, it’s still early, but I think that Senator Warren has the best understanding in the field of the kinds of institutional obstacles that stand between her theoretical administration. And the progressive goals that we all would like to see put into place.

MH: David, we’ll have to leave it there. Thanks so much for joining me on Deconstructed.

DF: Thanks for having me, Mehdi. It’s been a pleasure.

MH: That was David Faris, political scientist and author of “It’s Time to Fight Dirty”, a book I think every elected Democrat needs to be reading, and of course all of you too, if you care about the future of American democracy, if you care about why it is that the left keeps getting hammered in elections by the right, if you want to see a Democratic Party with some actual cojones and a real plan for winning and holding onto power.

[Music interlude.]

MH: And that’s our show! Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our producer is Zach Young. The show was mixed by Bryan Pugh. Leital Molad is our executive producer. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Betsy Reed is The Intercept’s editor in chief.

I’m Mehdi Hasan. You can follow me on Twitter @mehdirhasan. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to the show so you can hear it every week. Go to to subscribe from your podcast platform of choice, iPhone, Android, whatever. If you’re subscribed already, please do leave us a rating or review – it helps new people find the show. And if you want to give us feedback, email us at Thanks so much! Next week, it’s going to be a very special live show with Ilhan Omar and Michael Moore. Don’t miss it.

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