The ‘Centrist’ Canard

If you want to distract yourself from the ongoing pandemic, you always can take a break by looking at U.S. politics. One of the fictions that has been accepted as dogma for decades is that ‘centrist Democrats’ are savvier than the left wing of the party, who are a bunch of naive idealists. That, as Brian Beutler points out, is bullshit (boldface mine):

If you cover Democratic politics for more than a few months, you’ll eventually hear a trope about the ever-changing cast of House centrists whose only consistent ideological project is tanking aspects of the party agenda that don’t have bipartisan support (which is to say almost all of them). The trope is that these members—who generally win elected office in wave elections then lose them when the tide recedes—have a deep and special understanding of their frontline districts, and (thus) that we should trust their political instincts; not let our frustrations with them boil over.

There is basically no evidence to support this theory, and if you cover their campaigns, you’ll quickly realize that most of them are flying as blind as the rest of us, nervous about what to say and do, reliant on a semi-permanent class of consultants in Washington for guidance, deleting their Met Gala takes within seconds of posting them.

And there’s no reason it should make sense! The nature of swing districts is that no one represents them for very long, which means the swing-district delegation is over-represented by inexperienced politicians, many of whom have started thinking about their next gigs before they’ve even been sworn in. Their political incentives are pretty clearly misaligned with those of their party at large.

Yet through a mix of cynicism and poor thinking the Democratic leadership has lumbered ahead for years as if the party’s best interests are served by catering to centrist concerns. It isn’t just that centrists wish the party would make bipartisan cover a high priority, the leadership has consistently indulged them. The past six months of the Biden presidency—basically everything that’s happened since the American Rescue Plan passed—has stemmed from that indulgence, and it’s been a comprehensive failure.

To her credit, Pelosi has, on occasion, told her caucus that they are there to ‘take votes’–that is, pass legislation. On the other hand, she (and the rest of the House leadership, along with the Senate leadership) have pushed candidates whose temperament and lack of experience make them prone to being centrists. Add to that, the DCCC and the DSCC require new candidates to rely on an approved group of consultants and you wind up with enough ‘centrists’ to make life hell for the rest of the party.

While this is partly an ideological concern, it’s worth noting that Sen. Jon Tester is not a Bernie Sanders clone, yet he doesn’t try to tank the party. Speaking of tanking the party (boldface mine):

Given this picture of the ideological divide within parties, a casual observer might assume that in the struggle to move President Biden’s agenda through Congress, the chief obstacle (beyond Republican opposition) is the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and its demands for bigger, more ambitious programs. Biden was, after all, not their first choice for president. Or their second. He won the Democratic presidential nomination over progressive opposition, and there was a sense on the left, throughout the campaign, that Biden was not (and would not be) ready to deal with the scale of challenges ahead of him or the country.

But that casual observer would be wrong. Progressives have been critical of Biden, especially on immigration and foreign affairs. On domestic policy, however, they’ve been strong team players, partners in pushing the president’s priorities through Congress. The reconciliation bill, for instance, is as much the work of Bernie Sanders as it is of the White House. As chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Sanders guided the initial budget resolution through the chamber, compromising on his priorities in order to build consensus with other Democrats in the Senate.

Progressive Democrats want the bill to pass, even if it isn’t as large as they would like. They believe, correctly, that a win for Biden is a win for them. Moderate Democrats, however, seem to think that their success depends on their distance from the president and his progressive allies. Their obstruction might hurt Biden, but, they seem to believe, it won’t hurt them.

This is nonsense. Democrats will either rise together in next year’s elections or they’ll fall together. The best approach, given the strong relationship between presidential popularity and a party’s midterm performance, is to put as much of Biden’s agenda into law as possible by whatever means possible.

As Beutler noted, swing seats, well, swing back and forth. If these ‘centrists’ don’t want the swing back to hit them, they need to get with the program. I do find it interesting that these ‘centrists’ often use party-approved consultants, who don’t seem to get blacklisted even when their clients endanger seats, while progressive consultants often get de facto blacklisted (and at one point, officially blacklisted) for working with Democratic primary challengers.

Anyway, what a fucking mess.

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3 Responses to The ‘Centrist’ Canard

  1. ronzie9 says:

    Will Rogers is still right about the Democratic party, after nearly 100 years.

  2. The “center” is where there isn’t anybody. Elections — local, national — are not won; they are lost by the party whose voters sit home instead of voting.

  3. The so-called centrists aren’t “centrists” at all. They’re conservatives. They’re as far to the right as you can be & still be in the Democratic party. They are, in fact, DINOS.

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