washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Democratic Strategist

Voters Want More Bipartisanship – Especially on Infrastructure

At Axios, Hans Nichols shares the content of a memo by Mike Donilon, and advisor to President Biden. An excerpt:

In a Georgetown University Battleground poll:

• Voters see political polarization as the leading challenge for the country. 32% pick polarization in their top two issues, 7pp higher than the next most important issue.
• Despite wide gaps on the importance of many other pressing issues, the Georgetown poll found that voters across party and demographic lines ranked polarization highly.
• An overwhelming majority of respondents said they want a leader who is willing to compromise to get things done (69%).

A CNN poll found that 74% of voters choose “working across the aisle to get things done in Washington, even if it means losing out on some high-priority policies” against “standing firm on their beliefs without compromise, even if it means not much gets done in Washington.”

Voters across the political spectrum want a bipartisan infrastructure deal A July Yahoo/YouGov national poll asked Americans if they support a bipartisan infrastructure deal put together by a group of senators. According to the poll, 53% of Republicans, 51% of Independents, and 64% of Democrats favor the agreement.

This is consistent with their June findings that showed the strong backing of Republicans, Independents, and Democrats for the deal. Similarly, a recent Navigator poll backs this claim. A bipartisan infrastructure agreement elicits broad support among a diverse coalition.

The individual components are even more popular: there is strong, bipartisan support for the inclusion of funding for roads, bridges, ports; for clean water pipes; for the electric grid; and for high-speed Internet service (AP/NORC).

Funding for roads, bridges, and ports
• Republicans: 79%
• Independents: 80%
• Democrats: 87%
• Overall: 83%

Funding for pipes for drinking water
• Republicans: 70%
• Independents: 79%
• Democrats: 85%
• Overall: 79%

Funding for the electric grid
• Republicans: 59%
• Independents: 62%
• Democrats: 73%
• Overall: 66%

Funding for high-speed Internet service
• Republicans: 44%
• Independents: 54%
• Democrats: 78%
• Overall: 62%

A strong 57% of Independent support President Biden’s infrastructure proposal, demonstrating how important it is for these voters to pass a bipartisan deal.

Nichols adds that, “Wednesday’s bipartisan agreement is an important signal to voters that they’re being heard and that their government can work as they think it should – with elected officials from both sides of the aisle coming together to address the concerns that matter most in their lives.”


Political Strategy Notes

No one needs to worry that President Biden might forget to show up in communities where the pivotal working-class constituency lives. In “Biden stays close to home as he plots blue-collar focused presidential travel,” Kevin Liptak writes at CNN Politics: “Want to see President Joe Biden in person? Consider a move to Pennsylvania.…That is where the President visited again Wednesday, his sixth visit to the commonwealth of his birth since taking office six months ago. He toured a Mack Trucks facility in the Lehigh Valley, met with local union members and received a briefing on the company’s new electric dump truck….”It’s a nice area,” Biden observed to one of the facility’s employees as they walked alongside a cab assembly line. “It’s almost heaven. I’m from Scranton.”….Pennsylvania and Ohio will be the site of contested Senate races next year. And those states’ working-class towns and industrial heritage make them well-suited to promote infrastructure, Biden’s current chief agenda item….a pattern has emerged in each of Biden’s trips that underscores his attention toward blue-collar workers. Speaking after visiting a training center for electrical workers in Cincinnati last week, Biden underscored why he has focused in particular on union workers….”If every IBEW person decided they’re going to quit, this country comes to a screeching halt,” he said in a video posted to Instagram….On previous visits to Pennsylvania, Biden could be found touring a flooring company in Chester, speaking at a carpenters training facility in Pittsburgh and celebrating Amtrak’s 50th anniversary at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station….He has engaged in similar activities in neighboring Ohio, which he visited most recently last week, and Michigan, where he took a joy ride in one of Ford’s new electric pickup trucks in May.”

From “Jan. 6 police officers give a master class on the dangers of right-wing extremism” by E. J. Dionne, Jr. at The Washingon Post: “Four law enforcement heroes made abundantly clear at Tuesday’s inaugural hearing of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol why this inquiry is essential and why so many Republicans wanted to keep it from happening….Their dramatic, heartfelt testimony also made an airtight case that right-wing extremism is a clear and present danger to the United States….“What makes the struggle harder and more painful is to know so many of my fellow citizens, including so many of the people I put my life at risk to defend, are downplaying or outright denying what happened,” D.C. police officer Michael Fanone said….A thorough investigation of what happened will necessarily be an inquiry into the right-wing extremism that is bleeding into the mainstream of the Republican Party. The best among the Republicans know how dangerous this is for their party and the country. Unfortunately, they do not currently have the upper hand in the GOP, which is why Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) were named to the committee by a Democratic House speaker, not by their own leadership….And there was nothing subtle about the racism confronted by Dunn, who testified that the rioters repeatedly addressed him with an unprintable racial epithet. “Other Black officers shared with me their own stories of racial abuse on January 6,” he said….What happened on Jan. 6 was monstrous, the product of a dangerous, anti-democratic sickness haunting parts of the American right. This is the sort of event that a free nation must come to terms with, not ignore; investigate, not sweep under the rug; and understand, not dismiss as a one-off display of violence. That’s why this committee’s work is so important.”

“Rather than insisting on “Medicare for All” — Sanders’ trademark universal, government-funded health care plan — or the climate-change-fighting Green New Deal, Our Revolution is focusing on the more modest alternatives endorsed by President Joe Biden,” Bill Weissert of AP notes in “Pro-Sanders Group Rebranding Into ‘Pragmatic Progressives’: The progressive advocacy group Our Revolution is rebranding now that Bernie Sanders is no longer the undisputed leader of the left“….”Those include expanding eligibility for the existing Medicare program and curtailing federal subsidies for fossil fuel companies…..The shift reflects a progressive movement that is at a crossroads. Biden won the Democratic nomination last year by offering more centrist alternatives to much of Sanders’ agenda. Since then, progressive candidates have faced a series of electoral disappointments and are contending with anxiety from moderate Democrats worried that the party’s leftward shift could cost them control of Congress during next year’s midterm elections….“Coming out of Bernie’s 2016 campaign, in some ways the organization was probably more of a bridge organization between the two electoral cycles,” Joseph Geevarghese, Our Revolution’s executive director, said in an interview. “What we’re trying to build is something that is longer term” and “part of the overall ecosystem of the progressive movement.”….“I think we are rooted in a bold, progressive vision, but we’re also pragmatic progressives,” Geevarghese said….“You can see a real change in the trajectory of where the Democratic Party is when it comes to the big investments, the use of government levers to improve people’s livelihoods, the fight against climate change,” said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth Action.”

At The New Yorker, John Cassidy cites “research by economists—including Janet Currie, of Princeton, James Heckman, of the University of Chicago, and Hilary Hoynes, of the University of California, Berkeley—which showed that, over the long term, government interventions targeted at early childhood generate high returns for the individuals concerned and for society at large. The prioritization of real-world results over a priori theorizing marked an important advance in economics, and it is no coincidence that the Biden economic team is heavily populated by empiricists. But, to make the monthly child tax-credit payments a reality, it also took years of political effort, two upset Democratic Senate victories in Georgia, and a President willing to prioritize a costly anti-poverty initiative. For that last one, Biden deserves special credit….With votes on advancing the two big spending measures expected before Congress goes into its summer recess, and new doubts emerging about the prospects for agreement on the infrastructure package, the next couple of weeks could be key. From a macro-political perspective, the justification for the ambitious Biden agenda is that, after four years of Donald Trump, and a second Presidential election in which Trump gained more than forty-six per cent of the vote, it is imperative to demonstrate to the wider public that the game isn’t rigged for the élites, and that the federal government can deliver tangible benefits to working Americans. Only by accomplishing this objective will it be possible to build a new social bargain on which democracy (and non-predatory capitalism) can rest more securely. One may quibble with elements of this strategy. But, after a week in which it was revealed that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff feared that Trump was planning to execute a coup earlier this year, the thought of its failing outright is almost too dire to contemplate. What’s at stake is much more than dollars and cents.”


Some Basic Realities for Democrats on Voting Rights

Watching an intra-Democratic argument on voting rights strategy intensify in Washington, I offered some advice to both sides at New York:

There has been an underlying disagreement within the mostly Democratic coalition favoring voting rights that was nicely captured in this New York Times report on Friday:

“A quiet divide between President Biden and the leaders of the voting rights movement burst into the open on Thursday, as 150 organizations urged him to use his political mettle to push for two expansive federal voting rights bills that would combat a Republican wave of balloting restrictions … In private calls with voting rights groups and civil rights leaders, White House officials and close allies of the president have expressed confidence that it is possible to ‘out-organize voter suppression,’ according to multiple people familiar with the conversations.”

Both sides in this argument are partly wrong. Those who expect Joe Biden to force the For the People Act or the John Lewis Voting Rights Act through the Senate via some major revision in the ability to filibuster are probably expecting the impossible. Yes, perhaps if Biden personally and insistently and abrasively lobbied Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema to abandon her very consistent defense of the filibuster, up to and including encouragement of a primary challenge to her when she is up for reelection in 2024, she might decide her current and very insistent independent-maverick “branding” isn’t going to keep working for her. But Joe Manchin? He would be thrilled to get attacked by a Democratic president or Democratic advocacy groups for insisting that he won’t support voting-rights measures unless at least some Republicans support them. His state is so very red that the threat of a primary challenge to the sole remaining successful West Virginia Democrat is a laugher.

Short of a nuclear attack on West Virginia, it’s hard to identify anything Biden might do to Manchin that wouldn’t run a high risk of backfiring. And he does need Manchin on the reconciliation bills Democrats are using to get around the filibuster to enact Biden’s social and economic agenda. It’s just too bad voting-rights bills don’t qualify for reconciliation.

Yes, it is intensely frustrating that Biden cannot bring himself to come out forthrightly for filibuster reform, but it probably doesn’t matter since it is not happening unless the Democratic Senate Conference gets bigger, making senators like Manchin and Sinema irrelevant on the subject. So at some point voting-rights advocates need to focus on that goal.

At the same time, White House claims that Democrats can “out-organize voter suppression” are partially wrong as well. Yes, restrictive provisions like voter-ID requirements, limits on voting by mail, and even voter-roll purges can be countered and perhaps overcome by intensive efforts to educate and energize the voters Republicans are trying to keep from the polls. But you cannot out-organize a partisan gerrymander, or a law that lets election officials or state legislators overturn the outcome of an election after votes are cast.

Voting-rights advocates will eventually have to play the cards dealt to them by the system as it currently exists. That means refraining from too much anger aimed at Democratic pols who have little choice but to concede defeat on some legislation and concentrate on legislation (i.e., those reconciliation bills with many items vital to the people whose voting rights are also under attack) they can enact with no margin for error in the Senate and little in the House. At the same time, Biden and his staff and Democratic “pragmatists” in Congress should never for a moment be cavalier about the legislative obstacles they face in defending democracy itself. They may have to accept a tactical defeat on voting rights in this Congress. But they should never, ever, give up on making it happen later if not sooner.

 


Insights About Working Class Politics in Florida from a Lefty City Council Candidate

Democrats have had a hell of a tough time getting any traction in Florida in recent years, partly, but not exclusively because of voter suppression and gerrymandering. It would be hard to pick another state where Democrats have underperformed with more adverse consequences. The Governor, Lt. Governor, both U. S. Senators, 16 out of 27 members of congress are Republicans, who also hold 26 out of 40 state senate seats and 76 of 120 state house seats. This despite the fact that “active registered” Democratic voters outnumber Republicans in 2021 in the state by 5,247,592 to 5,171,308, respectively.

Florida has uniquely complicated demographics, including a disproportionately-large percentage of white voters without college degrees, Cuban-American, Puerto Rican-American and African-American voters. Clearly, Democrats are in need of some fresh ideas about how to build a winning coalition for both state-wide and local election campaigns.

At Current Affairs, Nathan J. Robinson interviews Richie Floyd, a schoolteacher and Democratic Socialists of America member and candidate for St. Petersburg’s city council. In the interview Floyd shares some insights about how Democrats can do better in the Sunshine state:

You know, I really believe this state is ripe for working-class politics because the majority of people here are working-class, the overwhelming majority. We’re a service-based economy, mostly like tourism—used to be agriculture, that’s shifted away significantly. In St. Pete and Pinellas County and the Tampa Bay area, we’re trying to attract visitors here to come to our beaches to go fishing. And then you have Orlando, the whole I-4 corridor and center of the state. Orlando is based on tourism as well. And so there’s a lot of working-class people that look like me in this state and they just basically don’t have political representation at this point. The Democratic Party has been incapable of winning at a state level for a long time. They don’t necessarily speak to the issues of working people. They get caught up in a lot of things that the Republicans bait them into.

I think there’s a coalition for that. And we kind of saw it in 2018 with Andrew Gillum‘s campaign. He started out on that path, got a little lost towards the end of the general election. And so just came up short. But I think that really shows that there is something here for working people if they’re organized. And now when it comes to Bernie Sanders and stuff, something you have to know about Florida is the overwhelming majority of Floridians were not born in Florida. We don’t have real connections to this state. And our political institutions are kind of decrepit. There’s no machine politics here. It’s usually people flying in, dropping a bunch of money on mailers and ads without ever making a connection to the community, and then leaving the second that the election is over. And so that’s where our opportunity lies: if we actually get out and organize in our real community. And that’s how we’ve been relatively successful here.

Floyd also emphasizes the link between Florida’s environmental destruction and the screwing of the state’s working class:

Well, the history of Florida is one of environmental degradation and profit put over our natural resources and our working people. The entire time that the state’s existed. And so that’s part of the reason why our politics are able to resonate with people. We talk about the reason why the state is like this, which is the fact that everything that’s gone on over the state’s history has been for land developers and real estate interests to make a profit. And there’ve been bright spots—environmentalists have won victories here. The one I point to the most is in the ‘80s, our estuaries, like Tampa Bay, were just completely in shambles. And we brought back our fish population significantly since then, but we’re turning back towards a situation like we had back then….It can get bleak sometimes, when we’re worried about storms and we’re worried about pollution spills that we’ve had recently, and our red tide, and how expensive housing is. But it doesn’t have to be like this. And I think you catch a lot more flies with honey. You should express why people should be excited to get up and vote for you.

Floyd has avoided leftist buzz terms in his campaigning, and tried to reach voters as a rooted community activist:

The most important thing for us is to actually be rooted in the community and connected to the community. And so as a candidate, what that looks like is I’m a member of my neighborhood association and of the teacher’s union, and I’m active in them. I talk to people around town about a variety of issues and just make myself a known community member so that it’s not anything scary. “That’s just Richie, a tall, goofy middle school teacher.” So that’s the first thing. And then the issues that we talk about, we speak in plain terms. I don’t say the word “proletariat,” like it’s not about “the means of production.” I’m like “I’m here for working families and working people and making sure that the wealth built in the city goes to the people who created it, the people who work and run the city.” And that’s a very left-wing demand, but it’s something that people naturally gravitate to when you say it in plain language.

None of this is to say that the red-baiting that was instrumental in defeating Democratic U. S. House incumbents in Florida last year won’t be used again, nor that it won’t work. True, Floyd is just a city council candidate. But it’s not like the Florida Democratic Party has figured out a better messaging approach that has produced enough actual victories. In any case, Floyd’s point about Democrats focusing their messaging and policies to help Florida’s huge working class is surely a good one.


Teixeira: Shaming Trump Supporters Is Dumb and Won’t Work

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

Hillary Clinton famously likened Trump supporters to “a basket of deplorables”, a gaffe that contributed to her stunning defeat in 2016. But she actually said only *half* of Trump supporters were in a basket of deplorables. Today’s liberal Democrats and activists, in my experience, are not satisfied with this. As far as they’re concerned *all* Trump supporters belong in said basket. They’re all deplorable, every last one of them. Lo, they have sinned and are forever cast out of civilized humanity. That seems to be the general attitude.

This is not, to say the least, a way to win any converts. People know when you look down on them and they react accordingly. They may harbor their doubts about Trump but shaming them for their erstwhile Trump support just gets their back up.

In the Post today, Gary Abernathy, one of those erstwhile Trump supporters, points out just how dumb and counterproductive this self-righteous liberal attitude is:

“When supporters of former president Donald Trump hear media pundits analyze them with the usual collection of belittling observations, they must be tempted to respond, “Hey, we’re right here! We can hear you!”

Yes, they are indeed here, and living among us. And they have every right to be insulted by being accused of believing a “big lie,” and by the implication that they are violent, or traitors, or mindless sheep — racist sheep, of course….

I live in Trump Country. I was a Trump supporter, until he lost me with his actions after the 2020 election. But most Trump voters have stuck with him. With Trump’s encouragement, they sincerely believe the election was stolen. They’re not racists. They’re not traitors. Some of them think anyone who accepts Biden’s win is a traitor. Some of them think I’m traitorous — or at the very least I’ve succumbed to the evil influences of the mainstream media — for accepting Trump’s defeat…..

It’s my unscientific conclusion that about half of Trump’s supporters will go to their graves believing the election was stolen. The other half can be persuaded otherwise, but only by time and reflection, like accepting a death. Shaming will never work….

[S]top calling people liars. The media should return to the non-accusatory style that worked for decades. Instead of writing that election fraud is a lie, or Republicans are “falsely claiming” fraud, go back to the style that worked for decades: “Republicans again claimed the 2020 election was rigged, but no evidence has emerged to support that allegation and courts have dismissed all suits challenging the results.”

Next, abandon the narrative that Trump supporters are insurrectionists, and stop elevating groups such as QAnon and the Proud Boys beyond the fringe elements they are. As shameful as the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol was, only about 800 people were involved — hardly representative of millions of Trump supporters. Despite their suspicions, the vast majority of Trump voters are not interested in invading federal buildings or overthrowing the government. They’re interested in going to work and church and soccer games, taking care of their families and voting in the next election.

There’s no big mystery to effectively communicating with Trump supporters — or for Trump supporters to communicate with everyone else. Treat each other with politeness and courtesy. Respect other opinions even if you disagree. Acknowledge each other’s patriotism and love of country. Don’t assume you understand each other because you’ve read some think-tank analysis. Reach out, be curious and start a dialogue.

Trump supporters aren’t going away, and those who continue to paint them as the lowest forms of life reveal themselves to be more interested in perpetrating stereotypes and nurturing divisions than in achieving what’s needed for our nation to survive — reaching across our political chasm, respecting our differences and finding common ground where we can.”

I agree with all this. It may make you feel good to regard all Trump supporters–perhaps unto the seventh generation–with withering contempt. But it is monumentally ineffective if you care about building a better politics for a better future.

And you should.


Political Strategy Notes

Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. applauds the very few Republican leaders who are finally urging the public to get vaccinated – and also has some message points for Democratic candidates and campaigns: “Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that as of July 23, the 20 states with the highest vaccination rates (counting the District of Columbia as a state) all voted for President Biden….A Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of CDC data found that as of July 6, the average vaccination rate in counties that voted for Biden was 46.7 percent. In counties that voted for Donald Trump, the vaccination rate was 35 percent….This, sadly, should be no surprise. An Associated Press-NORC poll released Friday found that among Democrats, only 18 percent were “not very” or “not at all” confident in the effectiveness of vaccines; among Republicans, 42 percent expressed such doubts….Three states — Florida, Texas and Missouri — accounted for 40 percent of new covid cases last week….It’s the new political geography of sickness and death….Democratic pollster Guy Molyneux pointed to the unpopularity of the anti-vaccine position generally, and especially among “red state business communities” who fear new lockdowns….“I wouldn’t be surprised if GOP pols are hearing from business leaders: Knock it off with the anti-vax nonsense,” Molyneux said. The National Football League’s tough stand on vaccination is a high-profile example of a business alarmed about the impact of a resurgent virus on its operations….So please, Republican politicians, keep shouting from the rooftops about the imperative of getting vaccinated. But you also need to take another virus seriously. The spread of extremism in your party is deadly — to our health and to our democracy.

At The Cook Political Report, Amy Walter explains why President Biden’s bipartisan outreach may have a very short shelf life: “No matter what happens with the bipartisan infrastructure bill, it’s pretty clear that this is the last chance for any significant and meaningful bipartisan legislation for the foreseeable future. And, that’s not just because control of the Senate is on the line in 2022. Two of the three Republicans most heavily involved in the bipartisan deal-making on infrastructure won’t be in Congress in 2023, while the third could lose a primary. Ohio’s Rob Portman and North Carolina’s Richard Burr are retiring, while Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who has earned former President Trump’s wrath by voting to impeach him, has a serious intra-party challenge. As important, the Republicans running to replace them are more interested in fighting than in fixing, more invested in widening the partisan chasm than in narrowing it. Meanwhile, Democratic Senate candidates in key swing seat Senate races don’t share President Biden’s optimism about GOP cooperation. Many of them have pledged to nix the filibuster, something Biden recently said would “throw the entire Congress into chaos.”….in the Democratic primary for the open Senate seat in Pennsylvania, every major candidate takes a different view than Biden. All have said they would vote to eliminate the parliamentary procedure. Many of the top Democratic candidates in North Carolina and Wisconsin are also committed to ending the procedure. Even if the filibuster stays intact, the fact that Democrats — even those in swing states — are willing to throw out the parliamentary procedure suggests that members of Biden’s party are much more pessimistic than he is about the comity and bipartisanship.,,,President Biden may believe that there’s still a chance for the Senate to work in a bipartisan way. But, there will be fewer members in that body come 2023 that believe that.”

Will the Florida Democratic Party ever get it together? As Matt Dixon writes in “Florida Democrats anxious over stalled Miami congressional races” at Politico, “Two Miami-area congressional races are likely to be some of the nation’s most expensive and competitive midterm contests. But Democrats so far are missing one thing: candidates….Then-Democratic Reps. Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell lost the seats in surprise upsets in 2020. Democrats now see both races as winnable — Hillary Clinton won both districts in 2016 by double digits, and the seats tend to sway between Republican and Democratic control. But some Florida Democrats are blaming the poor recruitment drive on the party, which they say isn’t doing enough to recruit and assist strong candidates — a sign of larger problems in the nation’s biggest swing state….At the same time, Shalala is watching how the state’s redistricting process plays out before deciding whether to run again. The former Clinton administration cabinet official would be the initial favorite in the primary if she enters the race but could leave Democrats scrambling well into the 2022 election cycle if she delays her decision much longer….The unsettled field has left Florida Democrats anxious that two potential opportunities are slipping away from them, especially after Republicans and former President Donald Trump galvanized Miami’s Cuban exile community during the 2020 elections….“Without question it is definitely frustrating,” said Ben Pollara, a Miami-based Democratic consultant. “These are going to be ultra-competitive seats that you will need to raise a lot of money for. I’ve been telling people to get in as soon as you can.”….The growing unease underscores the weak position Democrats are in in Florida as the national party attempts to protect its slim margin in the House. Florida Democrats have struggled this year to recruit A-list candidates for statewide offices like attorney general and even governor, a sign that Democrats see their chances of toppling Republicans dimming….Democrats contend that they have a strong chance of winning back Salazar’s seat, which includes tony Miami Beach. The lines will be redrawn, but the previous two presidential elections show how it raced away from Democrats: President Joe Biden won Salazar’s current district by roughly 3 points in 2020, just four years after Hillary Clinton carried it by almost 20 points.”

Jeet Heer observes in “The Fate of the New Popular Front” at Dissent: “Is Joe Biden the reincarnation of Lyndon B. Johnson or even Franklin D. Roosevelt? Biden will have to rack up many more legislative victories before he can make any such boast, but based on the first few months of his presidency, it is safe to say that Washington is now more amenable to left-wing ideas than at any time since the peak of the Great Society….Many have been taken by surprise by this development. Biden’s political identity has been resolutely centrist for decades. And he was the second-most moderate of the Democrats who vied for the presidential nomination in 2020, to the left only of former Republican Michael Bloomberg. Yet Biden’s centrism has always been tempered by a healthy opportunism. He is a party man, with an uncanny gift for locating himself wherever the median Democratic Party voter is. And thanks to Bernie Sanders’s two bids for the presidential nomination and the rise of a young cohort of openly leftist lawmakers like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the other members of the Squad, the center of gravity of the Democratic Party is well to the left of where it has been for the last half-century….One sign of Biden’s political acumen is the effort he has made to integrate the left into the Democratic Party—something that Hillary Clinton failed to do in her ill-starred 2016 run. White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain has been especially diligent in making sure that the progressive wing is involved in policymaking. Bernie Sanders’s elevation to chair of the Senate Committee on the Budget, an influential perch, ensures a pressure point for keeping alive social democratic proposals even if the White House backslides. In April, Sanders’s advocacy ensured that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer signed on for pushing for cheaper drug prices and a lowering of the Medicare eligibility age, both areas where the White House needs prodding….The dilemma for the left is sometimes presented as a judgement between a Popular Front strategy pursued by Sanders and the Squad—working within the Democratic Party—versus an oppositional left strategy—seeing the Democratic Party establishment as an institutional foe that needs to be delegitimized for progress to occur. The advocates of the Popular Front are willing to praise Joe Biden and mobilize for the party in order to get concessions. For the oppositional left, this transactional alliance is a dead end that will inevitably involve a watering down of radical demands….Between these two poles, there is a spectrum of concern about the left’s place in the Democratic alliance.”


A Progressive Wish List for Biden’s 2nd Term Coming Into View

A report card for progressive Democrats six months into President Biden’s first term would merit  an overall “B.” The Democratic left has done a pretty good job of meeting their primary responsibility, which is to press the case for progressive policy options as much as possible, without forming a circular firing squad leading up to the midterm elections. So far, so good.

They don’t deserve an “A,” because of the tepid response to the GOP campaign to brand Democrats as supporting unpopular policies like “defunding the police,” “open borders” and unbridled socialism. Some of this is the fault of easily-distracted media. But there is considerable room for improvement in the way left Dems push back against such ridiculous stereotypes. A little more message discipline and repetition wouldn’t hurt.

Progressive Democrats are not supposed to provide uncritical support of their party’s leader on all occasions But they need to be there for the big battles, the way they showed up for Georgia’s U.S. senate candidates in the January run-offs. True that Georgia flipped in large part because of the blueing of the suburbs and Trump’s mismanagement of his party’s campaign. But it was the fire lit by energetic Black activism and progressives that helped persuade Georgia’s voters. A repeat perfomance for Warnock is needed in 2022, if Dems are going to secure a working senate majority.

Progressive Democrats should run and win where they can in 2022. But when they lose primaries, support the Democratic nominee wholeheartedly. Unity for all Democratic candidates in November, 2022 is required for winning a functional Democratic majority that can actually govern. Without unity, we don’t really have a viable political party.

Above all, left Dems should think and plan long-term. Three leading progressive Democratic goals, Medicare for All,  filibuster reform and increasing the size of the Supreme Court belong on Biden’s 2nd term wish list (unless he wins enough senate seats next year), even though he has expressed skepticism about these reforms. But one of Biden’s political virtues is that he is open to change – when the circumstances are right. Securing these reforms depends on holding the House majority and a net pick-up of a couple of U.S. senate seats next year. These are not extravagant goals, despite historical patterns, particularly if Biden’s approval ratings stay high.

President Biden is certainly doing his part. His strategy of competent management of the Covid pandemic, a major economic stimulus, plus steady progress in winning incremental reforms to improve the lives of struggling Americans is paying off. As he hits the campaign trail for 2022 Democratic candidates this week, progressive Democrats should see it as part of their cause.


Political Strategy Notes

In his article, “The Tool That Joe Biden Refuses to Use: The president’s speech about the sanctity of the vote did not go far enough” at The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein explains, “That relative emphasis on infrastructure over voting rights may reflect several calculations in the White House. One is the belief, as officials have described to me, that the best way for Biden to prevent Republicans from stealing future elections is for Democrats to maintain control of the House and Senate in 2022—and the best way to ensure that is for him to pass the bread-and-butter agenda he ran on (which includes, in their view, working with Republicans)….Others see in Biden’s approach an implicit acknowledgment that he is highly unlikely to persuade the Democratic holdouts—led by Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona—to change the Senate filibuster, the necessary precondition to passing any new federal voting-rights legislation. By that analysis, the White House is modulating Biden’s engagement in a fight that he is very unlikely to win. “I believe they have decided that Manchin, and maybe others, are unmovable on the filibuster, and if they are unmovable, let’s focus on what we can do and not beat our heads against a wall that is simply never going to crack,” Matt Bennett, the executive vice president for public affairs at the centrist Democratic group Third Way, told me….A third possible factor in the White House ranking may be the most confounding to voting-rights groups. In his speech yesterday, Biden, like Vice President Kamala Harris in an address last week, seemed to suggest that Democrats could overcome the recent red-state moves with sufficient on-the-ground organizing. A top White House official had first made that argument to me in May in response to the initial wave of criticism from civil- and voting-rights groups that the administration was not adequately engaged in this fight.” Further, ” The late-June ruling by the six GOP-appointed Supreme Court justices further weakening the Voting Rights Act diminished the odds that the Justice Department or civil-rights groups can block these new state laws in court….With the Democratic options narrowing, the one lever the party possesses is federal legislation establishing a nationwide floor of voting rights, including guaranteed access to early and mail voting, as well as automatic and same-day voter registration. After a Republican filibuster blocked Senate debate on such a bill last month, Democrats have been attempting to negotiate a scaled-down version of the legislation based on the principles that Manchin indicated last month he could support.”

Also at the Atlantic, Edward-Isaac Dovere writes that President Biden “gripes privately about the filibuster, aware that the parliamentary procedure is, in many minds, what’s standing between him and the FDR-size agenda he now aspires to accomplish. He looks at next year’s midterms and sees that historical trends, supercharged by gerrymandering and new red-state voting restrictions, threaten not just whatever legacy he hopes to build for his own presidency, but democracy itself….Still, the president doesn’t want to throw all his energy into a fight with Trump, or a fight over an initiative like the For the People Act, the Democrats’ favored election-reform bill. Many top White House aides (as well as more Democratic senators than have said so publicly, despite voting for it) see the legislation as full of problems that wouldn’t hold up to a Supreme Court challenge. Plus, the votes aren’t there for it to pass in the Senate. As for the filibuster, Biden believes that not only would coming out against the bill publicly be counterproductive, but that doing so would end all hope of getting any other legislation through the Senate….Biden believes that this is precisely the kind of elitist trap Democrats fall into time and again, to their own detriment. The more energy and airtime Democrats devote to eliminating the filibuster, the less energy they’re putting into talking up the expanded child tax credit or working toward the passage of a historic infrastructure bill. He believes voters are going to care much more about the money in their pockets than the less tangible issues of government reform….“What I’ve learned in my entire career in politics, you can do anything with somebody and get them to move as long as you don’t change their standard of living downward,” he told me….Scrapping the filibuster won’t matter if nothing else can pass the Senate and Biden has a failed presidency; protecting small margins in elections won’t matter if Democrats don’t deliver on other priorities and lose House races next year by 5 or 10 percent.”

At Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Kyle Kondik notes in the first part of his new series on redistricting that “there are 10 states that use a commission to draw the lines: Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, Virginia, and Washington. If those commissions did not exist, and redistricting power was instead given to the state legislature with the possibility of a gubernatorial veto, Democrats would have the power to draw the maps in six of these 10 states (California, Colorado, Hawaii, New Jersey, Virginia, and Washington), Republicans would have the power in three (Arizona, Idaho, and Montana), and there would be divided government control in Michigan (Democrats hold the governorship, Republicans hold the state legislature). Instead of Republicans holding a 187-75 edge, their advantage would be a more modest 200-170 under this scenario, with the remaining 65 districts either in one-district states or in ones with divided government….So in some states, Democrats may be, or are, kicking themselves for backing redistricting commissions. Both parties supported a 2018 Colorado ballot issue that created an independent redistricting commission for congressional maps. Had it not passed, Democrats now would have gerrymandering power in the Centennial State and drawn themselves a better map than a draft the commission released a few weeks ago, which likely will result in a 5-3 Democratic delegation but could split 4-4 in a strong Republican year. “We’re (expletive) idiots,” said one anonymous state lawmaker, as quoted by the Colorado Sun.”

The Nation’s Elie Mystal makes a compelling argument that pretty much all voting rights reform legislation is doomed because the current U.S. Supreme Court majority is already in the pocket of the GOP, when it comes to voting rights. Further, argues Mystal, “There is something the Democrats could do to restore the Voting Rights Act. Expand the Supreme Court. It’s actually the only reasonable thing Democrats can do. The Supreme Court has made it clear that there are not five votes to support the notion that nonwhites should have equal access to the ballot box. If Democrats do not expand the court, then they accept that premise and leave Black people—their actual base of electoral support—to fend for themselves against whatever ideas Republican governors can come up with to discourage them from voting….But to expand the court, you first need to break the filibuster….Even if the filibuster is somehow defeated, it’s pretty clear that Biden would want to use that power to pass an infrastructure bill as well as these well-intentioned voting rights protections that will be easily overturned by the Supreme Court in a few years time. The will to do what is necessary to protect Black people from Republicans simply doesn’t exist in the current Democratic Party….So they feed us this lie, this falsehood that a carefully tailored voting rights restoration bill will be above constitutional reproach, even though the conservatives on the Supreme Court have literally already told us precisely how they will strike down any new voter protection bill should they have to. Democrats are trying to wish a better Supreme Court into existence, because they don’t have the political strength to use their constitutional powers to make one….I know this isn’t what most liberals want to hear, but it is the truth. Bills promising federal oversight of state elections are dead on arrival at the conservative Supreme Court. The only way to fix that problem is to fix that court. Everything else is a pointless show, a cacophony of sound meant to distract people from the cold reality that democracy is sinking.” All of which underscores the importance of Democrats breaking the historical pattern of the president’s party losing seats in the House and Senate in its first midterm elections, and even more challenging — picking up two or three Senate seats needed to shred the filibuster and increase the size of the Supreme Court.


Don’t Dismiss the Power of Inflation Politics

All the talk of renewed inflation brought back some terrible memories for me, and I wrote about them at New York:

When I was a freshman college debater at Emory University in the fall of 1970, the national debate topic was not Vietnam, but the desirability of wage and price controls. Little did we know that just months ahead a Republican president would impose a wage-price freeze, long the anti-inflationary prescription of the left wing of the Democratic Party. But the surprise known in financial circles as the “Nixon shock,” nearly a half-century ago (on August 15, 1971) showed how pervasive the fear of inflation — running at just over 5 percent in 1970 — had become.

That’s ancient history now, even to those of us who remember the double-digit inflation of the late 1970s, and the particularly horrid scourge of “stagflation” (high inflation and unemployment simultaneously). Inflation seems to have been tamed by wise monetary policies. The periodic warnings from 21st-century conservatives that low interest rates and federal budget deficits would create inflation didn’t much bother me. It was like hearing an old priest chant a forgotten litany in a lost language — just one among many ritualistic arguments for the tight credit and reactionary social policies these people favored instinctively as a sort of class self-defense posture.

Like Tim Noah, I suspect there may be a generational lapse in understanding the politics of inflation:

“I don’t care to be condescended to by a bunch of Gen Xers and Millennials about my ’70s-bred fear of inflation. It feels too much like the condescension we Boomers directed toward Depression babies whenever they warned us that we were playing with fire in deregulating the financial markets. Poor dears, we thought, traumatized for life by the 1929 crash and one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.

“The Depression babies turned out to be right, of course.”

Noah makes it clear he’s not arguing inflation per se is bad for the economy. It is, however, bad for progressive politics, and not just because “stagflation” probably killed the Carter presidency and ushered in the Reagan era far more than the Iranian hostage crisis or other better-remembered Democratic foibles. The deflationary economic strategies of the 1980s weren’t called “austerity,” but rather a corrective for undisciplined policies that fed wage and price spirals which in turned hammered the value of savings, the living standards of those on fixed incomes, and the political case for federal domestic spending.

Most lethally for progressivism, the conservative supply-side tax-cutting when combined with inflationary fears can create enormous pressure for public disinvestment and the shredding of safety nets (which is why reactionaries happily labeled the intended result “starving the beast”). We are still living with some of the long-term consequences of anti-inflationary backlash. As Noah points out, California’s Proposition 13 ballot initiative in 1978 and similar “tax revolts” were a by-product of price spirals that boosted tax assessments on property and income alike.

But sometimes lost in an examination of the right’s exploitation of inflation fears is the abiding fact that the left has no clear prescription for dealing with it, either, other than by denying its existence or significance (sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly). Ironically, that was made most evident by the supposedly illiberal Richard Nixon’s surprising use of the great liberal instrument for taming inflation.

The veteran ex-conservative economic and political analyst Bruce Bartlett has penned an exceptional explainer on the background and consequences of the “Nixon shock,” particularly its international dimensions, and the role played by Treasury Secretary John Connally, who like his boss and ally Nixon was more focused on short-term politics than on long-term economic realities. What’s clear is that Nixon was convinced a recession induced by the Eisenhower administration and its Federal Reserve Board appointees designed to kill inflationary pressures also killed his 1960 presidential candidacy. As prices spiked in 1970, he was terrified the same thing could happen in 1972.

Nixon had inherited (and temporarily extended) an income-tax surcharge from LBJ that was designed to pay for the skyrocketing costs of the Vietnam War, but its effects were limited. So with his signature televised bombshell reveal (the one he deployed a month earlier to announce his trip to China), amid great secrecy, Nixon rolled out a combo platter of initiatives to fight inflation and international economic instability. They included a suspension of fixed currency exchange rates and the convertibility of the dollar to gold (to head off a raid on gold supplies triggered by a British demand for a major conversion); an import surcharge (to prevent a worsening of the trade balance); and most significantly for most Americans, a 90-day freeze on wages and prices to be followed by an indefinite period of controls by federal panels.

As political theater, Nixon’s speech announcing a “new economic policy” was, well, Nixonian. He began with dessert: an assortment of tax breaks and job-creation incentives balanced by mostly unspecified spending cuts; only then did he mention the wage-price freeze. After promising to “break the vicious circle of spiraling prices and costs,” Nixon moved on to his international proposals, which he downplayed as “very technical,” while assuring viewers that “if you are among the overwhelming majority of Americans who buy American-made products in America, your dollar will be worth just as much tomorrow as it is today.”

Nixon’s wage and price controls were initially very popular (as polls had told the White House they would be) and did indeed hold down inflation through the reelection year of 1972, when Nixon won his famous landslide reelection over poor George McGovern, in part by goosing federal appropriations to create a mini-boom. By then the administration had moved on to a more discretionary system for regulating wage and price increases, which generated rumors of employers currying favor with generous donations to CREEP (the Committee to Reelect the President), the notoriously corrupt operation heavily complicit in the Watergate scandals that brought down the Nixon presidency. Between the suppressed and eventually unleashed inflationary pressures and the oil-price shock Nixon’s international economic policies helped create, the country paid a very high economic price for the brief respite from inflation the wage-price freeze earned him. He sowed the wind with even greater inflation, and his successors Gerald Ford (whose feckless “Whip Inflation Now” campaign was widely mocked) and Jimmy Carter reaped the whirlwind.

Before you dismiss these events from 50 years ago as irrelevant, consider how much Nixon’s short-sighted approach sounds like something President Donald Trump might have done if inflation had became a political problem during his tenure (or in, God help us, a future term). Indeed, any president mulling Nixon’s choice of recession-inducing fiscal or monetary policies might be tempted to resort to the easy-to-understand, if dangerous, strategy of wage and price controls in which the pain is mostly back-loaded, particularly in or near an election year. Old folks remember how it preceded Nixon’s landslide 1972 win, followed by a decade of economic pain and multiple decades of political misery for progressives.


Meyerson: 2022 Will Be About Democratic Accomplishments vs. GOP Culture War

Harold Meyerson writes at The American Prospect:

It’s only the midpoint of 2021, but the outlines of both parties’ 2022 campaigns are already clear. Consequently, it’s also clear that the two parties’ electoral pitches will deal with entirely separate universes.

The Democrats will campaign on the real benefits they’ve delivered to the American public, more particularly the American working class (assuming, of course, that Sens. Manchin, Sinema, and their ilk don’t deep-six the entire Democratic program). Those benefits will include their largely successful effort to diminish the pandemic, their funding for infrastructure, the establishment of an expanded Child Tax Credit and affordable child care, universal pre-K, tuition-free community college, paid family and medical leave; the expansion of Medicare to include dental, vision, and hearing care; more affordable housing; and numerous advances in clean energy. It will also include some of the executive orders that Joe Biden issued last Friday, including a ban on the noncompete agreements currently imposed on tens of millions of workers, and a “right to repair” rule that will enable Americans or their mechanics to fix their own cars or tractors instead of having to take them back to the manufacturer whose proprietary software has blocked anyone else’s attempts to fix the damn things.

All to be funded by Medicare savings derived from negotiating down drug prices, by higher taxes on the wealthiest one percent, and higher taxes on corporations.

In short, a lot of very real and very helpful stuff. As Biden himself once observed, “a big fucking deal.”

Republicans will not address any of these issues with substantial alternatives, Meyerson believes.

Instead, Republicans will run on culture war issues, attacking critical race theory, defunding the police, the influx of immigrants, the threat posed by minorities voting (which will be dog-whistled under the heading of voter fraud)—in short, the threat that Democrats presumably pose to white people. Which, they have to hope, will persuade a sufficient number of those white people to disregard the Medicare expansions, Child Tax Credit, and other actual benefits with which Democrats, and Democrats alone, have provided them.

Put another way, “Democrats will run against Republicans because they opposed all those benefits. And Republicans will run against Democrats for supporting all those culture war threats, a number of which, like defunding the police, the vast majority of Democrats don’t actually support.”

In addition to the effectiveness of each party’s messaging, Meyerson believes the outcome will be determined by “who will vote,” and it will come down to Republican voter suppression versus Democratic turnout mobilization. “On this issue alone, they’ll directly engage.”