“The breakthrough will mean that the President’s willingness to give the Senate time to find a rare compromise will have paid off. The pact will, however, fall far short of the much more ambitious plan that Biden originally tabled and is sure to dismay liberals in the Democratic Party, who are demanding a companion proposal worth $6 trillion that they will try to squeeze through the 50-50 Senate using only Democratic votes.
The sudden rush for progress in an institution that often dawdles was brought on by the approaching July 4 recess that effectively begins in the Senate on Thursday night. Legislative time is sparse after that until after Labor Day.
The compressed timeline comes at a moment when Biden and Democrats badly need a win. Since the President signed a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill in March, it’s often looked like minority Republicans have been running the ship. The GOP crushed two Democratic priorities — a bipartisan, independent commission into the January 6 insurrection and on Tuesday used filibuster blockading tactics to kill a vast voting rights bill. Those moves further convinced liberal Democrats that Biden’s hopes of working with an opposition party that seems no longer to care about democracy are futile.”
Collinson writes that “An infrastructure bill would be especially important to Biden because first-term presidencies are all about momentum as a president’s power to force action tends to wane quickly. If Biden doesn’t rack up some legacy achievements soon, his capacity to do so will diminish. And Democrats are also anxiously eying the calendar knowing their precarious hold on power on Capitol Hill may end after midterm elections next year.”
Thinking visually, Collinson adds”While Biden has infuriated many on his own side, a bipartisan bill signing ceremony would be politically valuable for a President who has pitched a moderate image, despite the considerable ambition of his domestic agenda.” It’s a good look for the Democratic Party and the President of a nation hungry for some signs of leadership for more cooperation and less partisan yammering.
The reality is that our nation is still racially segregated. And it’s segregated in ways that limit our opportunities to learn about each other’s life experiences, even if our laws do not formally segregate our nation as they once did. This means that some live in a world in which they rarely encounter the conditions that bring harm to others everyday; others can’t escape those very conditions.
….The places where we live affect not only our access to resources, but also who we meet, interact with and become friends with. And because our neighborhoods are so segregated, our social networks are also siloed — about three-quarters of white Americans don’t have any nonwhite friends, according to a 2014 survey from PRRI. The nature of segregation in the U.S. means that we only end up seeing and learning about what our own groups experience, making it hard to understand the lives of people outside of our own group.
This explains, in part, why Americans have such a hard time understanding just how unequal our nation is, and moreover, the racialized nature of that inequality. For example, if you ask Americans about racial wealth gaps, you’ll find that they severely underestimate those gaps; according to a 2019 paper from a team of psychologists, Americans think the Black-white wealth gap is 40 to 80 percent smaller than it actually is.
Regarding racial inequality in the U.S., Lewis notes that “There is a mountain of evidence documenting its manifestation in education, health, criminal justice, employment and many other domains. And there are experts who have devoted their careers to studying how the structure, culture and politics of American society (re)produce inequality, as well as pathways for disrupting those cycles.” Further, Lewis argues, “if we want to disrupt long-standing patterns of racial inequality, our best course of action as a country might be to rely on that evidence and expertise instead of trying to convince people that the disparities exist, as it will always be hard for people to see inequality if it doesn’t bring harm to their own lives.”
Stephen Wolf at Daily Kos Elections has a good summary (fair and balanced!) of Manchin’s proposed voting rights compromise. Well worth reading.
“While Manchin’s latest demands are likely to disappoint Democrats and democracy reformers who have called for as wide-ranging a bill as possible, Democrats hold little leverage over the West Virginia senator, whose vote is essential to overcome both GOP procedural obstruction and opposition to reform on the underlying merits. Manchin’s move to detail changes that could win his vote is a key first step toward reaching some sort of compromise that could one day pass Congress…”
“After immigration at the southern border dipped during the coronavirus pandemic, the surge of migrants in 2021 has already surpassed recent records. Some have critiqued the Biden administration for quickly rolling back Trump administration policies without providing additional shelter capacity for arriving children. This episode of ABC’s Examined explores how the situation at the border is changing, and what the Biden administration could do to address the crisis.”
The Democratic Party, by and large, relies on corporate mainstream media to do its messaging work and is then constantly furious when this strategy fails or backfires. Especially in Congress, leadership designs its strategy around trying to get a certain kind of coverage in the mainstream press; Democrats schedule votes intended to fail in order to create news stories about Republican intransigence, for example, and perform oversight hearings primarily in order to get particular members on television news. Given the average age of Democratic leadership, many of them probably learned or honed this strategy back when Americans watched one of three evening news broadcasts and read their municipality’s largest paper daily.
And this messaging strategy still does have some effect on non-Fox cable news coverage (in many congressional offices, as in many bad airport bars, cable news is on all day), but the limitations of the approach reveal themselves in every Media Matters bulletin, every complaint about how The New York Times has “framed” some issue, every frustrated tweet about Sunday talk shows featuring panels made up of Republicans on the one side and nonpartisan pundits on the other. The corporate media is not as implacably hostile to mainstream liberalism as it is to the left, but neither is it liberalism’s reliable ally.
Conservatives, on the other hand, simply tell their supporters whatever message they wish to convey through their expansive and organized propaganda networks. It is important to note that the official Republican Party does not lead this process. In fact, the party at this point is led by the propaganda network (parts of which are in turn captured by their increasingly rabid audiences). Conservatives can argue about whether this development has been “good” for those in the party actually interested in conservative policy goals. But no one can really deny the political success of the operation. It has kept the GOP relevant—and kept conservatives solidly in control of the party—even when actual conservative governance has regularly led to catastrophe, scandal, and failure.
Pareene conceeds “Liberals shouldn’t (and couldn’t) recreate the right-wing messaging operation, not least because their voters, and the voters they need to reach, consume media very differently from the conservative base.” However, notes Pareene, “liberals—normal, mainstream, Pod Save America–listening, Barack Obama–voting liberals—need to learn to get their message directly to people instead of trying to wrangle NPR and The New York Times into covering the news in a way favorable to Democrats.” In addition, Pareene adds:
Some political science professors summarized a recent research experiment in Politico Magazine earlier this month. Alexander Coppock, Donald P. Green, and Ethan Porter “conducted a series of randomized experiments to test whether parties can win over new loyalists” with ads that promoted a party rather than a particular candidate. What they found was that, with repeat exposure, “people changed their partisan identification ever so slightly after seeing the ads,” and that “higher doses of party-promoting ads” could influence people’s voting decisions and feelings about Donald Trump. “Partisan identity is usually understood as a root cause of political behavior,” the political scientists wrote. “By moving it, we also appear to have moved real-world political decisions.”
In the world of American political communications, ads promoting a party are a novelty. The researchers concluded that “both parties could benefit from producing the kinds of ads we tested,” and it’s true that neither party currently does this with conventional TV advertising. But while these political scientists framed their experiments as part of a novel ad strategy, what they were really doing was directly exposing people to particular political messages that had been designed to influence their political affinities—and even their identities. There is already language to describe what that kind of messaging is. These political scientists independently invented party propaganda, exposed Americans to it, and discovered that it can be effective, especially with constant exposure. Conservatives don’t need to learn to do this: It’s how their movement sustains itself.
Pareene notes further, “Amusingly, the top-shelf political ad professionals the political scientists hired to make the ads were “flummoxed by the request,” because no one had ever before asked them to create messaging designed to promote the Democratic Party or to convince people to associate themselves with it. Despite how familiar American liberals are with the power of propaganda when yielded by the right, it has seemingly never occurred to the most powerful of them to do any propagandizing on behalf of their own causes and party!”
Put another way, should Democrats put more effort into promoting their party? They could hardly do less. Perhaps experimenting with the concept in a few swing districts could shed some light on the potential of the approach as a grand strategy.
Joe Manchin is taking a lot of flack these days and I get why. If only he was not the actually-existing Joe Manchin from the actually-existing conservative state of West Virginia but instead some other Joe Manchin from some other, much more liberal, West Virginia! The Democrats’ job would certainly be a lot easier.
But this is all a bit silly isn’t it? In reality, the Democrats are damn lucky to have Manchin. They and any chance of large-scale progressive legislation would be dead without him. As political scientist Hans Noel noted in the Post:
“[I]t should be possible for Democrats to hold two thoughts at once about the West Virginia politician: First, what he is doing is lamentable, damaging to the party’s goals. But second, his presence in the Senate is a gift to the Democratic Party. Having a Democratic senator in 2021 in a state like West Virginia — where neither Hillary Clinton nor Biden could crack 30 percent of the vote — is a remarkable bit of good fortune.
Had Manchin not won reelection in 2018, his seat would be held by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R). This is the Morrisey who joined Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s lawsuit that sought to overturn the results in four states where Trump lost; so probably not, to put it mildly, someone whom Democrats could persuade to back the For the People Act. More importantly, all else remaining the same, had Morrisey won, Democrats would be in the minority in the Senate, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.) would be setting the body’s agenda, as majority leader.
But perhaps West Virginia needn’t have chosen between Manchin and someone like Morrisey in the first place. What if Democrats ran and nominated someone more liberal, or at least more likely to vote with Democrats, in Manchin’s next primary?
Consider, however, that Manchin beat Morrisey with 49.6 percent of the vote to Morrisey’s 46.3. This in a state where Biden got 29.7 percent of the presidential vote in 2020 and the Democratic challenger to Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R) that same year got 27 percent. There’s no evidence that another Democrat could come anywhere close to Manchin’s electoral performance.”
Them’s the facts. You might not like ’em, but them’s the facts.
And it’s not like they’re getting nothing from Manchin. David Leonhardt spells out his utility on economic issues, if not on things like the voting rights bill:
“The issues that tend to unite the Democratic Party are economic issues, and Manchin is a good case study. When he breaks with his party, it is typically on issues other than economic policy.
He effectively killed the voting rights bill this week, and he voted for Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation in 2018. Manchin is also well to the right of most congressional Democrats on abortion and gun policy.
Yet he has often stuck with his party on taxes, health insurance, labor unions and other pocketbook issues. Like every other Democrat in the Senate, Manchin voted against both Donald Trump’s attempts to repeal Obamacare and the 2017 Trump tax cut that was skewed heavily toward the rich. Earlier this year, Manchin voted for Biden’s $1.9 trillion virus rescue bill. Without his vote, that bill would not be law.
On all these issues — economic and otherwise — Manchin’s votes tend to reflect the majority opinion of his constituents. West Virginia is a working-class state, and American working-class voters tend to be culturally conservative and economically progressive. Polls show that most favor abortion restrictions, tight border security and well-funded police departments — as well as expanded Medicare and pre-K, a higher minimum wage, federal spending to create jobs and tax increases on the rich.
“Manchin is a pocketbook Democrat, not a social warrior,” Carl Hulse, The Times’s chief Washington correspondent, told me.
This pattern suggests that Manchin may be willing to support versions of the next two major items on Biden’s agenda: an infrastructure bill and an “American Families Plan” to expand child care, education and other areas….
If Manchin had provided the deciding vote for the voting rights bill, it arguably would have been unlike any other vote he had cast in his career. The same would not be true of a vote for the infrastructure bill or the families plan.”
Leonhardt goes on to draw the crucial lessons for the Democrats going forward:
“What about the longer term for the Democratic Party? Some Democrats are worried that the lack of a voting rights bill will doom the party to election losses starting in 2022. But that seems like an overstatement.
The voting restrictions being passed by Republican state legislators are worrisomely antidemocratic and partisan in their intent, many election experts say. And they may give Republicans an unfair advantage in very close elections. But it seems likely they will have only a modest impact, as Nate Cohn, who analyzes elections for The Times, has explained. Democrats can still win elections.
Manchin happens to be a useful guide on that topic, too. He has kept winning even as West Virginia has become deeply Republican, by appealing to the state’s culturally conservative, economically progressive majority. To varying degrees, some other Democrats from red or purple states, like Senators Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, offer similar lessons. So did Obama, who fared better with working-class voters than many other Democrats.
This approach is the only evident way for Democrats to stem their losses in recent years among working-class voters — and not only among the white working class. A recent analysis of the 2020 election by three Democratic groups argued that the party lost Black, Latino and Asian American support because it did not have a sharp enough economic message. A recent poll by a Republican group found that most Latinos supported both tight border security and “traditional values centered on faith, family and freedom….
The Democrats’ problem isn’t so much Joe Manchin as it is the dearth of other senators who are as good at winning tough elections as he is.”
That’s right. You don’t like Joe Manchin? Fine. Go elect a bunch of other Senators in tough states so Democrats aren’t so dependent on him. The continuous rending of garments about his conservatism is truly pointless.
Finally, it’s not clear that Machin did such a bad thing by finally marking clear the For the People Act wasn’t going to pass. It was a quixotic and doomed approach to the problems it purported to solve. John Judis notes the profound problems with the bill and how a narrower approach to voting rights problems would be more realistic and effective:
“The Democrats — and freedom-loving Republicans and independents — should primarily be concerned with the laws that discourage normal non-pandemic era voting; and a bill that directly targeted those measures would enjoy wide popular support and could even garner some Republican support in Congress. But the For the People Act (H.R. 1), which was passed by House of Representatives in March, is not such a bill. Instead, it is an 886-page Christmas tree of progressive election measures. I am not saying Manchin is right to oppose it. I would probably favor 90 percent of the provisions. But it’s very understandable that he does and that other Democrats, in addition to every Republican, would.
These measures include, as I have described before, wide-ranging campaign finance reform, including public funding of elections, the institution of non-partisan redistricting, support for Congress being able to declare the District of Columbia a state, and a panoply of regulations that would govern state elections — elections that are supposed to be the purview of states. Many of these provisions are controversial. In West Virginia, the Association of County Clerks sent Manchin and his fellow senator, Shelley Moore Capito, a letter opposing the bill on the grounds that West Virginia was not prepared to implement many of the new regulations. Of the 54 of 55 clerks who signed the letter, 37 were Democrats….
Democrats would be better off paring down their initiative to several measures that would be readily understandable and popular — making election-day a federal holiday, for instance. And they would be even better off, as Manchin suggested, putting their weight behind the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore the provisions of the Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court, and permit the Justice Department to block measures intended to curb minority voting. These measures are readily understandable, and would earn some Republican support, and they do address the Republican efforts to rig forthcoming elections. If this bill failed, that defeat could be used against Republican candidates in 2022 and 2024. It would portray the Republicans as captive of Trump’s bigotry and assault against democracy, and this measure’s defeat might also lead some Democrats to reconsider their opposition to filibuster reform.
As for the filibuster, the Democrats currently lack the popular support — as well as support in the Senate — for doing away entirely with the filibuster. To do that, Democrats would have to show that Republicans were using the filibuster to block measures that [are] wildly popular. The For the People Act doesn’t qualify. Nor do…most of [the] major bills that House Democrats have passed and are hoping to pass that cover gender, race, immigration, labor, and gun control.”
These are the political realities Democrats have to deal with until the situation changes. Until then though, you still have Joe Manchin–The People’s Hero!
Liberal Democrats are enraged at West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin for opposing the For the People Act and for supporting the filibuster, which would have to be overturned in order for the voting legislation, even with Manchin’s support, to get through Congress. Manchin may, however, be doing these liberal Democrats a favor in this case.
In response to setbacks in November 2020, Republican state governments are attempting to rig their election laws to favor their own candidates. Some of these measures, such as limiting voting by mail, may not favor Republicans at all. (Several of the measures counter rules that were specially designed for voting during the pandemic and may be irrelevant in 2022 and beyond.) Other measures, such as limiting polling places and times in urban areas, could depress minority voting and benefit Republicans. Still others, such as allowing state legislators to overturn popular election results, are probably unconstitutional.
The Democrats — and freedom-loving Republicans and independents — should primarily be concerned with the laws that discourage normal non-pandemic era voting; and a bill that directly targeted those measures would enjoy wide popular support and could even garner some Republican support in Congress. But the For the People Act (H.R. 1), which was passed by House of Representatives in March, is not such a bill. Instead, it is an 886-page Christmas tree of progressive election measures. I am not saying Manchin is right to oppose it. I would probably favor 90 percent of the provisions. But it’s very understandablethat he does and that other Democrats, in addition to every Republican, would.
Judis argues that “Democrats would be better off paring down their initiative to several measures that would be readily understandable and popular” and focus on passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which has more hope of bipartisan support. Some of the measures in the ‘For the People Act’ could more realistically be passed later on, along with some of the more controversial social reforms – particularly if Dems pick up some Senate and House seats in the midterm elections, and in 2024. Also,
What Democrats can pass without the threat of the filibuster are spending and taxing measures. These can be passed through a process called reconciliation. These kind of economic measures, epitomized in the Biden administration’s relief and recovery bills, are popular. So, too, was the recent Senate bill promoting an industrial policy, which won bipartisan support. In other words, the presence of the filibuster forces Democrats in the Senate and the Biden administration to focus their efforts on popular economic measures. These measures will put the party in good stead in the next elections, which Democrats must win if they don’t want whatever they accomplish in these years to be reversed or subverted. If the Democrats lose the Congress in 2022, they will be stymied.
According to a recent CBO report, the principal driver of slow growth since 2008 has been a sharp slowdown in the growth of the labor supply. As baby boomers joined the workforce, the annual increase in labor supply averaged more than 2%, peaking at 2.5% between 1974 and 1981. As late as the 1990s, annual labor-force expansion averaged 1.2%. But as the population aged and baby boomers began to retire, annual increases fell to 0.5% between 2008 and 2020, a figure that the CBO expects to fall to 0.4% in 2021-25 and 0.3% in 2026-31.
The distant future looks no brighter. The total fertility rate needed to maintain a stable population is about 2.1 children for every woman. In 2020 the U.S. rate dropped to 1.64, the latest in a long decline. The workforce of the 2030s and 2040s could be smaller than today’s, a prospect that other advanced economies are also facing, including China.
The other main driver of economic growth—output per worker—has been less predictable. Annual increases averaged 2.3% between 1950 and 1973, fell to 0.7% between 1974 and 1981, then surged to 2% in the 1990s before falling back to about 1.3% in 2001-20.
Galston argues that ” international experience suggests that there is little government can do to increase birthrates. But there is much that can be done to improve labor-force participation. Government can make it easier for women to remain in the workforce, for those formerly incarcerated to re-enter it, for young adults not bound for college to find technical training and for aging Americans to work part time if they choose, among other things.”
But Galston also sees a possible solution to America’s immigration crisis emerging from the labor supply slowdown:
Another strategy is more immigration. We have gone in the other direction in recent years, but immigration policy reforms keyed to the needs of the economy may be easier to sell to a skeptical public than an expanded version of the status quo.
However, Galston warns, “Getting America back to faster growth will take resources and focus. But if growth remains slow, Mr. Biden’s honorable effort to improve the lives of working- and middle-class families may end up hobbled by the well-known difficulties of zero-sum politics.”
Has the Most Important Part of Bidenomics Already Been “Passed”?
No, I don’t mean the American Rescue Plan though it is bound up with what I’m referring to: Bidenomics’ commitment to a full-employment, high-pressure economy. America has now had four decades or so of *not* being committed to a full employment economy and it has not gone well, generating a chronic disadvantage for labor vis a vis capital, stagnating wages, soaring inequality and slow productivity growth. Resetting American economic policy away from this disastrous course could be the most important thing Biden accomplishes as President.
“For the bulk of the past four decades, our government hasn’t merely declined to achieve full employment through public hiring; it has actively sought to keep millions of Americans perpetually unemployed.
This bipartisan consensus against full employment was rarely articulated to the public in forthright terms. During the crisis that consolidated the paradigm, policy-makers were sometimes blunt; in 1979, Fed chair Paul Volcker told Congress that in order for inflation to be brought down to a tolerable level, “the standard of living of the average American has to decline.” But as inflation became more of a historical memory than a present danger, the government’s prioritization of price stability over employment became increasingly camouflaged behind the dry technocratic verbiage of central-bank press conferences. Once decoded, the gist of this new consensus was simple enough: If unemployment falls beneath its “natural” threshold, then employers will be forced into a bidding war for scarce workers, who will then secure wages in excess of their productivity, which will force businesses to raise prices, which will lead workers to demand yet-higher wages, which will force businesses to raise prices further still, thereby setting off an inflationary spiral that will be difficult to stop. Thus, to save the economy from such destabilization, the government has to reduce economic demand — by raising interest rates, or cutting federal spending, or both — before unemployment gets too low, even if inflation is not yet apparent.
This official narrative obscured the class interests implicated by the government’s prioritization of low inflation over plentiful jobs. America’s wealthy have a greater material interest in price stability than they do in full employment; moderate inflation erodes the value of their bonds and cash holdings, while moderate unemployment has little adverse impact on their finances — and may even increase the value of their stocks by suppressing labor’s bargaining power. The bulk of U.S. workers, on the other hand, have a much greater interest in abundant jobs than ultralow prices. In a full-employment economy — where firms must compete for scarce labor — employers will be more likely to offer opportunities to “low skill” workers, on-the-job training to inexperienced ones, accommodations to the partially disabled, and wage increases to all. Nevertheless, policy-makers spent the bulk of the past 40 years preventing that economy from coming into being. In fact, as recently as 2015, the Fed treated preempting the mere risk of modest inflation as a higher priority than the achievement of an unemployment rate below 5 percent.”
But now, on the heels of massive fiscal support for the economy and workers, both in the latter part of the Trump administration and rapidly out of the box by the Biden administration, we seem to be getting the highly desired reset of macroeconomic policy. Joe Biden recently said in Cleveland:
“My sole measure of economic success is how working families are doing, whether they have jobs that deliver dignity. That means we have to focus on wages like we used to. When it comes to the economy we’re building, rising wages aren’t a bug; they’re a feature. We want to get — we want to get something economists call “full employment.” Instead of workers competing with each other for jobs that are scarce, we want employees to compete with each other to attract work. We want the — the companies to compete to attract workers.
That kind of competition in the market doesn’t just give workers more ability to earn a higher wage, it gives them the power to demand to be treated with dignity and respect in the workplace. And it helps ensure that America — when you walk into work, you don’t have to check your right to be treated with respect at the door. “
“Biden’s speech was remarkable for its acknowledgment of full employment’s class implications: When jobs are plentiful, workers get leverage over bosses — which is a good thing, since workers cannot reliably secure “dignity and respect in the workplace” unless they have some material power over their employers.
This was especially notable in light of the speech’s context. In recent weeks, lamentations of a “labor shortage” have filled the business press, while multiple Obama-administration economists have sounded alarms over inflation. The president’s remarks serve as a tacit rebuke to both of those criticisms. Biden suggests that a scarcity of labor isn’t a blight to be avoided, but a goal to be pursued (after all, a synonym for “labor shortage” is “a dearth of involuntarily unemployed people”). And he also signaled an allegiance to full employment and wage growth over the minimization of inflationary risk.”
“[A]s Jared Bernstein [now a key Biden economic advisor] wrote as far back as 1999, there is a reason Martin Luther King put full employment at the center of the civil rights agenda. For all the attention paid to diversity and inclusion in white-collar workplaces, the vast majority of workers have working-class jobs….Full employment lifts up people on the margins of the labor market [and] punishes discrimination…by genuinely changing the calculus about how much sense it makes to be choosy.”
In short, full employment, as Joe Biden himself might put it, is a big fucking deal.
At Mother Jones, Ari Berman and Nick Surgey report on the growing influence of Heritage Action for America in spearheading voter suppression laws in state legislatures across America. As Berman and Surgey note,
“In a private meeting last month with big-money donors, the head of a top conservative group boasted that her outfit had crafted the new voter suppression law in Georgia and was doing the same with similar bills for Republican state legislators across the country. “In some cases, we actually draft them for them,” she said, “or we have a sentinel on our behalf give them the model legislation so it has that grassroots, from-the-bottom-up type of vibe.”
The Georgia law had “eight key provisions that Heritage recommended,” Jessica Anderson, the executive director of Heritage Action for America, a sister organization of the Heritage Foundation, told the foundation’s donors at an April 22 gathering in Tucson, in a recording obtained by the watchdog group Documented and shared with Mother Jones. Those included policies severely restricting mail ballot drop boxes, preventing election officials from sending absentee ballot request forms to voters, making it easier for partisan workers to monitor the polls, preventing the collection of mail ballots, and restricting the ability of counties to accept donations from nonprofit groups seeking to aid in election administration.
All of these recommendations came straight from Heritage’s list of “best practices” drafted in February. With Heritage’s help, Anderson said, Georgia became “the example for the rest of the country.”
The leaked video reveals the extent to which Heritage is leading a massive campaign to draft and pass model legislation restricting voting access, which has been swiftly adopted this year in the battleground states of Georgia, Florida, Arizona, and Iowa. It’s no coincidence that so many GOP-controlled states are rushing to pass similar pieces of legislation in such a short period of time.”
While mulling some recent material from The Bulwark, I thought I’d explain something to the converted “Never Trumpers” the outlet represents, and did so at New York:
For a while now I’ve had a guilty-pleasure reading habit: The Bulwark, that semi-official outlet of Never Trumpers who view themselves as having definitively broken with the GOP thanks to their former party’s thralldom to Donald J. Trump. I share its contributors’ belief that they (the tribe usefully described by Miller as Red Dog Democrats) represent not just a self-promoting claque of elite scribblers but a real if marginal faction of the Democratic Party, having burned a lot of bridges on their way out of the GOP. Their views appear to parallel those of a significant number of suburban Republicans and independents who voted Democratic in 2018 and 2020. And given the very close balance between voters of the two parties, as reflected most recently in 2020, Democrats really can’t afford to contemptuously reject any potential adherents, however alien or even repugnant they might find their backgrounds.
So it’s understandable when Bulwark co-founder Charlie Sykes expresses frustration that Democrats refuse to consider their pleas for policy concessions on grounds of holding old grudges:
“The spending. The wokeness. The repeal of the Hyde Amendment. I could go on …
“These are difficult times for folks on the center-right, who’ve tried to join Democrats in a loose alliance to protect the Republic from Trumpism …
“Litmus tests are applied: it’s not enough to be pro-democracy, NTers are also expected to embrace the elements of the progressive agenda — from free community college, to abortion, rent moratoriums, police funding, transgenderism, CRT, social spending, and the candidacy of Greta Thunberg for sainthood.”
Sykes fears it’s all very personal, and warns, “If you cancel moderates/conservatives for their past sins, you don’t have a coalition.”
Here’s the thing, though: It’s not really about the Red Dogs. Yes, I’m sure it’s been tough for them to watch Democrats largely come together around a legislative program that’s significantly more progressive than the one advanced by the Obama administration. But Democrats have been coalescing around the basics of the Build Back Better agenda for some time now. That the famously moderate Joe Biden now embraces it is a sign of how the party has slowly evolved, not some sort of betrayal or surrender to the left. And anyone who paid close attention to the 2020 presidential primaries should have understood that there is less distance between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders than between Joe Biden and the Joe Biden of the 1990s.
Part of what has happened is simply a resolution of internal conflicts among Democrats that left them defensive and at times incoherent. A classic example is one that Sykes mentioned: abortion policy. For years, Democrats claimed to value reproductive rights even as they accepted significant limitations on them: e.g., the Hyde Amendment, which made abortion services, unlike any other medical services, ineligible for any sort of federal support. That amendment, along with acceptance of some largely symbolic restrictions on rare late-term abortions, and the whole “safe, legal, and rare” messaging introduced by Bill Clinton, represented concessions to a significant bloc of Democratic voters and Democratic pols who did not recognize reproductive rights at all.
That has changed over time. Anti-abortion Democratic politicians are a rare and shrinking breed, and there are now significantly fewer anti-abortion Democratic voters than there are pro-choice Republicans. Most Democrats, including Joe Biden, have made the leap into a more coherent and unified position. They aren’t going to turn back the clock to satisfy ex-Republicans, but they aren’t insisting on a “litmus test” just to annoy or exclude them, either. The same could be said for other policy tenets once beloved by a significant number of Democrats — from fiscal hawkishness to armed interventionism to an openness to “entitlement reform” — that remain attractive to the newest proto-Democrats. As for the idea that Democrats are some sort of rigid ideological cult: Come on, seriously? Look at what’s going on with the attempted enactment of the Build Back Better reconciliation bill. If this is an intolerant and exclusive political party, I’d hate to see a loosey-goosey one try to function. It may just be that the issues Red Dogs fret about may lie outside the still relatively loose bounds of party unity.
This doesn’t mean Red Dogs should despair, but it may mean another painful reevaluation of priorities, recognizing that most have already had to sacrifice a lot of old allegiances and even the habitual language used to make sense of the political world. In many respects, the Never Trumpers resemble their spiritual (and in some cases biological) predecessors, the neo-conservatives. These were people who broke with the Democratic Party out of a conviction that Democratic views on national security made continued party loyalty impossible. But most of them retained many views that horrified their new Republican allies until they accepted the inevitable role of a factional minority and grew to accommodate or even share the policy positions and ideological language of the GOP, which was increasingly dominated by conservatives with their own ideological-consistency demands.
Most Red Dogs have no illusions about the party they’ve left and understand their constituencies are too small to form a third force or demand concessions from a position of strength. Most, I suppose, will get used to the strange and sometimes lurid landscape of the Donkey Party. Others will embrace the posture of the gadfly, the people of no party or coalition. But it’s really not personal. It’s just politics.