Parts of the Democratic left are threatening to burn down the house because they don’t get to sleep in the master bedroom
They should reconsider.
In my prior post, I noted that some progressives seem to be blaming their fellow Democrats for not doing more to protect abortion rights. This “blame the Democrats” strategy may generate clicks, but it’s hard to see what else it will accomplish, other than demotivating Democratic voters.
Unfortunately, the “blame the Democrats” strategy is very popular in some quarters of the progressive left. It recently reached its fullest expression – the perfect earthly embodiment of its true Platonic Form – in a recent article by David Sirota in Jacobin. Sirota attributes consummate bad faith to Biden and the Democrats, ignores the real challenges of governing in a two-party political system with polarized voters and multiple veto points, and plays fast and loose with facts to bolster his “blame Democrats” narrative. Let’s take a look at this masterwork of dissembling and self-sabotage.
Here’s the lede:
By making big promises and then steadfastly refusing to deliver on them, Joe Biden and the Democratic Party’s power brokers are helping Republicans convince the country that government and politics can’t make life better for average people.
OK, so right off the bat we are told that Biden and Democratic “power brokers” are in cahoots with Republicans to persuade people that government cannot accomplish anything worthwhile and they just need to suck it up and live with it.
“I’m going to become the Joker” is some of the Internet’s most poignant shorthand. Referencing Todd Phillips’s 2019 film noir, the phrase describes becoming so thoroughly disillusioned that one loses faith in everything. . . . both parties’ leaders have accepted Jokerfication as the new permanent normal, and the Biden White House is actively convincing a generation to believe nothing will fundamentally change.
The timing of this tailspin couldn’t be worse: an America still reeling from the meltdown of the early Obama years, the Trump presidency, and the pandemic seemed ready to hope against hope that Democrats’ unexpected Washington trifecta would provide one last opportunity to put the country back on track. For a brief moment, Democrats would have the lawmaking power to mitigate at least one of the myriad stresses — health care, housing, education, retirement, and climate survival — that working-class Americans must worry about every day.
This is a misleading replay of history. In 2020, Democrats did not score an “unexpected trifecta” that provided “hope against hope”. Instead, they ran on a fairly progressive platform and were expected to win a slim majority in the Senate and a significant majority in the House. Then Democrats underperformed the polls. The result was that while they nominally controlled Congress after eking out two victories in Georgia Senate runoffs, they clearly lacked the ability to fulfill most of their progressive campaign promises.
With the government barely in their control, Democrats had two basic strategies to choose from: they could embrace bipartisanship and try to notch some very modest victories, or they could try to pass a more expansive agenda through reconciliation. They chose reconciliation, and then refused to acknowledge the obvious reality that Manchin and Sinema had all the bargaining power. This led to months of haggling and gridlock, which got blamed on Democrats, since they were nominally in charge and the media spent hours and hours covering internal Democratic bickering. Once Biden’s approval fell due a combination of Afghanistan, COVID, inflation, and gridlock, the prospects for reform dimmed further. Inflation was a particular problem for the progressive agenda because it strengthened the hand of those opposed to increased spending.
President Joe Biden started out in a much different direction. Right after being sworn in, he signed an American Rescue Plan that rejected President Barack Obama’s top-down bailouts for bankers, and rightly provided direct economic aid to millions of non-rich people. As poverty subsequently dropped, Biden’s poll numbers temporarily skyrocketed, seemingly halting the ascent of Republicans’ authoritarian mob.
This is a fairy tale. Biden’s poll numbers did not “skyrocket” due to passage of the American Rescue Plan. It’s not clear that they changed at all. You can see Biden’s approval numbers here; the ARP passed on March 11, 2021.
But now less than seven months before the midterm elections, things have stalled, and Biden seems intent on accelerating — rather than combating — a rising tide of disillusionment.
Tossing the GOP a lifeline, he has reverted to his familiar formula that some warned about during the Democratic presidential primaries: amid intensifying crises, he promises big changes that could help the working class — and then prevents those changes from actually happening.
. . .
The baiting and switching is a feature, not a bug — a deliberate strategy predicated on a corporate media ecosystem that ignores the gap between White House rhetoric and action.
Ensconced in a bubble of blue-wave emojis, Team Blue hashtags, and genuflecting punditry, Biden and his staff likely assume they can rhetorically placate voters and yet enrich the Biden campaign donors crushing those voters — and they expect nobody will catch on to the ruse. They appear to assume that as a pile of unsigned executive orders sit in the Oval Office, voters will believe his media loyalists’ claims that “there’s just not much President Joe Biden can do” about anything.
But despite the dearth of accountability journalism, the public seems to sense the gaslighting: Biden’s approval ratings are plummeting and anti-government sentiment has spiked as his strategy Joker-pills the country.
Got that? Biden makes promises and then deliberately sabotages progress to enrich donors who are “crushing” voters. It’s this deliberate “baiting and switching” or “gaslighting”, rather than Afghanistan, COVID, inflation, and gridlock that is driving down Biden’s approval ratings. I’m not saying disappointment in the gap between campaign promises and legislative accomplishments is completely irrelevant. But it’s not the most important problem facing the Democrats right now, and it’s absurd and self-defeating to attribute the gap between campaign promises and legislative accomplishments to deliberate “gaslighting” rather than the real difficulties of getting anything through a closely divided Congress.
Sirota goes on to give a list of “bold promises and even bolder betrayals” by Biden. My favorite is Sirota’s attack on Biden for “using his executive authority to ramp up methane-emitting natural gas exports” which links to this:
The Biden administration said Tuesday that it would issue orders that expand the amount of liquified natural gas (LNG) that it exports as Europe seeks to reduce its reliance on Russian gas.
Biden is doing his best to hold the NATO alliance together in the face of Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression. Meanwhile, Sirota thinks it is intolerable that Americans are getting “pulverized” by inflation, but our European allies should be forced to freeze in their homes and have their factories shut down if the Russians decide to cut off gas exports in response to European support for Ukraine. Clearly a brilliant moral and strategic thinker is at work.
Sirota also criticizes Democrats for abandoning their plan to raise the minimum wage:
Biden promised to enact a $15 minimum wage, and then he and his party promptly abandoned that initiative, never to be heard from again.
This makes it seem like Democrats simply decided to break a campaign promise. But a minimum wage increase could not gain 60 votes in the Senate to avoid a filibuster, and the Senate Parliamentarian had ruled that an increase in the minimum wage could not be included in a bill passed through reconciliation. Wyden and Sanders had floated a plan to use tax incentives to force large corporations to implement a higher minimum wage, but they dropped it amid uncertainty about whether it would pass muster with the Parliamentarian and concern about using a poorly vetted Rube Goldberg tax plan that would have left workers in smaller businesses disappointed and might well have been gamed by larger businesses with their clever tax lawyers. I suppose we can debate whether this was the right decision all things considered, but it is hardly evidence of nefarious motives.
Of course, in Sirota’s telling it’s not just Biden who is selling voters down the river. It’s also Manchin and Sinema, Pelosi (Congressional stock trading), Democratic house members representing affluent suburbs (demanding SALT deductions), Democratic governors (giving up on single payer health care), and even the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Senator Bernie Sanders (too deferential to Biden). One gets the impression that Sirota will charge Democrats with corruption unless they somehow manage to do exactly what he in his infinite wisdom regards as best.
Sirota is not wrong about everything. The failure of Democrats to enact most of their agenda is demoralizing. He believes that the only way forward for the Democrats is to “start delivering for the working class.” Sure, that would be great, but if “delivering for the working class” means eliminating SALT deductions that some Democrats in a closely divided Congress will not support, telling Europeans to freeze to death in the dark while Biden is trying to unify NATO against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, or fighting like hell for a half-baked plan to raise the minimum wage that might not pass muster with the Senate Parliamentarian and might well have worked poorly if it passed, maybe “delivering for the working class” is not as easy as writing a clever essay about “jokerfication”.
The simple fact is that Democrats lack the votes to deliver much of anything, in part because of the filibuster, and in part because they are internally divided. But instead of explaining this to his readers, Sirota attributes Congressional stalemate to the corrupt motives of all elected Democrat and suggests that Democrats are deliberately playing their voters for suckers. If there is a better way for a pundit to demoralize voters and depress Democratic turnout, I haven’t heard it.
The simple truth is that Democrats can’t deliver unless they win larger majorities, a daunting task with our highly polarized electorate and a political system that strongly favors Republican constituencies. Sirota could help to figure out how Democrats can enlarge their coalition. He could educate his readers about the real difficulties of making policy in our broken democratic system and prepare Democrats for a prolonged struggle for economic and social justice, a war of attrition with hard-won incremental progress rather than a “revolution”. He could focus on Republican intransigence and obstruction rather than attributing stalemate to the corruption of Democrats. Instead he seems intent on persuading Democratic voters that there is no reason to go to the polls.
With progressives hearing from strategic masterminds like Sirota, the Republican disinformation apparatus can take this cycle off.
Amazes me how the President wielding Green Lantern’s Magic Ring only occurs when a Democrat holds the office. Note the GOP’s achievements in the two years of trifecta when Trump was in office.
That goes hand in hand with the ridiculous belief the Obama bailed out the big banks. They were bailed out before Obama was even elected. And spare me about how TARP did it (even though that was passed before Obama took office). It was the FED that saved the banks with around $15 Trillion of loans and guarantees, yet somehow a Presidential candidate is blamed for bailing out the big banks.
People seem to forget what occurred for the population after the 2007/8 collapse. Repubs slimmed down an already small rescue package for people. Many people were laid off. Participation Rate never returned to what it was pre-2008. People struggled after they lost their jobs.
Here we are in 2022, Participation Rate is very close to what it was pre-pandemic after Congress passed economic packages. Dem Congress did not bat an eye in passing this in the beginning. Two bad Dem actors have emerged blocking other packages. Even so the economy is far better than what it was in 2010. But there are many job opening and people appear to be doing well and better than after 2008.
That is what Dems should be talking about. The pricing and inflation issues will go away.
Hard to do when hacks like Sirota lead the circular firing squads. Any question who he worked for in politics? These people delight in blaming the wrong people, and if the facts get in their way they just ignore them.
Clouding the issues is a ploy. Then too, Dems are not selling themselves. Neither are they trying to pay what they can on Biden’s last package. Biden clouds the issues too. For example, he gave Medicare Advantage programs an 8% increase in pricing. Why is that so bad? Most of the money made to date has been kept by insurance companies with little going to hospitals during the pandemic. MA plans which over code their patients to gain more funding or they deny care after coding for which they are already paid. Hospitals make their money in elective surgeries. The pandemic has been a burden for them.
Just the opposite side too.
Pretty funny reading about ‘circular firing squads’ when only two folks are commenting here, back and forth…Do you guys own a mirror?
Yes, I do. I worked on Sanders’ primary in 2016. When he lost I worked for Clinton. Why? Cause I’m not stupid.
Well you just can’t count on Sirota and the 83 people who read his stuff this fall I guess.
I think Sirota is pretty influential – senior advisor and speechwriter to Sanders’ 2020 campaign, popular progressive pundit, writer at Jacobin. Sure, the Jacobin / Democratic Socialists of America crowd is a small part of the electorate, but the Democrats need people leaning in, not leaning out. And he’s not the only one pushing this narrative; you can find the “blame Democrats” and “both parties are the same” schtick being pushed in lots of publications. It’s not the Democrats’ biggest problem, but it is a problem that they can solve without any cooperation from Republicans.
Democrats hardly ever have the trifecta. Since 1980, only 93-94, 2009-2010 and now this cycle. The “big tent” includes non Democrat Bernie Sanders on the left to Joe Manchin on the right.
I wish the Democrats were better at messaging and focused on getting through a few good things when they are given the trifecta. For example, they didn’t have the votes for a $15 minimum wage, but why haven’t they passed a $10 to $12 minimum by now.
In hindsight, it looks like they should not have allowed the infrastructure bill to get separated out of Build Back Better. There is still hope for a reconciliation bill this year, but it needs to be written by Manchin and Sinema. That’s just the way things are.
The Senate filibuster will end at some point. It might be the Republicans that do it. Trump wanted them to get rid of it during his term.
The pattern of progressive/left Democrats saving a good deal of their energy for less pure and perfect Democrats is old, and not surprising (and has its parallels on the right, with RINO memes flying, though Republicans seem much more willing to vote for the RINO anyway when push comes to shove).
One reason, I think, is that attacking the Republicans is dour, relentless, and unrewarding. You point out their corruption, greed and heartlessness, and they reply with something unprintable and call you a groomer pedophile. It’s not really fun.
When left Democrats attack moderate Democrats, in contrast, the reaction is very different. They are listened to, invited to conferences, put at the round table, and made much of (since moderate Democrats not only share a fair amount of policy and ideology with them, but also see them as necessary allies for winning elections). It’s really much much more fun than getting lied about by sleazy pillow salesmen and slimily avuncular local magnates, in the end.
The same dynamic plays out in other venues. Having spent some years in academia, it was notable that the self-defined progressives got a lot more mileage out of attacking the liberal older generation that was in positions of moderate authority (chairs, deans, etc.), because these tended to respond with concern and with minor changes within their power (often including locally valued goodies for the loudest complainers). Here too, attacking the authorities who actually could change larger things — state boards of educations, boards of regents appointed by Republican governors, or those governors themselves — is so much less rewarding, since progressive complaints tend to be disparaged, disrespected, and ignored. There’s a Monty-Pythonesque dimension of ever more rarified purity at work especially in academia, and to some extent in outside-wing politics — Judean People’s Front and People’s Front of Judea — at work sometimes, but there is more than that at work here.
The question of how some progressives (not all by any means) got themselves into this position is complicated, and the same answer might not apply in and out of academia. In academia I think criticizing moderate liberals is incentivized as you say because oiling the squeaky wheel is often the path of least resistance for administrators, essentially your point. I think the political story is much more complicated; in part there is a reluctance to compromise with Republicans to signal commitment to progressive voters. Much more to talk about here.
I believe the last time I read one of your comments was in response to Mike Kimmel’s post on healthcare and that was 2017.
Arguing with Republicans has only gotten worse as they now show up at the state capital with bullet-spewing-weapons slung with the intent to intimidate the governor and staff. Then there are some who take to a greater extreme. There is little reasoning with them. Their leaders incite them and even bus them to Washington DC for a rally at the capitol. Lost cause perhaps, as they do not mind the suffering if they see “libtards” in poor shape too.
As others here have suggested, it may make sense for Biden to break apart BBB and attempt to pass portions of it which Manchin and Sinema agree too. I am not sure the two would agree simultaneously on any one thing. One thing Biden could do is grant greater relief to those holding student loans. The loan requirements are ridiculous. I[we] are no longer holders of them. Since the nineties Biden has been one of the instigators for greater restrictions on relief. I know of at least one petition with a million signatures on it.
The former on this paragraph (directly above) is dealing with two obstinate people who are what conservative or I’ll show them people.
It is true of Republicans being on state boards and sometimes understanding the nature of a request as many of their constituents live in the same area. I found this to be true as a Democrat on a Township Planning Commission as its Vicechair. Arguing amongst ourselves is counterproductive but it can lead to a better understanding.
Thank you for your comment
And it is worth remembering that what counts in politics is what people belive, not “what is true.”
There seems to be a tendency here to worry about what to blame Biden for and what to not blame him for. That does not really matter so much. What matters is what you can make the people believe, and what you can make the politicians do. The overall mass of what the pundits say does influence the former, though people forget exactly what it was they heard, they do remember how they felt about it.
Clearly the Dems have some problems, the sheer weight of “how we got here” keeps them from doing much, if if they really want to. And much of what they want to do is not likely to change things much. The True Left are not helping themselves much but making themsleves feel good about what they are demanding. And it gives us something to talk about.
If the Dems lose the house and senate, the progressives in the party should be running in a new party in 2024. The country is at stake. Without a new party system, it will be two countries within a couple decades.
I didn’t threaten to burn down the house. I just moved out. I’d rather be homeless.