washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

WE WON!

Biden Harris logo

WE WON!

Biden Harris logo

WE WON!

Biden Harris logo

WE WON!

Biden Harris logo

WE WON!

Biden Harris logo

The Daily Strategist

April 20, 2021

The New Republican Ideology: Anti-Wokeness

There’s an alarming trend — not new, but suddenly very intense — among our Republican friends that I wrote about at New York:

When former White House press secretary and longtime political operative Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced her much-expected bid for the Arkansas governorship her father held for 11 years, what do you suppose she talked about doing in her fine corner of the heartland? Maybe improving the schools? Promoting economic development? Modernizing state agencies? Building some roads? These are all kinds of messaging Republicans have traditionally found acceptable in state government, as opposed to Democratic agenda items like expanding health-care coverage and fighting poverty and protecting the environment and so forth.

But no.

Here’s her “elevator pitch” to Arkansans:

“With the radical left now in control of Washington, your governor is your last line of defense. As governor, I will defend your right to be free of socialism and tyranny. Your Second Amendment right to keep your family safe and your freedom of speech and religious liberty. Our state needs a leader with the courage to do what’s right, not what’s politically correct or convenient.”

She also modestly claimed that in the White House she “took on he radical left, the media, and their cancel culture … and won!” As governor, she promised to “be your voice, and never let them silence you!”

This is Arkansas we are talking about, where it’s hard to imagine socialism is in the works, or lying liberal media dominating news and views, or woke cancel-culture commissars stalking the earth searching for good decent Christians to “silence.” But without question, Sanders is a savvy pol. So the strange gospel she is preaching could well be the coming thing in Republican politics everywhere.

And indeed, it’s hard to miss the incessant chattering of late in GOP circles about “cancel culture,” the apparent evil spawn of yesterday’s “political correctness.” Some observers think it’s a fad, or perhaps a temporary distraction for a political party that just lost a national election and then a congressional battle over public-health and economic policy, and has no particular policy legacy beyond culture-laden topics like border control after four years of narcissistic rule by Donald Trump. But there’s another possibility raised by FiveThirtyEight’s Perry Bacon Jr. in a perceptive essay:

“[There is no] exact definition of what constitutes being ‘canceled’ or a victim of ‘cancel culture.’ However, despite their vagueness, you now see conservative activists and Republican politicians constantly using these terms. That’s because that vagueness is a feature, not a bug. Casting a really wide range of ideas and policies as too woke and anyone who is critical of them as being canceled by out-of-control liberals is becoming an important strategy and tool on the right — in fact, this cancel culture/woke discourse could become the organizing idea of the post-Trump-presidency Republican Party.”

Bacon believes anti-wokeness is mostly a repackaged and usefully non-specific version of the GOP’s longstanding efforts to co-opt and promote backlash politics: white backlash to Black political advancement, and conservative backlash to cultural changes sweeping away the patriarchal society many remember and others fantasize to bring back in the guise of “American greatness.” It has the great advantage, he believes, of avoiding the crudeness of Trump’s appeals to racism and nativism, while exploiting Democratic divisions over speech-code excesses and other “woke” practices that aren’t compatible with traditional liberalism.

All that’s true, but I would add another factor that makes “anti-wokeness” political catnip for today’s Republicans: It allows them and their supporters to pose as innocent victims of persecution rather than as aggressive culture warriors seeking to defend their privileges and reverse social change. It expands their marginalized opponents into phantasmagoric monsters with the power to terrorize the people that God (the God of the Church of the Day Before Yesterday, when life was purer and simpler) put in charge of earthly affairs. And it politicizes every perceived offense to traditional culture and religion in an unconscious parody of the very over-sensitivity it attributes to the “woke.”

There is great power in the ability to convince conservative Evangelicals that having to co-exist with LGBTQ folk and with assorted unbelievers is a violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution and interferes with their ability to practice their faith; that very perspective gets them halfway to the polling places on Election Day, and ready to perceive conspiratorial fraud whenever their champions lose. It is, as Bacon indicates, a natural follow-on to the politics of the 45th president, whether or not he’s still in the middle of the fray himself.

We’ve come a long way since the not-so-distant time when conservatism was understood as a three-legged stool resting on the views of economic free-marketeers, national security-focused anti-communists, and cultural traditionalists. Republicans by and large still favor economic policies favorable to corporations and hostile to their workers and a gigantic national security state bristling with weaponry. But it’s clear now the cultural leg of the stool is the most durable for the simple reason that culture-war appeals are deeper than the wallet and more viscerally immediate than overseas enemies and distant threats.

Worst of all, an anti-woke identity for Republicans projects extremism onto the opposition in a way that abets their own extremism, as Bacon notes:

“[T]his anti-woke posture gives conservative activists and Republican officials a way to excuse extreme behavior in the past and potentially rationalize such behavior in the future. Republicans are trying to recast the removal of Trump’s accounts from Facebook and Twitter as a narrative of liberal tech companies silencing a prominent conservative, instead of those platforms punishing Trump for using them to incite violence and encourage overturning the election results. If Republicans suppress Democratic votes or try to overturn election results in future elections, as seems entirely possible, the party is likely to justify that behavior in part by suggesting the Democrats are just too extreme and woke to be allowed to control the government.”

No wonder many notable old-school conservatives are so furious with what’s happened to the conservative party. It looks like the GOP’s devil’s bargain with Donald Trump wasn’t just a one-off bid to maintain power via a populist message aimed at the descendants of yesterday’s “Reagan Democrats.” It hasn’t just disguised or displaced their old principles; it may have damaged them beyond recognition. If “cancel culture” is really what conservatives in places like Arkansas care about most, America may have entered the dangerous landscape of civil war in which both sides view the world in fundamentally incompatible ways, and politics swallows everything.


Dionne: Filibuster Reform Needed to Save Democracy

E. J. Dionne, Jr.’s column, “Goodbye and good riddance to the filibuster” in The Washington Post provides an eloquent epitaph for Mitch McConnell’s one-man veto of needed legislative reforms. As Dionne writes, “President Biden has signaled that the days of the Senate filibuster’s stranglehold on majority rule are numbered. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is scared to death that he’s right.” Further,

McConnell is particularly worried that Democrats will use their majorities in the House and Senate to enact fundamental reforms to our political system, from protecting voting rights to containing dark money’s influence on elections. That’s why the man who supposedly loves Congress’s upper chamber promised to create “a completely scorched earth Senate” if Democrats try to make it easier to pass legislation.

Biden warming up to the idea of making the filibuster much harder to use is big news, given his reluctance to take this step in the past. He’s responding to reality. As the president told ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos on Tuesday: “It’s getting to the point where, you know, democracy is having a hard time functioning.”

Dionne adds that “has more standing than just about anyone to persuade the filibuster’s staunchest Democratic supporters, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, of two things. First, the time for major new restraints on the filibuster has come; second, and just as important, that the current abuse of the filibuster flies in the face of authentic Senate tradition.”

In addition, Dionne writes, “And changing filibuster rules would be nothing new. McConnell himself instituted the most recent shift. Eager to guarantee a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, the narrow Republican majority voted to remove the filibuster for Supreme Court confirmations. Not one of President Donald Trump’s three nominees — not one — got close to 60 votes. When it came to court-packing, McConnell had no problem with majority rule.”

It’s really a matter of survival for the Democratic Party and for American democracy, both of which depend on enactment of the ‘For the People Act,’ which cannot pass the U.S. Senate without filibuster reform. “The comprehensive political reform bill would block the scandalous attack on voting rights in some Republican states,” Dionne writes. “It would also curb gerrymanders that distort representation, take major steps to limit the power of dark money by expanding disclosure and create strong incentives for politicians to rely on small as opposed to large contributions.”

Dionne explains that “absolutely no one believes that Republicans will provide enough votes to overcome a filibuster on a voting rights bill. Thus, it would be legislative malpractice for Democrats to walk away from a broadly popular (and much needed) suite of improvements to our political system when doing so won’t get them to 60 votes anyway.”

However, Dionne notes, “Moving away from the filibuster will take time. Change is likely to be gradual, not sudden. The Senate might have to start with narrower reforms (including Biden’s “talking filibuster”) before it becomes inescapable that legislating will require getting rid of the filibuster entirely for whole categories of bills.”

Dionne concludes, “Of course, the alternative is for Republicans to become a more moderate, less monolithic party and to work constructively with Biden on major legislation. The fact that you just chuckled dismissively at that sentence is why filibuster reform is inevitable.”


Could Biden Form Partnerships With Metropolitan Local Governments, Bypassing Red States?

As some of you may know, I have a substantial professional background in federal-state and also state-local relations. So my heart leapt up at a new analysis of how Joe Biden might upset the intergovernmental apple cart, and I wrote about it at New York:

In the wake of the enactment of Joe Biden’s COVID-19 relief and stimulus legislation — which distributed $1.9 trillion to a wide range of individuals, businesses, and state and local governments — it has not gone unnoticed that some beneficiaries are more grateful than others. In particular, some Republican state leaders are resisting the Biden administration and all its works in the bitter aftermath of the 2020 elections and the January 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C.

As Ron Brownstein observes, the situation may tempt the Biden administration to bypass recalcitrant state governments and work directly with urban and suburban local governments that are Democratic-run or at least more amenable to the active role the federal government will clearly take on economic, social, and environmental challenges if the new administration has anything to say about it:

“Cities and their inner suburbs need an immediate lifeline from Washington to stabilize their finances after the devastation of the pandemic. But once those communities regain their balance, they could become crucial allies for Biden. By working with big metros, the president would be aligning federal policy with powerful economic, social, and electoral trends — and empowering local officials overwhelmingly sympathetic to his core objectives. If Biden can forge such partnerships, he could both ignite a new wave of local innovation and solidify the Democratic Party’s advantage in the fast-growing, diverse, and well-educated metro areas that have become the bedrock of its electoral coalition.”

Metropolitan local governments need Washington as much as Washington needs them, as Brownstein indicates. And if Biden does try to forge direct fiscal and programmatic links to cities and counties, he will be reviving a strategy deployed most prominently by Lyndon Johnson during his Great Society and War on Poverty initiatives, which worked directly with local governments — and in some cases with community organizations it had created for that purpose — in lieu of often-reactionary state governors, particularly in the white racist South.

Although LBJ was the pioneer in establishing a direct federal-local relationship, the practice reached its apex under his successor, Richard Nixon, who embraced what he called a New Federalism to distribute money and power from Washington to state and local governments. The centerpiece of Nixon’s initiative was General Revenue Sharing, which distributed what was then a very high level of no-strings-attached aid, with about two-thirds going to cities and counties and one-third to states. This period led to the establishment of the Community Development Block Grant Program, which is today the largest surviving federal program with a component channeling dollars directly to local governments.

By the time Ronald Reagan took office, conservative thinking about Federalism focused on devolving government responsibilities to the states, rather than sharing revenues with states and localities. GRS was a frequent target of Reagan-era budget cuts. Even before Reagan took office, Congress had knocked out the state share of the program; it was finally killed altogether in 1986. A bit later, another vestige of the era of direct federal-local assistance, the Urban Development Action Grants, bit the dust.

Perhaps these setbacks for a federal-local relationship weren’t as definitive as they looked at the time. As Brownstein observes, Biden’s first elected office was on the New Castle County Council in Delaware, and he often worked with mayors on Obama-administration economic initiatives. More important, in key areas like climate-change policy, urban and suburban governments eager to take action to promote energy efficiency and reduce reliance on automobiles may provide the only partners available to his administration. The growing political alignment of large cities and their inner suburbs makes regional policy solutions more feasible than ever with some help from Washington:

“’What I see is a coalition of business, civic, and philanthropic leaders around the country committing to a set of national goals through local action,’ [Brookings Institution’s Amy] Liu told me. ‘I could imagine CEO circles with mayors in different parts of the country committing to drive those goals in those regions, and the federal government could easily align their resources to help regions meet their goals.'”

If Biden does move in this direction, it will cut against a lot of political traditions and even constitutional arrangements. States clearly have a central role in the Founders’ conception of Federalism, and, technically speaking, cities and counties are creatures of state constitutions and laws. They also play a large role in the domestic governance of a country in which the central government provides few direct services outside of national defense (e.g., in the huge federal-state Medicaid program, wherein the Supreme Court famously decided states could not be forced to carry out the expansion contemplated in the Affordable Care Act).

But the political logic Brownstein writes about for reviving a direct federal-local relationship is compelling, particularly when large states like Florida and Texas are governed by Republicans who would rather resign than do anything to help make the Biden presidency a success.


Political Strategy Notes

From Thomas B. Edsall’s column, “Biden Wants No Part of the Culture War the G.O.P. Loves: The generosity of his $1.9 trillion relief bill has the added benefit of shifting attention where he wants it” at The New York Times: “The Biden administration appears to have adopted a two-pronged strategy to reduce the corrosive impact of hot-button social, cultural and racial issues: first by inundating the electorate with a flood of cash via the $1.9 trillion Covid relief act and second by refusing to engage fractious issues in public, calculating that deprived of oxygen, their strength will fade….The sheer magnitude of the funds released by the American Rescue Plan, the White House is gambling, will shift voters’ attention away from controversies over Dr. Seuss, who can use which bathroom and critical race theory. So far, the strategy is working….Biden has a favorability rating of 52.9 to 41.9, according to the Real Clear Politics average of the seven most recent surveys, and a Pew Research poll the first week of March found that a decisive majority of voters, at 70-28 percent, have a positive opinion of the Covid stimulus bill….“Taking their cues from a new president who steadfastly refuses to engage with or react to cultural provocations,” Democratic officeholders “have mostly kept their heads down and focused on passing legislation,” The Week’s Damon Linker wrote in “Will the G.O.P.’s culture war gambit blow up in its face?

Edsall continues, “Stanley Feldman, a political scientist at Stony Brook University, noted in an email that he thinks that “Biden understands that it’s to the Democrats’ advantage to lower the volume on the culture wars. The Covid rescue bill is a clear attempt to change political discourse back to economic issues and to provide broad-based, tangible assistance to a large part of the public. Biden signs executive orders on gender but there’s little discussion of this.”….Biden’s approach, Feldman continued, “is clearly putting many conservatives in a difficult position as they try to counter with stories about Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head.”….Stanley Greenberg, a Democratic pollster with decades of experience in federal and state elections, is optimistic about Biden’s current prospects, but he warned that the administration will have to gain control of immigration: “The border matters,” he said, “and Republicans will use images from the border to sear into people’s consciousness. It is very important that they” — the Democrats — “are soon seen to be managing the border and immigration.”….Biden and other Democrats, in Greenberg’s view, should “ignore cancel culture attacks” while making the case “that Democrats are fighting and delivering for the working class and it is Democrats you can trust to have a strong economy.”


Russo: The Myth of the Conservative Working Class

The following article by John Russo, of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, is cross-posted from Working-Class Perspectives:

Rush Limbaugh, who passed away last month at age 70, was conservative talk radio’s most flamboyant and influential provocateur. Boasting an audience of 15 million, Limbaugh is often credited with persuading working-class voters to embrace a Republican Party whose pro-business, free trade economic policies went against working-class interests. As Kevin Wagner, a professor of political science at Florida Atlantic University, explained, “Limbaugh was on the forefront of trying to take conservative policies and explain them in a way that appeals to a demographic that typically would not favor the Republican Party.” The result, Wagner suggests, can be seen in “the strength of the Republican party has among working-class Americans.”

But is it really true that Limbaugh, who could be misogynistic and racially inflammatory in his broadcast, appealed primarily to the working class? In fact, as Rick Perlstein has suggested, Limbaugh’s listeners are more aptly described as “the petty bourgeoisie, the Joe the Plumbers, the guys with their own bathroom fixture businesses, the middle managers.”

This case of mistaken identity, of misidentifying people who are actually quite comfortable as “working class,” has plagued coverage of American conservatism for years now. It was a crucial error in how people viewed the participants in the Capitol insurrection. Many of those arrested after the January 6 riot were middle-class business owners, doctors, lawyers, IT specialists and accountants. So why do so many assume that the rioters—and former President Trump’s supporters more generally—were working-class? We can trace the error back to its grain of truth: the economic displacement that explains why white working-class people are so angry.


Teixeira: Two, Three, Many Joe Manchins….

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

I like to think that if Che was with us today that would be his uncompromising cry. Well, maybe not. Anyway, people really love to complain about Joe Manchin. But the ineluctable fact is that the Democrats would be two slices of hot buttered toast without him. So rather than complain about Manchin, which won’t do any good anyway, people on the center-left should be thinking hard, really hard, about how we can get *more* Joe Manchins.

The road to sustainable progressive governance lies through an expanded Democratic Senate majority. No substitutes.

Fanciful proposals to abolish the Senate or air-drop a bunch of lefty states into the Senate are not serious proposals. Progressives who do not have plausible ideas about how Democrats can capture Senate seats in redish states like IA, OH, NC, TX and FL are kidding themselves that they have a viable political strategy for the actually-existing United States, as opposed to some mythical country of their imagination.

David Leonhardt nails it in his column this morning, which includes this fantastic graphic, which smart Democrats should affix to a wall near their computer. And look at carefully before they fire off their latest tweet denouncing Joe Manchin.

“The structure of the Senate has not always favored Republicans. But in recent decades, heavily white and rural communities have moved to the political right. Because these communities dominate many small states, and because small states enjoy a lot of power in the Senate, it now has a large pro-Republican bias.

So how have Democrats nonetheless won control of the Senate, allowing them to pass an ambitious bill last week that will reduce poverty, lift middle-class incomes, cut the cost of health insurance and more? There are two main answers.

First, the Democratic Party has been the more popular political party nationwide for most of the past three decades, and this national edge sometimes allows it to overcome the Senate’s built-in bias. Last year, Joe Biden won the popular vote by 4.4 percentage points. That was enough for him to win exactly half of the country’s 50 states and for Democratic Senate candidates to flip seats in Arizona and Georgia.

The second answer is more succinct: Joe Manchin and Jon Tester.

Manchin, a Democratic senator from West Virginia, and Tester, a Democratic senator from Montana, have managed a remarkable feat in today’s polarized political atmosphere. They have won elections in states that usually vote by wide margins for the other party. The only other current politician with a similar track record is Susan Collins, a Republican senator from Maine….

Without him, there would be no Democratic Senate right now and no $1.9 trillion virus relief law. It’s unclear how many of Biden’s cabinet nominees would have been defeated and how successful the president would be at putting federal judges on the bench….

Few things in American politics are as valuable to a party as people like Manchin, Tester and Collins. And finding more such politicians is even more important to the Democratic Party because of the Senate’s pro-Republican bias.

As Matthew Yglesias writes in his Substack newsletter, addressing progressives: “If you don’t want your governing agenda perpetually held hostage to Joe Manchin (or for a majority to be out of reach if Manchin retires in 2024), then you need to win Senate races in right-of-center states like Iowa, Ohio, North Carolina, Texas and Florida that just aren’t as right-wing as West Virginia.”


Political Strategy Notes

In Other Polling Bites, Laura Bronner notes at FiveThirtyEight: “Several polls this week have found widespread support for Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package: 70 percent of Americans overall, according to Pew, with particularly strong support among low-income Americans (82 percent). In fact, while Democrats of all income groups were very supportive of the package, a majority of low-income Republicans (63 percent) were in favor, too. The Economist/YouGovfound 64 percent supported the bill overall, Data for Progress found 69 percent in support, and Morning Consult/Politico, which listed the bill’s major provisions in the question, found 75 percent in support. (Both The Economist/YouGov and Data for Progress also found broad support across the bill’s individual provisions.)”

Adam Serwer writes at The Atlantic: “Biden’s rescue bill uses the state as an instrument of broad prosperity rather than as one of vengeance—according to an analysis from the Urban Institute, the legislation could cut the poverty rate by more than a third. In the process, it stands to address the economic distresses that Trump exploited and the grievances he inflamed. And by making the bill’s benefits so broad, Democrats may also make them enduring, insulating them from future efforts to repeal them….Economists also believe that the bill—more than twice the size of the Obama-era stimulus designed to pull America out of the Great Recession—is large enough to deliver a robust recovery, rather than the halting one that followed the 2008 crisis….“Nobody thinks that there’s anything to be gained from bipartisanship politically anymore. There are a few people who still think that it’s really important in itself,” Adam Jentleson, once the deputy chief of staff to the former Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid and the author of Kill Switch, told me. “But even those people have a hard time arguing that it’s more important than actually delivering results.”….The American Rescue Plan Act is an important economic measure; it is also a down payment on a future in which the stakes for American democracy are less existential. But it is only a down payment—one that will be forfeit if Democrats allow the rest of their agenda to be held hostage in the Senate. More than just legislation, it is  a leap of faith that Americans of all political backgrounds will reward a party that seeks to make their lives better, rather than one that simply manufactures new targets for scorn. In that, the measure expresses a greater confidence in the decency of the Republican base than Trump or his acolytes ever displayed.”

Also at The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein warns, “Advocates want more attention on the state laws to discourage Republican legislators and governors from passing them. But they also recognize that, as in the Selma era, greater awareness of state restrictions could build support for national action—and particularly for H.R. 1, the sweeping democracy-reform bill the House passed earlier this month. More public awareness, the theory goes, will raise Senate Democrats’ comfort level about establishing a nationwide standard for voting rights through their own version of H.R. 1, even if that requires curtailing the filibuster to overcome lockstep Republican opposition. In an appearance on MSNBC this week, Marc Elias, the Democratic Party’s lead election lawyer, literally pleaded for more attention: “I am begging America and the media to pay attention to this. Right now, we are facing an avalanche of voter suppression” that the country hasn’t seen in decades.” Brownstein warns, “The administration and civil-rights groups don’t have much time to generate more national attention. Republican Governor Kim Reynolds of Iowa has already signed legislation limiting early voting and reducing the hours that polls can stay open on Election Day. Bills in other states are swiftly moving forward. Elias says Democratic lawyers’ success in beating Trump’s legal efforts to overturn the election may be making Democrats complacent about their ability to block these new restrictions if they are approved. “We will do the best we can in court,” he told me, “but I almost worry that people look at the success that some of us had last cycle” and expect the same success now. “I am here to tell you that we can’t assume the courts are going to solve every political ill.”

When it comes to messaging, it really does help the Biden Administrtion to have an alert press secretary who is on game, as Jen Pasaki demonstrates in  this exchange, flagged by Aldous J. Pennyfarthing in “Jen Psaki takes on GOP’s pearl-clutching over deficits, reminds them their concern is years late” at Daily Kos:

“REPORTER: “No Republican voted for the COVID relief package, and they argue that this is the sixth package and it adds to a deficit that’s already a trillion dollars this year alone. What do you say to that criticism, that ultimately this type of a sweeping piece of legislation will be a drag on the economy down the line?”

PSAKI: “Well, I would say to them we’re in the midst of twin crises, from the pandemic to an economic downturn that is impacting tens of millions of people in this country. People are struggling to make ends meet. They are worried about whether their grandparents, their cousins, their friends are able to get a vaccine, and they are suffering because they’re worried about the mental health of their kids, who aren’t back in school yet. And the president’s focus is on addressing those crises. And I would point, send a question back to many of these Republicans as to why the deficit spending wasn’t as concerning when they were giving tax cuts to the highest incomes, but now it’s concerning when we’re giving direct checks and relief to the American people.”


Walsh: Biden’s American Rescue Plan Victory Helps Unify Democrats

In “Democrats Make a Down Payment on a Radically More Just Economy” in The Nation, Joan Walsh writes of Biden’s Pandemic relief/stimulus legislative victory that “the many forces behind this stunning achievement are beyond my capacity to list here—and they represent a leftward migration of the Democratic Party that was a long time in the making but that accelerated in the past 10 years. Biden has been in the middle of it.” Walsh explains further,

It’s not a social democratic party, at least not yet. But it has steadily gotten more committed to using government to lessen suffering and promote equitable growth, and less afraid of GOP taunting about deficits and “dependency.” It had mostly moved past the neoliberal fetishization of markets, long before the pandemic: Hillary Clinton’s 2016 platform was more progressive than Obama’s, with a more robust role for government; four years later, Biden’s was more progressive than Clinton’s. (That partly reflected the influence of Senator Bernie Sanders, who ran a strong second in the Democratic presidential primaries to both of them.)

The pandemic accelerated the leftward surge of many, even most Democrats. The mismanaged plague that has in a year killed 530,000 Americans also destroyed Reagan’s tired maxim, “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem”—hopefully for good. Last year’s first Covid relief bill, the $2.2 trillion America Cares Act—passed under the uncaring, incompetent Donald Trump—kept 13 million people out of poverty; when its benefits began to evaporate, especially its extended unemployment relief, people felt the difference, and the pain. That’s why Biden’s plan is supported by roughly three-quarters of Americans in the latest Morning Consult/Politico poll: Americans know government is the solution, at the very least to this deadly pandemic.

Walsh adds, “What’s most important about the Biden plan is not its size but the thinking behind it. For one thing, it rejected old notions about government support as a morally hazardous “handout” to the undeserving that would discourage work. Welfare reform essentially punished poor children for the (supposed) wrongdoing of their parents (mostly single mothers) and, especially, their joblessness.” In addition,

By contrast, the expanded child tax credits are more like Social Security, a recognition that government has a role to play in caring for those who can’t care for themselves, not just the elderly but children as well. It isn’t conditioned on whether parents, especially mothers, work or stay home, which was formerly a culture-wars obsession. Likewise, expanded unemployment insurance passed (though it was trimmed slightly), despite arguments that it could make not working more alluring than working. Most wealthy developed nations offer support like this…..The bill supports small businesses and restaurants, child care providers and union members on the verge of losing their pensions. It invests billions in Black farmers and Native Americans, funding that’s long overdue but especially needed in this pandemic. It also pumps billions into state and local government: That’s another learning from early Obama efforts to stem the bleeding in 2009: As the federal government sent money into the economy, budget-crunched local and state officials were laying off workers and thus taking money out of it….It significantly shores up the Affordable Care Act, weakened by Trump, including more subsidies for more people, and not just the poor. But back to the poor: It reduces child poverty by more than half; poverty for all Americans, according to the Urban Institute, by almost 40 percent.

Walsh credits progressive Democrats for fighting for their policy reforms, but not walking away from supporting the Covid relief package when they didn’t get their way on everything: “I want to hail the members of the Progressive Caucus,” and she adds,

They had major problems with the Senate bill—it stripped the House version of the $15-an-hour minimum wage, reduced unemployment benefits slightly, and (even as single mom and progressive powerhouse Katie Porter railed against it) left inequity between single parents and married parents intact—but they kept their eyes on the prize. Most people, myself included, assumed Biden and the Democrats went into this negotiation with a $1.9 trillion plan in order to cut it by at least a quarter. They did not. Progressives knew what this bill achieved.

Progressive Caucus whip Representative Ro Khanna hit the cable shows almost immediately after the Senate bill passed, promoting it. Bernie Sanders praised it too, tweeting after its passage on Wednesday: “What a difference it makes when government is on the side of working people.” An elated Representative Pramila Jayapal, Progressive Caucus chair, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that Republicans made “a very big tactical mistake” in providing zero support for the relief package. “They’re going to have to try to explain why they voted ‘no’ on a package that puts money in people’s pockets.” On Wednesday afternoon, at a signing ceremony for the bill convened with Pelosi, Schumer effusively thanked Sanders. As well he should have.

The left, right and centrist flanks in the Democratic Party will continue to have major policy differences, heated debates and the occasional circular firing squad — It’s how we roll in the big tent. But we can hope that Democratic Party unity – and clarity – has been enhanced under Biden’s impressive leadership, with pivotal support from progressive leaders like Khanna, Porter, Jayapal and Sanders, as well as Pelosi and Schumer. It’s a good look. Here’s hoping it sticks.


A Pointless Newsom Recall Election Looking Likely

There’s always something unusual cooking in California politics, and I reported on the latest zaniness from the Golden State at New York:

Like other governors, California’s Gavin Newsom is surely pleased at the favorable trajectory of COVID-19 cases and prospects for a return to something like normalcy. But happier times may not arrive quite quickly enough for Newsom: He is on the very brink of the ultimate nightmare for California officeholders, a recall election. With 11 days left before the deadline, organizers of the drive to recall Newsom now claim they’ve collected nearly 2 million signatures on their petition. At the current rate of signature verification, that could be just enough to reach the goal of 1.5 million, trigging an election this summer or fall (though Republicans are hedging their bets via unsupported claims that Democrats will find a way to void recall petitions illegitimately).

Newsom is not (at this point) even close to being as unpopular as the last California governor to be recalled: Gray Davis, who was replaced in a 2003 recall election by none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger. But while there is almost always low-level recall activity by some opposing party for any given governor of California, this time it’s been fed by various types of discontent with the state’s handling of the pandemic (particularly school closings and restrictions on churches and certain businesses). And for Newsom, specifically, the coup de grâce may have been his much-publicized attendance at an indoor dinner for a lobbyist friend last November at the ultraexclusive French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley — which violated Newsom’s own pandemic guidelines. Since then, the slow start to California’s vaccine rollout has only added more fuel to the fire.

“County elections officials must determine how many signatures are valid and report their signature counts by April 29, after which the Secretary of State’s office will have ten calendar days to determine if the effort met the nearly 1.5 million signature threshold. Then, people who signed the petition would have 30 business days to remove their signatures. Counties have 10 business days after that to report any signature removals to the Secretary of State. At that point, the California Department of Finance would have 30 business days to develop a cost estimate for the recall election, which the Legislature would have 30 days to review.”

And then Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis would have to schedule the recall election within 60 to 80 days. She, like every other statewide official and most of the county elected officials involved in the recall process, is a Democrat. So, too, are the legislative leaders who could amend the recall process to delay the election even further (Democrats have supermajorities in both state legislative chambers.) Assuming California rebounds from the pandemic doldrums, every delay could allow a boost for Newsom’s popularity. But more importantly the state’s heavily Democratic character makes Newsom a better bet to survive a recall than Davis was at a time when California Republicans were significantly stronger.

The way recall elections work complicates the dynamics. Voters will have two questions to resolve. First, they must decide whether to recall Newsom, (which is an up-or-down vote). Second, if they do decide to eject him from office, they must decide who will replace him. The incumbent in a recall cannot run to succeed himself. So the big strategic decision for Democrats is whether they successfully discourage any Democratic “replacement” candidates and just gamble on Newsom defeating the recall. If he fails, of course, California will have a Republican or possibly an independent governor. That’s assuming anyone can control the replacement field; thanks to very low qualifying requirements, you could have a vast number of contestants (there were 135 candidates on the ballot in 2003).

Let’s say for the sake of argument that no major Democrats run. There are currently three major Republicans mulling a replacement candidacy: 2018 gubernatorial nominee John Cox; former San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer; and former Trump administration acting Director of National Intelligence Ric Grenell. Perhaps the GOP can cull their own field, but in theory, a Republican could become governor with a plurality that represents far fewer votes than Newsom would win against the recall. That possibility reinforces an anomaly in the recall process: Since California adopted a “top two” primary system in 2011, every victorious general election candidate has won a majority. That may not be the case this year if Newsom is recalled.

At present, the best bet is that a recall election will happen, and will amount to an off-year amusement at best and an enormous waste of time and campaign dollars at worst. In three polls taken in early February, Newsom’s job-approval rating ranged from a high of 52 percent to a low of 46 percent. If the pandemic does abate, Democrats don’t split, and Newsom doesn’t badly stumble going forward, he should win the recall vote, and then nobody will much care which Republican finishes first in a replacement vote that no longer means anything. Indeed, California Republicans may wind up deciding they would have been wiser to lay off Newsom for the moment and save their powder (and money) for 2022 elections when they could stand to benefit from a midterm wave.


Political Strategy Notes

The Biden Administration is savoring one of the most significant legislative victories any president has achieved since the Johnson Administration. In his article, “Good job, Biden. Now comes the hard part” at The week, David Faris writes, “President Biden and his Democratic allies are riding high after Congress passed the expansive COVID-19 relief and stimulus package on Wednesday. And they deserve to take a victory lap, because the American Rescue Plan promises to ignite a broad economic recovery and realizes long-sought progressive goals like direct cash payments to parents….Despite the bill’s messy and divisive denouement in the Senate, and the failure to include a minimum wage hike, the stimulus package should be seen as the cherry on top of a hugely successful first seven weeks in office for Biden. It is also, however, likely the end of the easy wins for Democrats and the start of a much more challenging period of steering legislation through a closely divided Congress.” Regarding filibuster reform, Faris adds, “President Biden himself has remained maddeningly coy on the subject. Given the speed with which he plowed ahead with the stimulus package without any Republican support, it’s safe to assume that despite his campaign theme of unity and bipartisanship, he is under no illusions about the prospect of Republican buy-in for other priorities like voting rights.”

Faris notes Biden’s other accomplishments: “In addition to the relief bill, the president used the Defense Production Act to turbocharge COVID-19 vaccine production and signed a flurry of Executive Orders, effectively vaporizing former President Trump’s policy legacy by, among other things, reversing the controversial travel ban from seven Muslim-majority countries, halting construction of the border wall, rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, canceling the Keystone XL pipeline project, and lifting the immigration restrictions imposed under the cover of COVID….With a few effortless strokes of a pen, President Biden was able to wipe away pretty much everything Trump did except the 2019 tax cuts and the far right’s successful takeover of the federal judiciary…But these victories also mark the end of the new president’s honeymoon period. The low hanging fruit has been plucked, eaten, and juiced. The harder work begins today, and the president must soon make some more difficult choices. He will never be more popular, and Democrats have more leverage today than they will for the rest of this congressional term. House Democrats and nearly all of the party’s Senate caucus are on board with an aggressive agenda, including shoring up voting rights and democracy with the newly-passed For the People Act (H.R. 1), granting statehood to Washington, D.C., and possibly Puerto Rico, raising the minimum wage, reinvesting in America’s decaying infrastructure, reforming immigration rules, and following through on the president’s campaign promise of adding a “public option” to the Affordable Care Act’s health-care framework.” All in all, a pretty remarkable tally of accomplishments for the first six weeks of  Biden’s Administration and the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.

Democrats did a great job of passing the Covid relief and stimulus package. But Dems need to do a better job of the “aftersale” than was done after the enactment of the Affordable Care Act. They must explain to the public the legislation’s impressive benefits for working people, the poor and children, as well as everyone concerned about the pandemic. It appears that impeachment 2.0 and even the Republican riot in the capitol did not distract Democrats from getting the pandemic relief and stimulus legislation passed. Biden deserves lots of credit for keeping his eyes o the prize, and not getting suckered into the weeds. But now Dems should get focused on making sure the public knows all the ways this egislation is good for America. As Greg Sargent explains at The Plum Line, “Though public support for the package is overwhelming, events will intervene and voters will forget a good deal about what just happened, even as they benefit from its provisions. So Democrats must be relentless in telling them what’s in it and in highlighting how it’s improved their lives.” Sargent repoprts that the White House is gearing up to meet this challenge. But follow-through by all Dems is everything. Let it be a rare exercize in Democratic message discipline for the next few weeks and again in the closing weeks of the 2022 election. Democrats can not count on the media to do justice to the relief package. It will be quickly forgotten, otherwise. The public has a short memory and no Dems should expect automatic gratitude.

At The American Prospect, co-editor Robert Kuttner does a good job of putting this historic legislative achievement in perspective in his editorial “A Stunning Day.”

“Something extraordinary happened today which is worth celebrating—the most far-reaching expansion of government help to children and families since FDR.

A year ago, a universal basic income was a radical fringe idea. Well, we’ve just enacted it for families with children. And once in place, this will prove almost impossible to dislodge.

Imagine the politics next fall when Democrats propose making the child tax credit permanent, and Republicans propose a massive tax increase on American families. My sources say Biden is committed to making this policy permanent.

Consider the arithmetic. A family with two parents and three kids will be getting about $14,000 a year. It just happens that this is almost identical to what a minimum-wage job pays if you work full-time ($7.25 an hour times 2,000 hours).

This is revolutionary, and will compel employers to pay a great deal more to get workers.

Think of what it took to make this transformative social policy mainstream. It took a pandemic. It took the improbable Democratic victories in Georgia to get 50 Senate votes. It took rare Democratic unity. And it took the radicalization of one Joe Biden.

Even more remarkably, while the two previous transformative Democratic presidents, LBJ and FDR, had huge Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate, Biden has done it with fumes.

Sometimes, things break right. It’s a day to celebrate.”