Watching Progressive Hopes Die Over And Over Again
If you hoped the AOC-Sanders wing of the Democratic Party was going to win the Reconciliation fight and radically alter America’s social safety net, I’m so, so sorry.
This week, crunch week for the Dems thanks to D.C.’s unwritten rule that you can’t pass remotely controversial — though what isn’t these days — legislation the same year as an election, progressive dreams meet America’s bitter reality.
Biden’s agenda and hopes for a legacy will be defined in the next week. And when push comes to shove, progressives will be left holding the bag.
[Update 10/2 — Progressives won a tactical victory by getting Biden to formally link the bipartisan and reconciliation bills — but they’ve also lost the war. The revelation that Schumer has known Manchin’s topline since July offers additional evidence for my argument: this entire fandango is being stage-managed.
Progressives are already steeling themselves for additional reductions — yet calling it a win, because they have to. The debt limit issue likely can’t be resolved now without putting it into Reconciliation and passing that before October 18. Which means that whatever Manchin decides he’s comfortable with spending is what the Dems will get. Predictably the Progressives are already playing like a $2 Trillion reconciliation compromise is a win, even though they promised way more for months.
All the progressives’ victories wind up hollow for the same reason: this was priced in. Everyone is fighting to come out of this mess able to claim victory and will, no matter the final outcome. The losers? Everyone who believes the Democratic Party will ever deliver on its promises to Americans.]
Unfortunately it was always gonna go this way.
Nancy Pelosi is not a progressive, she’s a die-hard neoliberal who worships money and so, naturally, is incredibly wealthy. Arrogant beyond belief, now in her senescence hardly able to string words together any better than Trump, her career of partisan hackery has played a major role in the slow death of America.
In 2006, Nancy Pelosi took the Speaker’s gavel in large part because Americans were done with the Bush Administration that had lied the country into a pointless war in Iraq. Many Americans were demanding impeachment — and why wouldn’t a President who got thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians be subject to impeachment?
All opposition to Bush or the out-of-control national security state Obama let Trump inherit was neutered by Pelosi to ensure the Democrats didn’t look soft on defense, a Boomer-era obsession their antiquarian leaders still refuse to ditch (why do you think Biden was so determined to project strength through the Afghanistan debacle?).
This was a rank betrayal of the moral need for a national reckoning. It was enabled by the fact she represents hard-blue San Francisco and is one of the old California power players, the kind of people who have turned Pacific America into a colony of the Democratic Party and made a mockery of progressive ideals.
And then in 2019 Pelosi chose to impeach Trump over allegations (probably true) that he abused his power with respect to defense aid to Ukraine.
Whatever the validity of impeaching a President over this, to the average person with a working memory this move reeked of hypocrisy. A key reason Trump’s appeal has steadily grown since 2015 is exactly this kind of naked political calculation cloaked in moral imperatives.
If you won’t go after a President for taking the country into a war that killed thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians on false pretenses, you don’t get to claim the moral high ground when you go after another for slow-playing the shipment of anti-tank missiles to a country in the middle of a civil war.
These two things are not equal in anyone’s eyes — so impeachment was politicized. Impeaching Trump over Ukraine of all things, despite all that he had done including threaten the integrity of the 2016 election, an act that should have led to immediate prosecution, destroyed the legitimacy of impeachment forever.
This is why even after the Capitol Attack shook the nation impeachment went nowhere but down the same tortured partisan road. And America’s greatest opportunity to ban Trump from higher office was lost.
Nancy Pelosi will go down in history as the Speaker of the House who misused and so destroyed impeachment — Congress’ primary weapon against a rogue President handed down by the Founders.
Pelosi likes to call herself a “master legislator” (a serious warning sign right there) but the truth is she’s nothing but a master partisan. Her career has been dedicated to maintaining the two-party doom loop, her only objective keeping her party together and in control in Congress.
Which is why Pelosi always pretends to be liberal and progressive, but governs as a neoliberal dedicated to enriching the companies that have most faithfully invested in the Democratic Party over the years. Her failed leadership is the mirror of Mitch McConnell’s in the Senate: the two of them bear an immense amount of responsibility for the plight America is in.
You’re not allowed to say this in polite Democratic circles, as loyalty to the team supersedes all other concerns in modern American politics. But the truth remains, and history will judge this generation of leaders harshly — particularly as they cling to power a full decade after the time came to retire.
As if politicians don’t lose a step just like the rest of us do as we age. Fighter pilots, firefighters, and sports stars can’t work into their seventies — why should politicians, the people most responsible for safeguarding a future they will experience far less of than the young?
The bitter irony of this taboo against public introspection is that it enables octogenarian hacks like Pelosi and Biden to get away with selling out America’s progress youth every time they are in power.
Nine months of a Democratic trifecta in the federal government and what does America have to show for it?
A Pandemic relief bill that was supposed to pass last October but was delayed to January because Pelosi and the Democrats wanted the credit for it to go to Biden. Millions of Americans lost out on enhanced benefits and a stimulus check before the holidays.
And since then, on voting rights, police reform, women’s rights, immigration — no real progress has been made at all on critical issues and on many points Biden is actively continuing Trump’s policies as part of some weird misguided outreach to the center-right. The Democrats have fixed all attention and hopes on the magical Reconciliation bill that is somehow supposed to make it through Joe Manchin, a senator from one of the most Republican states, to rebuild America’s social safety net.
It’s all been a game — as this week will reveal, if you can see through the partisan spin.
Leading Democrats like Pelosi secretly hate progressives. They spent 30+ years fighting to tame progressive ideas in order triangulate their way to victory. You can see their paternalistic approach on display whenever AOC or Ilhan Omar challenges the party leaders’ narrative.
Wait your turn, young ladies. Pelosi’s entire affect constantly communicates to them. I know you have to say bold things to boost turnout among the young and we need that, but never forget your place.
Pelosi cares most about her legacy as the first woman to wield the Speaker’s gavel, because that’s all her wave of feminists cared about: being seen as one of the boys, accepted into the club. Everything else is subordinate to that — even purging the chronic sexual abusers who hide in the Democrats’ ranks.
The Reconciliation circus over the past nine months has been an extension of the old game.
Progressives, realizing they have power in a close Congress, have demanded more than $6 trillion in federal spending all year. The Moderates and Liberals — there are three wings in the Democratic Party, not just two, with the Liberals usually selling out to the Moderates and pretending the Progressives are the left’s equivalent of the Tea Party in the national media — have steadily chipped away at that number as part of a deliberate strategy to water it down.
This is exactly what happened with Obamacare, by the way. It was supposed to fix America’s broken healthcare system, but in effect is has been a massive giveaway to private insurance companies with insufficient attention to the cost side of the equation.
A neoliberal policy cribbed directly from Mitt Romney, a Republican — but it’s Pelosi’s baby so she’s fighting for it tooth and nail, making sure Medicare for All doesn’t supplant it.
Leading Democratic Party strategists, typically wealthy white men with fancy Ivy League degree just like the Republicans hire, hacks like James Carville and Nate Silver who never seem to go away no matter how consistently wrong they are, insist that playing to the middle is essential in American politics. Young people don’t reliably turn out, they insist, so why cater to them? Just throw them some cheap rhetoric and meet with pop stars they like.
Every election they tell another story, of course, insisting a tidal wave of young voters will bring the Democrats inevitable victory — but only rarely does one actually materialize.
And when it does, the successful Progressives are then told over and over that they must moderate their expectations in the interest of the party.
Keeping them trapped, bound, subjugated. And betrayed every time it matters.
The first step in the present betrayal was splitting Biden’s spending plans into a bipartisan hard infrastructure bill and a party-line Reconciliation bill. This was an attempt to play for time after the 2020 Election produced an almost perfectly divided Congress that didn’t really give either party a solid mandate to do more than control the pandemic — which, obviously, didn’t happen.
Everybody but small dollar donors and idealist partisans have known big bold transformative change wasn’t going to be possible with Joe Manchin and a few Democrats like the big-pharma owned Kurt Schrader (unfortunately my own Representative, who I will always vote against), holding so much power. They can get re-elected by telling their conservative voters how they defied big-city Democrats on fiscal issues. Democrats get told it’s either the imperfect centrist or whatever loon the Republicans obligingly run.
Yet for months the media has been filled with promises of Biden being FDR 2.0. Why?
The greatest threat to the Democratic Party’s cozy situation, where politicians can be terrible at their jobs year after year but still get re-elected thanks to gerrymandered House seats and their strategists can constantly be wrong but get re-hired because they know too much, is the Progressives forming a third party.
That is the nightmare scenario for traditionalist Democrats because they’d suddenly have to work for their voters, they couldn’t simply rely on not being crazy Republicans. It would destroy their claim to be the only alternative to impending Republican autocracy, and they can’t have that.
The bitterly close 2020 Election, which right up until the vote counts started rolling in was supposed to be a total blowout for Democrats, produced a dangerous situation where Progressives had a strong incentive to do their own thing and cast the traditional party leaders as failures. Fearing the consequences of this sort of thing gaining traction, party elders have been doing all they could to insist progressives would finally get their transformational change through Reconciliation.
But this was never going to happen.
They will say it did, no matter what finally passes. But just like Obamacare, for the foreseeable future Republicans will run on trying to repeal it leaving no space to fix the massive issues that time will reveal in the rushed, lobbyist-written legislation.
Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer — they have all known this was true from day one. They didn’t even need to sit down and work it out — they are creatures addicted to power who have a nose for how to use it to secure their interests.
The key to being a successful politician is making promises to everyone who will back you without having to make good on those commitments any sooner than absolutely necessary. All actions in politics incur costs that no one wants to pay if they can avoid it — and time has a way of throwing new crises that tend to bury older ones.
There, for a clever politician, lies opportunity. Pelosi and Biden rely on this fact of political life no less than Trump. The structure of the system produces the same general outcome time and again unless something badly perturbs it.
The intransigence of the Republicans — powered by their voters’ open rejection of the legitimacy of the Biden Presidency, mirroring many Democrats’ behavior during Trump’s term — coupled to major pressing deadlines for funding the government and dealing with the debt ceiling was always bound to produce a moment of crisis in late September. So months ago leading Democrats decided on an unwieldy two-track strategy, splitting the bipartisan and partisan legislation apart.
They knew they could promise the two parts would be coupled, but not have to make good on it until a moment came when the political calculus would have shifted. Well aware of what was up, the progressives under Pramila Jayapal insisted on both pieces being advanced together. Moderates pushed back by demanding a hard date for the bipartisan bill to be voted on, knowing the bigger partisan package would run into Joe Manchin sized delays.
September 27th was that deadline — and Pelosi did let it slide, but for a simple clever reason: So much is happening this week that in the chaos of multiple votes on Thursday it is very likely that the bipartisan bill will narrowly pass even as Reconciliation stalls out. Update — apparently even that was too much for Democrats to manage.
With McConnell saying he will allow a clean continuing resolution to pass the Senate later this week to avoid a government shutdown, enough will be happening at once this Thursday that sufficient Republican and progressive votes should be found to pass the bipartisan deal — which is quite popular with the voters — even if the Republican nutters in the House are agitating against it.
This is what Pelosi and Biden have been counting on all along — that, and finding a hard reason to delay Reconciliation progressives can’t really argue with. It likely has to be rejiggered so the Democrats can put the debt ceiling rise Republicans won’t agree to in their party-line package, so now Pelosi has a perfect excuse for why the two-track process can’t proceed as planned.
It won’t be her fault or Biden’s, of course, and she will guarantee to fight for Reconciliation in the full amount tooth and nail over the frantic few weeks ahead. Something has to be done for the country to avoid a default the Democrats will get blamed for more than Republicans.
That should mean that some version of Reconciliation will pass—but at the funding level Joe Manchin is willing to accept, $1.5 trillion or maybe a little more if Delta continues to upset the economy. It will lack any major climate change action that would negatively impact the coal industry —which is, of course, single most important industry to reform right now.
Politicians play for time, knowing that events and the media will get muddled during any crisis. Then, whatever solution they can come up with at the eleventh hour gets praised for averting a catastrophe.
The game resets — again and again.
Maybe for once my cynicism will be proven wrong — but the moves made all this year indicate to me a deeper plan in action, one that the Democratic Party’s strategists have used time and again in my lifetime to subvert progressive ambitions: delay and pray.
And no matter what happens in 2022 they will insist that whatever they accomplished was radical, once-in-a-generation change that has to be defended against those perfidious corporate Republicans.
Even if means electing perfidious corporate Democrats. Which is what vote blue no matter who really means, otherwise once in a while progressives would at least accidentally win a lasting victory.
And so the wheel turns again. And again. And again.
It only ends when progressives wake up and escape the broken ride — if they ever do.