Coop Scoop: The Revolution Has Come... The Wrong One.
Biden's forced surrender to Manchinema is a defeat for the Left
January 21-22, 2022
By Marc Cooper
Cautious and careful Joe Biden waited till his one year anniversary in power to make a stab at actually being present in the national political debate with a dramatic speech and a marathon presser. And while we are in a very dark moment, that’s a positive data point.
First came his “which side are you one” talk in Atlanta ten days ago. And then his first anniversary press conference that stretched for two hours (deflating the Biden Is Frail trope).
Take a moment to think about the reaction to that first speech when Biden challenged the U.S. Congress to decide if it leans with John Lewis or Bull Connor.
Poor Mitt Romney (who continues to vote in lockstep with the Trumplicans) got offended. The genteel American punditocracy was bent out of shape. So was The Grim Reaper Mitch. Even some Democratic senators like Dick Durbin started to whine over a speech that some called “divisive.”
I want to make sure I got this right: For the last 15 years the Republican Party has obstructed everything and anything coming from Democratic Administrations. In the last two years, it has tightly allied itself with pro-fascist extremists. It has passed a passel of voter suppression bills in a number of states. It refuses to recognize Biden’s legitimate election while endorsing the corrosive Big Lie. In a number of states Republicans falsified and forged elector rosters that were sent to the National Archives after the 2020 vote in an attempt to overturn the election. And it is embarked on short-circuiting the 2024 election of any Democrat by jiggering the electoral college.
Biden’s Atlanta speech was not too divisive. It was simply way, way too late.
One takeaway from this imbroglio (and others including the Biden presser this week): the American political situation has completely outgrown an intellectually and professionally stunted American media that is simply not prepared, not trained and certainly not inclined to fully understand nor accurately report what’s going on. The old cliches are just old cliches and they do not fit our novel political crisis. (More on this next week).
LEFT DEFEAT AND RETREAT
Another takeaway from this convulsive week in politics: Turns out that the Democratic Progressives were correct months ago in predicting that passage of the bi-partisan roads and bridges bill would give permission to conservative Democrats to stomp on Biden’s more sweeping Build Back Better proposal. Just as they did.
That’s not much recompense for what is, very clearly, a resounding defeat for the progressive left. These might not be words taken easily by many readers but it is impossible for any political force to move forward if it does not recognize and analyze its own shortcoming, losses, and defeats.
Democratic strategist Max Burns, writing in the Daily Beast, has a fair and honest appraisal about where the Democratic Left finds itself today:
With the White House now scattering its unified BBB push, any lingering leverage progressives may have enjoyed will quickly dissolve. That will be music to the ears of Democratic centrists led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, who threatened to kill Biden’s $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill if the White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi continued to stand with progressive leader Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington and the Progressive Caucus. But it will also be a gut punch to Democratic voter enthusiasm at a time when the party has little enthusiasm to spare.
That’s an especially bitter pill for the left, who will now be asked to rally behind a Biden administration that has thus far failed to deliver on a vast array of promises — including addressing the nation’s student debt crisis, repairing the Trump-inflicted chaos on the southern border, and championing serious investments to combat climate change. And with 50 Senate Republicans guaranteeing a filibuster-bound Senate gets nothing done between now and 2024, progressives must now watch as their driving issues are divided and conquered by conservative Senate Democrats like Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Joe Biden bears a lot of responsibility for the ditch we find ourselves in today. He spent far too much time singing the bi-partisan praises of the same Republicans who tried to overturn his election and who, today, are continuing down that destructive path. His dawdling for months on the god-damn BBB bill that he and his crew never fully explained to the voters has seriously damaged the initial voter enthusiasm he experienced.
Progressives also made some serious errors over the last five years. It begins with leftists misjudging Bernie Sander’s stratospheric rise to prominence in 2016 and then another, albeit less spectacular, run in 2020.
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That somebody calling himself a socialist and somebody so boldly speaking truth to power could challenge the orthodoxy of the Democratic establishment was, without question, startling and exciting. Even more impressive was with which cascading speed the Sanders Left acquired influence inside the party, shifting the legislative agenda of the Democrats and even that of long-time moderate (or actually conservative) Joe Biden to sidle to the left.
I have little problem with Bernie himself as his rhetorical flourishes clearly recognized that a progressive agenda could not possibly prevail unless his supporters organized a massive social movement that would engage millions of, say, Ordinary Americans.
The problem resides with his followers who either did not take up that challenge or failed in doing so. Too many Sandersistas refused to understand these dynamics of power and did not fully recognize that Sanders’ campaign, in spite of his own efforts, was one more top-down deal.
Sanders did NOT surge to a candidacy as the leader of a radical mass movement, as say Lula did in Brazil or Boric in Chile. Or for that matter, Donald Trump (who was able to galvanize a long standing smorgasbord of right wing and conservative social movements).
Bernie was a long time Senator, a veteran politician, who correctly sensed the time was right to break out…and he did. No problem.
Too many Sanders supporters, as well as adherents to The Squad, have spent their time slamming and campaigning against Democratic “centrists” in what looks like a half-assed attempt to seize the machinery of the Democratic Party and some wishful thinking that elevating more comrades into the Democratic bureaucracy would bring social change.
But with what Army were they gonna take over? Did progressives really think they had the ground forces, the ideological consensus among voters, to stand alone if they actually did take over the party? The answer, at least judging from their practice, is yes.
Sandersistas gauged their relative successes not by how many trade unions decided to align themselves with Bernie’s now forgotten Our Revolution, not by how many local PTA’s and other community organizations signed on to a progressive movement, but rather by how many centrist Democrats it could denounce and even primary.
Hey, I am all for taking out corporate Democrats like AOC did but…and this is a big BUT… most serious analysts believe that out of 435 congressional districts, there are about 40-45, perhaps 10% where an AOC-type candidate might win. And as to the Senate, maybe none. So, good for AOC and Jerome Bowman and Cori Bush but sweeping radical change does not hinge on electing another handful of these folks (though it would be a positive).
In short, progressives felt since 2016 that they have a sure fire strategy that was percolating for 25 years and was finally ready to implement.
Unfortunately, and I mean that sincerely, boy were they wrong!
FIVE FLAWS IN THE PROGRESSIVE CASE (Or at least four).
Ruy Teixiera, the Democratic pollster who co-wrote The Emerging Democratic Majority twenty years ago with John Judis, has revised some of his original thinking and has, in the aftermath of the voting rights defeat, come up with this piece, outlining the five grievous errors he thinks hat progressives have made that has led them into this current black box.
I take issue with a lot of details in Teixeira’s analysis especially his 4th point (where I concede he might be right but I hope not.) But his general drift is on the mark.
If you are a progressive or a liberal I urge you to read Ruy’s piece as it is too long to reprint here. But here are what he believes are the five flaws in progressive strategy:
— High voter turnout will favor the Left. An article of faith on the left for decades has posited that increasing voter turnout will favor Democrats, leftists and liberals. It’s not a bad theory as it assumes that when voters are given a “stark choice” between a conservative and a progressive or a liberal they will vote for the latter. The theory, however, forgets the other side also gets to vote. In 2020 Donald Trump won 10 million more votes than in 2016 and more than any Republican in history. Greater voter turn out is not an automatic Democratic win.
— People of color will guarantee victory. It’s actually the white suburban vote that defected from Trump that secured Biden’s 2020 victory. The black share of Democratic voters in 2020 was less than in 2016 and Democrats face a slowly eroding position among Latino and Asia voters. Says Teixiera: “ They lost 7 margin points from their 2016 margin among black voters and a stunning 16 points from their 2016 margin among Hispanics.” Democrats adopted a semi-woke position in 2020 treating all “POC’s” as victims of systemic racism, when, in fact, most people of color are working class and face the same daily economic issues as white workers. Nor are all “black and brown people” the same. Ask a Cuban and then a Mexican. That some “POC’s” are negatively reacting to this cringe-worthy patronization by white liberals and progressives should come as little surprise.
— Cultural Leftism as a winner. Democrats did not hesitate to associate themselves with numerous left cultural and “woke” initiatives that had very little to do with building a mass coalition. Teixeira writes: “In the process, the left has managed to associate the Democratic party with a series of views on crime, immigration, policing, schooling, free speech and of course race and gender that are quite far from those of the median voter. That’s a success for the left but the hard reality is that it’s an electoral liability for the Democratic party. From time to time Democratic politicians like Biden try to dissociate themselves from super-unpopular ideas like defunding the police but the voices of cultural leftism within the party are still more deferred to than opposed. These voices are further amplified by Democratic-leaning media and nonprofits, as well as within the Democratic party infrastructure itself, all of which are thoroughly dominated by cultural leftism”. One of the core problems of the Democratic Party is that while its actual policies tend to be moderate, the near totality of its younger staffers, operatives, and advocates tend to be “woke” and far out of step with average voters.
— The Crisis of Democracy as a winner. Here is where I most dissent from Teixiera while readily admitting he might be right. He argues that Democrats’ (I would say recent) warnings about threats to democracy does not resonate among most voters as they are preoccupied with more immediate issues like rising prices and COVID. “Most recently, Democrats, cheered on by the left of the party, pursued a doomed attempt to push extensive voting rights bills through the Senate, accompanied by a truly astonishing level of rhetoric on how only passage of the bills could save American democracy and how those failing to support passage were aiding and abetting a New Jim Crow and siding with George Wallace, Bull Connor and Jefferson Davis.” I am wary about this but we still do not know. A lot about Trump and January 6 is breaking this week and more is to come. It’s hard to accept the fact that Americans don’t really care about the state of democracy, though Teixeira’s take on the voting rights push seems on point if somewhat exaggerated. The Democratic bills would have done little to nothing to head off the Republican anti-democratic thrust. Not sure, however, if results would have differed if the bills had more teeth.
— Transformation Time, Not! Who in their right mind would not want a transformation of the failing American political and economic system? I just snapped my fingers and…oops…nothing happened. Damn. As I wrote above, progressives were not wrong to see the possibility of a transformative process beginning in a post-Trump 2020. Or even 2016 to be fair. The dispositive words in that phrase are POSSIBILITY and PROCESS. Transformation certainly would not fall from Heaven as some progressives apparently think. Nor does it come from Reps. Tlaib and Omar swearing their support for the Palestinians for the umpteenth time (I much prefer the profile of Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, a workhorse not a showhorse, who actually labors around the clock to build coalitions) . Such a transformation would come from years, and I do mean years, of hard, unrewarding, ground-level work organizing and building political capacity. No way it could come overnight…especially if one had more seriously analyzed the 2020 vote. Such an analysis would have shown, like it or not, that there was NO mass consensus for wholesale transformation – mostly because such an initiative could not be willed, but rather had to be built. Remember, that in 2020, Sanders won the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary but then collapsed. It was Democratic primary voters (always more liberal than the rest of the party) who decided they wanted a moderate Biden and not Sanders. That meant something and it was mostly ignored.
THE REVOLUTION HAS COME. THE WRONG ONE
Allow me to simplify, modify, revise and shorten Teixeira’s analysis. These are now my words: What exactly is the long term of strategy of progressives, Sandersistas and democratic socialists anyway?
I am assuming it is NOT the fever dream of 60’s radicals, myself included, who believed that some sort of revolution, some sort of an uprising, a general strike, all of it led by vanguard revolutionaries would assault and defeat the Capitalist State. I think we were wrong. LOL.
My view is that progressives should see themselves the way a smaller party does in a parliamentary system. There are hardly enough adherents of the ideology to assume that Democratic Socialists –anytime in the medium term—could govern alone. That is a childish, absurd thought, unless you can tell me how you are going to produce a congressional majority among 435 House members and 100 Senators. And that is without even factoring in state and local offices.
(Just as a thought puzzle, imagine for a moment that Bernie had won in 2020 and was now president. There might be a sprinkling of a few more progressive House members that got elected with him. I don’t think composition of the Senate would be any different. So how would a President Sanders move forward now – without that mass movement that is absent. I think he would be hog tied just a Biden is.)
Progressives, IMHO, should be focused on coalition building because that is the ONLY democratic path for a political minority. That, in turn, requires some better thinking among progressives as to which “centrists” should be fought, and which centrists should be courted as coalition partners. If you cannot deal with or you cannot stomach centrists and moderates then I suppose it is fair to say you made a mistake entering the Democratic Party where such species are dominant.
In the wake of Biden’s forced surrender to Manchin and Sinema, the above is rather moot as progressives have little choice for the time being. Progressives, liberals, democratic socialists and everybody else are now beholden –in the immediate future—to a painfully slow, woefully inadequate incrementalist Democratic strategy that will produce very little in terms of reform and progress – at best.
Political analyst Ron Brownstein (who has gotten better and better over the last few years) says that we are in the midst of right-wing revolution, one fueled by a tripartite “axis” of GOP state legislatures, GOP Senators, the Supreme Court and now allies Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. This is perhaps the best take I have seen in the wake of the voting rights fiasco.
Brownstein concedes that continuing anti-democratic moves by GOP states upheld by outrageous Supreme Court rulings, might generate a liberal backlash… or it might not.
“A backlash is one possibility. But others point to the prospect that this GOP revolution from below could change the political equation enough to shift the national balance of power,” Brownstein concludes.
“The GOP-appointed Supreme Court majority and Republican senators wielding the filibuster are, in effect, providing air cover for the ground offensive from Republican legislatures and governors to tighten voting restrictions, impose extreme partisan gerrymanders and enhance partisan influence over the counting of ballots. The combined effect may be not only to entrench GOP control over those state governments but also to reduce Democrats' chances of winning those states in presidential or congressional elections.”
“If Republicans can tilt the playing field that way in enough states, they will increase their odds of controlling the White House and Congress, with or without majority support. So long as Manchin and Sinema uphold the filibuster, they are blocking Democrats' best, and maybe only, chance to disrupt the Republicans' tightening red state/Supreme Court/Senate axis -- and to resist the political system's growing bent toward minority rule.”
Notice how Brownstein notes that this is “a GOP revolution from below.” He’s got that right. Just go to your local school board meeting or your local mega-church to verify that assertion.
There will be no effective antidote to this Trumplican revolt unless and until there is an equal or stronger ground-level counter push from the other side, very broadly defined. The elected Democrats are not about to carry this fight forward with much energy.
Progressives have spent way too much time wanting others to do their work for them. Many of them spend their time cheering on this or that Squad member or pass hours doing “hobby politics” spamming FB and Twitter with their pronunciations, critiques, programs and manifestos while spending no time whatsoever building local multi-racial ground-level coalitions. That foolishness must come to a quick end as we are facing a possible generation of reactionary rule.
P.S. Space limitation prevents me from fully exploring two other percolating issues that could substantially alter the political status quo. A possible Russian invasion of Ukraine is combing out all of the interventionist tendencies among mainstream Democrats. The calls for already positioning US troops in Ukraine are pouring forth. A war with Russia seems to be in the Unthinkable But Possible category today.
There’s also a whole lot popping around the January 6 committee and its investigation, not to mention the Supreme Court rejecting Trump’s appeal to keep his presidential papers secret. A lot is moving, and it’s all bad news for the Trumpers, including some green shoot signs that Republicans may be slowly moving away from Trump.
I am hoping that Teixeira is wrong about all this. It is undeniably true that, so far, the mass of American voters seem rather indifferent to the coup machinations waged by Trump and his Stop the Steal stooges. It’s possible, I am thinking, that this might reach critical mass and ignite among voters. It’s probably a long shot even if History itself demands that the whole truth be revealed.++
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Mark, You're very perceptive and a great writer, but I'm frankly getting too tired of people chanting the litany of all the things wrong with American government, over and over again. I've read plenty of American history and am convinced that American Democracy was created to be a fatally flawed system dependent on slavery and imperialism. that can't be repaired. When I was 12, my parents took me on a trip to several European capitals. I was so impressed with everything there, I decided that when I grew up, I would leave the inferior USA and live and work somewhere in Europe. I was always distracted, and though I have traveled in Europe many times, I just couldn't manage living there. Now at age 71, I'm so sick of the American Way, I'm seriously thinking of moving to Europe permanently, soon. I have several good friends who are encouraging that, because they've done so themselves. It seems the only response to your columns, and similar authors. Is this a valid response to the endless and escalating conflicts in American culture?