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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Teixeira: What Country Does the Left Think It’s Living In?

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

The Congressional left probably feels pretty good after their apparent victory, with Biden’s backing, in delaying the infrastructure bill vote until there’s…..well, something on the reconciliation bill. Of course, this whole process increases the likelihood Democrats manage to do nothing at all in the end. Moreover, it’s been blindingly clear for some time that Democrats will not be able to forge agreement on the full $3.5 trillion Building Back Better bill. It will have to be cut down considerably–Manchin’s at $1.5 trillion and Biden has floated $2.3 trillion–and this delay changes that not at all. Indeed, it is not clear that the entire refuse to vote on the infrastructure bill ploy has really accomplished much other than to delay the necessary and inevitable work to cut down and compromise on a smaller reconciliation bill. What’s to stay and what’s to go–what are the core commitments to be put into the bill and communicated to the public?

Perhaps the left wishes to avoid these questions because they misunderstand the country they live in and the actually existing political situation. They think they’re on the verge of Something Big. In reality Democrats are in a very tenuous situation and cannot accomplish what they want in just this Congress given the scale of the problems to be solved and the thinness of their margins. It will take years and more electoral success over larger areas of the country. That’s the long game they should be playing instead of pretending that the only obstacle to the maximum left program is the unaccountable failure of politicians to be bold enough.

David Von Drehle has it right:

“The left lost ground among Latino voters [in 2020] — the fastest-growing slice of the electorate. Sanders and Warren failed to connect with key Black communities in the Democratic Party’s stalwart base. Republicans strengthened their hold on state government, now controlling 30 state legislatures and 27 governorships. This edge can be felt in today’s redistricting battles, which will shape the next 10 years.

With so much handwriting on the wall, progressives have dug in their heels for maximum spending. They professed shock when news broke that Manchin wanted to cap the reconciliation bill at $1.5 trillion, an amount that Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) dismissed as “crumbs.” Deep down, Bush and others on the left may know that an awful lot of voters think $1.5 trillion is more than crumbs.

In hopes of moving President Biden in their direction — though, honestly, no one has any idea where Biden might be, on spending or any number of other issues — progressives have been cooing to him about the New Deal. Biden’s legacy, they purr, could be the greatest since Franklin D. Roosevelt’s.

But Roosevelt did not become the most successful Democratic politician of modern times by holding popular bills hostage to unpopular ones. Today’s progressives misunderstand FDR and his New Deal, and they would have a more promising future if they were to study the example more closely.

Some of the most ambitious progressive legislation of the New Deal — for example, Social Security and the pro-union Wagner Act — did not pass Congress in 1933, immediately after Roosevelt won his first presidential election. These laws passed two years later, after Democrats picked up seats in the midterm election. FDR allowed the public to deliver its verdict on his governing approach. Only then, after voters approved what they had seen so far, did Roosevelt give them more.

If progressives truly want to expand on FDR’s legacy, they will follow in his footsteps. They will take the mountain of money that Manchin is offering to support, add the long-promised infrastructure bill (giving Biden that rarest of talking points, a bipartisan win), stack the cash atop the $1.9 trillion in pandemic relief from last winter and get busy showing what they can deliver if given a chance.

Voters will reward them at the next election if their plans work as well as they say. Instead of finding themselves on the downslope of power, they’ll be strengthened to climb some more.”

One comment on “Teixeira: What Country Does the Left Think It’s Living In?

  1. pjcamp on

    The “refuse to vote on the infrastructure bill” did do one thing. It is pretty clear that Manchin and his fellow travelers were angling for a vote on that first so that they could then discover it wasn’t possible to do reconciliation at all. That’s why Manchin hasn’t made a serious, or even non-nebulous, proposal until now. But at this point, to do infrastructure, they also have to do reconciliation too. And that’s not nothing.


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