Political reports often portray progressives as impractical and intransigent, unwilling to make the compromises necessary to get things done, while centrists are down-to-earth pragmatists. What is happening in Congress right now, however, is quite the opposite.
The left wing of the Democratic Party is proposing sane and popular policies such as negotiating drug prices and cracking down on tax evaders from the rich, and has shown itself willing to make major compromises to move the president’s agenda forward. Biden. In particular, the $ 3.5 trillion in spending Biden is asking for over the next decade is far less than progressives originally wanted. The party’s conservative wing, however, appears ready to risk blasting its own president’s prospects rather than giving in.
What is happening? Contrary to legend, many hesitant Democrats don’t come from upscale neighborhoods; anyway, Biden’s economic agenda is popular almost everywhere. For example, its core elements have overwhelming support in West Virginia. Also, does anyone really imagine that the outcome of the midterm elections will depend on whether the eventual package, if there is one, is $ 3.5 trillion or $ 1.5 trillion? dollars?
We can, of course, invoke the usual suspects: corporate money and wealthy donors surely have an impact. But I was struck by something New York Magazine’s Eric Levitz said in a recent article on this topic, which helped clarify a point I was fumbling at. Namely, some Democrats seem to have shaped their perceptions of both economics and politics during the Clinton years and have not updated their views since.
That is, it makes perfect sense to consider that Biden’s problems getting across the finish line to his plans are due to the caucus of Rip Van Winkle, Democrats who intellectually verified there was a few decades old and haven’t caught up with America as it is now.
Specifically, some Democrats still seem to believe they can succeed economically and politically by being light Republicans. It is doubtful that this was ever true. But that’s definitely not true now.
Economically, there was a widespread perception in the late 1990s that the harshness of American social policy – our high level of inequality, our lack of a European-style social safety net – was to a large extent justified by economic success. When Bill Clinton said in 1996 that “the era of big governments is over,” it seemed like small governments were being rewarded with a booming economy. We were ahead of the technology and owed the rest of the world ahead in terms of job creation; it is difficult to grasp now the sense of American triumphalism that permeated the opinion of the elites around 2000.
But this was not to last. The tech-driven productivity boom that began in the mid-1990s fizzled out a decade later. And America has never established a lasting technological advance; at this point, to take visible action, many European countries have faster and cheaper internet access than we do.
Job creation in the United States has also lost its luster: European working-age adults are as likely to be working as their American counterparts.
Beyond economics, in the 1990s, many Democrats believed they could appease white non-college voters through a combination of validating rhetoric – denouncing Sister Souljah, speaking harshly against crime – and cuts in programs widely seen as primarily benefiting black people. Clinton really ended Support for Families with Dependent Children, the program most people meant when they talked about “welfare bums,” without providing a real replacement.
But none of that worked. Had racial antagonism been motivated by perceptions of inner-city unrest, it should have faded in the face of the dramatic drop in violent crime between the early 1990s and mid-2010s. not the case. If this antagonism reflected the perception that many able-bodied black men who should have worked were not working, it should have faded as the problem of prime-aged men not working (and the social disruptions that seem to go on coupled with the lack of jobs) has become as serious in predominantly white rural areas as it is in city centers. This is not the case.
Instead, the electoral behavior of white working class voters seems more than ever motivated by racial resentment. And such voters cannot be won over by cutting social spending; they want their racial hostility served raw. The Trumpists can give them that; Democrats cannot without becoming Trumpists themselves.
In other words, if there was a time when individual Democratic members of Congress could hope to swim against the tide by positioning themselves to the right of their party, that time is long gone. No matter how much they force Biden to reduce his ambitions; no matter how many pious statements they make about fiscal responsibility. Republicans will always portray them as socialists who want to fund the police, and voters they try to flatter will believe them.
So my appeal to the “moderate” Democrats is, please wake up. It is no longer 1999, and your political fortunes depend on helping Joe Biden govern effectively.