Last Thursday, November 4, 2021, the paper of record headlined its issue by lamenting the “surprising” losses that the Dems suffered in the Tuesday elections. Evidently, the blue party hadn’t expected to lose the governorship of Virginia, along with several significant down-ballot races. Alarm bells are already ringing about next year’s midterms, they said. My first thought was, “How could they possibly be surprised?” Aside from the fact that Terry McAuliffe didn’t try very hard in Virginia, and failed to recognize a key issue or two, there’s the general impression of ineptness that the Dems have displayed in the last six months. I wrote a comment on the NY Times article to that effect, to which one person responded, “So, frustrated people are going to vote for Republicans? That doesn’t make sense.” Yeah, except that’s exactly what happened in 2016. The only reason it didn’t repeat in 2020 was that the frustration level didn’t overcome the disgust for TFG and the fear of a second term for him.
This topic has been discussed in myriad forums lately (see historian/blogger William Astore’s critique here, and online host Jimmy Doré’s engaging rant here, and Marc Ash’s scathing commentary here), but I have my own take and unique followers.
So-called “moderate” Dems allot considerable space to defending Joe Biden on the grounds that he wasn’t elected to bring about large-scale change; rather, the object in putting him in office was merely to unseat TFG. Theoretically, anyone would be better than the Orange Buffoon. There’s no arguing that, to some extent, that contention is true. While Bush II effectively wreaked more havoc abroad and did, of course, start two illegal wars, justify torture and extraordinary rendition, and blunder cluelessly through eight years in the Oval Office, TFG might be said to be even more of a loose cannon, potentially doing even more damage in a nothing-to-lose second term. In that sense, yes, Biden is better than an indescribably bad alternative.
But the fact is that Biden didn’t publicly run on a platform of merely being not Orange. He touted a $15-per-hour minimum wage, a public healthcare option, and heavy-duty climate change remedies, as just a few examples. He did quietly assure his corporate donors that, “nothing would fundamentally change,” for Wall Street during his administration, and so far, that’s the only promise he’s kept. Otherwise, he’s batting zero. He’s content with sitting behind the Resolute desk, letting Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, and a cadre of other corporate Dems take the heat for stalling and stonewalling all the aid to average citizens and the measures to slow and mitigate climate change that he promised. Every MSM news outlet has trumpeted Manchin’s millions in dividends from the coal industry, along with Sinema’s record donations from Big Pharma, and they’ve been willing scapegoats for the sake of their bank accounts. Meanwhile, Uncle Joe has hovered around the edges, making conciliatory noises. This, when he could have channeled LBJ, sat the recalcitrant representatives and senators in a room, and played hardball. His political career spans six decades; he knows where all the bodies are buried, and his position gives him the power of making good on threats. Instead, he’s kept mostly silent, making the donors happy. The picture presented to the public is that of two senators and a handful of representatives, letting greed dictate their support, or lack thereof. It’s all Kabuki: the hand-wringing, head shaking, and sniping are a façade for appeasing the corporate owners. Add in the continual outcry from the “moderates” that the Progressives are ruining everything with their “radical, socialist” demands, and the recipe for inaction is complete. The Progressives, in turn, have inexplicably caved, after all their declarations that they’d never give up the fight.
We’ve all seen the train wreck of a scenario play out in the news. First, the basic infrastructure plan, or formulation (BIF) would be passed, meager as it is, with its juicy privatization provisions. It was crafted in a spirit of Senate bipartisanship, only possible because there were obvious perks for big business. And so it was. The Progressives in the House, however, balked, eventually demanding a tandem vote on this bill and the social safety net legislation, Build Back Better (BBB). Speaker Pelosi was pressured into promising such a dual vote. During the last several months, Senators Manchin and Sinema have taken potshots at various provisions in the bill, flatly refusing to go along with them, and, in Manchin’s case, proposing cuts and alterations to essentially cripple the legislation. Senator Sinema has remained mum, preferring to jet to Europe rather than face constituents who’ve tried to confront her. Still, the word has been that both BIF and BBB would be passed together, once a consensus was hammered out. Such was the plan even as late as Friday morning, November 5th. Later that day, though, the vote on BIF was rushed through, and it passed, with the caveat that the heretofore obstructionists would in turn vote for BBB, once a few more little facts are gathered.
And just like that, the Progressive Caucus, which collectively had the votes to derail the infrastructure package, stepped up with their “ayes.” The “moderate” Dems, some of them DINOs, like Manchin, Sinema, and a bevy of representatives, were always going to support BIF, but the Progressives were supposedly holding the line to give their constituents the badly needed financial support in the BBB bill, in the form of paid leave, expanded Medicare, child-care help, negotiated drug prices, and other benefits. In the end, only six representatives — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, Jamaal Bowman and Cori Bush — had the courage of their convictions, and voted against BIF (I won’t speculate on the possibility that they could afford to vote “nay,” as the bill was going to pass, anyway). All the other Progressives, and the rest of the Dems, fell in line behind the corporate-sponsored bill, leaving the fate of BBB up in the air.
Will Build Back Better ever pass? Will it ever even come up for a vote? I wouldn’t put money on it. If a bill by that name actually is enacted, it certainly won’t look anything like the $3.5tn version (itself cut from the original $6tn bill) that would actually help people and at least partially address climate change. It won’t even look like the watered-down remnant that Manchin oversaw. If anything, there will be a few small crumbs for the little guys, lots of giveaways to Big Oil and Wall Street, and not many good things accomplished, on balance.
And the Democrats will be shocked! shocked! when they lose Congress next year. They just won’t understand what happened. But after a few weeks of finger pointing (it was all the fault of the socialist Progressives!), we’ll hear the promises that, if we just elect more Dems in 2024, why, THEN we’ll see some action! THEN they’ll get things done! THEN the 99% will see a $15 minimum wage, and Medicare for all, and student loan forgiveness, and paid leave, and a transition away from fossil fuels, and stricter emissions laws for utilities, and…
And sadly, TFG, or someone like him, will win at the polls, while the diehard Dems out in the hinterlands will – again – be disappointed.