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The Shadow of ’84: Why Democrats Don’t Believe In Their Message

The Shadow of ’84: Why Democrats Don’t Believe In Their Message

Nancy Pelosi was the Host Committee Chairwoman of the Democratic National Convention in 1984 that nominated Walter Mondale. He would lose California on the way to losing 49 states. Charles Schumer was a Congressman from New York who watched Reagan carry his home state in 1984 by almost 10 points. Joe Biden was a veteran Senator from the solidly Democratic state of Delaware. Reagan won there in ’84 with almost 60% of the vote.

Legendary Democratic campaign strategist, James Carville spent the 1984 Election guiding the campaign of Texas Senate candidate, Lloyd Doggett. Texas was still solidly Democratic at the state and local level, but the mood had been changing at the top of the ticket since passage of the Civil Rights Acts. Doggett, an unapologetic liberal, would lose by nearly 20 points, becoming only the second Democrat to lose a Senate race in Texas since Reconstruction. Carville explained his own thoughts on the loss in terms many Democrats at the time would share, “I was scared to death, I was 40 years old, and didn’t have any health insurance, I didn’t have any money, I was mortified.”

Modern Democratic leaders have a favorite word: “backlash.” They relentlessly lecture young Democrats not to promote the party’s agenda too openly because people will reject it. Polling shows broad public support, even across party lines, for every element of the Democratic Party’s agenda from abortion rights to clean energy and even immigration, but Democratic leaders refuse to lean into these issues. Instead, Democrats continue to run on the cautious, almost apologetic stances perfected by Carville and Clinton in the post-Reagan years.

Misunderstood lessons from the Reagan Era still hobble the left, granting undeserved license to a Fascist movement in the US. Refusal by Democratic leaders and donors to challenge the right is creating a dangerous opening for a desperate, dangerous political movement. It needs to end.

Reagan Era Democrats reached the conclusion that their policies, though intelligent, morally right and in the best interest of everyone, were too unpopular to pursue openly. They settled on becoming the “adults in the room,” promoting conservative policies paired with relatively sane administrative know-how. Strategists like Carville, working through the Democratic Leadership Council, responded to the country’s perceived rightward shift by becoming “New Democrats,” which was essentially just Republicans who’ve read a book.

Clinton would ride this “New Democrat” label back to power by promoting policies too conservative to even be proposed by Reagan, from gutting welfare to a draconian new crackdown on crime. The Clinton campaign used the phrase “a new kind of Democrat” till our ears bled, which simply meant Democrats who will promote Republican policies. These are the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Democrats, a generation of educated, white collar Democratic leaders who lost faith in the Democratic rank and file on the way to losing faith in their own faith.

For decades, leading Democrats have been satisfied to be Marge Simpson, the sober voice people only heed in moments of disaster. Democrats have become the most authentically conservative force in US politics, the party committed to maintenance of the status quo, punctuated by halting, incremental steps toward progress. Modern Democrats often devote an entire election season to a laundry list of things they promise not to do. They won’t attempt a universal health plan. They won’t take your guns. They won’t raise taxes. Like a true conservative party, their pitch is that their opponent is a radical, not that they themselves have anything valuable to offer.

Beneath the Democrats’ frustration is a core misunderstanding of what happened in 1984, and the years that followed. Reagan’s win in 1984, along with the shift toward the GOP in Dixie, had nothing to do with changing policy preferences. Southern states didn’t flip from single party politics under Democrats to single party politics under Republicans because voters changed their minds about some issue or another. In fact, all across the South the new Republican leaders from Phil Gramm and Rick Perry in Texas to Trent Lott in Mississippi and Fob James in Alabama were the exactly the same people who’d been leading previously as Democrats and they continued to back exactly the same policies they’d endorsed as Democrats. In the Reagan Era, Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Roy Moore and David Duke were all Democrats. Elizabeth Warren was a Republican. None of these people changed their political stances when they changed parties. It wasn’t about policy.

The pivot in American politics from the Reagan Era to the present consisted of Dixiecrats and their allies elsewhere in the country leaving the Democratic Party over race. Sure, lots of other things have happened in half a century, but the great megatrend in US politics, and the politics of many European nations, is the declining power of a unifying mythology based on race or ethnicity. Democrats struggle with their agenda because progressive, collectivist policies which make life better for everyone depend on a sense of “us-ness,” a belief that “we” are “in it together,” worthy of sharing and sacrifice. Slice away any unifying narrative and there is no “we” around which to build public capital.

Once we began dismantling Jim Crow in the 1960’s, previously popular policies began to fall out of favor. Instead of celebrating achievements like public health advances, the triumph of public education, and a growing social safety net, we’ve begun to hear that these essential elements of public capital are being abused by the “undeserving.” Once the foundations of public life in the US were opened up to the black “other” defined by our white supremacist narrative, support for every form of public capital collapsed.

Want to include everyone in a comprehensive national healthcare system? Start by tearing down Confederate Monuments. You cannot build shared prosperity across groups unwilling to share.

That said, steps toward cultural transformation aren’t enough. Symbolic, myth-building activities have to be paired with materially-meaningful policies or they lose their punch. Democrats have become addicted to the emotional high of replacing a racist monument or nominating the first Indigenous trans-person to some public office because it’s easier than tackling policy issues. Democrats have to be bold if our democratic experiment will survive. Democrats have to forget the trauma of 1984.

In the near term while a new unifying narrative is taking shape, a hybrid policy is available to Democrats, a bridge to broader power. Go big on policy without apology. It may not be possible to build a stable new order without the adoption of a broad new national mythology, but you can start down that road with bribes. Abandon any concern about price tags, backlash, or “what will Republicans say” and offer Americans everything they want, including higher taxes on the wealthy. There is math behind this plan.

Yes, the overwhelming bulk of Republicans are political zombies who cannot be moved, but you don’t need to move them. You just need to defeat them. If Democrats only won 5% of former Trump voters, just one out of every 20, they could govern for a generation. Offer to free Americans from the need to hold their job in exchange for access to essentials like health care and education and Democrats can swing just enough middle income whites to triumph.

To skirt the near-term objection that these new benefits were flowing to some “unworthy” corner of the population, make the entire agenda universal. A new national policy that doesn’t materially benefit families earning $100,000 a year isn’t bold enough to win. Throw Medicare open for paid enrollment to everyone. Provide a basic income for everyone. From college to healthcare, eliminate the concept of “need” from the public safety net, instead using the public safety net as the foundation of a new “us.” Invite the backlash, and overwhelm it with bold political bribery.

Perhaps most of all, Democrats need to be conscious of the distorted new unifying mythology of merit they are creating in the absence of a deliberate plan. A false meritocracy is diverting almost all of the material gains from any Democratic wins toward educated white liberals who don’t need help. Merit does not create a new us, but rather invents a cruel justification for financial apartheid.

White liberals are setting themselves up for a potential catastrophe through blindness to their own power as a class. If Republicans are the party of angry yokels and wealthy oligarchs, Democrats are becoming the party of urban professionals with high SAT scores paired with economically frustrated minorities. In every internal political conflict, affluent white Democrats sweep all the material benefits while everyone else has to settle for gender-neutral pronouns and a new MLK Boulevard. Yes, tearing down Confederate Monuments is a crucial step toward progress, but you have to keep stepping. If progress isn’t costing anything, it isn’t progress. Go big.

Reagan is dead. White Southerners’ flight into the Republican Party is over. While mourning lost power Democrats have failed to recognize that despite shedding a third of their former political base they retain majority electoral support. In other words, all Democrats have really lost is their faith in their own agenda.

Summon the spirit of Roosevelt. Build a new story. Back that story confidently and (enough) Americans will respond.

25 Comments

  1. Another example of how the loser party keeps making it so easy for the death cult to step into control:

    The DC District Court ruled against the tyrant stopping the release of documents that prove his treason in even more detail. Surprise, surprise, that ruling was appealed to the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, the 2nd most powerful court in the land, They won’t hear oral arguments until Nov 30th. So now we are likely looking at Dec 7th-10th before they hand down a ruling.

    Naturally, that ruling will be appealed to SCOTUS. When will SCOTUS hear the case? Maybe January, maybe later. When will they give a ruling? Who knows.

    But this was all known from day one. The Loser party diddled around and took how many months to form their commission? Is no one in that party capable of looking at a calendar and counting.

    Because by the time SCOTUS rules, and the commission goes through all their machinations, and then creates some report, time will long be up. The process should have been started months earlier, like Jan 21st. Any report will have lost all impact, if it is even produced before the death cult takes over the House.

  2. WX – We know the problem- what is the solution? Democrats are being outplayed. Republicans are working an the situation with voting law changes and taking full advantage of gerrymandering in a census year. They are using every option regardless how dangerous for Democracy or how heinous the tactic.

    Those of us at the grads roots level who are paying attention, continue to do all we can to register voters, canvass, testify, and donate but it seems terribly insufficient in the face of the better organised, smarter and more consequential republican effort.

    It’s feeling pretty dismal.

    1. Mary-
      I’m not sure that the average Democrat knows the problem. They still think Democrats are for “the little guy” while Republicans are on the side of Big Business. And if somehow, big business wins again and again regardless of who’s in power, it’s because Democrats are weak / afraid, while Republicans are organized / ruthless. Even someone astute as Chris is making this mistake.

      But ultimately that viewpoint is making excuses. It attributes too much power to Republicans and too little to Democrats. Democratic politicians are not dumb. They are not afraid. They are not weak. You don’t get to become a Senator or senior Congressperson without being exceedingly good at playing the political game. Obama’s chief of staff was Rahm Emmanuel, a guy who can twist elbows so forcefully that Lyndon Johnson would probably consider him too pushy.

      Forget about diagnosing the entire Dem party. Let’s just take one single event: at the height of the 2007/08 crisis, GWB introduced a 3-page legislation to basically dump $700billion on Wall St to rescue them from their outright fraud. It was an awful piece of legislation. And here’s the most appalling thing about it: more Democratic Congresspeople and Senators supported it than Republicans. That’s right: a literal blank check to Wall St, something that even the President’s own party was rejecting, was taken up by the Democrats, including their leading Presidential candidate Obama, who was publicly campaigning against “Wall St. fat cats” while whipping votes to get this bill passed.

      So what here was the problem with Democrats? Chris would say they were afraid, that maybe they really really wanted to punish Wall St. but were afraid to do so. Except that at that time, public outrage was so high that politicians could have hung Wall St. CEOs on the White House lawn and people would have applauded. Indeed, the specific piece of legislation we’re talking about led to a massive surge of phone calls and letters to Congressional offices, and the tally was running 99:1 against the bill. So are we still to believe that Democrats were afraid of voter wrath if they voted against the bill?

      Perhaps you might say the problem is that Democrats are soft, or weak, or disorganized. But that’s not correct either. The best option here was to *not* pass the bill and let Wall St. be dealt with with our current existing bankruptcy and liability laws. So if they were disorganized and weak, it would have worked out because they would never have mustered the votes to get this passed. But that’s not what happened. They actively organized and whipped votes for it.

      Here’s a scathing but, IMHO, accurate account of Obama’s days in the office:
      https://theweek.com/articles/950908/obama-pretender

      In short, Obama and his crew were more than happy to take strong, decisive action when it came to protecting market institutions like banks, even at risk to their own political fortunes. They were very much capable of it. But they refused to do so when it came to protecting social institutions or individual safety nets. At best, this could only be labelled selective fear, or selective disorganization. And even that would be too generous.

      My take is the simplest one: they simply love Wall St far more than they love Main St. They are as cognitively captured by moneyed interests as Republicans are. It explains their actions far more accurately than assuming that the most powerful people in the world are somehow clueless at political strategy.

      To address your specific points:
      Democrats are not being outplayed. They’re simply playing a game we don’t like, yet we keep electing them to a seat at that table. Rahm Emmanuel, when he was chair of the DCCC, the organization responsible for backing House candidates, actively sought to sabotage progressive candidates and install so-called “moderates” (some who were actually Republicans). The fact that many of his candidates lost in the general election, while many of the progressives won even without his support, didn’t matter. This was not a mistake or him being a neophyte at political strategy: Rahm and the party actually *preferred* losing a seat to a moderate Republican than letting a liberal Democrat have it.

      Howard Dean, after he lost the 2004 primary to John Kerry, won an insurgent campaign to become the head of the DNC. Once elected, he implemented the 50-state strategy, where he devolved power from DC to the states, invested in state party infrastructure, and had as a principle, that the first part of winning elections was showing up (Dems often didn’t even contest hundreds of elections where a Republican had an overwhelming lead). And that the second part to winning national elections was to start by investing in local and state elections.

      IOW, this isn’t rocket science. There are plenty of Democrats who understand what needs to be done. So why did Howard Dean get ousted after the stunning success of his strategy in 2006? Why do we blame the Republicans for implementing a multi-decade effort at winning local elections down to county dog-catcher, and then reaping the gains from it? This strategy is not a secret. And as mentioned, we even had a guy who wanted to do it. But he was thrown out and is still treated as an outcast by the Dem leadership. Why? Simple: because national Democrats don’t give a rat’s ass about local elections or building the party. Sure, they mouth platitudes about building a bench, or capturing state houses, but the truth is, they view anything outside the beltway (with their district as an occasional exception) as immaterial to their political future, and when Howard Dean came along and said he was going to focus the party’s energy on building the party outside of Washington, they recoiled in horror.

      Chris has, in the past, rightly pointed out that the real election isn’t a race to attract voters. It’s a race to attract donors. And only those with the connections to wealth that come from a) being wealthy yourself; b) having wealthy connections from going to the right colleges / working in the right industries; or c) willing to prostitute yourself for those moneyed interests, manage to win. The “race” for voters afterwards is secondary.

      So while we’re busy shedding blood, sweat, and tears to get people to vote, Democrats in DC are shedding blood, sweat, and tears to appease the donors who will fund their next election. And those donors are on Wall St and corporate board rooms (and for the Dems, Silicon Valley and a little bit in Hollywood. End of list. Everyone else is a rounding error.).

      Regarding gerrymandering. I think Democrats keep harping on gerrymandering to cover up the real reasons they keep losing elections. Gerrymandering is not witchcraft. It’s simple math, and as such, there are limits to what you can do with it. The Republicans aren’t going to get more than a few net seats from gerrymandering this cycle, mainly because they already brutally gerrymandered the states they controlled in 2012, so there’s not much blood left to squeeze from that turnip. Indeed, in important states like Texas, due to the tides of demographic change, they’re focusing on strengthening their current districts rather than aggressively playing for new seats.

      This isn’t to say that Repubs don’t have an advantage from gerrymandering, just that, it’s not going to be that much more in 2022 than it has been in the past 10 years. And during those 10 years, the Dems did manage to capture the House several times, sometimes with decent majorities. All of this is to say that if/when the Dems lose the House next year, don’t believe them when they cry that it’s due to gerrymandering. That’s just an excuse.

      The real reason, IMHO, that they are cruising for disaster in 2022 is because of policy. It always is. The voter is not as stupid as politicians like to believe. What they see is that, despite holding both the Presidency and Congress, the Dems can’t even pass a fricken’ *spending* bill, the easiest type of bill there is to pass. If they can’t pass a bill to spend money, exactly what can they pass? You think this party has the will to tackle contentious issues like health care? Or immigration? Or national security?

      At this point, the only thing that I can point to as an accomplishment for having worked so hard to get Democrats elected to Congress is… judicial appointments. That’s it. And, FWIW, I do give credit to Biden for withdrawing from Afghanistan, as messy as it was. Other than that, they have done nothing. No major or even minor initiative. No voting rights protections. No environmental protections. No energy policy. Nothing even to move the economy, save for these two spending bills that are still stalled. Heck, they haven’t even subpoena’d Trump’s tax records, even though, with a Democratic IRS commissioner installed, they could easily do so, and it doesn’t require breaking a filibuster to all a hearing.

      If I, a yellow dog democrat who follows politics closely, can only point to that one accomplishment, exactly what reason does the average voter have to vote for Democrats again? When you ask a nonvoter to register for this election, and he asks why should he, what do you tell him? What do you promise him that the Democrat will stand up and fight for? This is not a question that gerrymandering or voter suppression answers. But those are the diversions Democratic politicians use to keep people from demanding answers about their woeful policies.

      So if it’s not gerrymandering and voter suppression, and it’s about policy and execution, why is the execution so crappy? But that very question is wrong. It’s only crappy for voters. The Democrats are executing exceedingly well for their donor base, who are sitting very happy knowing that these bills are being bottled up and watered down. Manchin and Sinema are not idiots. What they’re clearly saying is, they’d rather stay true to the interests that bought them and be in the minority, than to cross those interests and stay in the majority. Minority or majority status has no bearing on their own fortunes. Even their current office is not sacrosanct: Sinema knows she’s clearly inviting a primary challenge with her actions, but her donors’ principles are the one set of values she’s willing to sacrifice her seat for. Because when she retires and needs to move on to giving $100k speeches and sitting on lucrative board seats and getting sweetheart inside deals that net her millions, what matters is that she stayed true to the interests that bought her, come hell or high water.

      You and I think they’re playing some weird game to appeal to voters. They’re not. They’re playing a deadly serious game to prove their worth to their donors (and to attract new ones). And they’re winning in that, the only game that matters.

      What do we do about this? I know this will be unpopular, but I think the answer is, we Democratic voters have to show that there’s a limit to what we’ll accept from our politicians. Republicans live in deathly fear of their base because they know that their base would prefer sitting home and letting a Democrat win an election than support a crappy (in their view) Republican. I mentioned that Emmanuel would rather lose a seat to a moderate Republican than let a progressive Democrat win. We as voters need to return the favor and make it very clear that we’re very willing to let a moderate/conservative/crazy wingnut Republican win an election rather than support a Democrat who doesn’t respect his voters.

      IOW, if the Democrats aren’t doing what we want them to do, don’t vote for them. Even if you believe it’s because they’re afraid, or they’re weak, so what? I’m not their teacher or their parent. It’s not my job to train them to be better politicians. Instead, if they don’t learn, let them be defeated and find new people who aren’t afraid and who aren’t weak.

      So stay home. Let the Republicans win. Perhaps the first time the Dems lose (a-la Virginia) they’ll draw the wrong lesson, and think they need to keep moving to the right. But eventually, they’ll understand that they only way they’ll ever see the inside of Capitol Hill again is to cater to their base. The dirty secret of being a moderate Democrat is that they’re the first ones to be wiped out when the tide shifts, mainly because they’re always in the most competitive districts. And even though they understand that in this highly polarized world, turning out excited base voters is easier than trying to convince some “undecided” voter to vote for them, they’d rather retire on their moderate credentials and move into a lucrative civilian life, than use their office to fight for progressive ideals. We should help hurry them on that path.

      This means we’ll need to sustain a few painful elections where the Democrats get taken to the woodshed. But losing elections is the only way a political party learns anything. Frankly, we Democratic voters should have done it years ago, and the risks of letting Republicans win a few elections in this day and age is sky high, but the longer we wait to instill some discipline in the Party, the worse the consequences will be.

      1. That is one seriously long read.

        Your opinion may be correct. Maybe the loser party is as corrupt and craven as you suggest. But here is thing. Your talk of future elections is a bit off. There are two scheduled that will likely happen as planned. But after that, any election will be a sham like in Russia.

        Democracy is dead in the u.s. Maybe the Dem’s are as bad as you say. The great prophet Carlin said the same thing decades ago. But it is irrelevant. The death cult is far far worse than the loser party, and their ascendancy to power is guaranteed.

      2. Whoops – accidently hit Ctrl-Enter which posted too soon….

        Anyway, the big place I disagree strongly is the efficacy of letting the Dems lose to teach them a lesson… as Dinsdale says, that is insanity given the GOP death-cult. Doing that in 2016 led directly to maybe 300,000 unnecessary American deaths. Anyone thinking that is okay is a sociopath, and a bad person.

        Now, it IS up to us the voters to make change however…. but that will take far more than staying home and whining. I think there are good people in the Dems elected folks, that want to make a lot of the changes you’d appreciate. But with a 50-50 senate, it only takes 1 a-hole to scuttle the whole deal. That is just the reality. Making the senate 45-55, or losing control of the House for the deathcult isn’t going to advance your wishes at all. Its just going to increase suffering, and pull back the incremental improvements (COVID relief bill, Infrastructure bill, Executive branch changes) we can get.

        So as voters, its up to us to make sure those Dem majorities are bigger than 50-50. Use the a-holes in red states to get control of the agenda… and then outvote them because they aren’t necessary to pass legislation. I guaruntee there are not things that can get 51 votes being blocked by Dem leadership. If we the voters want our reps to act differently, we need to give them the votes to do so. Pushing the blame off on others and whining doesn’t solve anything.

  3. This is another great post about what’s so frustrating about the Dems. I was planning to write something in your previous post about how racism and meritocracy are both myths. If you’re a racist, you believe being born white makes you better and more deserving of a good life. If you’re a meritocrat you believe being born rich makes you better and more deserving of a good life. Both views are just thinly veiled attempts at protecting inherited privilege, couching the ultimate inequalities in the same language of “It’s not the circumstances of my birth, I’m just better than the guy below me, so I deserve everything I get.” And of course, in this country, these days, your class is almost as difficult to transcend as your race.

    So you’re right that the Dems are going to kill themselves if they settle into the myth of meritocracy while working as much as any racist to build a moat around the resources and advantages their meritocrats have built up.

    But I believe what’s missing from your otherwise excellent diagnosis is a look at who funds the party. Democratic pollsters are not dumb. They read the surveys too about the popularity of universal healthcare, tax the rich, etc. Heck, even Republicans understand this: McConnell and the Republicans are so against the Dems passing universal healthcare because they understand that such a momentous improvement in 99% of Americans’ lives would cement a new Democratic coalition for generations, the same way Roosevelt’s New Deal did.

    Heck, the same James Carville actually broke into national consciousness by his successful Senate special election campaign in 1991 in which he guided an unknown Harris Wofford into beating George HW Bush’s former Attorney General and establishment blue blood, Dick Thornburgh in a shocking come-from-behind victory. How did he do it? With the campaign slogan “If a criminal has a right to an attorney, working Americans should have a right to a doctor.” Whatever fear Reagan in 1984 instilled in him about a progressive agenda was completely gone by 1991 at the latest.

    So I disagree that Democrats are “afraid” of their agenda. They know it wins elections. They run on these positions when they need to. Over half the Democratic primary field in 2020 supported medicare for all. The problem is what they do once they’ve won on that agenda.

    And this is where the funding comes in. I believe the most damaging part of the Democratic Leadership Council and whole “New Democrat” way was not the rhetoric. Rhetoric is just empty words. What really damaged the party is that they went after the same donor class as Republicans. Democrats used to be funded by labor unions, along with social and other interest groups. But Reagan broke the unions and union membership and power has been declining rapidly. So Dems went looking for a new foundation of funding, and the money is in Wall St., not Main St. They literally had a name for it: The K Street Project (K street is where the big lobbying firms have offices). Led by Rahm Emmanuel, it was a multiyear effort to court the biggest Republican donors (mainly corporates and Wall St) in order to starve the Republicans of their traditional sources of cash. Ironically, as Dems started to successfully compete for Wall St. cash, Republicans were forced to turn more toward small dollar donations from their base. This pivot in funding sources, IMHO, explains 90% of where both parties are today.

    When McCain-Feingold passed, the biggest opposition (in private) was actually the Dems, because the truth was, by that time, Democrats were actually more dependent on large-money contributions from corporates and rich people than Republicans, who had started cultivating the small-dollar contributions from their base that would ultimately make them beholden to their crazies. As much as McCain was considered an independent Maverick in the Republican party, he was never as much of an outcast as Feingold, who was reviled within his party for what he did on campaign finance reform (FWIW, I always admired him tremendously. In the wake of 9/11 he was the only Senator to vote against the Patriot Act. Imagine the courage to go 99-1 when anything besides genuflecting in front of the War On Terror was considered tantamount to treason!).

    The truth is, both parties use dog whistle politics to placate their base while serving their true economic masters i.e. whoever pays their bills and gives them cushy speaking engagements after they retire. The rhetoric is just so much hot air. For every Democrat serving up a costless item like pronouns or tearing down a confederate statue or two, there’s a Republican who throws a Hunter Biden / Benghazi / Whitewater and an anti-abortion bill they know will get knocked down in the courts. Meanwhile, the real business of serving their economic masters continues with somber bipartisan support.

    For all the talk about Democrats’ fear, they’re certainly not afraid to pursue their real agenda. Obama commissioned the Social Security commission (aka the catfood commission) to create a Grand Bargain that would gut Social Security. He passed a sequester bill with cuts to social services so severe that even Republicans balked at it. And are you telling me that a master politician like Bill Clinton, who had no fear in undoing decades of New Deal dogma and deregulating Wall St (setting us up for the 2007/8 disaster) suddenly develops a weak spine when it comes to the minimum wage? The same guy who was so reckless with his career as to get blowjobs in the Oval Office?? You’re telling me that guy lived his life in fear of the electorate??

    So in the end, while you spot the problem correctly, I think you misdiagnose the cause. It’s not fear of Reagan. Democrats have become the conservative party because they are now funded by the same people who used to fund Reagan. (FWIW, Republicans have become the crazy party because, having been outcompeted in Wall St. sycophancy by the upstart New Dems, they’re now forced to make up the deficit by getting money from their crazies).

    Ultimately, calling Democrats afraid is excusing them their misdeeds. You’re saying “they really, really want to do these things, they’re just afraid they might lose an election because of it.” BS. They really, really, *don’t* want to do these things, but they run on them anyway because it’s what gets them elected. That’s a crucial difference.

    At the end of the day, these are grown men and women who are far smarter and more ruthless than anyone in our society. It takes a special breed of person to subject one’s life to the risks and demands of politics, and the ones that make it to the top are nearly sociopathic in their fearlessness in going for what they want. Attributing their actions to fear is giving them an excuse, and cover for their real agenda.

      1. You’re right. My mistake 🙂 Nevertheless, when Rahm Emmanuel was head of the DCCC, they made a concerted effort to go after the same donors who were traditionally Republican, including corporations and Wall St. (with which they had plenty of inroads during Clinton’s time). The fact that depending on these groups would inevitably drive Democrats to adopt Republican policies was seen as a benefit, not a weakness, of the moves.

  4. Its sad that Yang hasn’t gained more traction than he did…. he really seemed in many ways to be advocating the “new way forward” that really was new. A UBI would give a huge portion of the benefits of free college, welfare reform, child care reform, etc. (Its a lot easier to attend college, pay for or not need childcare, etc. if you have a UBI floor).

    And I completely agree that the Dems are terrible at messaging, often defining their policies by what they DIDN’T do rather than what they did do.

    But I also think its a bit glib to understate many/most Americans’ need to feel superior to other people and express that through policy. Its not really the white suburban intellectuals that are rejecting these policies.

    Everyone thinks they are the ones with merit, and anyone else that gets any benefit whatsoever is the one that is taking advantage. One of my leftiest friends HATES the idea of a UBI or universal college tuition because he thinks that is just going to raise his taxes and those snooty elitists making $100k+ per year don’t need it (looking side-eye at me the whole time). He’s an automechanic, who has chronic shoulder issues from lifting and crawling under cars/trucks, and would get huge benefit from such policies…. but he can’t stand seeing other people “win.”

    So I applaud the baby steps the Dems are taking (child credit, etc.)… and hope that as a coalition the Dems can pull enough sanity and courage together to not sink the nation in 2022 and beyond.

  5. OK, Chris. Powerful, evocative words, describing some nebulous vision. You have stated that the 2022 election is the most crucial (after the 2020). I don’t disagree.

    So lay out for me, what, precisely, the loser party must do, in ACTUAL actions, to stave off disaster. I figure they have 220, maybe 240, days to craft policies and try to get them through the House AND Senate, then integrated into a campaign platform.

    And WHO is going to lead this transformation? Who among the loser party pantheon is going to step up, immediately, take the reigns, and lead the counterattack, if the existing leadership is moribund.

    The loser party does not have years to navel gaze and find some leader who can get through to someone sitting at their kitchen table. They need someone today, not 3 years year from now, not 18 months, but NOW.

    Because if they officially lose control in 2022 (face it, they have unofficially already), 2024 is a fait accompli, and you can forget about any kind of solution that is “democratic”.

    1. I have to just hope that so much of the current disastisfaction and poor showing in 2021 hopefully comes from the ongoing COVID burden (thanks Delta and antivaxxers!), and frustration with the sausage making of the infrastructure/build-back-better bills.

      Kids vaxes and time hopefully will improve the COVID situation by 2022 voting.
      The infrastructure bill is done, and hopefully later this week they can hammer through some version of buiild-back-better, that will be disappointing for many but still hugely important and a big step forward.

      The economy is doing fine, and while the supply-chain stuff is a mess – I don’t see a good government solution there except to wait it out (and the infrastructure investments that just passed)…. but by next summer our klepto-capitalists will be really stupid if they can’t figure out how to make money off of “solving” this crisis (of their own creation).

      So we already have the bills and the campaign. By summer 2022 you campaign on a newly re-opened and hopefully healthy America, gloat about how infrastructure investments “solved” the supply-chain crisis, and tout all the good stuff in build-back-better.

      I think Pelosi also said she would step down after this turn? Give her a victory lap for pushing these bills through, and then all her wannabe replacements can talk about how great she was and about how they will take it even further going forward – hopefully with bigger majorities to get around the Manchin/Sinema nonsense.

      1. “I don’t see a good government solution there except to wait it out (and the infrastructure investments that just passed)….”

        I disagree.

        The biggest thing Biden could be doing to guarantee a Democratic victory in 2022 is to be spending every day from today until Christmas traveling to various supply chain bottlenecks around the country first and world second, signing whatever executive orders he can to do immediate action and petitioning the Dems in Congress to pass legislation otherwise. The Democrats in Somos should have appealed to permanently overturn the Jones Act.

        He should do whatever he can to be saving people’s Christmas right now. Then he should parlay all of that into proposed legislation over 2022. Let the Republicans vote against Christmas if they dare.

        Then the narrative of his first two years would be year one: demand side economics, year two: supply side economics.

      2. I just don’t see how any of this matters. What is the path to keeping the house in the new, more heavily gerrymandered 2022 districts?

        With the filibuster in place, what is the path to 60 D votes in the Senate? Without that, forget any legislation getting passed short of tax cuts for the wealthy or big deregulation bills.

        Any narrative about progress or benefits which could come about from the infrastructure packages, which might help the Ds, is easily countered by the highly effective, battle-hardened, heavily-funded right-wing media ecosystem.

        Oh, the “liberal media” will save us? How has that been working out? They will stick with running their more profitable “Dems in Disarray” stories from here on out.

        Without any major legislation fixing how the R states run their elections, and choose their electors, how is the popular vote ever going to elect another president?

        Oh, and how is that Supreme Court justice nomination process been going?

        How many of your normie friends even see any of this coming? Short of the zombie hordes coming to their senses, it doesn’t look like voting is our way out anymore.

        US democracy has ended. It’s all over but the shouting.

        We need a plan for what comes next.

  6. Great article, and I don’t disagree with any of it, but I’m not sure how much further we can go without addressing the elephant in the room. US democracy as described by our revered Constitution is a third-tier, flawed democracy. At the time, this 18th-century document described a brilliant, game-changing system of government. However, it contains glaring anti-democratic flaws, most obviously the allocation of Senators, who’s in charge of federal elections, and this awful joke we call the electoral college.

    The libertarian billionaires have been experts at gaming this overmatched document, using a carefully executed plan over a period of decades. This effort, combined with liberals self-gerrymandering into big cities in liberal states, has effectively ended any pretense of majority rule in the US.

    The entirely predictable end result, which we’re seeing more clearly every day, is the failure of the US government to pass even broadly supported policies. This is already leading to the #1 cause of the death of democracies: cynicism. Young people are finally now believing the best propaganda line the billionaires have ever created: government is not the solution to the problem, government IS the problem. Already minorities, who worked so hard to defeat the demagogue and retake Georgia, are failing to see a return on their investment. Voter turnout is a fading savior.

    October 20th was a blip on the media radar. Just a few stories about the failure of the voting rights act, despite broad public support, because of the filibuster. But historians will note that date as the final nail in the coffin of US democracy. With redistricting, there is little chance the Ds (aka the majority of voters) will keep the House in 2022. With the filibuster and the lopsided allocation of Senators, there is no chance of any major popular reform passing the Senate. Heavily gerrymandered states will have newly unrestrained far-right leadership sending their own electors for president in 2024, preventing the popular vote from ever electing a president again. The Supreme Court, well, that’s already packed 6-3 with the billionaires’ Federalist Society judges.

    The last hope we had was the billionaires losing their grip on their base of zombies, but that died with the results coming in from Virginia.

    I don’t see how anything we do at this point is going to matter. Even if we had the best Ds running the show, which we don’t because we forgot to pay attention to civics for generations, it looks like game over.

    1. A decade ago Democrats didn’t pursue these plans when they had 60 Senate seats and a 60 vote advantage in the House. They passed a mealy package of healthcare half-measures that gave middle income voters almost nothing, except eliminating pre-existing conditions. Throughout the whole process all we heard was fear about the backlash if they went too far. That backlashed ended up being much worse than they imagined because because they’d been too timid to deliver anything that most voters would notice.

      If Democrats had a 60 vote majority in the House and a filibuster proof margin in the Senate they’d be even more conservative than they were in 2009.

      1. Jon

        The 60 seat Senate of 2009 is a myth. Ted Kennedy had a seizure the day before Obama’s inauguration, and eventually succumbed to his brain tumor in August. Byrd was also in poor health, was hospitalized in May, and died in June. Al Franken’s election in Minnesota was contested for 7 months. When he was finally sworn in that July – technically the Democrats had a 60 seat super-majority (including Arlen Spector switching parties in April), but Byrd and Kennedy were not effectively able to carry out the duties of their office.

        On February 4, 2010 – Scott Brown (R) was sworn in to replace Ted Kennedy, effectively ending what was at best a one year sort of supermajority.

        And that doesn’t include the antics of Joe Lieberman related to the ACA. The problem with a big tent is that you’ll always have a few clowns.

        This is not to refute your expectations of what the current Democratic party would do with a supermajority.

      2. Whether it’s 60 or 58, the point stands that they had a *dominating* majority in both houses. Not since Carter, enjoying the revulsion of Republicans after Watergate, has any President enjoyed such a big majority. And yet they didn’t get anything done.

        No matter how much Obama professes that it was because his hands were tied, don’t believe his BS. Every President before him passed major legislation with smaller majorities. Reagan spent his entire presidency with an entrenched Democratic House, and alternating between Dem and Republican majorities in the Senate. It is not weakness that led them to abandon most of their progressive agenda. They never wanted it. It was a useful tool to get elected, but nothing more.

    2. Lots of Democrats are willing to let Manchin and Sinema carry the water and face the ire of the Dem base, while secretly reassuring their donors that it won’t pass, or working behind the scenes to ensure their personal special interest donor is protected.

      For example, while making noises about taxing billionaires, Democrats quietly removed the provision to tax carried interest as regular income. This is almost 100% a tax benefit for private equity funds, a dominant industry in NYC. Not surprisingly, Chuck Schumer is from New York. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever for this tax sop to exist. Even conservative economists agree that it doesn’t help incentivize job creation or risk taking. It’s purely a carve out for a very powerful special interest. When Republicans are in power, Democrats are happy to howl about the injustice of private equity folks paying lower tax rates than common folks. Yet when they have the power to do something about it, they quietly look away.

      Again, this is a great example of my point that Dems aren’t driven by fear of progressive policies. They genuinely don’t like them, because they’re captive to their donors, and have now adopted their worldview. No one outside of finance circles even knows about the arcane law. The chance of blowback from main st. voters thinking it’s evidence for the second coming of Lenin is nil. It won’t harm the economy. And yet, the Dems won’t do it. Because at the end of the day, they’re beholden to conservative (in the traditional sense) donors.

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